The Poetics and Politics of Translation

Sophomore and above—Spring

Translation is the process by which meanings are conveyed within the same language, as well as across different languages, cultures, forms, genres, and modes. The point of departure for this course is that all interpretive acts are acts of translation, that the very medium that makes translation possible—language itself—is already a translation. Because difference, “otherness,” or foreignness is a property of language, of every language, perhaps some of the most interesting problems that we will address revolve around the notion of “the untranslatable.” What is it that escapes, resists, or gets inevitably lost in translation? And, what is gained? How do we understand the distinction between literal and figurative language, and what underlies our assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the authenticity of the original text or utterance and the derivative character of its translation(s)? Although translation is certainly a poetics, it is also the imperfect and yet necessary basis for all cultural exchange. As subjects in a multicultural, multilingual, and intertextual universe, all of us “live in translation”; but we occupy that space differently, depending on the status of our language(s) in changing historical, political, and geographic contexts. How has the history of translation theory and practice been inflected by colonialism and postcolonialism? Our readings will alternate between the work of theorists and critics who have shaped what we call Translation Studies and literary texts that thematize or enact the process of translation, beginning with Genesis and the Tower of Babel. In addition, a workshop component to this course, involving visiting members of the foreign-language faculty and other practitioners of translation, will engage students directly in the challenges of translating. Students must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English; previous study of literature is also required.