Comparative Literature | Translating Cultures
C581 | 1146 | Bush, C
Class Meets: TR 9:30-10:45 WY 111
Robert Frost famously wrote that poetry is what gets lost in
translation. Yet it is equally true that translation can be highly
productive, that its “exotic injections” (Ezra Pound) often serve to
revitalize a language. In short, adequate conveyance of the
original’s meaning is not the only standard by which translations
can be measured or understood. What social, linguistic, and
historical factors motivate the production and reception of
translations? How do translations attempt to convey or conceal the
alien qualities of the original language? In sum, in what ways can
we understand translation as a cultural and cross-cultural activity?
In this course we will survey a range of translation theories and
practices, focusing on the ways in which translations negotiate
cultural, linguistic, and historical difference. We will begin with
Keats’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” Borges’s “Pierre
Menard, Author of the Quixote,” and a comparison of divergent
translations of Homer and Wang Wei. In the second unit we will
consider the polar extremes of translation as appropriation and as
estrangement of one’s own language, from the German Romantic project
of creating a World Literature in one language, to modern emphases
on the incommensurability of languages. The third unit will present
an array of theories of translation that go beyond issues of
accuracy by discussing translation in terms of ontology, gender and
the unconscious, deconstruction, nationalism, and post-colonialism.
In the final unit we will read examples of experimental
translations, including translations based on sound or image,
and “translations” without originals.
As a group we will focus primarily on critical and theoretical
texts. After a short common assignment, you will the have the
opportunity to pursue in-depth research on a specific author or
text, based on your interests and background. Topics for these
projects may involve any historical period or original language.
Knowledge of at least one language other than English is recommended
but not required; all required readings will be in English.