Monday’s discussions

Seminar Notes – 8/11/14

Bassnet and Trivedi

–       “world literature” got going as a category in the 1990s, with David Damrosch as a dominant figure

–       can we read this material in the context of the post-colonial? Nation vs. world?

–       can we think about high literature as the embodiment of “national values”, or what the consequences of that might be? In what ways is this not possible any longer?

–       example of Kafka writing in German in Czechoslovakia – how do we categorize him? Why do we insist upon doing so?

–       perspective is important here: Shakespeare is a “British” writer, but he is a crucially important part of “Russian literature” as well (by adoption)

–       post-Soviet Ukrainian writers all wanted to go abroad and publish their works in English or German etc. => they wanted to be part of world culture

–       similar phenomenon at the end of 19th c. in Japan, as they translated enormous numbers of works into Japanese and put them on school curricula

–       in Rusyn case, Russian works are translated into Carpatho-Rusyn even though they are comprehensible already

–       *it is seen as a necessary step in the evolving maturity of a national literature, to take in the best from other cultures – example of Herder advocating for Shakespeare in German for the benefit of German literature

–       the question of the fundamental status of translations (not at all belated or secondary) – in Damrosch’s terms, world literature is a series of networks and not a series of works

–       translatability and untranslatabilty are equally embricated in the nation state, just as much as “world literature”

–       and there are limits this: Meiji-era Japan was happy to translate Western European or Russian writing, but NOT China and India

–       this is also true WITHIN a national literature – translation is needed within them for different communities; the “nation” is never “one”

–       why are there so few Chinese or Japanese theorists of literature or the literary, in contrast to all of the Western nations? – is this something that they work with but not talk about? – is the concept of “literature” itself very Western and not really meaningful in, for example, East Asian contexts?

–       in contrast, Chinese and Japanese visual art, architecture, and cinema have been very influential and fully involved with large formal and theoretical debates as they occur in the “West”

–       example of Tchaikovsky as an “outsider” in Russian classical music because he was not seen to use indigenous Russian models and themes

–       how can we ever translate anything “on its own terms” (as Lefevere calls for on p.77/78)

–       what about Spivak’s assertion that the subaltern’s voice cannot be fully understood in a dominant language? Heaney and Rushdie would disagree – they made an expressive language out of the colonial power’s language

–       could we ever understand T’ang poetry on its own terms???

–       what is “Weltliteratur” and what does it mean to be untranslatable?

–       attempts to teach “world literature” often run afoul of student preconceptions of different cultures (or lack thereof)

–       it needs globalization to make it possible, but that is at once omnipresent AND impossible to conceptualize as a totality

–       we live in an era of much greater contact between peoples from different national origins because of war, migration, and mass tourism – but the most that undergraduates get of this is a parallel world history that shows that civilization is not a property of the West

–       would a model of biology (especially invasive species) with hybridizations help us to understand how world literature as a system works => with English as the most invasive species

–       does being untranslatable doom a cultural text to extinction or irrelevance?

–       for Damrosch, “world literature” is the reciprocal relation between figure and ground

–       the sacred is a powerful motive for both translation (to proselytize) and to refuse translation because of the ineffability of the sacred

–       differences in the ways in which Achebe and Adichie present themselves as representatives of “world literature” – how does one court an English-speaking audience and maintain credibility in one’s indigenous Igbo culture?

–       will “world literature” save the humanities in general by being “humanities lite”? Is this what is motivating our institutional interest in it?

–       these concepts could be well-problematized in an upper-level seminar

–       in HUMN 150, for example, thematics have been used to integrate Asian and Western materials that have no “natural” connection

–       there is a student-driven “market” to which we feel obliged to respond


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