I had always found it unpleasant to have guests in my apartment. They filled up my rooms with strange sentences I would never have formulated in such a way. Today I found the sound of these sentences particularly unbearable. Sometimes I tried to follow only the sense of the conversation so as not to hear the sounds of the language. But they penetrated my body as though they were inseparable from the sense.— from "A Guest," in Where Europe Begins, by Yoko Tawada.
[...]At midnight the guests began to dance to disco music. I couldn't hear the music, but saw the wine glasses vibrating. Apparently it was very loud. No one was allowed to miss a beat. The guests weren't dancing at all, they were speaking to one another. When someone stuttered, the other spoke more quickly so the interruption wouldn't be noticed. The rhythm was set by a computerized drum set, just like in disco music. The people breathed, as it were, mechanically, rather than taking irregular breaths whenever they felt like it. My heartbeat and my sighs were ridiculously soft, no match for the powerful speakers. In these black refrigerators, the mass of sounds is frozen. There weren't any speakers in my apartment, and there wasn't any music playing. People were talking. I wanted to transform myself into a stone. Wanted to become a stone like a misplaced comma, to interrupt the clatter of conversation.
Where Europe Begins, by Yoko Tawada, is short enough that one could ride along the dream narrative to the end in just a few hours. I feel rather lucky that I rather accidentally chose to read this over a couple months, extending the experience, embodying it.
It's a meditative, highly surreal text that grapples with the intersection of language and reality.
Language as a physical thing, our tongue in our mouth, sound waves.
Language with a physical representation, scratches on paper.
I asked the man who was standing there hawking his wares in what language the book was written, since I don't know of any language whose letters are arranged in a circle. He shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn't a book, it was a mirror. I refused to look at the thing he was calling a mirror.
Maybe it isn't a book, I conceded, but I would still like to know what's going on with this writing.
The man grinned and replied: To our eyes, you look exactly like this writing. That's why I said it was a mirror.
I rubbed my forehead from left to right, as if rewriting my face.
Everything is translation, and all translation is interpretation.
I previously responded to a couple of the pieces in this book:
Canned Foreign [text]
To date, this is my favourite of Tawada's books and I see myself returning to it.