Regimes of comprehensibility

A perspectival approach to literary multilingualism


  • Stefan Helgesson Stockholm University


literary multilingualism, lingualism, Kiran Desai, regimes of comprehensibility, reception, translation, World literature


This brief conceptual essay addresses the fundamental antinomy between, on the one hand, promoting a multilingual approach to reading and, on the other, deconstructing linguistic boundaries and identifications as such. While the concept of multilingualism pragmatically challenges monolingual habits of thinking, it fails to take account of the porousness of linguistic boundaries. Multilingualism, in this respect, is still beholden to the monolingual paradigm. Conversely, however, the deconstruction of the unity of a language risks playing fast and loose with sedimented institutional and textual histories that not only give “a” language tremendous authority but also add continuously to its qualities as a conceptual and aesthetic resource. Drawing on two examples from Kiran Desai’s novel The Inheritance of Loss (2006), the article discusses author-, text- and reader-oriented approaches to literary multilingualism, in order to arrive at a more contextualising and socially oriented notion that draws on current world literature scholarship. With “English” as its central case, a key claim here is that a regimes-approach makes it possible to speak of the multilingualism of “one” language.

Conceptual articles


2022-12-05 — Updated on 2022-12-20


How to Cite

Helgesson, S. (2022). Regimes of comprehensibility: A perspectival approach to literary multilingualism. Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies, 16(3), 9–18. (Original work published December 5, 2022)