I designed this course based on three core ideas:
- Courses on literature in translation tend to ignore the multifaceted question of translation altogether. Alternatively, we should critically engage translation as a process of linguistic and cultural negotiation.
- The academic study of translation will equip us with practical and interpretive uses well beyond the humanities (and your university life!).
- Translation studies is a rapidly growing field, yet it remains largely focused on certain western European texts, critical theories, and cultural presuppositions. What happens if we theorize the problem of literary translation from the perspectives of Near Eastern literary cultures? That is to say, instead, we form our ideas about translation based on texts like the Qu’ran or the poetry of Rumi and Yehuda Amichai!
The fruit of such a pursuit will produce new questions and assumptions; it can also help us challenge certain negative and wrongheaded anxieties and obsessions with which we address translation today. A translation culture that is positive, generative, and collaborative must go beyond assumptions of “lost in translation,” “the translator as a traitor,” and the idea of “untranslatability.”
If these ideas resonate with you, then this course is for you, regardless of your major or the languages you know (or don’t know)! Before you join us on this journey (I know, it’s a worn out metaphor but bear with me), here is how the course is structured:
- For eight weeks, we will tackle specific case studies (see schedule) that deal with questions that are central to the question of translation. We will delve into a primary text and a scholarly/theoretical text that frames it. Theorizing in the abstract often produces ideas that pose as universal, and we can certainly do with less universalizing ideas that pretend to be suitable for all times and places!
- Having modeled certain types of reading, I will then turn the course over to you! Along with your peers, you will come up with readings (rubric will be provided) for us to discuss and analyze. No knowledge of Near Eastern languages required, all literary traditions welcome!
→ Knowledge of any second language would be ideal but is not required. Good humor, empathy, and intellectual curiosity are however assumed.
Why is this course good for your life?
Through a critical understanding of the cultural and historical roles that translation has played in the creation and dissemination of knowledge, we can better investigate the idea of linguistic and cultural difference. We will learn how not to treat linguistic and cultural difference as a given, and instead ask: what are the discourses of power that produce the idea of difference and who stands to benefit from the flagging of certain cultures as fundamentally different from our own? This course may be focused on one particular subject (translation), but ultimately, we will use the process of humanistic inquiry to promote the values of pluralism and equity. Those values lie at the heart of a growing movement that aims to rebuild our societies based on justice, compassion, and accountability.
Key Learning Outcomes
As US Americans, we live in a cultural ecosystem that poses as monolingual and treats translation at best as an afterthought. Translation is however ubiquitous! It is imperative to develop the cultural competence, linguistic proficiency, and critical literacy required to appreciate and fully understand the many roles it plays in our worlds today.
Translation is not a transparent, automatic, and unproblematic transfer of information from one language into another; it involves acts of interpretation that are never divorced from questions of power and ethics. In order to examine this process, we need to cultivate certain badass analytical skills.
Translation is a culturally and linguistically challenging and ethically-charged endeavor. Its difficulty makes it more —and not less— vital for our world today. In order to better understand what is at stake when we translate (and when we speak of translation), we need to create a language that affords more nuance and complexity. We will pursue this aim through academic reading and writing.
Your final grade will depend on the following criteria:
1) Weekly exercises (30%)
2) Participation (15%)
Come prepared, ask pointed questions, and provide insights based on your own reading of the text. #BeThere
3) Weekly annotations (15%)
Through a tool called Hypothesis, you will annotate one assigned text a week as a way of closely engaging with the readings and interacting with your peers. Weekly annotations are due on Sunday at midnight.
4) Critical Lexicon (10%)
You will compile a list of key terms that are central to our discussions of translation. Due at the end of the quarter (rubric will be provided).
5) Presentation (30%)
Your presentation will be collaborative and focus on a topic related to literary translation. * Graduate students will write a 8-10 page paper in addition to this.