Comparative Literature and Culture

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The George Steiner Lecture in Comparative Literature

George Steiner Lecture 2013

David Damrosch

“Back to Babel: Global English in a Multilingual World”

In After Babel, George Steiner emphasized language communities’ desire to preserve their individuality by heightening the “alterities” of their local languages. In the decades since then, the cherished alterities of local and national cultures have come growing under pressure from globalization. Has Steiner’s hermeneutic Babylon been swallowed up in a “global babble” increasingly dominated by English? With examples drawn from contemporary Tibetan fiction and from global hip-hop, I will explore a new kind of alterity introduced in uses of global English today. English itself, it turns out, can be warped into a creative mode of counter-communication, at once deprovincializing and reinvigorating “minor” languages and local cultures alike.

David Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, Harvard University. His degrees, including his PhD (“Scripture and Fiction: Egypt, the Midrash, Finnegans Wake”), are from Yale University. Damrosch is the founding Director of the Institute of World Literature; in 2001-2003, he was President of the American Comparative Literature Association. He is the author of six books and numerous articles; amongst his many distinctions is an honorary doctorate from the University of Bucharest (2011). His impact on the field of world literature has been significant, especially through his monograph, What Is World Literature? (2003), and his general editorship of the six-volume Longman Anthology of World Literature (2004; 2nd ed. 2008).

George Steiner Lecture 2014

Susan Bassnett

"Translation as a Shaping Force in Literature"

The lecture will look at ways in which translations have played a key role in transforming literary history. Despite the discourse of loss that has bedevilled so much discussion of translation in literary studies, this lecture will propose an alternative view, which is that the gains to writers through translations have been of huge significance. Translation as a vehicle for translational literary movement has been underestimated for far too long, and now, in the globalised twenty-first century it is time for a reassessment.

Susan Bassnett is a writer and academic, who has published widely on aspects of translation, comparative and world literature. Her most recent books are TRANSLATION (Routledge 2014) and a 4th edition of her best-selling TRANSLATION STUDIES (Routledge 2013). She translates from several languages, having had a multilingual childhood. She is currently Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick, and Honorary Professor of Translation at the University of Birmingham. She has taught and lectured around the world, and is a Fellow of the Institute of Linguists and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

George Steiner Lecture 2015

Professor Haun Saussy

"The Importance of What Doesn't Translate"

Translators, if they take pride in their work, are scrupulous about the differences between their languages. Notwithstanding a certain academic vogue for "foreignizing" translations, a translation into English is usually judged as a piece of writing in English. But English, with its composite texture of words imported from other languages, is perhaps the language least qualified to defend its borders. All languages borrow from other languages; moreover, they steal, inasmuch as the "borrowed" word is kept and turned into a piece of familiar property. Beyond words, it is conceptual families, narratives, cosmologies that may be imported and made as if at home, with the result that the very idea of a language begins to seem porous and vulnerable. With the so-called creole languages of the Americas as guiding model, and examples drawn from several continents and historical periods, we will make a case for importation, transcription, calque or dubbing, as opposed to translation, as the major agency of cultural and linguistic change.

Haun Saussy is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. He has previously taught at UCLA, Stanford, Yale, the City University of Hong Kong, the Université de Paris-III, and the University of Otago (New Zealand). He was president (2009-2011) of the American Comparative Literature Association. He is the author of The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic (Stanford, 1993) and Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2001). His next book, The Ethnography of Rhythm: Orality and Its Technologies (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), discusses the history of the concept of oral literature through its relations to psychology, linguistics, literature and folklore.

George Steiner Lecture 2016

Professor Emily Apter

"Untranslatability and the World Literature Debates"

Following the publication of my book Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability in 2013, diverse responses emerged to the book's critique of the political stakes of institutionalized World Literature or Weltliteratur refurbished for a globalized literary studies.  Many agreed that World Literature bolsters a neoliberal pluralism in the humanities curriculum (as well as international publishing), and questioned World Lit's endorsement of translatability as a sign of global currency. But some were skeptical towards the idea that untranslatability or "non-translation studies" could provide a political counter-force. In this talk I will clarify how I define untranslatability and argue that untranslatables can do political work: 1) addressing the ambitions, limitations, and compromise-formations of World Literature; 2) activating terms through a kind of political philology; 3) taking stock of the heteronomy and non-belongingness of language within languages;  4) situating non-translation, non-equivalence, and incommensurability against economies of general equivalence; 5) generating new principles of a cosmopolitan right to untranslatability in situations of checkpointing and mass migration.

Emily Apter is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University.  She is the author, most recently, of Against World Literature: On The Politics of Untranslatability (2013) and The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2006), and has co-edited, with Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood, the English edition of the Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles [Dictionary of Untranslatables:  A Philosophical Lexicon] (2014). Since 1998 she has edited the book series Translation/Transnation for Princeton University Press.

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