World Literature Reaction

Ngugi’s point that English isn’t an African language is, in the native sense, strictly true. I think in the broader sense, however, it must be said that English is an African language in the world today. There are Africans, born and raised in Africa, who speak English as a first language. It is illegitimate for anyone to approach those native Africans and tell them they are, somehow, not African. His more subtle point, that there is a difference between writing in a native African language and then translating it into English is different than simply writing it first in English is something I really agree with. I think this idea plays directly into the notion of each language having things it ‘must say’. Ideally the story would be written and read in its author’s native tongue, whatever that may be, but the reality is that very few westerners are going to take the time and effort necessary to learn a ‘minor’ – a charged word there – African language in order to better appreciate its relatively small library of works. Then again, if nobody writes in these languages, there will never be anyone who bothers to learn or understand them.

In writing that I am immediately reminded of Adiche’s commentary on the principle of nkali – the possession of power. In most spheres of media production the widely accepted fact that, in the world today, a work must be in English to be internationally available (and thus profitable) is the chief motivator for the spread and establishment of the Anglo-American cultural hegemony. I think that, beyond the obvious forces of capitalism, there is also a degree of inherent cultural condescension involved in that judgment: that success only in Africa (or even only in Asia, or South America) isn’t really success at all. That a work hasn’t really ‘made it’ until it’s been translated into English and recognized as ‘real literature’ by the western world.

Despite the obvious problems with the English hegemony over world culture, it doesn’t invalidate the contribution of native African authors who use it to tell their stories. Is it damning for the native languages of Africa to have its best and brightest default to English? Maybe. Is giving those best and brightest a voice on the world stage worth that sacrifice? I think it is. Achebe fundamentally changed the dialog about Africa with a novel written in English. Adichie and other new, young African writers have continued to champion the idea that Africans have culture and perspective that adds to and enriches the world with its contribution to the human experience. The world can’t just have ‘one story’ about Africa, ‘something had to be done’ and it continues to need doing.

Angele Addendum:

One of my first thoughts at Angele Kingue’s reading was: “I’m here to listen to a black woman speak, but what I’m actually hearing is a white lady mumble.” I don’t speak French, and while I’ve been assured it sounds wonderfully pleasing it doesn’t amount to much more than noise to my ear. This is due to the poverty of my education and I lament that, but it’s also true. Would I have had this reaction if Professor Gillespie had been the one to render it in English? Probably not, but I couldn’t help but relate my experience back to the discussion we had on Tuesday and the debate going on between African literati (such as Ngugi and Adichie) about the power of language. If I can’t understand the words being spoken I can’t really appreciate what a person has to say, no matter how beautifully they say it. Listening to another person, a person whom is almost never as interesting or charismatic as the actual speaker, deliver his/her necessarily compromised and often somewhat muted version is just never going to have the same rhetorical impact as the original. If we take a powerful black speaker and give her an uninspired interpreter, haven’t we robbed her of something?

We had already discussed the interesting phenomenon of ‘multiple personalities’ stemming from language switching in class, but I don’t think any of us took the matter quite as seriously as Angele clearly does. Her insistence that she cannot possibly be understood (herself, as a person) in English was obviously sincere, if a little off putting. That she could only really create in her native tongue was an idea I had a much easier time sympathizing with. I can’t imagine trying to really write prose in a second language. (All credit to Achebe!)

I also got something of a charge from the idea of non-lingual communication she did so much with in her novel. Botany as a kind of poetry, an outfit designed as a cohesive message. I think the latter is something that probably goes on more than I realize or can apprehend. I have enquired about the depth and breadth of female closets and parsed exactly enough of the provoked responses to understand that there is complexity at work there that rivals most syntaxes… While on the topic of gender I have to admit that listening to Angele’s version of a man to man conversation was revealing. While she was talking about women, while women were talking to women, the story had a rainbow of sights, smells and sounds – all of which were rendered in loose, near verse-like prose. The scenes she read with men were in rooms, in front of televisions, over beer and were about money, jobs and politics. In addition to the stark contrast in topic and scenery, there was a profound shift in tone and format: the two men took turns delivering huge bricks of wordy philosophy interspersed with astonishingly personal observations about either themselves or one another.

The candor between these two men, their willingness to talk so intensely and directly about their feelings – it only made sense to me if they were lovers. She skipped around the book somewhat, and I didn’t really have a lock on much of it, but I’m fairly sure the two men were not supposed to be gay. It occurred to me that if they had both been women, I wouldn’t have questioned the conversation. It then occurred to me that standards and expectations of manliness (or even male-ness, to use a less loaded term) are not globally uniform. Maybe French guys talk like this? Maybe that seeped into the African cultures French got injected into? I remember being surprised while I read Adichie’s Americanah that her Nigerian protagonist thought it was “irresponsible” for grown men to eat ice cream cones in public.

On Franco Moretti’s Atlas…

“In this book … the method is all.” (Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, p. 5)  Last night I was asked the question, what is untranslatable about Moretti?  Is it the intersemiotic action that he engages in?  Is his a false, or hyper, or infinite act of translation?  Can we map, translate, transfer, the internal logic of the European novel onto cartographic space?

Moretti gives us a clear and overly modest answer: “It is a beginning.”  Perhaps like the Ngrams produced yesterday to illuminate our discussions of untranslatables, this is a starting point, based in quantitative methods that allows complex and new qualitative discussions.  Moretto asks us to look at the maps he produces of where action happens in a plot (plotting the plot?) and then invites the reader to step back and think.  “How is it, ” he asks “that geography shapes the narrative structure of the European novel?”  Of course this not yet Moretti’s distant reading.  It is actually a very close reading, but one that translates fictional space into a physical/isometrically measured place.

Why does this sort of translation matter?  How is it related to our discussions this week of the Untranslatable and World Literature?  I would argue, because of its method.  Mapping the action of novels, known and less known texts, is a heuristic that reveals patterns that Moretti supports through a kind of New Historicism (Marxist mapping?) that then allows him to refute some of the more dearly held readings of, for example, Jane Austen’s novels.  After Said’s claim that the British upper classes would be unthinkable without the colonies, many historians and critics have built careers and much scholarship on investigating the connection between the stately homes and estates of England (and Ireland) and the slave trade (see, for example, Madge Dresser’s Slavery and the British Country House (2013) and her earlier Slavery Obscured (2001)).  Moretti casts doubts on Said’s claim (although I would love to put Madge and Franco in a room together) through his close, spatial reading of Austen and translates what Said argues is an economic necessity into a plot device.  The colonies have to exist as a plot mechanism that allows Austen to dispose of difficult characters.  But why the colonies?  why not the Continent?

The existence of the colonies, argues Moretti, permits a “strictly symbolic function” to occur in that they belong for Austen and her readers to a mythic geography, and allow for unexplained wealth to suddenly appear in a plot (pecunia ex machina?).  Do we agree with him when he claims that “it is not economic history that explains it, but ideology that projects, literally, an uncomfortable reality away from Britain.”  (p. 29)  What do we think of a geography of ideas?  Is, for example, the very “other placeness” of Russia in the 19th century the “fulcrum” that moves the plot/sujet of Dostoevsky’s novels along?  Moretti thinks so: “geography may, if not exactly determine, at least encourage morphological change.” (p. 32)  What is the causal connection here?  Do we accept the privileging of geography as a morphological device? Space can produce its own genre?

We return to the borderlands again that for Apter is a place of linguistic slippage and policed exchange, needing to be “untranslated” and destabilized as a checkpoint of nation/state/security.  Moretti’s borderlands are places that intensify figurality. (p. 45)  Maybe echoing Joseph Campbell, but clearly articulating Lotman and Propp, good morphologists of narrative, Moretti correlates plot to space, metaphor becoming the spatial container of plot.  Can morphology become topography?

Mapping Samuel Coleridge's tour of the Lake District

Maybe.  The work of Ian Gregory and David Cooper (both at Lancaster University) relates to this  in their development of a literary GIS.  As the co-authors state in the paper from which this figure is taken,  “the paper focuses on the ways in which GIS can be used to explore the spatial relationships
between two textual accounts of tours of the English Lake District: the proto-Picturesque journey undertaken by the poet, Thomas Gray, in the autumn of 1769; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s self-consciously post-Picturesque ‘circumcursion’ of August 1802. Alongside this text-specific focus, the paper also draws on recent spatial literary criticism to reflect, more generally, on the critical possibilities and problems associated with the digital mapping of space and place in literature. Ultimately, the paper seeks to open up methodological and critical space for the ongoing development of literary GIS.”  See Mapping the English Lake District

About Katie Faull

Dr. Katherine Faull is Professor of German and Humanities at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA. She is currently Director of the Program in Comparative Humanities. Trained as a philologist at King’s College, London, and Princeton University, she has published extensively on the Moravian Church in North America in the colonial period. Her current book projects are both the result of NEH grants she has received. Both are translations of manuscripts from the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA where she is also a member of the Archives Board of Directors. Katie is becoming increasingly interested in digital ways of practicing philology! For more, go to http://www.katiefaull.com

This entry was posted in Questions. Bookmark the permalink. Edit

Leave a Reply

Logged in as Katie Faull. Log out?

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Against World Literature

If translation, as Apter claims, is the central moment of the Enlightenment’s project to create a discursive space of mutual recognition, democratic freedom, mutually agreed upon rules, structures and  a disinterested program of civil rights (Apter 2013, p. 129) then the elevation of Untranslatability might seem to counter all those hopes.  How can we live in a world of mutual misprision?  Isn’t it incomprehension and unintelligibility that cause conflict, war, hatred?  In her brief chapter on the keyword “Peace” Apter articulates the goals of the field of Comparative Literature in terms that would gladden any Dean of Arts and Sciences’ heart.  Uncannily echoing the goals of the program to inculcate Enlightenment values of mutual respect and community building circulated just yesterday by our director of new student orientation (see email “Being Bucknellians” inviting faculty to facilitate discussions of new student comprehension of our university mission statement), and also our our program goals in Comparative Humanities, Apter summarizes the field’s educational mission as “dedicated to producing complexly cultured, linguistically proficient citizens of the world who foster global understanding and the pragmatic conviction that universal consensus … is achievable through an enhanced linguistic commons.” (Apter 2013, p. 129)  The problem with this vision of ethical and linguistic transparency is, however, its maintenance.  Indirectly invoking the figure of Edward Snowden as the great “Untranslator” of Babel before its fall, the reader is warned of the spectre of state security.  Translating into terms closer to home: yes, it is an excellent model for student behavior for all to agree to create a community of mutual respect and care, but this must be maintained, monitored, surveilled.   The Enlightenment must also be policed.  Those of us who lived through the years of the “socialist garden” will recognize those arguments: “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser” (Markus Wolf)

What might this policing look like?  Apter, calling on Hamilton, turns to the old fashioned discipline of philology as a tool to examine critically the spread of “globish” and to monitor the discourse of the post 9-11 world.  For example, how has the discourse of security overtaken and bled into the talk of peace?  Resorting to the distant reading of HUGE AMOUNTS OF BOOKS through the Google Ngram tool and entering the terms “peace” and “security” in English language published (and scanned) texts from 1600 to the present day we see the graphs of occurrence.

peace and security

If we change the corpus to only “English fiction” we see a different graphic:

"peace" and "security" in English fiction

Does this mean that fiction is more concerned with the Enlightenment project of perpetual peace, or, sorry, eternal peace as Kant probably meant (drawing on the semantic fields and lexica of theological discourse) than non-fiction?  Maybe the distant reading leads us to a closer reading, a more careful reading that relies on the etymology of words, a translational act that can become an infinite inquiry?  Maybe the Untranslatable is actually more of a perpetually translatable, always trying to speak the remainder of the source language, becoming poetry.

The translation of the Dictionary of Untranslatables is not, I am afraid, an example of this.  I chose to read through the entry on “sex” and was infuriated by the translation.  This is “Frenglish,” a thinly veiled anglicization of French discourse that only served to obfuscate rather than enlighten the reader on the complexities of the interrelated interlingual fields of gender, genre, genus, Geschlecht and sex.  How bizarre that the Untranslatable has become the poorly translated in a work that appears to have as its mission the foregrounding of the complexity of words and the love of logology.

Pravda and Truth

On Borders and Untranslatability

German/Polish borderlands, July 2014

Just over a month ago, I visited my mother’s birthplace, Forst/Lausitz, an unassuming town located on both sides of the Neiße river, intentionally developed as a production center for textiles and cloth in the 18th century by the Saxon statesman, Carl von Brühl.

Like his nearby palace, Pförten, Forst was devastated by a repeated change of hands; from the Seven Years War to the end of the Second World War the geopolitics of Central Europe determined its fate.  In 1945, as the Ukrainian divisions approached the Neiße, the German army gave the order to blow up all the bridges that connected the eastern side of the town with the west.  And so the bridges have remained; like snapped off rods, jutting out across the river and its low banks.

As a child, the mysteriously overgrown and unattainable other side of the river haunted/taunted me.  Innocent of the consequences, one afternoon, while our parents were visiting old friends who lived on the cobblestoned street that ran along the river, my sister and I went down to the bank and she asked me to take her photograph.  I dutifully obeyed, only to be accosted by an East German border guard who demanded to have the film from the camera.  Taking photographs of the state border was forbidden.  My mother, who must have been watching from the window, flew downstairs and explained to the incensed border guard that we were just children, how did we know that those prettily striped poles on either side of the bombed bridge signified a geopolitical flashpoint?  He looked at her with sheer amazement and then took our film.

Der Steg, Forst/Lausitz

Since that moment, borders have evoked fear in me.  Maybe from an early  encounter with the invisible lines drawn through cities and landscapes that have the power to trigger “the shoot to kill” policy of the inner-German state division, or traumatic experiences at US immigration checkpoints, I await the moment where my right to travel across that bridge, or through that port of entry, is revoked.  And, if Apter is right, maybe that is why I have been drawn to translation theory and its subsequent field of study in a romantic mission to rebuild those exploded bridges.  Maybe I too have been guilty of what she identifies as the attempt of translation studies to use “border crossing” as a prime metaphor of general equivalence (Apter 2013, p. 101), a location of meaning exchange and inter-disciplinarity.  Maybe I too see the new German/Polish border crossing just up the river from Forst, where the checkpoints were built but never used, as a “space of flow” in a new European world order.  This  travel  without checkpoints, however, does not take us to a translation zone of positive interchangability.  It produces a narrow zone where the Euro and German are the accepted currency, where Germans go to buy cheap petrol and cigarettes (and maybe a bunch of flowers, too) and then hastily return home, away from the gazes of the linguistic and cultural other.  Drive too far out of this zone, and you pay with sloty and  communicate in Polish.

So, what is Apter’s project with this provocatively named volume that positions itself immediately as an “against,” invoking the dialectic that she claims to so vehemently oppose in her chapter on chronology?  Is it to expose translations as “instruments of global consumption”?  Is to to argue for the de-provincialization of the canon?  Is it, to extend the eating metaphor from yesterday, to introduce “indigestibles” to this mass consumption (her style serves this purpose well) and then to make of the indigestible untranslatables the “fulcrum of comparative literature”?  Is it to foreground a kind of “glossolalia” that defies translation, a speaking in (non-referential) tongues that no-one understands? How does she deal with the semiotics of the Untranslatable that evoke God, logos, truth, Derridean transcendental signifieds?

What Apter claims to be promoting is a translational activity of “verkehrte Wahlverwandtschaften”, disruptive elective affinities that replace the organic ones, the false friends of translation that lead us down the slippery path of assumed equivalence (think for example of the horrors of the “Handy” or “Public Viewing” in German).  Or a World Literature that is “an experiment in national sublation that signs itself as collective, terrestrial property.” (p. 15)  More “War and Peace”?  The example she provides of such a successful translation and production of World Literature is Alain Badiou’s hypertranslation of Plato’s Republic, a work that demands both the closest of readings, “channeling Plato” (maybe understanding Plato “on his own terms” pace Lefevere), absolute comprehension, and what I would call an adaption where the cave becomes a movie theater.  The untranslatable, as the Stein des Anstoßes, produces new knowledge, it becomes an “epistemological fulcrum for rethinking philosophical concepts and discourses of the humanities.” (p. 31)  And hopefully not a fetish object of the new world order.

This then would seem to be the reason for her fascination with the Dictionary of Untranslatables.  Celebrating mistranslations, sophistry, and logology, Apter invites us to to survey this cartography of philosophical differences.  Writing about the entry on “pravda” Apter sees the untranslatable as “militant semiotic intransigence,” the remainder of translation that has the potential to undercut national language ontologies but still resorts to nationalistic essentialist thought (you know, my Weltschmerz is not accessible to you because only the Germans feel it in their Waldeinsamkeit).  Can the zone of untranslatability become a new Habermasian  public sphere, a negotiation zone between languages and cultures that undercuts nations?  And how can we fit World Literature into such a zone?  Does it then consist of an “enlightened common culture,” an ecologically aware “planetarity,” a literary world system that foregrounds a poetics of difference and a cartography of scale that is the very stuff of Comparative Literature?

This zone of untranslatability might be so large, so filled with the HUGE DATA of world literature, that only the philological tools of the telescope/microscope in Moretti’s Literature Lab can navigate it.  How do we read so much and not reduce it to the easily digestible pap of globalized fast food?  Reaching for the utensils of systems theory, Moretti developed the mathematical modelling of the dynamics of the economy, the spread of disease, the neural networks to examine the evolution of literature (the novel as a genus-gene-genre).  Only in exile, she claims, he claims, do these genres bear great fruit.  “Are new genres made by virtue of translation failure? Does differentiation come at the expense of hybridity? (see Apter 2014, p. 50).  Forgiving his Eurocentric focus, Apter recognizes the potential of Moretti’s notion of a global web/system.  She sees his quantitative formalism as a way in which to map/grid the small/micro politics of a literary work to the global/macro political context.  Such excitement in the hyperbole of Stanford’s Literary Lab, who describe  themselves as space men exploring the great unmapped territories of the great unread oeuvre of the novel, might be a way forward for the field.  But I don’t think Apter is quite sure, yet.

If we might be able to create a translation zone with the DH tools of Stanford’s Literary Lab, we must still beware the traps of periodization.  In the discussion of three core courses in Comparative Humanities we have these discussions all the time.  How do we deal with the given that critical traditions are embedded within European typologies? How do we navigate the totalizing nomenclature of World Literature (Chinese art, Japanese modernism, Russian music)? How do we develop a translational literary history that is not determined by “fetish dates” of Eurochronology?

Bucknell's Carnegie Building

Our colleague at Penn State Eric Hayot proposes breaking down periodicity by focusing on one year and then building out from that (we started HUMN 250 like that); our ex-colleague Kathleen Davies points out the link between periodization and cultural political categories (exemplified in the names around the Carnegie Building on campus-a prime example of “tycoon medievalism”).

Like Nietzsche, we should instead reject the Hegelian dialectic, disable linear history, and subvert periodization, producing a “verkehrte Geschichte,” thoughts that are not of the season in sequences that perhaps reflect more of a Benjaminian sense of the “Jetztzeit.”  The action of politics on time, an Untranslatable now.

The Mauerweg, Berlin-Rudow, June 2014

In her interrogation of world literature and translation studies, Apter may frustrate the reader with a style that deliberately trips us up with incessant bibliographical references, complex sentences, and obtuse neologisms and revived archaisms.  But this also wakes the reader up to the potentially sloppy thinking that has accompanied the spread and study of world literature and the practice that makes it possible, translation.  Border zones, interlingual and intercultural spaces should not be seen as places of equivalence but rather thresholds of untranslatability and blockades.  But, in order to be able to argue this, Apter has chosen her borders carefully.  How would she parse the discrete “Mauerweg” that surrounds what was West Berlin.  Where once the “Todesstreifen” signalled the impassable divide between eastern and western bloc, there is now a bike path, flanked by blind lampposts, curved like shepherd’s crooks, that has melded into the landscape.  Unlike the bombed bridges of my mother’s hometown, here is an untranslatable border.

On Damrosch and World Literature

 

In his piece on the ACLA website, the guru of World Literature, David Damrosch talks about the issue of scale and world literature; namely, who can read everything that is out there?  And how can we read it?

We can think of ordering all this literature/ work in terms of center/periphery (some have thought in terms of the hierarchy of major/minor –see Kundera and Kafka) or seeing the expanse of World Literature is so vast that we cannot think of it in terms other than national book markets.  Other critics argue about the question of language, post-coloniality, planetarity (Spivak) and ask what kind of approach to literature are we teaching our students?

For Damrosch, the nation/world question is one that is best thought of as figure/ground.  But, is it possible to think this way within the conditions of market and post-coloniality?  He claims, yes, but not returning to the crypto-nationalism of the 19th century (what was crypto about it?) and the notion that high literature is the embodiment of a nation’s highest cultural values [Herder].  This however elides the examination of minority cultures or bilingual authors [see Kafka].  Bilingual and minority culture authors confuse the genealogy of national literature: nation<->culture<->language.  Add post-coloniality to that and the picture becomes far more complex.

What is translatability and the “dream” of equivalence?  Within Translation Studies there are formal/technical terms that we employ everyday.  See the entries.  However, we also must do this in the face of Derrida’s claim that everything is at one translatable and untranslatable.  Personally , I find that André Lefevere’s concept of the conceptual and textual grids is the very  useful in teaching students about translatability and I find his chapter in the Bassnett/Trivedi volume helpful. Given my obsession with spatial visualization, I like to think of translation as an act of “mapping meaning” and thus the concept of textual and conceptual grids allows us to examine the mapability of meaning within the greater hermeneutical framework of society and politics.  Lefevere brings up the old chestnut of “fidelity” and that it is not always the best guide to translation.  It is important in technical manuals but no in advertising, because of the need to “localize” in translation.

When foregrounding fidelity, Lefevere warns us of the danger of assigning primacy and privilege to the source text and suggests that we can think of the ST as Europe and TT as the rest of the world.  Calling on the ubiquitous master trope of EATING, there exists the danger that the intention and style of the ST will devour the TT [is there the fear that the TT might do the same to the ST?]  and that there will be a wholesale transposition and translation of ST’s conceptual and cultural grid onto TT culture.  The predominance of translation into English (and other European languages) perpetuates the colonizing process.  A good example of the politics of translation is that of Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam which was considered to raise the ST to the status of art within the dominant culture.

For example, how do you translate a sexual “sweat” in Shakuntala into the national language of the women who only glow?

What is translation according to Bassnehtb-giantbanyantree-randygardnertt and Trivedi?  Must it always be linked to a spatial metaphor, the carrying over of meaning in the German and Latinate calc?  Can’t we also think about it as a temporal figure?  A “Nachsagen”?  anuvad?  How does this change our conception of the translational act?  How might the image of the banyan tree with its branches becoming new trees help us?  Is this a form of “rhizomic” translation?

We then also have to face Salman Rushdie’s claim that all postcolonial writers have already been translated.  What is the status of English as the language of the postcolonial writer?  Chapter 2 considers strategies of postcolonial writers who are writing and publishing  English to signal their “otherness”.  Indian and African writers who do not reject English but who already see themselves as translated or hybridized and thus, within their texts, signal this through code-switching/uses of culturally specific terms, perhaps even needing to gloss their own pages (Chinua Achebe adds a gloss of Igbo terms at the end of Things Fall Apart, as does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half of a Yellow Sun).

Do we agree that Rushdie’s English is already a translation because it is a language that no-one would speak in India?  “Indian English writers are thus not so much translating Indian -language texts into English as using various strategies to make their works read like translations.” (Bassnett/Trivedi, p. 53.)  A Schleiermacherian move to produce the “alienating translation” in order to “creat[e] an English that resists easy appropriation British or the West as a whole is thus a primary task” of the postcolonial writer (Bassnett/Trivedi, p. 55).

So, that brings us to Emily Apter’s critique of the project of World Literature and her elevation of the concept of Untranslatability to the “fulcrum of comparative literature.”

Damrosh

What is the art? How you differentiate what is art and what not? Is it “art for art” or it needs to be professional and have fans?

Another question is how should we translate the world literature? And why living in a 21st century, the century of globalization, we still need to translate/adopt the world literature? In this case how can make it understandable for everyone: shall we use translation studies or simply create one language for everyone?

Translation and World Literature

Damrosch begins with an example of one of the oldest lyrics to survived. He notes that “whereas many works of world literature come to us already shaped by complex dynamics of transmission, further shadowed by vexed relations between the originating culture and our own, this text has almost no history at all intervening between us and the moment of its inscription in 1160 B.C.” (412). Because of its survival , brevity, and simplicity, the poem is regarded as art. I’m curious as to how Schleiermacher might categorize this text/lyric as an example of bringing the reader to the author’s linguistic-conceptual world or vice versa? First, in order to classify something as a work of art, its understanding needs to be universal. Now because the gender of the speaker of the text fails to be identified, could one argue that it cannot be considered a work of art since it fails to accomplish such universality? Would this mean that in the case of considering the text art the author should be brought to the reader as the gender of the speaker would be established?

Steiner Chapter 4 The History of Translation

Breughel detail
The Tower of Babel, detail, Breughel

Steiner, Chapter 4

Claims of Theory Periods in translation

  • from classical times until 18th century – translation more a version in a new language and not a word for word translation but rather what is the gist of something and then re-express it in one’s own language. What are the assumptions behind such a theory of translation? Dryden, Horace, Cicero
  • Theoretical and hermeneutic inquiry—Translation set within the questions of theories of language and the mind—develops its own vocabulary and method. People writing about the hermeneutics of translation are also practitioners–Schleiermacher, Schlegel, Humboldt.
  • Machine translation – attempts to map relations between formal logic and models of linguistic transfer
  • We are still in the hermeneutic moment, because he claims of the discovery of Benjamin’s paper (1923) which appeals to a universal notion of language, revitalizing the arguments of the ChomskyistsWhat about the realm of World Literature?
  1. 251—Should there be any passage from one tongue to another? Religious and psychological doubts about this—Kabbalah, Kafka, can one utter the knowledge of God in a mortal tongue?

But ironically much of the need to translate has come from Christianity’s need to translate the Gospels. Language should not prevent you from salvation.

Translation also seen as the “intertraffick of the mind”—a language community wants to enrich itself from outside

  1. 262 Not everything can be translated. Theology and gnosis posit an upper limit—not everything can be translated now—there is no unwobbling pivot from which we can view the world and history

Registers of translation—common matter and recreative transfer from one literary philosophic or religious text to another

  1. Literal
  2. “faithful but autonomous restatement” (266)
  3. “imitation, recreation, variation, and interpretive parallel” (266)

Difference between Dolmetschen and Übersetzen

Dolmetschen- refers to interpretation using both literary and contextual views of a text to come up with a translation. Not just translating- interpreting.

Übersetzen- This refers to translation/translators. This focuses on finding word-to-word equivalencies.

Goethe’s three phases of translation

  1. 277  First order of translation acquaints the target culture with the foreign culture in the latter’s own terms. Imperceptible entry of the foreign into our domestic vocabulary—Luther and his stress on the everyday.

– This is done in the hopes that translated text will then translate into the foreigner’s lives.

  • Appropriation through the surrogate: native garb placed on foreign form – could this be a parody?

– This refers to new/translated ideas acting as replacements for old ones- one example being the teaching of Christianity to foreigners in terms of their own religious views.

  • Metamorphosis and entelechy will lead to a perfect identity between original and translation. The translator has to create a tertium datum.

-implies a full understanding of the meaning in a foreign text.

  • Jakobson—interlingual translation is a translation which is infinitely regresses/progressing
  • Transmutation is a recoding, a placing of one sign into another system—systems of signification- allows us to figure out the meaning of words in relation to things other than other words. Uses pictoral representations as a way of gaining more accuracy.
  • Can we theorize about translation? Can we produce models?
  1. 300 In significant measure, different languages are different, inherently creatively counter-proposals to the constraints, to the limiting universals of biological and ecological conditions. They are the instruments of storage and of transmission of legacies of experience and imaginative construction particular to a given community.”

– This addresses the idea that when removed from a native context, certain words are never the same. There are plenty of theories that attempt to reach a conclusion about which approach to translation is best, but if context is lost, meaning is damaged.

Why Translation Studies?

Students in the Comparative Humanities Program read a large percentage of their primary texts in translation. One of the goals of the Program is raise students’ critical awareness of the cultural location of the texts they are reading. That text, if translated, is obviously situated culturally both in its original language and also in its translated language. This course provides majors and non-majors alike with theoretical and conceptual tools that can be used in the analysis of, for example, the constitution of the Western “canon”—one of the recurring questions throughout the Program’s courses.

However, the last ten years has witnessed an explosion  of the phenomenon of  “World Literature” in the global sense of Marx’s “International” and Goethe’s “Weltliteratur.” As human interconnectivity has grown with the expansion of access to the internet and also availability of travel, the publishing program of World Literature has sought to “deliver surprising cognitive landscapes” from those places that might not previously have been accessible to the English speaker.

Behind the concept of World Literature lies the  assumption that all language is translatable.  Within the CH program, courses draw on the world literatures of both the present and past, many times looking to find translations of  texts from Turkish, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Latin.  This tendency towards the globalization of our curriculum tends to avoid the question of universal translatability.

Is everything translatable?  Why (not)?  Why could the assumption of universal translatability actually undermine the very core of comparativism?  Drawing on the recent work of Emily Apter in her English translation and edition of “Dictionary of Untranslatables” (Princeton, 2014) this seminar will also explore the problematics of World Literature and translation.  The seminar will foreground assumptions about a) English as a universal language and the implicit problematics associated with such an assumption and b) explore ways in which both the concept of World Literature and its critique can be incorporated into our concepts of translation.  In all this talk of a “globalized” world, whether this refers to finance or literature, how do we avoid the reduction of culture to a MacDonalds of thought, and the flattening of language to “translatese”?