Summer Reading Seminar in Humanities–On (Un)translatability

August 11-15, 1-4pm (due to the Humanities Open House on Friday we will start closer to 2pm)
East Reading Room, Ellen Bertrand Library

This summer the program in comparative humanities will host a week-long seminar on the topic of (Un)Translatability.  The last ten years has witnessed an explosion  of the phenomenon of  “World Literature” in the global sense of Marx’s “International” and Goethe’s “Weltliteratur.” As human interconnectivity has grown with the expansion of access to the internet and also availability of travel, the publishing program of World Literature has sought to “deliver surprising cognitive landscapes” from those places that might not previously have been accessible to the English speaker.  

However, behind this program lies the  assumption that all language is translatable.  Within the CH program, our courses draw on the world literatures of both the present and history, many times looking to find translations of  texts from Turkish, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Latin.  This tendency towards the globalization of our curriculum and other reading programs (see, for example, our Common Reading in  2014 “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”)  tends to elide the problematic assumption of universal translatability.

Is everything translatable?  Why (not)?  Why could the assumption of universal translatability actually undermine the very core of comparativism?  Drawing on the recent work of Emily Apter in both her monograph “Against World Literature” (Verso, 2013) and the  English translation and edition of “Dictionary of Untranslatables” (Princeton, 2014) we will explore the problematics of World Literature and translation.  

The rationale behind this week’s discussion is to foreground assumptions about a) English as a universal language and the implicit problematics associated with such an assumption and b) explore ways in which both the concept of World Literature and its critique can be incorporated into our seminars in the Humanities at Bucknell, not only in the Comparative Humanities program.  In all this talk of a “globalized” world, whether this refers to finance or literature, how do we avoid the reduction of culture to a MacDonalds of thought, and the flattening of language to “translatese”?

In the course of the week, we will also be drawing on the theories of post-colonial translation theory (Susan Bassnett) and asking how the hermeneutics of distant reading (Moretti) inflect the problematics of World Literature.

About Katie Faull

Dr. Katherine Faull is Presidential Professor of German and Humanities at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA and co-chair of the Department of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics. Trained at King's College, London and Princeton University, and a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, she has published extensively on questions of gender, race, and autobiography in the Moravian Church in North America in the colonial period. Her current international collaborative DH project focuses on the digital exploration of Moravian memoirs ( and brings together top scholars in the field and undergraduate students in the exploration of 18th century life writing. Katie has published scholarly articles on digital pedagogy at a liberal arts institution, DH and religious history, and digital visualization in the humanities. She is coordinator (and founder) of the Digital Humanities minor at Bucknell University. For more, go to
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