Languages on Trial: Translation and the Law, NeMLA, 30 April - 3 May, 2014

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Oisín Keohane (University of Toronto) and Ian Fleishman (University of Pennsylvania)

In appealing to the law, one must appeal to language. This raises the question of what kind of appeal to language can be made before the law, and in what ways the law depends on language. Consider Socrates in Plato's "Apology" for instance, pleading to his fellow Athenians to treat him as a stranger, to act as if he were a foreigner, an outsider, one ignorant of the 'native tongue' spoken in Athens. One might highlight how this Socratic 'as if' introduces narrativity and fiction into the very core of legal thought, a narrativity and fiction that the law is both troubled by and which it nevertheless frequently utilizes. But literature also needs the law, not only because a host of literary concepts are intertwined with the law (for instance, to name only a few: copyright, authorhood, originality and testimony), but because literature is itself a legal institution, one recognized and protected by the law. Moreover, when dealing with literature and the law, one has to judge the role that substitution and exchange play in both fields; when, for instance – to turn to one of Shakespeare's twenty-odd plays that feature trial scenes – is a pound of flesh truly a pound of flesh? Which leads us to ask, more generally, what the task of the translator or the (simultaneous) interpreter is in legal proceedings, and how the law and numerous 'legal fictions' have handled or mishandled the polyglot? What mercy, if any, will be shown to those who have different words to express 'mercy', and, indeed, 'law' and 'justice'? In sum, to what degree is the legal space (of literature) itself constituted by multilingualism and to what degree can one understand the law as the embodiment of the project to compare literature(s) and language(s)?

Please submit 350-500 word abstracts directly through NeMLA's portal by 30 September 2014.

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Chaired by Oisín Keohane (University of Toronto) and Ian Fleishman (University of Pennsylvania).