Tuesday’s Discussions

Notes on Apter

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


–       Moretti as a way of balancing between inherent complexity of literature and the tendency to group them and smooth out the difficulties

–       introduction as perhaps not the best introduction to her project: her stated goal is to make the literary academy more alert to the corporatization of literature in all nations; but how do we reconcile this to the notion of the untranslatable, this fostering of difference within the specifics of texts

–       claim about Tolstoy distorts his intentions – it was not a ticket to recognition as a “world writer,” but a pragmatic recognition of upper class Russian practice in St. Petersburg; no one speaks French in Moscow

–       his second epilogue to W&P points to the significance of ordinary individuals, the power of the contingent, the minor, and the specific to influence history

–       her project is not linear in its presentation or clear or coherent; it is deliberately rebarbative and fragmented (like the untranslatable itself)

–       she wants to encourage things like Badiou’s “hypertranslation” – translation practices that dramatize the problems of their own methods and their own artifice

–       she claims that Badiou wants to “channel” Plato – but this seems to imply a “right” translation

–       isn’t there an energy that moves back and forth between the source text and the target language? Which takes us back to Steiner and hermeneutics

–       Apter wants a “militant semiotic intransigence” – but some of the post-colonial thinkers from Bassnet and Trivedi insisted upon the reverse, precisely so that the flow of intellectual energy can go both ways

–       **the goals are the same, but the means are exactly opposite

–       the idea of the “untranslatable” is NOT the same in all contexts: Apter is prey to the assumption that English is the measure of the untranslatable; but it works differently in other languages – so why doesn’t she mention this?

–       English as a universal code for commerce, plaything, lingua franca, source for foreign language borrowings that make little or no sense to native English speakers – this is Not a problem for Chinese/Japanese fashion designers

–       English as a signifier of cultural essence in these contexts, not a referential function or signifier

–       in India, learning and using English is not a diminution of one’s Indianness – it liberates people, does not oppress them – it is part of polylingual reality, not the cuckoo that throws other languages out of the nest

–       example of Captain Thomas Mayne Reid as vastly popular in Russian translation, but unreadably awful in the English original


Moretti and the Idea of the “World System”


–       introduced the idea of quantitative philology

–       history of genres and how they are interrelated

–       Apter is concerned with the genealogy of Moretti’s thought in systems theory etc. and Darwin

–       ecosystemic and evolutionary models that he champions and that have been very influential

–       exiled literature that bears more fruit in exile than at “home”

–       what causes transplanted texts to produce new forms?

–       what if they are just invasive species?

–       it is very interesting to see when “foreign” forms work in new national contexts and why – if they were completely alien, then they wouldn’t work in a new context – what allows a foreign form to thrive in a new environment

–       the Banyan tree metaphor – for all of its diversity and multiplicity, there is a point of origin

–       Darwin’s work allows for several possible histories for any given entity

–       what about Apter’s use of Moretti’s claim that translation can cause formal innovation? That it is a source for new genres?

–       **Apter wants there to be space for the untranslatables, but don’t we translate them anyway (regardless of how well or badly it is done)???

–       haiku as an example of a failed form in English translation – a classic untranslatable

–       how do we create a category of language that is untranslatable: is there such a thing, or is it a goal for Apter?

–       an untranslatable is the positing of a concept that she needs to make her critique of world literature – a heuristic to get us to think differently, to question our hermeneutics and our ideas of literariness

–       the Marxist context for both Moretti and Apter is important here: they both use a base/superstructure model for geopolitics and literary production and don’t question


Eurochronicity and Periodization


–       periodization in Apter is like the untranslatable: it is easy to see the problem, but not clear that her proposed solution can address in its own terms

–       language can get in the way in translation – archaism in a translation can get in the way, so we need generations of translations

–       after the fall of the Soviet Union, Old Church Slavonic needed to be revived – an indigenous tradition had been lost over 70 years

–       do we foreground the time period of the target text or the source text? Would it disrupt Eurochronicity either way – does a temporal variety of translations subvert the monolithic power of the “medieval,” the “Renaissance” or our other historical categories

–       does her advocacy of Benjamin’s Jetztzeit offer a way out our Eurochronicity?

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