Multilingualism in Contemporary Queer Postcolonial Life Writing



Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Expressing a queer narrative identity can be a challenge as the authors face the limits of the language imbued with binarism and heteronormativity. Navigating the language of the oppressor connects them with postcolonial and immigrant authors, who utilize strategies such as multilingualism “to complicate traditional, rigid categories of identity” (Bar-Itzhak 3). Writing primarily in English while including multilingual elements, the queer postcolonial authors acknowledge its contradictory role: although in queer communities English connects and provides mainstream terminology for non-normative gender/sexual identities, it simultaneously serves as a force of hegemony and universalization in the postcolonial situation in which “the shape and construction of the meanings and definitions of [sexuality] related concepts necessarily reflect realities and experiences outside Africa” (Tamale 12). The conference paper deals with two autobiographical texts by queer authors and discusses the forms and roles of multilingualism they employ. Written in English and interwoven with African influences, Freshwater (2018) by Akwaeke Emezi is an autobiographical novel drawing on Igbo ontology; Chronology (2018) by Zahra Patterson is an autobiographical essay consisting of emails, fragments of articles, and notes. The scope and the form of multilingualism employed by Emezi and Patterson differ – in Chronology, a significant part of the text is written in Sotho; in Freshwater, the passages in Igbo are comparably scarce. However, Emezi adopts alternative, “nonwestern” (spiritual and poetic instead of medical) register to address gender, sexuality, and health-related themes. Serving the same purposes, this choice of an alternative register can be paralleled with the use of the “true” multilingualism. While the concrete strategies differ, ultimately both authors employ multilingualism to challenge the Western conceptualization of gender, sexuality, and identity; to indicate the unsuitability of English language for describing intimate aspects of their lives and identities; and to express fragmentation and discontinuity of these identities.
Related projects:

You are running an old browser version. We recommend updating your browser to its latest version.