Yoko Tawada Interview: Writing Without Borders


Enjoy this video interview – in Japanese, English and German – with one of the foremost Japanese writers, Yoko Tawada, who talks about writing in two different languages and the connection between animals and humans: “Where is the border between man and animal? Can we transcend it? Can we think like a polar bear?”

“I don’t really like the words ‘border’ or ‘border crossing’. But a certain way of moving between two places has always been important for me.” This, Tawada explains, can be a journey between countries just as much as a movement between two languages, two cultures or two beings. Moving to Germany, Tawada felt that she was suddenly inside the German language, which enabled her to step outside of Japanese and notice all its particularities and funny aspects. When she began writing in German, she had to let her Japanese go, and vice versa: “I believe literature should always be started from zero. So, I write stories in both languages on purpose.”

Tawada also talks about her praised novel ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’, in which the real-life polar bear Knut was an inspiration: “Animals are also an important topic since they constitute a border.” She feels that Knut became an allegory for our societies as well as a symbol for the global warming campaign and wanted to write a story “in which we look at our political issues through the eyes of the polar bears.” Polar bears and writers, she continues, have something in common: Neither care about borders.

Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is a Japanese writer, who has lived in Germany since the age of 22 and writes in both Japanese and German. She has published several books – including short stories, novels, poems, plays and essays – and has received numerous awards for her writing, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Kleist Prize and the Goethe Medal. Among her novels are ‘The Naked Eye’ (2003, originally published in 1993), ‘The Bridegroom Was a Dog’ (1998), the widely acclaimed ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’ (2016) and ‘The Emissary’ (2018).

Yoko Tawada was interviewed by Mette Holm at the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2018.

Camera: Klaus Elmer

Produced by: Christian Lund & Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen

Edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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