In-comparative Literature: On the Problem of Untranslatability in Literary Studies


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In-comparative Literature: On the Problem of Untranslatability in Literary Studies
Series Title:
Rehumanizing the University: New Perspectives on the Liberal Arts
Physical Description:
Apter, Emily
Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, University of Florida
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, FL


This talk offers a critique of 'world literature' models of literary studies on the grounds that they presume translatability as a given. As a result, the field of literary studies does not make enough room for what is 'untranslatable'. What does Prof. Apter mean by an Untranslatable? She borrows the term from the philosopher Barbara Cassin, who used it in the subtitle of a project published in France as the Vocabulaire Européen des Philosophies: Dictionnaire des Intraduisibles (The Vocabulary of European Philosophies: A Dictionary of Untranslatables). In conceptualizing the project, Cassin was committed to activating philosophy as both medium and life-form. Here, the Untranslatable refers to a term that has been historically left untranslated as it transferred from language to language (as in the examples of Polis, Begriff, Praxis, Aufheben, Mimesis, Feeling, Lieu Commun, Logos, Matter of Fact), or that has been constantly subject to mistranslation and retranslation (especially evident in such entries as Subject, Translation, World, Truth, Sense, Sovereignty, and Categories). It is arguably a convergence point where the void of meaning in one language finds its counterpart in another. The Untranslatable challenges the soft international diplomacy model of translation, traditionally defined by the desire to screen out disagreement and avoid direct encounters with insecurable knowledge. It runs the security risk of non-communication even as it serves as a repository for the remainders of what gets lost in translation. Casting untranslatability as the fulcrum of an 'Incomparative Literature', this talk looks at how the unspeakable, the un-understandable, the incomparable and the interdicted are mobilized in critical practice.
Emily Apter received her Ph.D. from Princeton, and has been Professor of French and Comparative Literature at NYU since 2002. Previously she taught in French and Comparative Literature at UCLA, Cornell University, UC Davis, University of Pennsylvania, and Williams College. Her recent essays have focused on paradigms of "oneworldedness," the problem of self-property and self-ownership, literary world-systems and the translatability of genres. At NYU, she has co-organized two Humanities Council lecture series, on "The Humanities in an Era of Global Comparatism," (2005) and "Timing the Political." (2006). She has also initiated a series of panels at NYU's La Maison Française devoted to "Rethinking Nineteenth-Century French Studies." In 2005 she was elected MLA Divisional Representative for "Comparative Studies in Romanticism and the Nineteenth Century." She is the author of The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton, 2005), Continental Drift: From National Characters to Virtual Subjects (Chicago, 1999), Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the Century France (Ithaca, 1990), co-editor with William Pietz of Fetishism as Cultural Discourse (Ithaca, 1991), and André Gide and the Codes of Homotextuality (Stanford, 1981). Prof. Apter has published a variety of articles, including in: Critical Inquiry, Translation Studies, The Boston Review, October, Public Culture, Modern Language Notes, and Critique. She edits a book series Translation/Transnation for Princeton University Press. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the ACLS, the Rockefeller Foundation and the NEH.
Organized by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, and co-sponsored by the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), the Harn Eminent Scholar Chair in Art History Program, the UF Honors Program, the Alexander Grass Chair in Jewish History at UF, the UF International Center, the UF Office of Research, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the UF Center for Jewish Studies, the UF Libraries, the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, the UF France-Florida Research Institute, the Hyatt and Cici Brown Endowment for Florida Archaeology, the UF Department of History, the UF African American Studies Program, the UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, and the Alachua County Library District.

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UFCENTERFORTHEHumanitiesand the PublicSphere,.......REHUMANIZI6-...;THEUNIVERSITYNewPerspectivesontheLiberalArtsSpeakerSeries2011-2012n-comparativetit"ureeProblemofUntranslaLiteraryStudies:.....oEmilyApter(NewYorkUniversity) FollowusonTwitter: UF Humanities Rehumanizing,the University: #UFrehum


The book opens in French -norwiTha few wordsofFrench (as inThoseEnglishThardonor eliminareTheFrench altogdher), butwiTha whole paragraphofFrench, with only a few phrasesofRussianaTTheend. This mixingofFrench and Russian goes on for another five chapters or more,andoccurs frequentlyThroughoUTthereSTofThebook. [...] There are passagesinGenTIan as well. For allofThemTolSTOYsupplied his own translarions infooTnOles,as we do. ButthaTmade the questionSTillmore problemaric, becauseTolSTOY'STranslarions are occasionally inaccuraTe, perhaps deliberarely so. TheamounTofFrench inThetext is smallerThansomeearly critics asserted -nOlaThird.but only aboutTWOpercetn. ButThereisagreaTdealofgallicized Russian, either implying that the speaker is speakinginFrench, or sho\\ingTharupper-class ladies like Julie Karagin are unable towriTecorrectly inTheirown language. Richard Pevear, Translator's Inrroductioo to Leo Tolstoy,Warand PeaceTrans. Richard Pe\"earandLarissaVolokhonsl..-y(New York:AlfredAKnopf, 2007), pp. x-xi.


Barbara Cassin: Vocabulaire europeen des philosophies. Dictionnaire des intraduisibles[VocabularyofEuropean Philosophy: A DictionaryofUntranslatables] the humanisttranslatiostudii: each entry is cued to a multilingual complement: the subject pronoun"I"is keyed to French -"ie, moi, soi;Greek ego; Latinego; ipse,German -Jch;Selbst;English-me, self, myself,Italian -io,se,si,si-mismo.


Peter Osborne: the Untranslatable: that which refers to "the conceptual differences carried by the differences between languages, notina pure form, but via the fractured historiesoftranslation through which European philosophies have been constituted."


Theobje<1thalproducessaudadedel:erminesineach case an ensremial. cultural. aesthetic,rdigiws.meratilysical position (thesaudadesfor aa coWltty. a time,thisorthat idea ... );e\-eI)-jhing_fromliteraruretoreligion and politics,iscapableofan imerprelation modulaudbysaudade.This is the case feI!hew'\-ersephilosophies. in their differencesofperiodand language; fromPI.alO'Stheoryof!hedesire feI!heBeautifulthrwghreminiscenceofits ideatothe transcendenceofmetaphysicsbya returntothe lIe-Socratic originsofthought. the whole historyofphilosophy canbewo\-en and decollStn1Ctedinthe shadowofthisdelectable melancholic passion. Fernando Santoro, "Saudade." in VocablJaire ellropeen des philosophies: dictiollnaire des intradllisibles(op.cit.),p.1l17.


Arthur Rimbaud: Le bateau ivre [The Drunken Boat] (1871)Et.deslors.jeme:mis baignedansIepoeIlleDelainfuse d'astresetlactescent. De\"orant Iesazurs\"t'rtsOll.tlonaisonble-meEtra\"ie. tm noye penslf. parfois.descendOl1.telgnanttoUI acouples bleuites. de-liresEtr:1hmes lents sous lesrlllilements du jour. Plus fortes que \'astesque\"05lyres.Fenuententles rousseurs allleres de l'amour.


Louis Varese/Samuel BeckettAndsince thenI'vebeenbathinginthePoemOfstar-infusedandmill,y Sea, Devourin2: theazureereeos. where......-flotsam pale,A brooding corpse at times driftsby; Where, dyeing suddenly the blue, Rhythms deliriousandslowinthebla=eoJday,Stronger than alcohol,vaster than your lyres, Ferment the bitter redsoflove! Thenceforward, fused in the poem,milkofstars,OftheI coiled through deepsofcloudless greeIl.-.\Vhere,dimly, theycomeswaying down., Raptandsad, singly, the dro\vned;\Vhere, .underSAY'Shaemorrhage,slowlytOSSlllgInthudsoffever,arch-alcoholofsong, Pumpingoverthe blues in sudden stains, The bitter rednessoflove ferment.


Herethey have thrown all tradition overboard,andthey want tobuilda thoroughly rationalized,extremeTurkish-nationalisLstaleofthe European sort.Ithas quicklygonefantasticalandghostly,alreadythere is hardly anyone whocan1llldersrandArabicorPersiau.andevenTurkishTeXTsofthepastcenrury will quicklybecomeun-understandable,[lIm"erstdndlich]sincethelanguageisbeingsimultaneouslymodernizedandnewlyorientedon"Ur-Turkish,."and\\TInen withLatincharacters."Romanology"isfundamentallya Immry,andIamIheonlyreal cultural historianamongthe newly hired EllIopeans. Moreover, I have10organizelanguageinstructioninallthewesremlanguagesinthe universityandmanyOTherrhings besides.Thework isreallyirksome, becauseonehas tohanh'with themosTcuriousdifficulties, misunderstandings,andtensions,butitis neitherpersonallynor maleriallyuninteresring. -ErichAuerbach,LeTTer8(toWalrerBenjamin).Trans. MartinElsl-y,MartinVialon,andRobertStein. Includedinspecial fearure, "ScholarshipinTimes ofE'i:Tremes:LenersofErichAuerbach(1933-46)ontheFiftiethAnniversaryofhisDeath,."PMLAVol. 122, Ko. 3(May2007), p. 749.


Wharremainsohheideaof"world"Today? Is the, and objects around nearly the entireearthconfinningcapitalism as the wholeclOThfromwhich, forbenerorworse,ourrealityisandglobalismas theonly\iabl...paradigmfor understanding its warp and woof, its rips andpatches?Andisthe only alrernariveTOglobalization thenew"localisms,""regionalisms," and"communilarianisms" Ihalresistthese expanding technological and economic networksbyemphasizingrhe integrityofgeographicallylimitedandculrurallypanicularareas andsysTems?Whatis a world?Isa world an inrerior, with aborderIhal marks its difference from an eXTerior?Isa world consrimtedbyrhe\"lU10USperspectiwsofrheindividuals who inhabititoristheresomethingtranscendentalina world, in\1lriant and resistantTOand even constiTUtiveofmultipleperspectives? Are worlds distinct and exclusive,orinterpenetrating and inclusive?Isourknowledgelimitedtoandbyourhistorical and geographical situationina world,ordo we have access to truths that linkmultipleworlds?Howdoes a worldemerge?Suddenly like theBigBangorthe biblical creationsTOry,orthrough gradual development, like geological accretion?Andhowdoes a world change? Through internaldevelopmentorexternal pressures? Through evolutionary modificationorrevolutionary rupture?Ken Reinhard, Course Description:"WhatisaWorld?"


Compararive Literature has been associared withWeltliterawTsince Goerhe, Auerbach, and Etiemble, and stands as oneofthe discipline's perdurable contributionsTOrhe general humanities curriculum. Since the mid-90s, David Damrosch, FrancoMoreniand others have revived the ideaofWorld Literature emphasizing translarion, world systems, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, maritime networks, redrawn postcolonial cartographies(altiermondisme,Atlantism, rhe Global South,OTherAsias, rhe "Mediterranean"), language politics, canon expansion erc. This has kepr up rhe pressure to work non Eurocentrically, but it has also led to macro approaches rharpromOTesuper-srructural readings. The course will lookarsomeofrhe problems rhar arise when "doing" World Literature: irs ready promOTionof'"idenrifying" over "differing." Without essenrializing irreducible "difference" or cultural ''untranslatability,'' we will experimenr with rheoriesof"world"rhar openupWorld Literature toward philosophy. What is a world (philosophically, rheologically and politically speaking)? How do theoriesofcosmos, planerarity, world depression or dysphoria,ManicheankulwTkampf,and the premonitionofearthly extincrion (RayBrassier's'''nihil unbound")redefine rhe literary field?Inaddition to surveying selected texrs and debates rhar have been constitutive to World Literature'scurricularmandare. rhis seminar will cover rheological, phenomenological, and eco-ontologicaltexts rarely brought to bear on the World Lit discussion (by Stanley Cavell, Etienne Balibar, Barbara Cassin, Bruno Latour, Quentin MeillassotL'i:, Isabelle Srenghers, Jean-Luc Kancy, GrahamHarman,Jane Bennen).Emily Apter, Course description: '"The World Literature Debates"


ItisnOiwithoutparadoxtharinmanylanguages the Frenchtermmondialisationis quite difficult to translate, andthaTperhapsThisdifficulty makesitalmosT'untranslatable'inrhe sense that thetennhas acquiredinthe recentVocabulaire europien des philosophies.This difficulty liesinthe fact that the EnglishtennglobalizGrionhasalready established irselfinthe areasoflheworld that use Englishforcontemporaryinformation exchange (which isnOinecessarilysymbolicexchange)....there has beenintheEnglishglobalizationthe ideaofan integrated torality, appearing forexamplewith rhe'globalvillage'ofMcLuhan,whilemondialisationwould rarher evoke an expandingprocessthroughout rhe expanseofthe""orldofhumanbeings, cultures, and nations. Theusageofeilher term,orthe search for an English translation that would keep thesemanticsof'world'are not without real theoretical interest: the wordmOlldialisatioll,bykeeping the horizonofa'world'as a spaceofpossiblemeaningfor the wholeofhumanrelations(oras a spaceofpossiblemeaningfor the wholeofhumanrelations(oras a spaceofpossiblesignificance)gi\"es a different indication than thatofan enclosureinthe undifferentiated sphereofa unitotality.Inreality, eachofthe terms carries with it an interpretationoftheprocess,ora wageronitsmeaningand furure. This also means that it is understandable thatmondialisationpreservessomething untranslatable whileglobalizationhas already translated everythingina global idiom. (It was asifwithtimehe had transposedeJ.w}"thinghe was capableofsaying and writingtotherealmofhis poetry,torhythmical languageorperfectedprose,andinthe processhadturnedmuteinthe worldofeveryday speech,ofdialect,ofscreams and fragmented sentences and phrases. Jean-Luc Nancy, TheCreationo/the27-28


M'onde, 1988, Matta


LarsvonTrier,Melancholia, 2010


LarsvonTrier,Melancholia, 2010