Non-Western Literatures In Translation

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Richard Jeffrey Newman/Northeast Modern Language Association
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Non-Western Literatures in Translation

Proposals are invited on for this panel, which will be part of the Northeast Modern Language Association's annual conference, April 7-11, 2010, in Montreal. Here is the description:

The act of literary translation raises by definition the question of how the target culture frames the language and culture of the text to be translated. This issue, often unexamined, can determine not only which texts from which languages are chosen for translation, but also what the relationship between the translation and the original text is understood to be. Nineteenth century British and American translators of classical Iranian poetry, for example, often portrayed themselves quite explicitly as improving on what they understood to be the “oriental” defects of the poets they were working with. This stance finds its roots in British colonial rule of India, where Persian was the language of the Moghul courts, and the idea that, if only the British could understand Persian and the psychology it embodied, they could make themselves more effective colonial rulers. The history of the translation into English of other non-Western literatures--including those we now consider Western, like classical Greek--is fraught with similar kinds of bias, as are contemporary assumptions about the value non-Western literatures hold for us. Keeping in mind the fact that less than 3% of all the books published in the United States in any given year are literary translations, and the fact that publishing at all levels is a business that both creates and responds to its market, this panel seeks to examine the issues confronting the translation of non-Western literatures, from classical to contemporary, into English. While we would like the emphasis to be on languages that are not already commonly translated (Japanese and Chinese, among others), we welcome proposals concerning any non-Western language. We encourage a variety of perspectives--from authors of texts that have been translated (or texts in search of a translation), translators, scholars, publishers--and would prefer to have papers addressing a range of time periods. Topics might include the linguistic and cultural challenges of translating non-Western languages, what we learn from the history of the translation of a given work or body of work, translation success stories, the challenges of publishing literary translations of non-Western languages, or why a given work or body of work deserves more attention--scholarly and otherwise--than it has been given. We also look forward to being surprised by ideas that have not occurred to us.

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