A lecture at the University of Maryland, February 18, 2014
Talk of translatability—as opposed perhaps to translatedness—suggests the kind of can-do, optimistic focus on success and pragmatism that is characteristic of our cultural times. In her recent book Against World Literature, Emily Apter ruminated on what it might mean however for a person, place, or thing to claim a “right to untranslatability”. In an era of global and intercultural dialogue, this sounds paradoxical: Don’t human rights discourses of all stripes rely on translatability for global awareness and policy implementation? Don’t underrepresented groups ‘want their voices heard’? Don’t minor-language writers yearn for recognition on the world stage—precisely through literary translatability? After developing an initial sense for what this idea of “a right to untranslatability” could mean for us as scholars, students, and citizens, this talk places the following spheres of activity in dialogue with each other: literary translation, international publishing, the GILT (Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation) industry, and the academic debate on World Literature. Taking recourse to queer theory and ethnic studies discourses on “passing”, this talk suggests an alternative genealogy for World Literary status than those put forward by Pascale Casanova, David Damrosch, Franco Moretti, and others.