South Asian Literature in Translation
Annual Conference on South Asia
October 18-21, 2023
Panel title: South Asian Literature in Translation
The relationship between language and literature has always been fraught in the South Asian context. With the imperative to establish a national language in the postcolonial nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, many ethnic linguistic aspirations have been marginalized. In the case of post-colonial Pakistan, tension around language took a violent turn in 1952 when police opened fire on the Bengali agitators demanding linguistic parity. This influential event has shaped the modern Bangladeshi literary tradition. For a global literary readership unfamiliar with the political significance of this relationality between language and literature, Anglophone literature remains central to making Bangladeshi literature legible. As Nasia Anam notes, “this new body of literature offers a politically instrumental means of subverting the hegemonic, totalizing impulse of global English. Though far from neutral, in this case English functions — counter-intuitively — to facilitate linguistic diversity.” This dependence on the English language to transfer knowledge of a specific literary culture points to English’s linguistic hegemony in dictating the terms of literature’s dissemination.
Oftentimes, to become accessible to a global readership, South Asian-language literatures rely on translation. Arunava Sinha’s translation of Akteruzzaman Elias’ Khwabnama (2021), hailed by Supriya Chaudhuri as the preeminent Twentieth Century Bengali novel, has created quite a stir in South Asian literary and scholarly circles. Similarly, Tomb of Sand, Daisy Rockwell’s translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi, has received the 2022 International Booker Prize. Even within South Asia, translation is central to being able to conceive of a national or sub-continental literature. Preetha Mani writers in The Idea of Indian Literature that “The animating power of the idea of Indian literature hinges on the thesis of translatability.” Translation is central to the Sahitya Akademi’s project of cultivating Indian literature: the Sahitya Akademi Translation award is awarded in 24 major Indian languages. There has also been a recent upsurge of publishing houses dedicated to literature in translation, both within and outside South Asia: Words Without Borders, Archipelago Books, Tilted Axis Press, Asymptote Journal, Seagull Books, Deep Vellum, Transit, Kali for Women.
This panel considers the following questions on translation and its relation to South Asia:
- How is the critical agenda of translation different from the Anglophone tradition of globally renowned South Asian writers?
- How have recent works translated from a vernacular language into English entered into circulation in the global Anglophone sphere to alter ideas of South Asian or postcolonial literature?
- What, if anything, is new about the recent attention through prizes, publishing houses and literary criticism, to translation in South Asian literature?
- How does translation revitalize English as a discipline in crisis? Can translation subvert or uphold the hegemony of English?
- How does teaching texts translated into English change the syllabi and curriculum of the postcolonial studies classroom?
We will respond with decisions by March 31st. A finalized panel will be submitted through the ACSA Portal by April 5, 2023.
Sushmita Sircar, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Gettysburg College
Asif Iqbal, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of English, Oberlin College