In principio fuit interpres: Translation as the Genesis and Palingenesis of Literature [deadline 15/05/2014]

full name / name of organization: 
Paola Cattani, Matteo Fadini, Federico Saviotti
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Call for Contributions for the thematic section of the peer-reviewed pluringual journal 'Ticontre' (n° 3, March 2014) edited by Paola Cattani, Matteo Fadini, Federico Saviotti.

«È noto che all'inizio di nuove tradizioni di lingua scritta e letteraria, fin dove possiamo spingere lo sguardo, sta molto spesso la traduzione: sicché al vulgato superbo motto idealistico in principio fuit poëta vien fatto di contrapporre oggi l'umile realtà che in principio fuit interpres, il che significa negare nella storia l'assolutezza o autoctonia di ogni cominciamento.» (Gianfranco Folena, Volgarizzare e tradurre, Torino, Einaudi, 1994)

Historically, translation has played a crucial role in the origins and development of the main Western European iteratures. In Rome, for instance, Livius Andronicus' Odusia, the translation of the masterpiece of Greek literature, emblematically lay the foundations for a new literary tradition in Latin, which rested upon the imitation of the hypertext, all the while hybridizing it both linguistically and culturally. Similarly, in the Middle Ages, a great deal of literary production originated from the "translations" – which would nowadays rather be classified as re-writings and adaptations – of contemporary or earlier texts, whose authority resided in being written in an ancient, and therefore more prestigious, language such as Latin, Greek or Arabic. In the Modern Era, translations would be the vehicle for the diffusion of ideas throughout Europe (as well as overseas), allowing the culturally less prolific milieux to emancipate and to partake in the formation of a new literature, together with a new vision of man and society. Such is the case of the intellectual exchange between nations during the age of Enlightenment, as well as during the development of the various Romanticisms, or of the influence of American literature on Italian Neo-realism in the Twentieth century. Indeed, the translation of the masterpieces of the history of thinking, from the Bible to Nietzsche's oeuvre, deeply affected those literary circles where their reception in the original language would have been improbable or utterly impossible. The intrinsic value of translation has been recognized and appraised all along the Nineteenth and Twentieth century, both by the academic community – see, for instance, the debate between Classicism and Nationalism in early nineteenth-century France – and in the institutional and political context. To name but one example, soon after World War I, the League of Nations promoted the creation of an archive of translations, in order to contribute to appease nationalist feelings by sharing, through translation, the cultural and literary traditions of the European states.

On countless occasions, translation has been able to found, nourish, and revivify a foreign literature. With this monographic session, we aim at analysing single cogent case studies and at investigating whether and to what degree it is possible to identify permanent features apt to describe the role of translation in the development of Western Literature from its origins to the present time. We accept contributions that address single case studies, as well as diachronic and diatopic analyses of the elements involved in the process: source texts, cultural agents, genres of the target texts, etc. We discourage the submission of contributions on the theory of translation, as the focus of this session is exclusively on literature.

By way of example and not limitation, we suggest a list of topics exploring the relationship between translation and literature:

  • Translation as the founding act – or the innovative input – of a literary tradition: continuity vs. innovation, tradition vs. creation.
  • Translation, adaptation, re-writing of the literary text: linguistic, rhetorical and poetic aspects.
  • Influence of the translation of non-literary classics (the Bible, philosophic and scientific works, etc.) in a literary tradition.
  • Translation and literary nationalism: the debate on the role of translation in the history of literature; the arguments in favour of the national literature and those in favour of
    the comparativist approach.
  • The tradition of manuscripts vs. the diffusion of printed copies: literary (and cultural) function of translated texts, considering their production, distribution and reception.
  • Translation and literary language: renewal, resistance, contamination
  • The translator as interpreter and literary critic: morphology, history and metamorphosis of a cultural mediator.
  • "Avere una tradizione è meno che nulla, è soltanto cercandola che si può viverla" (Cesare Pavese, Prefazione, in Herman Melville, Moby Dick o la Balena, Milano, Adelphi, 1994): how does the relationship between tradition and translation evolve in times of crisis?
  • Function and influence of editorial policies on the choices of translators, the perception of foreign literatures and the development of the local literary tradition.

300-word abstract for 40,000-50,000 character papers (approx. 6,500-7,000 words), with a separate, short (150 words) bio-bibliographical note should be sent to by May, 15th, 2014. Accepted contributions will undergo peer review before publications.

Please send inquiries to

Langues: Italian, English, French, Spanish
Mail for abstracts and papers:
Max length: 40,000-50,000 characters (approx. 6,500-7,000 words)
Abstract: 300 words
Bio-bibliographical note: 150 words
Deadline for abstracts & bio-bi: May, 15th, 2014
Notice of acceptance: June, 15th, 2014
Deadline for accepted contributions: October, 30th, 2014
Publication: March 2015
Peer review: yes