Language of reception in exile as is a country, language sometimes chosen even before emigration, French is the privileged literary material of many writers of which it is not the mother tongue. This election resulted from very varied situations, from the Tunisian Albert Memmi to the Japanese Akira Mizubayashi, from the Irish Samuel Beckett to the Algerian Kateb Yacine, from the Slovenian Brina Svit to the Argentinian Santiago Amigorena… The ears of these immigrants from the language has become singularly refined, sensitive to modulations of meaning (homophonies, homonyms…) which will nourish their poetry differently from that of French people deaf to these subtleties.
“I do not believe that ‘pure’ identities exist, I would more readily speak of cultures, underlines the Vietnamese Anna Moï. The search for identity is a search for difference. If the novelist approaches languages as tools and not markers, she nevertheless remembers reading in French as the place where the imagination was able to unfold. “It was even the only imaginary possible because these books transported me elsewhere, far from war and death. I also see that it is difficult for me to speak intimate in Vietnamese, while I feel free with French and English: “Without parental control!” “
English-speaking Canadian Nancy Huston, on the other hand, explains that she cannot “completely let go in the French language”. In a recent book of interviews with Sophie Lhuillier (Seuil), the one for whom life in French was “like a second birth” underlines: “Bilingualism is a healthy split. It separates the signifier from the signified, that is to say the sound from the meaning. (…) If we learn early on that there are two words (and in fact countless words) for the same thing, it’s disturbing but also stimulating. “
The autobiography of the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof (Zoé) told of a linguistic conquest in her host country, Switzerland. “Write in French, I have to. It’s a challenge. The challenge of an illiterate ”, she persisted, knowing that“ this language (was) killing (her) mother tongue ”. The Japanese Ryoko Sekiguchi, who has lived in France for twenty-four years, has lived this same ridge line. “A language is like a person, with it we experience a companionship of patience and instability,” she confides. You can lose a language, even your mother tongue. Once settled in France, immersed in the deepening of French, I had more difficulty writing in Japanese. “
At the risk of losing oneself, or on the contrary of finding oneself? “The language has shaped something about me, that’s for sure,” Ryoko Sekiguchi continues, noting that he has a different mindset in each of the languages. “In Japanese, I am more discreet, I use the conditional a lot, while in French I am more assertive. This is probably explained by the fact that the mother tongue carries taboos, linked to childhood, to the family. A learned language, whatever it is, brings liberation. “
For Lebanese Oliver Rohe, French was a familiar childhood language like Arabic and English: neither his mother tongue nor a foreign language. As an adult, he set about taming her in writing as a novelty, making her cultural distance a valuable asset. His first novel, Defect of Origin (Allia, 2003), argued that there is no identity or language of one’s own: “One artificially constructs one’s own language to escape the indecipherable chaos of the past,” he wrote. he went into exile, advocating self-redefinition through language and writing.
So many countries of origin, so many directions of life, and so many feathers show that identity is perhaps revealed above all in the singularity of a style. In her essay North Lost (1999), Nancy Huston analyzed this deployment in literary creation: “Literature allows us to push back these limits, as imaginary as they are necessary, which outline and define our self,” she wrote. The novel is what celebrates this recognition of others in oneself, and of oneself in others. It is the human race par excellence. “