University of British Columbia
Bringing the Background into Focus: Reading the Linguistic and Bibliographic Codes in ‘Das Bad’
I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies at the University of British Columbia. I am currently writing my dissertation titled “Reciting Skin, Rewriting Race: On the Politics of Skin, “Race,” and Performativity in the Works of Yoko Tawada.”
The material book is not merely the vector utilized for transmitting a linguistically coded message to the literate, but rather is itself, as an object, a signifying process that needs to be recognized as part of the collaborative construction of textual meaning. The physical features of the book (layout, paper choice, font size and type), paratextual details (dedications, jacket reviews, summaries and recommendations), images and author photos, and other phenomena often overlooked as ancillary to the author’s written words are all complicit in the sum of textual meaning, and all comprise what Jerome McGann has labelled the ‘bibliographic code.’ The bibliographic code draws attention to the semantic messages and meaning contained within the vehicle itself, and when considered in relation to, and in dialogue with, the author’s linguistic code, the two can create a text dramatically different than would be the case if these codes were read in isolation. My presentation will focus on how the bibliographic code present in Yoko Tawada’s text(s) Das Bad (originally written in Japanese but first published in German, and since 2010 exists as a composite German-Japanese edition) serves to contextualize, historicize, highlight and problematize the author’s written text, which is superimposed over blurred photographic images of mostly young, naked, Asian females. I am approaching this as an intermedial text comprised of both visual and textual photographic representations that serve to underscore the complex paradox of the photograph as both ‘objective’ and ‘invested’; as somehow simultaneously both a natural and unmediated analogue of reality and a culturally dependent and ideologically loaded image that can be read through a code like any other text. In considering the relationship between the historical, cultural and social significance of the practice of photography and its deployment in the two editions of Das Bad (the more recent of which adds further layers to the bibliographic code as it superimposes the superimposed original onto images of limitless ocean expanse, while also including the original Japanese hypotext alongside the German translation), I aim to read the seemingly peripheral in this work as crucial for creating a theoretical context against which the written text can be more productively read.