Although the first world, as seen through the lens of academia, seems to be prospering, and the third world has found its own place in the postcolonial intellectual order, the post-cold war world of semi-peripheries in East and Central Europe (ECE) has largely disappeared from the discourse of Comparative Literature. It sometimes appears as a convenient intellectual counterpoint or is included in postmodernist or postcolonial narratives; in both cases, however, it doesn’t convey regional specificity or allow local voices to speak. Both strategies – core and postcolonial – expropriate the semi-peripheral realm of second-world non-places.

Second-world memory has been blurred and occluded within academic neocolonialism and the politics of the archive. Often the semi-peripheries don’t even possess their own archives. Their archives were frequently destroyed – burned during historical upheavals, stolen, dispersed, not preserved by elites, who were continuously exterminated over the course of centuries. The history of growing disproportion between Western and Eastern Europe thus reaches centuries into the past. This memory is often not preserved and kept alive by oral culture either, because of the lack of a formalized oral tradition, for example in the Balkans. With significant migrations and interregional mobility, as in Poland and the Ukraine, oral memory serves no important social purpose, while the disruption of trans-generational relations has impaired traditional forms of cultural transmission. Memory is kept by ashes and ruins, tortured biographies, unfinished stories and, in the post-socialist period of transformation, by buildings stripped of memory for the sake of neoliberally-perceived modernization.

Individual writers’ archives, and sometimes larger collections as well, have sometimes found more secure homes abroad. Yet recorded memory remains caught up in a power game between inaccessibility and reluctance in the East and the subordinate status of ECE archives when they are located in the West. Regaining archival knowledge is a necessary process in building one’s own semi-peripheral identity. Power over archives and the knowledge they deliver becomes, in the global game, a condition of speaking with one’s own voice. This is the politics of the archive.

The archives are often stored in the core territories rather than in the periphery, but their accessibility has been limited in the past for geopolitical reasons. They can now at last be discovered, even if only in part. The politics of the archive, then, discovers unknown worlds, and recreates second-world/semi-peripheral-core mutual relations, but also acts the other way round, by uniting the second and third worlds, beyond the unnecessary burden of earlier, communist propaganda in ECE. Searching for real world literature therefore requires the completion of a missing semi-peripheral link. The absence of representatives of the second world in today’s globalizing discourse of Comparative Literature results from this understated position of semi-peripheralness which, like every in-between existence, causes the disappearance of our object.

Another consequence of History with a capital H in ECE, and a reason for the sorry state of its archives, is the fact that in reconstructing this history “we need to concentrate on the precious little that has not perished in the turmoil” (Kola, Ulicka 64). But thousands of documents have been lost forever. That is why I would call this kind of reconstruction a presumptive history (Kola, Ulicka 63). Simone Osthoff writes about the “unstable boundary between artworks and their documentation” (Osthoff 44). Second-world records that have found themselves in the core territories, particularly in the United States, have often survived better than archives at home, and this in itself constitutes their great value.[1] Here I would like to focus on archives of individual writers, which allow for detailed examination at a manageable scale of material. Complete, detailed collections of documents by Czesław Miłosz and Roman Jakobson, whom I will discuss here, and also such writers, scholars, and translators as René Wellek, Józef Wittlin, or Manfred Kridl, offer unique examples of the unstable boundary between literary and theoretical works and their documentation. It is the work of compiling archives that is the work of one’s life, overtaking literary or theoretical work as such. It is also a challenge of placing the discovered materials in a new light, entirely changing categories of thinking about both the original cultures of particular immigrants (Poland, Russia…), their transfer cultures (Czechoslovakia, France…), and finally, their destination culture (the United States in these cases).

Ann Laura Stoler turns our attention not only to colonial archives as a source of knowledge, but also to the power relations that emerge from “particular archival forms” (20). As she explains, “By ‘archival form’ I allude to several things: prose style, repetitive refrain, the arts of persuasion, affective strains that shape ‘rational’ response, categories of confidentiality and classification, and not least, genres of documentation” (20). In this sense, she concentrates on “archiving-as-process rather than archives-as-things” (20). The processual character of literary works in the new context is especially informative when it comes to the practice of universalizing language in migrant situations. The materiality of those documents (and other sources such as radio interviews) uncovers the struggle with the language of translingual writing, which might be overlooked in classical textual studies.


Philology and Translingualism

Processual archives and the semi-peripheral context can give an introduction to translingualism and philological issues. “The Golden Age” of philology in the 19th century has passed and will probably never come back. In the 20th century, linguistics sidelined philology, which became largely restricted to the study of classical languages and literatures. Philology stayed on a bit longer in textual practice, but was also pushed out in this field by editing and publishing. Linguistics, especially in its structuralist form, tried to take over the whole field, as Roman Jakobson states in his Closing Statements: Linguistics and Poetics. This text was in fact a manifesto of the domination of linguistics not only over poetics but over literary studies as such, including comparative literature. Of course this was only Jakobson’s wishful thinking and attempted disciplinary coup d'état. Literary studies were already well developed at that time and were independent enough to resist such an attack. Even though literary scholars sometimes still collaborate with linguists, they have more connections today with other fields like cultural studies, anthropology, postcolonial studies, and philosophy. Philology exists on the margins of other disciplines, and continues to have a kind of schizophrenic identity (between linguistics and literary studies).

On the other hand, philology is winning favor in the humanities more generally (Hartog). Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes about “the powers of philology,” focusing on philology as textual practice (Ziolkowski, “Metaphilology”; see also On Philology). James Lockhart and other historians in the field of Mesoamerican studies (especially the Nahuatl language tradition) use the term New Philology[2] or Philological Ethnohistory to describe a kind of subaltern history, based on the written sources of colonized people rather than Spanish conquerors (Lockhart). From such a perspective, the problem of translingualism is, or rather should be, one of the crucial issues of philology, as well as comparative literature or philology within comparative literature – even though it hasn’t been till now.

The main focus of this paper is on the materiality of translingual migrants’ writing, which is a bridge to the archive-as-process. By translingualism I mean, following Steven Kellman, “the phenomenon of authors who write in more than one language or at least in a language other than their primary one” (ix). Suresh Canagarajah underlines the difference between multilingualism and translingualism. “The term multilingual typically conceives of the relationship between languages in an additive manner” (7), and – what is crucial here – this “is still somewhat influenced by the monolingual paradigm” (7-8). In multilingualism “the languages are kept separate” (8), whereas “[t]he term translingual conceives of language relationships in more dynamic terms” (8). This dynamism of languages used is very important for my approach and examples. Canagarajah also adds that “[t]he semiotic resources in one’s repertoire or in society interact more closely, become part of an integrated resource, and enhance each other, the languages mesh in transformative ways, generating new meanings and grammars” (8).

Why is this problem not a key issue for philology and comparative literature as such? Pascale Casanova uses the notion of the “Herder effect.” For her this means, among other things, the growing nationalization of literatures in 19th-century Europe. This tradition is connected, inter alia, with Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte or Jakob Friedrich Fries. The nationalization and ethnicizing of literature and culture was predominant in the German and other ECE nations. This was the reason Casanova wrote her book: “The purpose of this book is to restore a point of view that has been obscured for the most part by the ‘nationalization’ of literatures and literary histories, to rediscover the lost transnational dimension of literature that for two hundred years has been reduced to the political and linguistic boundaries of nations” (xi). According to the classical paradigm, this difficulty is insurmountable because the domain of literature is language, and not in the least the universal or global context, but rather the national (this is true even when a language is shared by several nations).[3] Hence, whether we follow Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank or Casanova, we should admit that our knowledge and understanding of language are shaped by 19th-century scholarship. Wallerstein and Frank build their theories on unthinking 19th-century social science, whereas Casanova constructs her interpretation on a critique based on the Romantic-nationalist paradigm of literature and literary studies. Our horizon is therefore beyond the classic perspective. The point is that modern philology arose at the time of the domination of the “Herder effect” not only in literature, language, and politics, but also, obviously, in academia (in ECE context see: Kamusella). That is one of the reasons why philology concentrated on monolingual texts, eventually with some exceptions like studies of intertextuality.

Historical linguistic research proves that bilingualism or even multilingualism was, and in fact still is, the norm in many parts of ECE, or even, to be exact, is a phenomenon that characterizes nearly the entire world (see Dev for India, for example). As Kellman says, “Most inhabitants of this planet are at least bilingual” (viii), whereas Canagarajah emphasizes that translingual practice is not new or recent (9). This makes the category of the national language – so popular in the 19th and 20th centuries as a basis for literature and “high culture” among intellectuals and scholars – unnecessary. Multilingualism is significant when it comes to both spoken and written language, everyday and literary language. What is more, “permanent multilingualism often causes reciprocal influence and constant fluctuation between languages” (Sawicka 98). As a result, there is an unstable and indefinite language norm for literature and literacy, or rather – from the viewpoint of classical literary studies – an anti-norm. Hence, a multilingual situation is fully correlated with literary forms and literary languages in this area, and the multilingual upbringing of the ECE immigrants I will discuss here strongly shaped their translingual practices in the United States.

In the case of “high culture” in ECE, more variables should be taken into consideration. The crucial point here is the language of the elites, which in the 19th and 20th centuries was either French or German. That is why in a letter from April 17th, 1971, Jakobson says that “French is my childhood language, second after my Russian mother tongue” (RJP, B. 4, F. 13). Almost all of the ECE intellectuals who became so important for postwar American comparative literature used two or more languages as their mother tongues or childhood languages. In that sense it was easier for them to adopt and to adapt to their new American milieu. But two other factors should be taken into account. The first is connected with the problem of the elite languages. None of these scholars had English as their second mother tongue or childhood language, and what is more, no one except René Wellek used English as an academic language in the initial context of interwar Europe. The second factor is that during the first stage of their stay in the United States they were often working in languages other than English, e.g. Jakobson in Francophone New York, at the École Libre des Hautes Études at the New School for Social Research (this school was advertised as “French University Courses in the French Language by French and Belgian Professors,” even though some of the professors were in fact from ECE; RJP, B. 2, F. 5).


Roman Jakobson's American Career

The case of Roman Jakobson is instructive for our purpose. I would like to focus on his important first years in the US. In the early 1940s, he focused on Native American languages, comparing them to Paleosiberian languages. His American research was largely based on materials compiled by the late German-American ethnographer and anthropologist Franz Boas. However, Jakobson’s Siberian contribution is much more interesting. His research was possible thanks to rare fieldwork data collected in Siberia by the Russian-American ethnographer Vladimir Ilyich Jochelson, whose materials wound up in New York after his death in 1937. Jochelson had Jewish roots and hailed from Wilno in prewar Poland (today Vilnius, Lithuania), so his collection in itself is an example of semi-peripheral politics and the politics of the archive in particular. Jakobson had access to his data, and I would argue that his American (and in that sense probably also global) career started at that time, and that it was then that he established his reputation as an excellent scholar. He combined his linguistic skills, knowledge of Russian, the American tradition, and crucial topics connected with Native Americans, with an interdisciplinary perspective and ability to work on the margins of a newly developing discipline – linguistic anthropology. He was able to focus on one of its most prominent and authoritative representatives, Boas, and finally to adopt a comparative approach as an ordering principle. He published his results in the prestigious journals American Anthropologist and International Journal of American Linguists (RJP, B. 10, F. 28-30, see: RJP, B. 9, F. 60; Jakobson “Paleosiberian,” “Franz Boas”). His notes from this period are in various languages: Russian, French, German, and English, as well as occasionally Czech, in the Czech versions of each text (published in the Czech immigrant journal New-Yorské Listy; RJP, B. 9, F. 77; Jakobson “Fr. Boas”).

At the same time, he was also working on a patriotic book for his second country – Czechoslovakia: Moudrost starých Čechů (Wisdom of the Old Czechs; RJP, B. 10, F. 1-24, B. 9, F. 79-83; see the 17th-century Wisdom of the Old Czechs by Jan Amos Komenský – Comenius). What is important is the fact that the book was prepared during WWII as encouragement in the fight against Hitler. It was published in Czech in the US and is a kind of cultural history of the Czech nation, starting from the Middle Ages. The idea of the book is simple: to demonstrate that Czechs are Slavs and that their culture developed in isolation from German culture. In fact, Czech and German culture developed in interaction, and the two “nations” intermingled. But if we look at Jakobson’s notes, the galley proofs of the text, and the remarks and corrections made by him, this political aim becomes even more obvious. Most of the notes and quotations he selects are anti-German, or present Czech culture as purely Slavic and antagonistic to German culture. At the same time, in the book’s consecutive galley proofs Jakobson softened his arguments, making them more precise and – in a way – academic. The point is that due to the nature of the topic, the language of the published text, its potential readers, and his political engagement, Jakobson wrote the book in Czech (sometimes using German, less frequently other Slavic languages, especially Old Church Slavonic for the earliest history). He almost never used English, even though he was working on the text in the US, or French, as one might have expected due to his other works or the Francophone intellectual milieu he was part of. This text, like other writings in Czech published at the same time, shows that he was seriously considering the possibility of returning to Czechoslovakia after the war.


Czesław Miłosz and Translingualism

So far I have been focusing on scholar-linguists and literary theorists. But the position of immigrant writers in the American milieu was different from their initial, European one, as they were now also often connected with academia. This kind of marriage of art and the academic world was an interesting effect of the transatlantic transfer of knowledge. A writer’s reflexivity and creative use of languages in translingual writings and bi-cultural literature can be read as a kind of meta-commentary on this process, sometimes even more perspicacious than the perspective of literary theorists. The best-known case is Vladimir Nabokov, but here I would like to focus on Czesław Miłosz, whose case is similar to a number of other writers from ECE (e.g. Witold Gombrowicz or Leopold Tyrmand). On the one hand, these writers often don’t change the language of their creative literary output, especially poetry. But they do, on the other hand, switch the language of their academic work, journalism, and commentaries, seemingly without difficulty. What is especially interesting in this context is that they undertake translations and very often control the translation of their works into other languages, especially languages that they know and use.

However, even in the case of Miłosz, the process of writing lectures or speeches in English was a multistage one. Very often the first draft was prepared in Polish with quotations in the original languages. In the cases I have analyzed, these were French, English, Russian, and Polish. He would then look up existing English translations of selected excerpts, but would very often improve them; he rarely produced his own translations, even though he was a prolific translator from different languages into Polish. We then find a number of English versions of each text with multiple remarks, corrections, and modifications that sometimes alter the text significantly, though without substantially transforming its structure. We may thus say that the structure and idea of the text were prepared in Polish, while serious modifications were introduced in the course of translation. In all of Miłosz’s huge archival collection we can find texts to which he added pages or notes, in the English manuscript or even the typescript version, but these still don’t modify the text substantially. The last possibility, especially after Miłosz received the Nobel Prize in 1980, was that his manuscript would be typed on a typewriter or computer by others with empty spaces for indecipherable words which were then filled in by Miłosz on the typewritten copies, which he continued to work on. For instance, one assistant writes: “I have marked places where words are difficult to read. Molly. 5/7/93” – a fully understandable remark, because Miłosz’s handwriting is extremely difficult to read (CMP, B. 156, F. 2546). It is significant that I did not find any texts where this typist had made any substantial corrections and modifications.



Even though the archives of Roman Jakobson, Czesław Miłosz, and other figures that I have examined are exhaustive, with a number of copies for each text from birth to final version, we are not sure if these archives give us a full picture of the writers’ creative process. The materiality of those texts uncovers for us the writing mechanisms in translingual situations, but cannot be treated as a complete image. We have to remember that like all creative works, including autobiographical texts, diaries and memoirs, journals and registers, letters and notes, archival sources and materials are an effect of someone’s well-considered, intentional and creative work. We will never be sure of the scope of the changes, interventions and intrusions made by authors themselves or their families and heirs. However, work in those archives can uncover the language mechanisms, real work and struggles of each author in a translingual situation. And if philology – both in its linguistic and literary dimension – offers us tools for analyzing such situations, this archival methodology of working with a text on different levels and at different stages of the process of its composition can make the practice of meaning-creation visible, opening up words and worlds alike.

I would also like to emphasize that translingualism is highly context-dependent, in each case determined by crucial factors such as institutions, readers, topics, problems, fields of interest, potential influences and reactions, interpersonal relations and one’s network of allies and associations. Translingualism is not a simple transition from one language to another, but a series of steps, sometimes not only forward, but also backward. It is more like dancing with languages than a straight path forward from one point to another. In that sense the process does not simply lead from an initial Slavic language (Russian, Polish or Czech) to a new English language. The story is usually much more complicated. However, my archival research has revealed a very interesting process and some general patterns. I call it shifting the authority of language: from the peripheral Slavic languages, to French – somewhat passé but still current for these writers – and finally to the domination of global English. We can observe this process on both the individual level of each biography and writing practice, and on the supraindividual level of the cultural shift of languages on the global scale.

Thirdly, the new philology can encompass the study of translingualism in two ways: firstly, together with historical linguistics, by highlighting multilingualism as a linguistic norm and standard, which is a good starting point for the discussion on translingualism, as well as for comparative literature generally; and secondly, by doing archival research in the real, factual history of philology as an academic discipline and a political practice of nationalization, and on that basis, going beyond the false self-image of the discipline in search of a new philology and comparative literature.

A fourth point is connected to the very deep need felt by writers to control their language production, even if the writer’s language skills are far from native-speaker level. Often, scholars as well as creative writers have tried to control the whole process of creating each text, also in the translingual situation of switching languages. An archive as a work of creative art, documenting someone’s entire literary life, is part of this process of controlling a writer’s self-image, even after – or perhaps especially after – their death.

A fifth problem is the question of the valuation of translingualism. Translingual in-betweenness produces linguistic hybridity (Canagarajah 3) and constructs new norms of each language. In that sense, translingualism is rather positively valued, as a chance for global, truly cosmopolitan relations. I have no doubt that this is true. However, in the analysis presented here we can observe all kinds of problems, struggles, and failures of such linguistic situations. What is more, a translingual situation could be exploited with good or bad intent, e.g. to produce gains in the field of political engagement, sometimes by manipulating trans-languages.

Finally, a last remark related to philology. Traditionally, the limits of philology were determined by the relatively stable sort of knowledge that was produced, and the stable character of the objects constructed by this knowledge. That is why we need a more dynamic and processual new philology; it is the only way to research translingualism from a philological and comparative point of view.



[1] The case of Zbigniew Herbert’s archive, and debates after his death about where it should be stored, are an excellent example of issues related to the politics of the archive. Herbert’s inheritors, his wife, Katarzyna Dzieduszycka-Herbert, and sister, Halina Herbert-Żebrowska, couldn’t decide whether the materials he left should be sold to one of the American university archives (Herbert’s will was to send them to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University) or stay in Poland. Finally, after two years of discussion, all materials are now available at the National Library of Poland. Aside from financial aspects, the geopolitical safety of that archive was crucial. This situation goes to show that the core-semi/peripheral division of the world, as well as the risks and threats, or even the state of emergency it entails is permanent in this part of Europe.

[2] Sheldon Pollock has used this term in the context of the South Asian tradition of philology, referring to “commentarial work as well as grammatical, metrical, rhetorical, and related disciplines,” focusing on early Kannada philology (“A New Philology” 399).

[3] The problem of translation, one of the most important problems in modern comparative studies, is a good example of this because it expresses our attachment to our national language and concern for what will happen with it (see: Apter; Damrosch 145-205; Liu).


Manuscript Sources

Czesław Miłosz Papers, GEN MSS 661, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA (CMP, B. – Box, F. – Folder).

Roman Jakobson Papers, MC 72, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, MA, USA (RJP, B. – Box, F. - Folder).


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