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”?