The Relevance of Work for the Perception of Identity in Yoko Tawada’s Prose Writing

  • Abstract:

    Yoko Tawada describes in her narratives precarious, demanding, wearing or uncertain job situations, which have consequences for the awareness of identity and the self-consciousness of her protagonists. The arrival and stay in a foreign country – a characteristic setting of Tawada’s prose writing – challenge this awareness. Her female narrators perform identity from a different standpoint – they are foreigners in Europe. In fact, reflections on Europe found in her work are famous and well discussed in the scientific community. The relevance of work becomes apparent in her prose writing as well, from the newest novel Etüdenim Schnee to other, earlier ones like Das nackte Auge or shorter stories. The portrayed jobs range from writing and performing on stage to being unemployed. Those work experiences share the fact that work is relevant for creating identity: professions hold a different value based on society and are influenced by political circumstances, as seen exemplary in her writing through stories of exile and forced escape. The observations of the protagonists on their work, cultural differences and on their own, ever-changing identity are highly self-reflective and therefore thought-provoking. Yet they are still caricaturing and humorous at times, always circling around the central topic of searching for and constructing identity as an outsider in a foreign place and culture. Language plays the major role in perceiving and adapting to a different culture in Tawada’s narratives, whereas the category of work seems to receive little consideration until now. This category, however, appears to be fruitful especially regarding the concepts of identity, which is why it will be focused in this paper.