Speaking in tongues of a language crisis: Re-reading Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Ein Brief” as a non-monolingual text

Brigitte Rath

Abstract


Although Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Ein Brief” (1902), better known as the “Chandos letter,” has received sustained attention as a paradigmatic example for the language crisis of German modernism, the question of the specific language(s) in which the text is written has curiously remained a blind spot. In a detailed contextualising analysis of the languages (and their medial representations) at play in both the fictional, private communicative situation between Lord Chandos and Francis Bacon in 1603 and in Hofmannsthal’s first publication of “Ein Brief” in the German newspaper Der Tag in 1902, this article argues that the Chandos letter speaks in tongues of a language crisis resulting from the restrictive unities of a monolingual paradigm. “Ein Brief,” oscillating constitutively between more than one speaking position and explicitly addressing ever changing reading contexts, performs non-monolingual language use that begins with translation.


Keywords


monolingual paradigm, non-monolingual, pseudotranslation, modernism, Hofmannsthal

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