The Translingual Artist’s Pre-Existing Condition

Xiaolu Guo’s Internal Lineage of Exile


  • Gabriela S Lemos University of Texas at San Antonio


translingual art, memoir, Xiaolu Guo, exile, displacement, alienation, multilingualism


Translingual writers, with their unique ability to master affecting prose or poetry in more than one language, offer particularly fascinating queries of research. Xiaolu Guo is one such translingual writer who, as both a novelist and filmmaker, also creates art in more than one medium. Few artists have accomplished the level of complexity inherent in creating profound work in both varied mediums of art and different languages. Exploring the unique drives that allow these multidimensional artists to access disparate planes of creative ability is a worthy direction of analysis. Yet, as an artist that innately inhabits varying identities and statuses, the translingual writer denies easy categorization and simplified attempts at labeling identity. The artist’s unique translingual ability, unsurprisingly, often accompanies immigrant or exile status but, as Guo’s 2017 memoir, Nine Continents: A Memoir in and Out of China insightfully demonstrates, displacement and exile are not conditions solely relegated to the realm of geopolitical borders. Instead, what becomes brilliantly clear through Guo’s painful and captivating memoir is a pattern of internal exile reaching far back into her lineage that precedes the artist’s experience of external alienation through immigration. Natasha Lvovich coins the idea of an internal position of exile that so regularly plagues the most memorable translingual authors as a, “pre-existing condition of translingual creativity” (2015, 118). Lvovich (2015) explains: “They are often people who have found themselves in the outsider position, in internal exile, even before their voluntary or involuntary physical exile” (118). This poignant state of pre-existing internal exile is a determinative concept that frequently lies at the root of the best translingual artist’s formative experiences. This essay explores the phenomenon of a pre-existing internal exile among translingual artists, especially as it appears throughout Xiaolu Guo’s 2017 memoir, Nine Continents.

Author Biography

Gabriela S Lemos, University of Texas at San Antonio

Lemos received her BA and MA in English with a certificate in Linguistics from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She teaches college-level literature and composition to future 1st-generation students in high school, through the TRiO Programs at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is currently working on applications for PhD programs in Comparative Literature and Linguistics.