OCCT Review

The OCCT Review is a journal reviewing new books and trends in the fields of Comparative Criticism and Translation Studies, aiming to produce reviews quickly and to provoke debate. We accept reviews written in English of books from a growing range of languages.

A list of books currently awaiting reviewers can be found here. If you would like to review one of them, or indeed some other recent and relevant book, please contact the General Editors Trisevgeni Bilia and Anna Saroldi, at occt.review@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in reviews posted here belong to the writers and should not be taken to represent the views of OCCT as a whole nor of Oxford University.

ISSN 2753-6157

Editorial Board:

Anna Saroldi, General Editor
Trisevgeni Bilia, General Editor
Alyssa Ollivier-Tabukashvili, French Language Editor 
Sarah Fengler, German and Scandinavian Languages Editor

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May 2024

Comparing Literatures: Aspects, Method, and Orientation, Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian, Alison Boulanger (eds.), Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2022. Paperback: £27. ISBN-13: 978-3-8382-1428-3

 

Reviewed by Grace Dowling, University of Oxford

 

Comparing Literatures: Aspects, Method, and Orientation, ed. by Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian and Alison Boulanger, 2022

Comparing Literatures: Aspects, Method, and Orientation, ed. by Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian and Alison Boulanger, 2022

In her introduction to Comparing Literatures, Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian reminds us that the phenomenon of globalisation can be traced throughout literary history. This edited volume of essays addresses how we can profit from the richness of global, comparative approaches to literary studies within the context of institutions that increasingly undervalue humanities departments. McIntosh-Varjabédian identifies in Goethe’s encounter with ‘the universal in national poetry’ (10) a potential method to deal with the enduring challenges of an increasingly globalised society. She hovers over some of these provocative questions before introducing an edited volume of essays brought together by the different ways they engage in a ‘lively and fruitful […] power-struggle’ (16).

The anthology is divided into three parts, the first of which addresses ‘Translation as Mediation between Languages and Literatures’. Lieven D’hulst’s opening essay takes the cue from the term ‘mediation’ to explore the ‘comparisons, connections, networks, and systems’ (37) that structure, but are often absent from, translation studies. For D’hulst, translation is an exchange of knowledge, not just language, and his essay is animated by the urgency to highlight how understudied the historical ‘knowledge mediators’ (31) of interlingual experiences are. He examines how technological methods such as statistics and bibliometrics might reconstruct these exchanges, providing new approaches and methods with which to study the history of translation. D’hulst also asks us to acknowledge the idiosyncratic survival of local knowledges that have not been subsumed or effaced by the hegemonic structures that have shaped the history of translation. His work is complemented by Joseph Pivato’s essay, which sees Canada’s multilingualism as a model for revitalising Comparative Literature departments that are currently disappearing. Pivato examines a series of recently published anthologies of texts for Comparative Literary studies to illuminate how the pressure of a monolingual, Eurocentric market shapes their content. He attributes the disappearance of Comparative Literature departments to the decreasing scope that the discipline has taken, as the examined anthologies concede to ‘American points of view’ (48). Alongside the lack of richness in texts studied in translation, this English-language monopoly in Comparative Literature departments makes them expendable. As a remedy, Pivato promotes the ‘Canadian approach’ to comparative literature—'supporting the study of different languages’ (56)—to revitalise every avenue of the practice.

Part Two of the volume is titled ‘Making a Difference in Language, Literature and Literary Theory’. The first essay is Alison Boulanger’s study of ‘Nabokov’s Languages’, which sees in Pale Fire (1962) ‘a comparatist’s paradise’ (72). She undertakes a reading of the poem ‘Pale Fire’ through the fictional language Zemblan and the ‘unusual web of languages’ (62) it is generated from. The first part of the essay is a prismatic, multilingual close reading of the poem that activates the richness of Nabokov’s design while the second part shifts focus to the intertextual (and inevitably intercultural) roots of the work. She analyses how the circulation and dissemination of literature that links ‘old and new’ also intermingles ‘languages and cultures, playing an instrumental part in their development’ (68). The intricacy of her analysis enacts Nabokov’s own project: to make the reader ‘inhabit his or her own language like a foreigner’ (71).

Tamar Barbakadze reads Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf against each other to explore the various ways their prose registers the misuse of language that occurred during World War I. She implicitly engages with comparative literary analysis rather than making this the subject of her essay, thus exemplifying the diverse approaches to critical studies in this collection. In Woolf’s prose, war is preserved in the words themselves; for Proust, the memory of war hangs pendulous over language to demonstrate the multiple, irreversible ways the war changed quotidian life. Barbakadze traces the ways in which language was co-opted by ideological causes, exploring what happens during the process we might too easily and unthinkingly gloss as Orwellian. Neither Proust nor Woolf look for a way to translate the immediacy of war into a linguistic experience. Instead, their language is ‘in tune with [war’s] destructive scale’ (86).

The final essay in the section is Olga Szmidt’s analysis of the role of evaluation in literary criticism, which, rather simply but boldly, sees the disappearance of judgement from criticism as detrimental to critical practice. She uses a scene from the film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel to read the ‘inherited problems’ in literary criticism, such as its being burdened by ‘rituals’, ‘protocols’, and an aversion to offering ‘judgement or evaluation’ (90). Like Boulanger’s defamiliarisation of language, Szmidt defamiliarises the ‘default’ practices literary critics revert to. To do so, she undertakes a bilingual analysis of literary critical terminology in Polish, German, and Russian, to demonstrate how different meanings of the terms have shaped each tradition’s approach to the role of the critic. She then takes us through a history of the place of evaluation in literary studies, its intersection with economics (a recurring and refreshing feature of the volume), and why she believes the critic is forced to withdraw from judgement. Szmidt threads together the fallacy of a lost golden age of literary studies and the questions raised by ‘professorisation’ to ultimately encourage critics to take ‘a risk’ (99). She calls for a new way to evaluate world literature as a global literary project as the first step to overcome the crisis of contemporary criticism. Embracing this spirit, Szmidt offers one of the most immediate, engaging, and refreshing analyses of literary criticism in this volume.

Oscillating between the epistemological issues faced by literature departments, to close scrutiny of texts across different languages and media, Sandro Jung opens the final section—‘Mediating between Images and Wor(l)ds’—with his essay on ‘The Transnational Reach and Interpretation-Shaping Power of Book Illustrations and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1720’. His analysis illuminates how images transmit their own form of knowledge that is intertwined with, but ultimately separate from, the text. He foregrounds the hybrid material identity of the codex to trace the different ways it generates meaning through image and composition. To do so, Jung follows the illustrations through their many transformations: from global printing-houses to global editions that interact with one another. Publication becomes less of a discrete, self-contained occasion, but rather a process that interacts with global readers, printers, markets, and technologies. Jobst Welge also returns to the concept of knowledge transmission with which D’hulst opened the volume but examines it within the context of ‘European Adventure Fiction of the Amazon’. His analysis is premised on the fact that the Amazon is culturally constructed by various external perspectives and thus necessitates a comparative approach. By comparing Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, Welge reads global literary transmission intratextually to reflect on the necessity of comparative literature as a critical practice.

The closing essay is by Orsolya Milián, who also combines multimedia and translation studies for an analysis of ‘Brueghel in Ekphrastic poetry’. She traces how the Dutch painter has permeated American and German literary culture by comparing how William Carlos Williams and Gisbert Kranz respond to, and therefore shape, Brueghel’s painting through their poetry. By reading an ‘inter art connection’ (150) across languages and media, like Szmidt, Milián reminds us that translation is more than the exchange of vocabulary between languages. It is a rich ‘remediation’ (159) that is laden with culture and history. The obstacles, possibilities, and rewards of comparative and global literature lie close to the surface of this analysis of ekphrases.

            This collection packs an ambitious variety of topics into a slim volume. It rewards those looking to introduce themselves to the discipline of Comparative Literature by providing a broad overview of possible avenues of thought that are rich in detail, if not a little scattered in their subject matter. Its most engaging feature is found in the self-reflexive analyses of literary criticism that are interspersed among more ‘traditional’ readings of multilingual texts and authors. This focus on method reminds readers and critics alike that the survival of the discipline is at stake in how they conceptualise their practice.

April 2024

Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex: Transnational Framing, Interpretation, and Impact, Julia C. Bullock and Pauline Henry-Tierney (eds.), New York & London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2023. Hardback: £125. ISBN 9781032426785

 

Reviewed by Corina Chutaux, Sorbonne Université

 

Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex: Transnational Framing, Interpretation, and Impact, ed. Julia C. Bullock and Pauline Henry-Tierney, 2023

Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex: Transnational Framing, Interpretation, and Impact, ed. Julia C. Bullock and Pauline Henry-Tierney, 2023

An inaccurate translation can profoundly alter, distort, and eventually completely change the meaning of an original text, this is what Julia C. Bullock and Pauline Henry-Tierney demonstrate through a transnational journey among the different translations of The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe), a foundational text by Simone de Beauvoir which was originally published in French in 1949. Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is a true exegesis of the source text and its translations, while its vast bibliography is irrefutable proof of methodical and scrupulous work. The contributors’ aim is to fill a void in translation studies regarding The Second Sex (hereby TSS), by analysing objectively the different ways in which the text has changed in its various translations, a topic on which very little research has been done.

             In the introduction, Bullock and Henry-Tierney set out to discuss one of the main problems of translating TSS into languages ​​other than English by highlighting the fact that multiple translations were made from Howard Parshley's first English translation (1953), which has been criticised for the philosophical losses and errors of meaning it contained (2). Thus, the omissions, as well as the subjectivity and personal interpretation of the translator were reiterated in the target languages. Translating Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: Transnational Framing, Interpretation, and Impact examines the semantic and philosophical variations of TSS in different vernacular spaces of the world such as Spain, Hungary, Poland, and China, to name just a few. Bullock and Henry-Tierney present and explain the tripartite structure of the study. The first part titled ‘Framing Le Deuxième Sexe: Contexts, Paratexts, and Practice’, analyses the zeitgeists in which the translations emerge by drawing parallels between the motivations behind the choice of translation and the reception of the text. The second part titled ‘(Mis)interpreting Beauvoir: Philosophical and Ideological Framing of the Text’, deals with the constraints translation is subject to when it comes up against ideologies and censorship in the target languages, while the third part outlines the global impact of TSS and its consequences, as well as the problem of ‘untranslatability’.

             The question of ‘untranslatability’ acquires specific weight in TSS: was Beauvoir, in her examples of submission of foreign women, capable of translating accurately these contexts, or was her Francocentric vision an impediment to her interpretation of alterity? In Chapter 11, Penelope Deutscher exposes the critiques that TSS faced regarding the untranslatability of a culture or of a mindset, especially when this translation comes from an author who did not embrace Otherness, but depicted it through her own lens, by projecting on the Other her own vision of reality (205). Beyond making space to establish new and renewed readings of TSS, Deutscher's approach problematises the authority that Beauvoir's work has gained, opening it up to debate and allowing the reader to reflect beyond the confines of Beauvoirian thought. This digression brings us to the volume’s cyclical frame which ends with an Epilogue by the editors, returning to the Introduction, as it presents the frameworks of the project from its postulates to its outcome.

             The opening and conclusion of this collective volume are built around four terms which are considered the cornerstones of the Beauvoirian philosophy: ‘situation’, ‘future’, ‘woman’, and ‘sex’. In an extraordinary mix, where each author presents the difficulties of translating these concepts into their specialist language, the editors weave a network of translations of TSS, outlining the aspects and the target languages ​​treated, and propose a continuation of this research, by invoking the need to extend the discussion to more languages. It is interesting to note the parallel with linguistic evolution, which highlights the limits specific to the time of Beauvoir, comparatively to the lexical possibilities that the present time offers hic et nunc, as for example nowadays certain languages, including French, differentiate between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ (235).

             Through the problems of translation of this work we discover the growing relevance of these challenges in our contemporary societies. In the Hungarian translation for example, TSS was modeled on political dogmatism and therefore supported the prevailing ideology of the target culture instead of maintaining its liberating and emancipatory tone. This is underlined by Ursula Hurley and Szilvia Naray-Davey in their discussion of Victor Orbàn’s anti-LGBT policy (88). In a detailed and concise manner, the authors explain the import of a deliberately erroneous TSS of which the single translation dating from 1969 was and is (in)sufficient to convey Beauvoir's thoughts (93). In this context the authors express the need for a new translation in a society alienated by a socialist model based on the reminiscences of a totalitarian past that haunts the present.

             Almost each chapter analyses the major importance of the paratext, by focusing on the invalid message that TSS ends up conveying through misleading paratexts in different translations. The paratext is divided, according to Gerard Genette's theory, into peritext (every detail outside the body of the text such as preface, title, cover etc.) and epitext (every element outside the text, such as interviews of the author, reviews etc.). Although it might often seem unimportant when choosing a book, in this volume it is analysed and presented as crucial for a book's identity. This is because readers tend to choose unconsciously a book by its cover and to mentally categorise it in a certain field according to what the paratext is transmitting, ignoring most of the time the capital impact that the latter might have. TSS has been pulled in various directions as a consequence of publishing choices. For example, in one of the Chinese translations the word ‘woman’ was added in the title in order to correspond to the target language (29), or in the first Arabic translation there were no footnotes or endnotes and the translation was anonymous (which might make the reader believe that Arabic was the source language). However, what the author omits is the fact that TSS is not an exception but reflects a common practice in Arabic translation as pointed out in studies such as ‘Lost in (Mis)Translation: Paratextual Framing in Selected Arabic Translations of Orwell’s Animal Farm’ (2023), by Mai Mowafy and Talaat Farouq Mohamed. The second Arabic translation exhibited a cover with a woman secluded from society as well as a list of literary publications of Beauvoir, luring the readers into believing that they are facing a book of fiction (41). All these numerous ways of altering a book, stretching it so it would encompass a certain ideology which is absent from the book itself, are very well expressed and researched in Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, a study which raises awareness about the complexity of the process of translation.            

             This remarkable volume sheds light on the complexity of translation from one language to another, from one space to another, and especially from one concept to another. It explores the barriers and limitations of translation and the virtual impossibility of producing an exact copy of the source text in another language and culture. For example, as the chapter about the two English translations indicates, it is impossible to find the ‘right way’ of translating the French reflexive verbs that Beauvoir uses into English where a choice must be made between the passive and active voice (166). Yet, even this example fails to express the quandaries that translating TSS into a non-Indo-European language presents, languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hungarian, which other chapters explore in a punctilious manner, contributing to the overall harmonious ensemble of the book.

             The edited volume under discussion is a salient model of a soft power case study, useful for students of political sciences, as it provides information on manipulation of the masses and appropriation of authorial discourse to the ideologies promoted by the systems in place. It is undoubtedly an essential tool for students of Comparative Literature, due to its capacity to present the complexity of the genesis of a book, from its publication to its most recent translations. The book opens up new avenues of research and reflection by highlighting the need for a new translation with a tailor-made language, as spoken languages (including French itself) turn out to be far too connoted and patriarchally oriented to do justice to the Beauvoirian philosophy (234). One would also need to question how this philosophy has been shaped by translations, and despite the lack of explicit political engagement of the authors, we could extend the topic to thinking of the impact that TSS, under its different forms, has on current feminist ideologies.

             In conclusion, this study is accessible to a wider and non-specialised audience due to its in-depth analysis and disambiguating style. Moreover, it allows rapid comprehension which helps a neophyte audience understand the dangers of an erroneous translation. Although an academic study, Translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex transcends its own environment in order to address a heterogeneous public by virtue of, on one hand, its topicality, and on the other hand, its subject of societal scope.

 

February 2024

Translingual Francophonie and the Limits of Translation, Ioanna Chatzidimitriou. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2021. ISBN 978-0-367-54915-2.

Reviewed by Fenian Kenney, University of Notre Dame

9780367549152

Translingual Francophonie and the Limits of Translation, Ioanna Chatzidimitriou

Translingual Francophonie and the Limits of Translation begins with the provocative claim that it 'does not care to describe the limitations of the translingual phenomenon' (1). Rather, in what follows, author Ioanna Chatzidimitriou proposes a new critical model that pays careful attention to the liminal environments in which translingual works are produced. What makes Chatzidimitriou’s study so thought-provoking, as well as a seminal contribution to the field of literary and translation studies, is her interpretive framework: namely, that of the estuary. A convergence between bodies of fresh- and seawater, the estuary is a heterogeneous space wherein new ecological interactions form and coexist. Deploying the 'estuarine lens' as a tool to delimit translational dynamism and the instability of linguistic borders, Chatzidimitriou makes the fascinating argument that 'translational practices…create and sustain a linguistic, social, and cultural ecology similar to that of an estuary: ebb and flow of dissimilar material that create ecosystems to which new varieties of life adapt' (11). Using this imagery as the point of departure for her study, Chatzidimitriou examines as case studies four translingual, non-postcolonial authors who publish in French: Andreï Makine (originally from Russia), Nancy Huston (Canada), Vassilis Alexakis (Greece), and Chahdortt Djavann (Iran).

            Chatzidimitriou begins by turning to Andreï Makine’s Le testament français (1995), offering a reading which complicates 'the domesticating vs. foreignizing paradigm that has dominated recent debates in the field of Translation Studies' (29). Examining the ways in which Makine’s protagonist Aloicha and Aloicha’s grandmother Charlotte bestride their Franco-Russian identities, Chatzidimitriou notes how Makine’s narrators require a tertiary linguistic space, neither fully Russian nor fully French, in order to realize their self-expression. With Jacques Derrida and Abdelkébir Khatibi among her principal theoretical interlocuteurs, Chatzidimitriou interrogates questions of monolinguisme and linguistic relationality with the Other. She provides persuasive textual analyses of Le testament to flesh out Makine’s central metaphor of the destabilising 'graft,' ultimately concluding that Charlotte successfully models the phenomenon of the estuary.

            Though estuarine environments are often productive and life-giving, Chatzidimitriou does not hesitate to qualify that they also have the potential to become sedimented and downright deadly. Having convincingly established Le testament as a work whose central female character embodies the metaphor of the estuary, she then tracks the way Makine’s later works (including Requiem pour l’Est [2000], La terre est le ciel de Jacques Dorme [2003], and Cette France qu’on oublie d’aimer [2006]) subsequently degenerate into an 'utterly hypoxic environment' (65). The most overtly political of his writings, Cette France posits a societal binary which pits Makine’s idealized, 'Voltarean' France against the multicultural and multilingual France of today. To make sense of his perspective, Chatzidimitriou returns to the central concept of the estuary, which, at its boundary, risks suffocating the 'other' with which it comes into contact. Understood through this framework, those who exemplify difference–namely, immigrants or those whose francité ('Frenchness') is deemed insufficient–must homogenize or risk utter exclusion by their new environment.

            If Makine’s later work precludes all estuarine interaction, Nancy Huston’s Trois fois septembre (1989) and Limbes/Limbo: un hommage à Samuel Beckett (2000) (Chapter 2) allow for a more promising, albeit at times precarious, ecology. A delicate interplay between voice and silence, Huston’s bilingual project is described as a 'double palimpsest' that remains open to estuarine encounters despite the instability of language. Borrowing from Deleuze and Guattari’s vocabulary, Chatzidimitriou treats Huston’s writing as 'a force of minorization,' a notion otherwise described by the 'deterritorialization of the major language, [the] disappearance of the subject behind the collectivity, and [the] politicization of personal labor' (73). Particularly compelling are Chatzidimitriou’s close-readings of select passages, in both French and English, which elucidate how Huston’s corpus situates itself within the criteria of minorization, as well as highlight the significant 'Beckettian resonances' (97) present in Limbes.

            The translingualism (or, more aptly, ambilingualism) of Vassilis Alexakis (Chapter 3) is unique when considered in light of the author’s Greek origins and the diglossic particularities of the Modern Greek language (116). Alexakis’ self-translative practice, which Chatzidimitriou examines through his texts La langue maternelle (1995) and Les mots étrangers (2002) replicates the estuary’s tendency to preserve individual ecologies even as they converge at contact zones. Indeed, the French and Greek editions of La langue maternelle propose a border-to-border contact site wherein each language preserves its particular elements while simultaneously giving rise to something entirely new. Chatzidimitriou engages theorists such as Emily Apter, Walter Benjamin, and, once again, Abdelkebir Khatibi in order to further her own novel claim that Alexakis’ self-translation is a 'critiquing or undoing of the self' as much as it is an 'elucidating (or completing) [of] the other' (118). What results from the translative interaction in La langue maternelle is Alexakis’ seminal commentary on the complexities of Greco-Kurdish political tensions as they would be understood by both his hellenophone and francophone readers; the text becomes, then, an estuary 'of potential political repositioning in the presence of but not necessarily in relation to one another' (125).

            Whereas the estuary might provide a successful framework for understanding La langue maternelle, in Les mots étrangers, the next object of Chatzidimitriou’s study, such relationality seems difficult to sustain. One character’s motivation to study Sango, the dominant tongue of the Central African Republic, fails to successfully incorporate the non-European into its ecological model, ultimately subjecting the 'other' to a potentially hypoxic environment. Chatzidimitriou goes as far as to say that 'even within those passages where the narrator most privileges the formation of linguistic estuaries, namely…[those]...in which he documents his acquisition of Sango, interlingual translation verges upon appropriation' (139). Indeed, such passages called to my own mind the inherent tension of language-learning captured by the French phrase maîtriser une langue–meaning to acquire, yet literally to master, the language. Should we, like Chatzidimitriou, conceive of the narrator’s treatment of Sango as a (perhaps inadvertently) appropriative act?

            Chatzidimitriou concludes her study by returning to a second female author, Chahdortt Djavann (Chapter 4). Djavann’s trilogy Comment peut-on être français? (2006), Je ne suis pas celle que je suis (2011), and La dernière séance (2013) focus on the immigration of a young Iranian woman to France, her struggle to learn French, and her experiences undergoing psychoanalysis in her second language in an attempt to resolve her fragmentary identity. The narrator–named Roxane in the first novel and Donya in the second and third–often suppresses her Farsi-self in order to privilege her new 'Frenchness,' thereby modeling failed estuary; she inhabits a situation so hypoxic and deadly that it culminates in her suicide attempt. What is salvific, argues Chatzidimitriou, is the tertiary space, the neutral interlocuteur, who presents himself in different forms throughout the three installments and who is capable of balancing the narrator’s two dissident identities. These third-party 'arbiters' offer the narrator a new kind of reconciliation, one which dismantles the competitive, hypoxic binary in favor of a more symbiotic space: 'it is only when [Roxane/Donya] moves beyond dichotomies and dualities that she enters a space of non-hierarchical, estuarine relationality, a space that is productively silent' (156).

            Chatzidimitriou then nuances her analysis by questioning whether this 'productivity' can also be found in La muette, a fragmented, quasi-diary style text. Tracing the traumatic histories of both Fatemeh and her non-verbal aunt, la muette, and returning to the voice/silence binary in novel ways, Chatzidimitriou makes the fascinating argument that translation 'as a framing device dilutes the estuarine potential of eyewitness testimony reducing a productively resistant muteness to silence deprived of agency,' thus complexifying the estuary’s role in Djavann’s wider corpus.

            In sum, Ioanna Chatzidimitriou proposes a stimulating new critical framework for understanding the phenomenon of translingualism and the tensions present in the work of translingual authors. Translingual Francophonie certainly leaves the engaged reader wanting to further analyze, and perhaps extend, the central estuarine metaphor to other authors and literary epochs.

 

 

 

January 2024

The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Literary Translation, Delfina Cabrera and Denise Kripper (eds.). Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2023.

 

Reviewed by Georgina Fooks, University of Oxford.

routledge handbook cover

The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Literary Translation, edited by Delfina Cabrera and Denise Kripper

As the field of translation studies grows in popularity, there is increasing demand for studies that address the specificity of literary translation in disparate global contexts. Scanning the series list for the Routledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies, one recent addition leaps out as an anomaly: The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Literary Translation, edited by Delfina Cabrera and Denise Kripper, as the only title with a geographic focus. Many scholars of Latin America understand that the very idea of the region, itself a ‘disputed territory and problematized identity’ (1) was shaped and transformed by acts of translation; translation was crucial for forging national politics and literary canons. In this remarkable and wide-reaching volume, Cabrera and Kripper draw on their expertise as academics and practising literary translators to examine the fundamental importance of translation in Latin America, in a volume that is of value both to scholars of the region and to researchers with a broader interest in translation.

            The book’s introduction is entitled ‘Delineating a Latin American Approach to Literary Translation’. Cabrera and Kripper make the case for specificity in translation studies, highlighting that translation was an important element that shaped both Latin America’s colonial and postcolonial periods, and therefore the region offers a ‘specific locus of enunciation’ (1) that has been little heard in Anglophone translation studies: often, Latin America is not considered a site of theory, but instead viewed as a site that others theorise about. This book aims to counter this tendency by foregrounding Latin American critics and intellectuals as the source of translation theory. The question of linguistic diversity is prominent in the book, from the literature cited in its pages to the diverse background of the academics Cabrera and Kripper bring together. For many of the scholars, this is their first contribution in English – after having published elsewhere in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese and more – as part of the editors’ stated aim to further internationalise translation research networks and to promote increased exchange.

             The editors situate their work at the rich intersection of translation and Latin American literature, with an ample bibliography for interested readers that examines translation’s role in identity formation in the relatively recent construction of ‘Latin America’; translators’ and writer-translators’ roles in constructing literary traditions in the region; and the journeys Latin American literature has taken when translated into other languages. Cabrera and Kripper highlight their loosely chronological approach that traces trajectories in translation from nineteenth-century independence movements to twenty-first-century global literature networks, touching on culture formation, politics, and the invention of literary traditions. To end their introduction, they assert the value of the volume for pedagogical purposes, as its scope explores both the local and global. This is an ambitious collection of 22 chapters, and it seems likely that scholars in many disciplines will benefit from the foundations laid here.

             The book has three parts: Part I is titled ‘In Translation: Linguistic & Cultural Diversity Within the Continent’, and explores how translation shaped a ‘Latin American ethos’ and led to the region’s translational foundations; Part II is ‘In & Out of Latin America: Reception of Translated Literature’, examining the interplay of Latin American and translated literatures on a global scale; and Part III is ‘In Circulation: Publishing & Networks of Translation’, looking at migration and how various global networks led to the circulation of translation. While the division between the sections may at times seem arbitrary – especially when the content overlaps – this is more a result of the nature of the complex and plural networks of literature and translation in the region, as opposed to a lack of editorial structure, and the book itself is clearly laid out to make it accessible for a wide readership.

             Within Part I, the first four chapters focus on four literary figures who, by their roles as translators and authors, shaped the invention of Latin American literary canons in the first hundred years or so after the independence of many republics in the region: Andrés Bello, Heinrich Heine, José Martí, and José María Arguedas. The latter is an important early entry in this work, stating emphatically the importance of Quechua and other Indigenous languages in the region’s literature. The following four chapters in Part I then focus on multilingualism and linguistic diversity across the Americas and the Caribbean. Highlights include Chapter 5, in which Mónica María del Valle Idárraga highlights the colonial legacy of the languages of the Caribbean, and Chapter 7’s exploration of the foundational importance of multilingualism and hybridity, from various Spanglishes to Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s conception of ‘ch’ixi’ as ways of understanding cultural mixing (122).

             Part II turns its attention to the reception of translated literature and translators in the Americas, and in turn the journeys Latin American literatures have made across the globe. Chapters 9 and 15 look at the reception of James Joyce and Shakespeare in the region, while Chapters 10 and 13 focus on two influential writer-translators and the theories they brought to their translation practice: Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz. Chapters 11, 12, and 16 examine the translation and reception of the region’s literature in French, Chinese, and English respectively. In Chapter 12, Teng Wei’s work on the political climate that led to large-scale efforts to translate Latin American literature into Chinese highlights an important element of global history that has been under-studied thus far. Chapter 14 on ‘Tequio literario’ (‘an ethos of shared literary labour’) by Paul M. Worley and Ellen Jones is a crucial reminder that translation is a force that acts within the region too, highlighting translation from Indigenous languages into the ‘dominant European languages’ (231) that have an outsized influence on external perceptions of the region. The concept of shared labour and authorship in this chapter speaks not only to the translations analysed but the work that contributes to this volume. Lastly, Chapter 16, on Anglophone translations and the construction of a ‘New Female Gothic’, is likely to be of particular interest to readers of this English-language volume, given its attention to the market forces that act on us as readers today.

             Part III hones in on the circulation of Latin American literature and translation, with Chapters 17, 18, and 19 looking at the emergence of print culture and institutions that supported the transmission of literary works. Chapter 17 on ‘Translation and Print Culture’ offers case studies that will likely be recognisable to contemporary readers of Latin American literature, such as Mexico’s Fondo de Cultura Económica and the magazine Revista Casa de las Américas, while Chapter 18 introduces the pertinent factor of exile and Chapter 19 examines how translation offered a laboratory for importing ideas around gender roles. Chapters 20 and 21 highlight the contributions of two Brazilian translators to the circulation of literature: the writer Haroldo de Campos, for whom Isabel C. Gómez makes the case that, ‘shoulder to shoulder with Jorge Luis Borges’, de Campos was ‘the Latin American thinker leaving the greatest mark on literary translation’ (362); and the publisher, translator, and children’s author José Bento Monteiro Lobato, who has remained influential for generations of Brazilians as an author and translator of children’s literature. The book concludes with Elizabeth Lowe’s comments in Chapter 22 on the ‘changing norms of production and reception’ (394) in the digital age, examining both international and Brazilian networks of literary circulation on the Internet, while also considering how digital culture influences the texts themselves. It offers a fitting consideration of our present moment and provides a point of reflection that brings the volume to a close.

             Overall, The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Literary Translation is an impressive feat that will be used by students and experienced scholars alike, across the fields of Latin American studies, comparative literature, and translation studies. In the introduction, Cabrera and Kripper note that no volume could ever be exhaustive when it comes to the topic of Latin American literary translation. Nevertheless, together the editors have compiled a remarkable volume that scales the length and breadth of the Americas from the nineteenth century to the present, examining many of the languages and literatures that have come to be called Latin American, bringing specificity, regionality, and complexity to translation studies. And with the reading lists included at the end of each chapter and the orientation towards both pedagogy and research, they and their contributors issue an invitation to future generations of scholars not only to continue this task for Latin American literary translation, but to pursue this approach for other languages and regions too.

9781350195639

Theatre Translation: Theory and Practice, by Massimiliano Morini (Bloomsbury, 2022)

December 2023

Theatre Translation: Theory and Practice, Massimiliano Morini. London/New York/Dublin: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022. £95.00. ISBN 9781350195639 (hardback).

Reviewed by Gisele Eberspächer, Universidade Federal do Paraná

Massimiliano Morini, Associate Professor of English Linguistics and Translation at the University of Urbino, Italy, brings a very needed overview of the debate on Theatre Translation, as well as a valid attempt to provide a more comprehensive understanding of its study and practice in his new book Theatre Translation: Theory and Practice.

             With a specific mirrored chapter structure, the author provides a scheme that allows the reader to see on the page how he organises his reasoning (5). The book is divided in three parts: the first one dedicated to theory; the second to methodology and terminology; and the third and last to practice.

             In Part I – Theory, the first chapter provides a historic overview on how theatre and translation crossed paths along many centuries, beginning with the translation of Greek plays by the Romans, done in a stage- and audience-centric approach. After reminding his readers that very little is known about the repertoire or practices of theatre in the early Middle Ages (besides the fact that some travelling groups existed), the author follows on to Humanism and the Renaissance, which brought a much more textual- and source-centric approach, mostly with the goal of providing classical texts to the intellectual community.   

             Chapter Two continues this historic overview but approaches the age of Translation Studies – in other words, the moment in which an academic field dedicated to Translation is born, with its own prerogatives and perspectives. Morini claims that, despite the fact that the rise of Translation Studies places the discussion on a descriptive rather than prescriptive perspective, allowing the observation of translation on stage, the field still sustains the same text-oriented perspective as before. According to him, this is due to the fact that often works on theatre translation are written by translators themselves, who describe their own translation practice and therefore focus mostly on the text. However, Theatre Translation has traditionally been overlooked within Translation Studies, when compared to Poetry or Prose Translation – something that was noted, for instance, by Susan Bassnett, one of the main researchers of Theatre Translation from the 1980s onwards.

             Chapter Three revolves around the discussions brought on in the new millennium with a turn to a more performance-oriented perspective, mostly thanks to the work of Finnish researcher Sirkku Aaltonen. Aaltonen highlighted the collective aspect of theatre, affirming that everyone involved in the practice contributes to the end product – something that will be adopted by Morini as well later in the book.

             At the end of Part I, Chapter Four brings an attempt to consider voices from Theatre Studies that consider translation from other perspectives, such as Anne Ubersfeld and Patrice Pavis. Although well-intended and needed, this is a short chapter for the proposed task.

             Morini provides, in Part I, a helpful historic overview on the overlap between translation and theatre in the Western World, both before and after the institutionalisation of the academic field of Translation Studies in Central Europe in the 1980s. This provides a good starting point for students and researchers that are new to the field. It is important, however, to emphasise that the author does not attempt to amplify his scope beyond the European or Anglo-American area – a limitation that he is aware of, as his disclaimer in the Conclusion shows.

             As shown in the initial scheme provided by the author, Part II - Methodology/Terminology, composed by Chapter Five, is a pivoting one – and possibly the most important, as the one that presents Morini’s own view of Theatre Translation. By the time we reach this chapter, he has already ended the historic overview of theatre translation and now brings to light his own understanding of the matter. He defines theatre translation as ‘the recreation (any recreation) of a theatrical event in a different language, whether done with a strong emphasis on text or on performance’ (69). In an endnote, the author affirms that there is no reason why intralingual translations could not be analysed by these analytical tools, but this is not the objective of his work in particular. This chapter also brings forward an adaptation or extension of Roman Jakobson's definitions of translation, in which Morini argues that these are the different operations possible within theatre translation: interlingual (the translation of the text itself into another language), intralingual (the script spoken on stage), intersemiotic (from script to performance), and intrasemiotic and intersemiotic (considering other performances on stage or in other media).

             With these definitions, he tries to escape from the ‘translation for the stage’ versus ‘translation for publishing’ dichotomy. He considers these operations as the four aspects of theatre translation, and states that in each project they can interact in different combinations. All of them are considered translation operations in theatre – and theatre translation can be composed by one or all of them.

             One frequent critique made by Morini, explained specifically in Chapter Five, is that most research on this topic is made by practitioners, who therefore focus on the process of translation – which does not bring much of the performance aspect into discussion. Hence, in Part III – Practice, he discusses examples of Theatre Translation, although, due to obvious temporal constraints, he has not had access to all of the performances. Also, the mirrored structure of the chapters means, however, that the first and third part work in conjunction, as the first chapter of each of them discusses the same moment in history, one on the side of theory, and the other on the side of practice, and so on for the following chapters.    

             Chapter Six is dedicated to the play Il pastor fido, by Giovanni Battista Guarini, and to its circulation in Europe during the Renaissance, as well as to its role in the formation of the "literary canon". With this example Morini shows that, at the time, the published translation was done for "literary" purposes in a very text-centric way, and the translations done for the stage were not published. Chapter Seven considers the persistence of the textual bias in the translation of contemporary theatre, and coincides temporally with Chapter Two, The Age of Translation Studies. Morini argues that the ‘inclusion of theatrical writing within the domain of literature brought about a definitive separation between textual versions [...] and theatre translations’ (96) – a tradition that lasts to this day. The eight and last chapter explores examples of contemporary experimental theatre, in which the inter- and intrasemiotic translation are more prominent alongside an interlingual one (Morini discusses here two productions of Heiner Müller’s Hamletmaschine, as well as the play Birdie, by the Catalan company Agrupación Señor Serrano).

             Theatre Translation: Theory and Practice makes an important attempt to change the paradigm of the dichotomy between text- and stage-translation, a separation that pervades most of the research in the field. However, by adapting Jakobson's view of translation to Theatre Translation and defining them as inter- and intralingual translation, still keeping them apart, and claiming that both are valid forms of Theatre Translation, he does not advance the discussion that much further. Overall, Morini brings an important text for beginners in this field, since it provides a comprehensive overview of the encounters between translation and theatre both before and after the surge of Translation Studies, as well as illustrative examples of plays and translations that present the main characteristics of each of the eras analysed.

November 2023

Migration, Modernity and Transnationalism in the Work of Joseph Conrad, ed. by Kim Salmons and Tania Zulli, London: Bloomsbury, 2021. Hardback: £90.00. ISBN 9781350168923

Exile as a Continuum in Joseph Conrad's Fiction: Living in Translation, Ludmilla Voitkovska, Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2022. Hardback: £97.50. ISBN 9781032258768 

Reviewed by Ola Sidorkiewicz, University of Oxford

 

exile as a continuum in joseph conrads fiction

Exile as a Continuum in Joseph Conrad's Fiction: Living in Translation by Ludmilla Voitkovska, 2022

The transnational turn in the study of Joseph Conrad can be traced back to an issue of Studia Neophilologica titled Transnational Conrad (2013), which brought together leading scholars to reflect on the diverse forms that transnational relations took in Conrad’s life and work. Migration, Modernity and Transnationalism in the Work of Joseph Conrad (Bloomsbury, 2021), edited by Kim Salmons and Tania Zulli, and Ludmilla Voitkovska’s Exile as a Continuum in Joseph Conrad’s Fiction: Living in Translation (Routledge, 2022) both contribute to the study of the transnational Conrad, drawing upon his migratory experiences to illuminate his engagement with and representation of national, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic variety in his fiction. By considering migration as Conrad’s foundational experience, both publications read his works outside of the constructed boundaries of national literature, be it English, Polish, or even ‘European’, and show their potential to capture and comment on transnational concerns. Of the two works, the former does not further any single overarching argument and relies more on what ‘each contributor has perceived and expressed [as] their own interpretation of migration and transnationalism’ (Salmons and Zulli 2). The latter, on the other hand, argues for a connection between Conrad’s ‘exilic condition and his choice of literary form and thematic patterns’ (Voitkovska 1). While interested in similar phenomena, the two publications are radically different, and their comparative analysis shows us the promises and the limits of reading Conrad’s fiction through the lens of migration and transnationalism.

             The strength of Migration (2021) lies in highlighting the difference that can be generated by migration and transnationalism as critical frameworks. The volume does not offer a coherent narrative of or conclusion to what the two concepts might accomplish when faced with Conrad’s fiction. Read together, all the contributions draw attention to the complexity of his work, and, perhaps most crucially, its relevance to the contemporary experiences of dislocation and globalisation, opening new avenues for inquiry into an oeuvre as renowned and debated as that of Conrad. Divided into three parts, ‘Crossing borders’, ‘Empire, movement, and migration’, and ‘Modernity and the transnational’, the contributions are grouped thematically, but retain their individual methodologies, entering into productive dialogue with each other.

             In the first section, Robert Hampson and William Atkinson focus on the subject of rites. Atkinson argues that a rite of entry does not necessarily turn into a rite of passage and can instead place the subject in a liminal space, instead of integrating them into a new cultural milieu. Throughout the essay, he employs the term ‘ukraine’ to denote that space, Atkinson’s neologism in English inspired by the word’s disputed etymology and its alleged meaning—‘undefined borderland’. Despite Atkinson’s perceptive analysis of Conrad’s works, his decision to employ the term ‘ukraine’ instead of ‘borderland’ verges on exoticism, reducing Poland and Ukraine to metaphors, and does not strengthen his overall argument. Richard Capoferro’s concluding essay in the section provides a useful postscript to the discussion of cross-cultural identity, arguing that Conrad’s Personal Record (1912) allows him to present himself as a ‘writer who brings transnational concerns to an English audience’, and his fiction as a ‘tool to establish an emotional and intellectual bond between worlds’ (74).

             

migration modernity and transnationalism in the work of joseph conrad

Migration, Modernity and Transnationalism in the Work of Joseph Conrad, ed. by Kim Salmons and Tania Zulli, 2021

In the second section, Salmons’ is a brilliant contribution to the study of alterity in Conrad’s fiction through the lens of food. Providing examples from Almayer’s Folly (1895) and The Secret Agent (1907), she argues that foods in Conrad’s fiction represent an opportunity for transnational engagement but can at the same time serve as ‘barriers to belonging’ (111). Equally engaging is the final essay in the section, exploring the limits of transnationalism through an analysis of Conrad’s ‘Malay fiction’. Andrew Francis provides a compelling reading of Almayer’s status as a ‘settled resident’, arguing that the very nature of the status recalls ‘the inevitable earlier place of residence of a migrant’ (145). The protagonist’s failure to ‘live transnationally’ (156) is evidenced by his houses in Sambir, styled after a European house and intended for European guests.

             The final part of the volume opens with Katherine Isobel Baxter’s contribution which focuses on the question of mobility between East Asia and Middle East in Conrad’s fiction and argues that his depiction of characters of Arab origins ‘highlights the divergent forms of transnational colonial, non-colonial, and anti-colonial activity’ (163). This is followed by Yael Levin’s comparative reading of Conrad’s ‘Amy Foster’, Franz Kafka’s Amerika (1927), and Henryk Sienkiewicz’s After Bread (1880), teasing out the tensions at the heart of the modernist debate surrounding the construction of the modern subject. The three sections are followed by Chris Gogwilt’s important afterword to the volume’s discussion of migration and transnationalism in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in June 2020. The author engages in a perceptive and nuanced reading of all the contributions, and poses the question of whether, and how, Black Lives matter for Conrad and his fiction by drawing attention to three selected figures, and especially James Wait from The Nigger of Narcissus (1897).

             In Exile as a Continuum Voitkovska explores the ways in which Conrad’s experience of migration manifests in the formal and narrative structures across his novels, focusing on Lord Jim (1900), The Secret Agent (1907), Nostromo (1904), Under Western Eyes (1911), as well as the short story ‘The Secret Sharer’ (1910). The first chapter develops the theoretical framework of her book, drawing upon a selection of works on migration, such as Joseph Brodsky’ writings, Viney Kirpal’s The Third World Novel of Expatriation (1989), as well as Edward Said’s Out of Place (2000) and Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (2000). This is complemented by a discussion of Conrad’s complex cultural background, as evidenced by Gustav Morf in his Polish Shades and Ghosts of Joseph Conrad (1976). What is immediately noticeable about these works, forming the vast majority of the author’s theoretical corpus, are their distant publication dates. In fact, the bibliography of the book indicates that the most recent publications cited by Voitkovska come from 2001 (Homi Bhabha and Leigh Gilmore). This is an unusual choice for a book published in 2022, given that the past two decades have witnessed a significant growth in studies of migration and transnationalism.

             The reason for Voitkovska’s choice to frame her argument without reference to recent scholarship is not articulated clearly in the book and therefore presents some shortcomings. The author lists political unrest as the major reason for Eastern European migration to the West. Whereas this was true until the early 1990s, contemporary emigration is prompted predominantly by economic factors. Moreover, in arguing that the experience of migration is ‘of course, more acutely felt by men, given women’s habituation, whatever the paradigm, to second-class status’ (3), Voitkovska disregards intersectional scholarship on gender and migration (Donato and Gabaccia 2015; Zaborowska 1995). Voitkovska often refers to the alleged colonisation of Polish lands by Russia in the nineteenth century without acknowledging the complexity of the issue as evidenced by scholars of postcolonialism (Kołodziejczyk 2010; Skórczewski 2013). Finally, the author is highly selective in her use of scholarship relating to the reception of Conrad in Poland, which gained momentum in the past two decades (Adamowicz-Pośpiech 2022; Zabierowski 2008). The introductory chapter concludes with a set of ‘generic patterns’ to which ‘Conrad, or, in fact, any other expatriate cross-cultural liminal author, adheres to reflexively’ (27). This is a bold statement, which is not backed sufficiently with evidence given the variety of contemporary migratory experiences. Much of Voitkovska’s argument presumes that a migrant will not maintain any significant relation with their home country, which, more often than not, is no longer the case.

             In the following chapters, Voitkovska illustrates her argument through close readings of Conrad’s works. While generally convincing, they are not situated against existing scholarship on Conrad (with the exception of a few footnotes), which renders it difficult for the reader to comprehend the extent of her contribution or the originality of her line of argumentation. Lord Jim, explored in chapters 2 and 7, is presented in the former as Conrad’s reckoning with his choice to emigrate, as well as with the trauma that this decision generated, and in the latter as his exploration of the relationship between the émigré author and their varied readerships through the motif of homecoming. The Secret Agent is discussed in Chapter 3 in relation to Victor Turner’s concept of liminality, shedding light on Conrad’s representation of people and places in his novel. In Chapter 4, Nostromo becomes a springboard for Voitkovska to probe the relationship between the writer and their native culture, once again focusing on the motif of homecoming. In Chapter 6, Under Western Eyes and Nostromo provide evidence for the author’s reading of romantic love in Conradian fiction as symbolic of the expatriate’s attitude towards their parent and adopted cultures. In Chapter 8, on the other hand, the former novel becomes the expression of Conrad’s anxiety regarding the reception of his works by his adopted reader. Finally, in Chapter 5, Conrad’s use of the doubles in his short story ‘The Secret Sharer’ is viewed by Voitkovska as a narrative tool to explore the relationship between the expatriate and their native culture. Voitkovska’s book lacks a conclusion, with her argument ending rather abruptly.

             While the close readings proposed by Voitkovska are compelling, they are somewhat repetitive and oscillate around a narrow understanding of the experience of migration. Voitkovska’s argument in the book does not develop at all, with every chapter restating the purpose of the book which is to show the impact of Conrad’s migratory experiences on his fiction. Unlike the contributors to Migration (2021), Voitkovska attempts to establish an authoritative voice on the impact of migration on Conrad’s fiction, concluding the debate rather than encouraging new insights. She proposes to read Conrad as a writer of exile rather than a Polish or English writer, but in a gesture that is similarly reductive, as it seeks to pinpoint one interpretative strategy. Voitkovska does not make full use of the potential that the frameworks of migration and transnationalism carry—instead of putting Conrad’s works in motion, she brings them to a standstill. However, a comparable focus on ‘constant movement, dislocation and instability’ as ‘conditio humana’ (51) in Conrad’s fiction maintained by Agnieszka Adamowicz-Pośpiech in her contribution to Migration (2021) serves as a reminder of the potential that this framework might generate, presenting Conrad as thoroughly shaped by migration, and his fiction as highly relevant to our contemporary era of mass movement.

 

October 2023

Neo-Avant-Gardes: Post-War Literary Experiments Across Borders, ed. by Bart Vervaeck. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021. Hardback: £125. ISBN 9781474486118

Neo-Avant-Gardes: Post-War Literary Experiments Across Borders, ed. by Bart Vervaeck

Neo-Avant-Gardes: Post-War Literary Experiments Across Borders, ed. by Bart Vervaeck. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021

Reviewed by Heather Colley, University of Oxford

 

In the realm of avant-garde literature, Neo-Avant-Gardes: Post-War Literary Experiments Across Borders, edited by Bart Vervaeck, emerges as an exemplary work that marries theoretical depth with accessibility. The book, characterised by meticulous research and eloquent prose across the board, manages the weighty task of unravelling the complexities of the neo-avant-garde while keeping readers engaged.

 

             Vervaeck’s introduction lays a solid foundation for the volume by delving into the relevance of the term ‘neo-avant-garde’ as it applies to literature. The term is typically associated with experimental fine art forms of the long sixties (approximately 1955 to 1975). Because of the association between fine arts and avant-garde experimentation, there is still a general reluctance towards applying the term to literary study. Instead of ‘avant-garde’ or ‘neo-avant-garde’, Vervaeck argues, the term ‘experimental’ seems to be the favoured label for literary scholarship around work that might resemble ‘other prose’ (2). But, in an effective answer to his own question surrounding the use of the neo-avant-garde label in literary study—‘Why Bother?’—Vervaeck posits that the term helps to establish important national and transnational trends. Deferring to the term, then, clarifies the book’s broader ethos of eschewing ‘hierarchal ideas of the centre (the source of influence) and the periphery (the almost passive recipient)’ (3). This rejection of the hierarchal ‘centre’ especially comes to the fore in the close-reading chapters, which comprise the book’s second half. In this portion, scholars centralise texts and authors which are perhaps typically overlooked due to their canonical peripherality. In so doing, the close readings build on the theory deployed earlier in the work—much of which is Eurocentric—to bolster the thinking of certain late-twentieth-century scholars such as Ángel Rama who, as Ilse Logie notes, ‘highlights the existence of avant-garde writers who worked along a different axis’ (235).  Vervaeck’s concern with centralising these axes through the ‘neo-avant-garde’ actualises itself, then, when the work addresses literature by African American, Latin American, and Caribbean authors, or when it transgresses cultural boundaries to include neo-avant-garde aesthetics derived from these cultures, as in Dirk De Geest and Vervaeck’s discussions of ‘authentic jazz lyricism’ in Belgian neo-avant-gardes (389).

 

             Vervaeck successfully makes the case for the application of this term and establishes a meaningful connection between the neo-avant-garde and three other dominant innovations of the twentieth century: the historical avant-garde, modernism, and postmodernism. He surveys influential studies on the neo-avant-garde by scholars such as Peter Bürger, Hal Foster, Benjamin Buchloh, and Dietrich Scheunemann. His survey helpfully elucidates key terms across the discursive theoretical iterations of the avant-garde, including Bürger’s dependence on Hegel in Theory of the Avant Garde (1984), Foster’s use of the Freudian ‘deferred action’, and Buchloh’s references to Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in his Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry (2000) (4-6). Vervaeck is adept in his contextualisation and narration of the twentieth- and early twentieth-century scholarly debate, and his attention to the developmental history of the term 'avant-garde' (and its various offshoots) is a helpful framework that would be of use to a broad audience from undergraduates dipping their toes in the area to more advanced researchers and scholars. This section of the introduction is very theory-heavy and discursive, pulling from a range of disciplines including sociology and history, and occasionally depending on an assumed understanding of key twentieth-century cultural thinkers such as Adorno and Walter Benjamin. In this sense, Vervaeck foreshadows the highly theoretical bedrock of the book’s first part whilst deploying a detailed conceptual framework to highlight the critical gap in scholarship that the collection as a whole seeks to remedy: ‘Our main interest is in the literary neo-avant-garde’, through which, he writes, ‘we are able to question and correct extant views of the neo-avant-garde’ (16). Beyond this identification of a scholarly gap, Vervaeck also judiciously discusses the advantages and limitations of the term’s usage, setting the stage for the subsequent chapters to explore and expound upon the complexities of it within the diverse literary traditions discussed, which encompass American, Austrian, British, Caribbean, Dutch, French, and German examples.

 

             Structured into two cohesive parts, the book delivers a comprehensive exploration of post-war literary innovations. Part I, ‘Concepts, Genres, and Techniques’, is an assembly of ten chapters deeply seeped in the nuances of post-war neo-avant-garde history. Here, the focus is on theoretical issues underpinned by the conceptual elements, genre considerations, and artistic techniques that bolster the avant-garde. Thomas Eder opens Part I with his chapter titled ‘Theodor Adorno, Peter Bürger, and Oswald Wiener, or How to Apply Neo-Avant-Garde Theory to Neo-Avant-Garde Texts’. Eder’s dependence on Adorno and Bürger to read Oswald Wiener’s ICE (1969) as representative of the neo-avant-garde follows smoothly and logically from Vervaeck’s deep attention to these theorists, especially Bürger, in the introduction. Also in the collection’s first part is Gaëlle Théval’s analysis of sound poetry in France, which shifts away from the deep theory of the earliest chapters in favour of literary and historical investigations into the French poetic avant-garde of the 1950’s and 60’s. The chapter’s rootedness in textual history, and especially its attention to the small-press magazine and journal culture of avant-garde literary Paris is a strong departure from pure theory. 

 

             Literature students might find Part II, ‘Movements and Authors,’ slightly more compelling for its more explicit dependence on close readings and literary implications of avant-garde innovation. Part II comprises eleven chapters which each shed light on individual authors and their affiliations with specific literary movements. Highlights include Antonia Rigaud’s chapter on the Black Arts Movement, which focuses on Amiri Baraka and Gwendolyn Brooks. Despite the two poets’ divergent literary lineages, with ‘Brooks being in the Harlem Renaissance and Langston Hughes line’ and Baraka coming from avant-garde of the ‘mostly white surrealist and beat-oriented’ New York City of the early 60’s, the reading of the two together here is appropriate and effective (221). Rigaud’s attention to the various preceding strands of American and African American avant-gardes is a fascinating depiction of cultural divergences and discourses in literary innovation, especially in how Rigaud points out Baraka and Brooks’ similar poetic ends: ‘Their poetry practises a literal avant-garde march against the violence of the era, calling for a reassessment of the notions of poetic and political violence as well as of linguistic violence’ (221). Rigaud’s close readings are augmented by attention to various modes of ‘signifying’—an important rhetorical conceit in African American literature and poetics—to highlight the relationship between the first avant-garde and the Black Arts Movement. The chapter very helpfully places theory on a map and actualises it by shifting theoretical terms of the avant-garde or the neo-avant-garde into a clear literary history.

 

             Ilse Logie continues this thread in the following chapter titled ‘The Neo-Avant-Garde in Latin America: The Case of Mario Bellatin’, throughout which the author depends upon a decentralised theoretical framework of the neo-avant-garde to eschew ‘this opposition between Eurocentric universalism and Latin American otherness’ (235). In ‘Sycorax’ Revenge: Kamau Brathwaite and a Caribbean Version of the Neo-Avant-Garde’, Christine Pagnoulle expounds this decentralising ethos through the case of multiple works by Brathwaite including DreamHaiti (1995), Barabajan Poems (1994), and The Arrivants (1973). When Pagnoulle writes that ‘Avant-garde reeks of Western experimentation, something which the ‘neo’ prefix makes even worse’, she energises an issue inherent, and maybe inevitable, within a collection of this scope: the dissonance between highly academic and occasionally sticky theoretical discussion and its applications within literatures that Logie previously describes as ‘largely ignored in international discourse because of the persistence of traditional boundaries in academia’ (251, 234). These chapters, then, work as key contributions to Vervaeck’s proposed ethos of a re-centralisation of peripheral texts whilst they also address the limitations of the editor’s terminology, which is inextricably tangled in Eurocentric and highly theoretical cultural studies.  

 

             Each author within the collection Neo-Avant-Gardes: Post-War Literary Experiments Across Borders is unified under a few broad but critical questions. What, and who, defined the historical avant-garde? What was the result and the relevance of the neo-avant-garde during the long sixties? How does new experimental art and literature distinguish itself from a genuine neo-avant-garde? And if cultural study and theory are, in some way, necessary to formulating, labelling, and communicating these distinctions, how can we account for those experimental or avant-garde innovations in literature which remain othered, outside the scopes of ‘Western experimentation’ (251)?

 

             Vervaeck is self-aware of the impossibilities and contradictions of attempting to address these issues within the confines of the collection: ‘the corpus of texts we analyse has a strong European focus, which adds coherence to the project but which, once more, shows that our volume presents a selection rather than an exhaustive overview’ (3). Yet the inclusion of work in the latter half which questions, even rejects, the theoretical labels and dictions of the first half results in a fascinating representation of the challenges present in labels, literary and theoretical terminology, and Western-centric literary historiography. The collection is at its strongest when explicit threads link the theory of its first half to the applications of its second, and, where these threads falter, it can feel bloated and meandering; overall, however, the collection offers an engaging and accessible—though at times difficult and complex—look into the world of post-war literary innovation. Its inclusions of theoretical groundwork as well as its practical usages in close readings—including those areas in which theory and theoretical terms fail—are exemplary of interpolated academic approaches and threads that would be highly useful to undergraduates and researchers alike.   

August 2023

Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures, Christina Kullberg and David Watson (eds.). New York/London/Dublin: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022. £90.00. ISBN 978-1-5013-7405-0 (hardback); 978-1-5013-7406-7 (ebook).

 

Reviewed by Antony Hoyte-West, Independent scholar

 

Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures

Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures, ed. by Christina Kullberg and David Watson, 2022

In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on the role and visibility of smaller languages and their literatures in various domains. Indeed, in exemplifying burgeoning scholarly attention on literary production in less widely-spoken, minority, or historically disfavoured languages and dialects, the book reviewed here examines these demotic tongues through a global lens, locating analyses of their literary and sociocultural realities within the sphere of broader theoretical discussions.

          Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures forms part of a quartet of interlinked volumes which comprise the Open Access series Cosmopolitan-Vernacular Dynamics in World Literatures. The series is edited by scholars based in Sweden who represent disciplines ranging from intellectual history to comparative literature and modern languages. Accordingly, the present volume opens with a general introduction, by Stefan Helgesson, Christina Kullberg, Paul Tenngart, and Helena Wulff, which is the same for all four books in the series. It takes Franco Moretti’s problematisation of world literature as a springboard, before presenting an overview of well-known aspects relating to global systems and the circulation of literary texts. By outlining the broad focus of the series in qualitative and interpretive terms, it centres on the ‘cosmopolitan-vernacular dynamic’, thus aiming to offer a methodological exploration of ‘the resonances and connection between widely diverse literary texts and cultures’ (xi). In this regard, the authors note ‘that the vernacular is always plural: not limited to language alone but comprising various types of expressions, material objects, people, and environments’ (xx).

    Subtitled ‘Theorizing the vernacular’, the volume introduction, by Christina Kullberg and David Watson, highlights that rather than being a victim of the global rise of English, the ‘vernacular can and does intervene productively in the shaping of world literature as an aesthetic strategy, in terms of a mode of reading, and as a global network of texts’ (4). Their analysis traces the semantic origins of the term, examining the vernacularisation process through historical and linguistic prisms to underline its role in the formation of ethnolinguistic and national identities. This is counterpointed by an exploration of ‘vernacular mobilities in the diaspora and post-colony’ (14), drawing attention to its intersection with wider language policies, as well as with economic and socio-political disadvantage, before ideas for reconsidering the vernacular are offered.

    In Chapter 1, ‘Contextualizing the vernacular: Signposts from African languages, writing, and literature’, Moradewun Adejunmobi surveys the role of the vernacular in the African context. This includes discussions of its linkage with the concept of the mother tongue, comparisons with colonial languages, relevant nationalist movements, as well as the adoption of (competing) standardised orthographies. Observing that African literature represents an ‘expansive domain of vernacularity’ (38) in geographical terms, Adejunmobi also highlights that—given that many African languages are not widely spoken and disseminated—issues of circulation and translation can also arise. As an example of the mixing of the vernacular and the global, the glocal phenomenon of Afrobeats (a distinctive West African musical genre which brings together different cultural influences) is presented, typifying the dichotomy between the local and the non-local in the African milieu.

     The second chapter moves to the Iberian peninsula, where Christian Claesson profiles three of the languages of Spain (Basque, Catalan, and Galician) under Francisco Franco’s repressive dictatorship (1939-1975). In outlining the historical situation of linguistic minorities in the Spanish context, as well as noting the short-lived autonomy before the Spanish Civil War enjoyed by the areas where these languages were spoken, Claesson highlights how officially sanctioned monolingualism was enforced to ensure the primacy of Castilian. In the Catalan case, the language was initially banned from all areas of public life, thus becoming relegated exclusively to the private sphere. However, it was subsequently permitted in certain university contexts. As for Basque, it too was proscribed at first; however, in time relevant schooling was piloted and the 1960s saw the creation of a unified linguistic standard. With Galician, known as an ancient language of poetry and culture, attention centres on the important role of the Galician diaspora and the emergence of the standardised language. As such, Claesson underscores the heterogenous nature of the three case studies, also noting how the dictatorship changed its policies over time towards greater accommodation, as well as highlighting that the three languages actually acquired significant safeguards during the last years of the regime.

                 In Chapter 3, the writer and scholar S. Shankar provides an overview of the translations of Yaathum Oorey, Yaavarum Kelir, a Tamil poem/song written in the early part of the first millennium CE. The text is presented first in Tamil, accompanied by two English translations by well-known translators (the first by George Hart and Hank Heifetz, and the second by A. K. Ramanujan). Emphasising the contrast between the ‘vernacular’ (Tamil) and the ‘transnational’ (English), Shankar interprets each translation through cosmopolitan, political/philosophical, and ecocritical lenses. An ecocritical perspective is also adopted by Kullberg in the fourth chapter, which analyses Caribbean poetry—specifically from the Lesser Antilles—in the aftermath of the devasting hurricanes of 2017. Through examining the works of Richard Georges, Lasana M. Sekou, and Celia A. Sorhaindo (from the British Virgin Islands, St Martin, and Dominica respectively), Kullberg situates Caribbean writers within the framework of eco-criticism and world literature, depicting how the sounds of natural disasters have been reflected in these poetic works.

                  Chapter 5 remains in the Americas, with anthropologists Richard and Sally Price outlining the evolving vernacular of the Saamaka Maroons in Suriname. Informed by their extensive fieldwork in the area, the Prices outline the creolised origins of the Saamakatongo language and their culture through the prism of ‘First-Time’, the founding event of the Saamaka people in the eighteenth century which retains, through oral history, significant influence in the modern age. The continued survival and evolution of the language is profiled against the background of Suriname’s complex cultural identity, as well as societal changes involving increased urbanisation and the growing uptake of social media, where the vernacular serves as a mirror of a changing society. 

                   The sixth chapter, by Lena Rydholm, provides a panoramic overview of cosmopolitanism and vernacularism in Chinese literature from ancient times to the present. In first underlining the contrast between Classical Chinese and the demotic baihua, she notes how perceptions altered after the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth movement, using the example of Lao She’s 1933 work Cat Country which employs not only the Beijing vernacular, but also the invented language of ‘Felinese’. 

       The Finnish-Estonian author Aino Kallas (1878-1956) is the focus of Chapter 7, where Katarina Leppänen examines themes of gender, ethnicity, and class in Kallas’s oeuvre. With Kallas’s literary activity centring on the peoples around the Gulf of Finland (then part of the Russian Empire), the region is situated within its linguistic and cultural context, especially against the backdrop of growing national awareness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Noting that attempts to Russify the area not only failed to supplant the dominant languages of German and Swedish as well as local vernaculars, the presence of Estonian in Kallas’s work not only provides a literary portrayal of daily life, but also offers historical and linguistic authenticity.

                   Returning to the Caribbean, David Watson’s chapter ‘Specters of the vernacular: Neoliberalism, world literature, and Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings' zooms in on the various types of vernaculars present in this Man Booker Prize-winning novel. As such, it frames the vernacular within the rise of a neoliberal aesthetic. Politics also underlines the ninth chapter, ‘Vernacular imagination and exophone reconfiguration in Francophone Chinese diasporic literature’. Here, Shuangyi Li explores the role of the vernacular through the prism of Chinese first-generation migrants writing in French, analysing a range of works to demonstrate its interlinkage with political and revolutionary contexts.

       Subtitled ‘Instead of an afterword’, the final contribution to the volume is by the eminent literary scholar Galin Tihanov. In encapsulating the wealth of thematic material contained in the volume, he begins with Dante’s adoption of the vernacular, moving towards C. P. Cavafy and the interplay between katharevousa and the demotic in Modern Greek poetry, before ending with Witold Gombrowicz, whose uniquely idiosyncratic Polish represents ‘a language that has not yet been codified’ (257).

                   In bringing together portraits of the vernacular through case studies from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and South America, the volume certainly lives up to its broad and ambitious scope. It opens up new impressions and discussions relating to the enduring role of the vernacular from literary, anthropological, and historical perspectives, and therefore will be appealing not only to literary scholars, but also to all interested in the intersection of minority languages and cultures, postcolonial studies, and the role of language in society. Amid the worldwide omnipresence of English, as well as other dominant extraliterary factors relating to global publishing and circulation, the scholarship contained in Vernaculars in an Age of World Literatures clearly demonstrates that the vernacular remains relevant and important for literary and cultural studies in the twenty-first century.

July 2023

Translation: Crafts, Contexts, Consequences, Jan Steyn (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. £75.00. ISBN 9781108485395

 

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, independent scholar 

 

Translation: Crafts, Contexts, Consequences, ed. Jan Steyn

Translation: Crafts, Contexts, Consequences, Jan Steyn (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. £75.00. ISBN 9781108485395

A tension runs through this collection, animated by the following questions: Where does theory end and method begin in translation; when does the singular encompass the universal? How does one construct ‘a common language’ between translation scholarship and practice? That common language is glimpsed in places, as in Aron Aji’s contribution, when describing what he refers to as ‘the covalent effect’ in his translations: ‘my aim is not to propose a theory of covalence but to describe a method, specifically, my own, that is sensitive to the multilingual condition in which literary texts are produced and translated’ (168). Yet the collection as a whole marks a bold and extended engagement with these issues, their limitations, and their possibilities.

Steyn opens the book with a short introduction, and it is clear from this choice that his style as editor has been to let the contributors speak for themselves. However, a longer introduction or adding a conclusion could have been helpful: considering the variety of the contributions, he could have provided a common framework or stated aim. For Steyn, the various dimensions of translation are too often discussed in separation, but this collection aims to bring these elements into conversation. I agree with the first proposition: a holistic understanding of translation demands exactly such a dialogue. As for the second proposition, of bringing these elements into ‘conversation’—this is largely concentrated in the final contribution (an entertaining dialogue between five translators), but it is hard to account for it substantially across the volume. A certain continuity is established through having certain authors (Homer, Catullus, Sappho, and Samuel Beckett) reappear severally over the course of the book. This reflects Steyn’s greatest talent as an editor, invisibly weaving commonalities between dissonant accounts.

As such, the collection is mixed, with strong, engaging accounts from Aron Aji, Susan Bassnett, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Naoki Sakai, and Katerina Stergiopoulou. Greek scholar Katerina Stergiopoulou presents a fascinating and authoritative narrative running from Ancient Athens through the Renaissance all the way to a modernity in which ‘Greek poetry becomes an emblem of the untranslatable par excellence’ (86). Bassnett’s contribution on the topic of retranslating the classic texts uses the latest translation of the Iliad for a far-reaching account of the discipline, running from David Damrosch’s notion of World Literature to the contemporary adaptations of Dante. As a macro-level narrative of classical translation in the modern era, it serves its purpose punctually. ‘In the great interconnectedness of textuality,’ the role of translation is ‘infinite’ (124).

Rabaté’s ‘Translation in and of Psychoanalysis’ follows, making a better-paced account as it traces its source text to its contemporary reception. Noting translation’s renewed purchase in the domain of psychoanalytic theory (126), Rabaté compares Joyce Crick’s early translations of Sigmund Freud with Mark Solms’ Revised Standard Edition (forthcoming in 2023). ‘Returning to these texts, we accept the programme of a perpetual translation’ (137) writes Rabaté, because in the final analysis ‘psychoanalysis testifies to a need for endless literalizations that are retranslations’ (137). The figure of translation comes dangerously close to metaphor here, but Rabaté’s preceding commentary—itself consolidated through archival correspondence and translational comparison—sets the specific claims in motion.

Aron Aji’s piece, recalls his own translation pedagogy at the University of Iowa with startling elucidation. His argument for ‘covalent effect’ in translation recounts that his goal ‘is to make English assimilate as much as possible the imbricated layers of style, meaning, and affect created in and through the language particular to the source text’ (168). As an educator of translation, Aji’s contribution marks a peak in its effortless bridging of practice and reflection. It is so immediate, amiable, and convincing:

When successful, my translations seek something more than, or different from, equivalence […] I want the language of the source text, with its complete and startling otherness, to somehow compel the target language to assimilate to the former’s intrinsic logic and characteristics as well as possible. (167; 169)

Naoki Sakai’s contribution is more a summation of his previous work. Some may find this familiar, but its implications are still staggering. Sakai recalls his earlier conviction that language is more regulative than exact, and is only independently recognisable in respect to other languages through a process of ‘co-figuration’:

The internationality of the world is nothing but an arrangement of biopower sustained by a set of presumptions according to which languages are postulated preliminarily as indivisible unities that are enumerable, unambiguously distinguished, and mutually comparable. […] the modern world demands that languages are individuals, each associated with a national population. (237)

Alongside these foregrounded accounts are the other contributions, such as George Craig’s recollections of editing and translating Samuel Beckett (7-14), and Franco Nasi’s account on translation pedagogy (15-31). Bernard Turle’s ‘Anatomy of a Day in the Life of a Translator’ offers a digressive satire on his own tasks (32-46). Clémentine Beauvais shines a light on the under-considered genre of translating teen fiction (47-63). Chad Post’s brief overview of the Translation Database asserts the statistical facts of international literature’s contested popularity (194-208) while Rumena Bužarovska provides an account of Macedonian translation and reception (209-225). Christopher Honey and Janice Chen’s lengthy entry considers the neuroscience of translation (140-161). Running throughout these works is the tension between translation scholarship and practice, and the ongoing effort to cultivate a common language intelligible to either camp.

Scholarship on translation without the input of translators is not a desirable endpoint. Yet the precise configuration of how practical translators relate in, and to, these accounts, is still an open question by the collection’s end. This issue may be related via Friedrich Schleiermacher’s famous 1813 figure: Are translators expected to bring themselves closer to academic discourse, or are academics willing to bring themselves closer to translational practice and practitioners? There is, after all, something deeply paradoxical about the study of translation becoming specialised beyond common understanding; yet this collection, in its range, demonstrates the ongoing difficulty of moving in the other direction. Steyn’s collection offers a contemporaneous and well-rounded account of Translation Studies, but also a brave attempt to fix these pre-existing questions and disparities.

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Last Scene of All Representing Death on the Western Stage Edited by Jessica Goodman (Legenda, 2022)

June 2023

Last Scene of All: Representing Death on the Western Stage, Jessica Goodman (ed.). Cambridge: Legenda, 2022. £85. ISBN 9781781886908.

Reviewed by Sarah Fengler, University of Oxford


Since ancient Greek tragedy and through to modernist plays, death has been a key feature of Western drama. Traditionally attributed the function of constituting a dénouement, the resolution of tragic tension and the ending of the dramatic action, death can give a play a sense of closure. Yet when performed on stage, the finality of death is merely fictitious, and death itself remains a representation. In the introduction to the edited volume Last Scene of All: Representing Death on the Western Stage, Jessica Goodman illustrates this tension by the example of a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and invites a number of literary scholars to reflect on performances of death on the Western stage and the notion of death as a ‘never-ending ending’ (2). The volume includes ten chapters on different centuries and languages, all of which ultimately focus on how the staging of death challenges conventional understandings of the notion of catharsis.

            The first two chapters are dedicated to early modern drama. The first chapter, ‘Killing Coligny: Staging the Admiral’s Death in Sixteenth-Century France and England’ by Jonathan Patterson, considers French and English theatrical representations of the death of Gaspard II de Coligny, a Huguenot military admiral killed in 1572. Patterson demonstrates that not only Coligny’s death, but also the two symbolic hangings of effigies of Coligny before the Parisian public were inspirations for François de Chantelouve’s play La Tragedie de feu Gaspard de Coligny and Christopher Marlowe’s play The Massacre at Paris. He illustrates how the dramatic potential of death can be unlocked on stage and argues that Chantelouve depicts Coligny ‘as a failed traitor’ (16), whereas Marlowe frames the admiral’s death as ‘the bare minimum of martyrdom’ (20). In the second chapter, ‘Corneille’s Aggressive Suicides: Rodogune and Théodore’, Joseph Harris reflects on the depiction of suicide in two of Pierre Corneille’s tragedies. He first discusses the problem that, even if suicide might be an effective means of causing a dénouement, it does not necessarily contribute to the probability of the dramatic action. While suicide has traditionally been considered a ‘self-directed act’ (28) in European philosophy, Harris points to the non-Western notion of ‘aggressive suicide’ (28), according to which suicide can turn into a ‘final act of aggression’ (29) against others. He concludes that of Cléopâtre’s suicide in Rodogune and Marcelle’s in Théodore, only the latter truly meets the requirements of the concept of ‘aggressive suicide’.

            Chapters Three and Four revolve around theatrical representations of death in the wake of the French Revolution. In chapter Three, ‘“Tis Gallia’s hopeless Queen!”: Resurrecting the Dead in John Philip Kemble’s Macbeth (1794)’, Sarah Burdett argues that Sarah Siddons’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth in a 1794 staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by John Philip Kemble represented Marie Antoinette, whose execution had happened only a few months earlier. She grounds her argument in Marvin Carlson’s notion of ‘ghosting’, ‘the haunting replication in the theatre of something previously encountered within an altered context’ (43). In chapter Four, ‘Crypts, Corpses, and Living Tombs on Stage during the French Revolution: Crises of Burial and Mourning’, Cecilia Feilla turns to theatrical representations of burial and mourning. She provides an analysis of the comedy L’Office du Mort, ou le mariage du bas clergé de France and Boutet de Monvel’s Les Victimes cloîtrées. Informed by Jacques Lacan and his ‘notion of l’entre-deux-morts’ (65), she argues that both plays provide a ‘symbolic space’ where death loses some of its threatening nature by reconciling ‘the political-civic and religious-ritual spheres’ (65).

            The fifth chapter, ‘Twilight for a Myth: Images of Death in Luigi Pirandello’s The Mountain Giants’ by Stefano Giannini, considers the relationship between art and death in Luigi Pirandello’s incomplete play The Mountain Giants. Giannini points out that The Mountain Giants features references to death as well as to the phenomena of haunting and mourning. The play deals with the suicide of a poet in love with a woman who seeks to stage a play within the play, one that was written by the poet himself before his death. While Giannini analyses the theatrical negotiation of  death on different levels of the dramatic action, Dominic Glynn, in the sixth chapter on ‘The (Un)performability of Death and Violence on Stage’, addresses the problem of staging violence and death with regard to its practicability and credibility. He illustrates the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of showing death and violence on stage throughout different times and cultural contexts, and introduces the theoretical concept of ‘(un)performability’ (96). Referring to similar approaches like ‘(un)translatability’ and ‘non-translation’ (97), he argues that it is the cultural context that constitutes the theatrical performability of death. For instance, while death frequently featured in the performances of revenge tragedies from around 1600, it was presented less violently and bloody in seventeenth-century French tragedy.

            Chapters Seven and Eight move on to theatrical representations of death in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In chapter Seven, ‘Revisiting Death on Stage: Two Recent British Productions of Lorca’s Rural Tragedies’, María Bastianes examines the British productions of Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding by Marina Carr and Yaël Ferber (2009), and Yerma by Simon Stone (2017). Bastianes analyses the two rural plays against the background of the new British context and points out changes Stone and Carr make to Lorca’s plays, such as turning the murder of a man into the suicide of a woman. Bastianes concludes that death, in Lorca’s plays, is a process shaped by ‘a suspension or interruption’ (121) of the reactions it provokes, an innovation missing in Stone’s and Carr’s adaptations. In chapter Eight, ‘Death of Tragedy: Modernist Drama and the Sense of a Non-Ending’, Barry Murnane examines the function of death as a non-ending in three plays of German modernism. In Frank Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen, for instance, death is only reported whereas the ‘after-effects amongst the living’ (132) are shown. In Georg Kaiser’s Von morgens bis mitternachts, a man takes his own life, but his death does not appear tragic. Bertolt Brecht, in Die Maßnahme, presents a young activist committed to die to the benefit of a communist group. Murnane argues that death somewhat lacks its finality in all three plays. He concludes that by reinterpreting the nature of death, the three plays question the dramatic means of catharsis.

            The two final chapters focus on the process of dying and on the condition of being dead. In chapter Nine, ‘“Much like at home”: The Quiet Eloquence of Death in Our Town (Thornton Wilder) and Eurydice (Sarah Ruhl)’, Julie Vatain-Corfdir examines the ‘state of being dead’ (150) in two plays of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Both Our Town and Eurydice feature the death of a young woman, but in both cases that death is hardly mentioned. Vatain-Corfdir argues that catharsis is achieved in the plays by rehearsing the mourning linked with death and dying, which ultimately leads to the acceptance of death. In the tenth chapter, ‘“The whole point of living is preparing to die”: Dying into Death in Tragic Drama’, Fiona Macintosh examines Marina Carr’s play Woman and Scarecrow and traces parallels to Samuel Beckett and Greek tragedy. She argues that the representation of death in Carr’s play reflects the ‘ritual process of dying in ancient Greece’ (165), as the death of Woman is extended throughout the entire action. Analysing the four stages of the process ‘of dying into death’ (167) in Greek tragedy, Macintosh points out that Carr’s play features the same four stages with only slight modifications.

            Goodman’s edited volume compiles ten original essays on representing death on the Western stage from the sixteenth century to the present, thematically linked by their emphasis on the tensions between death as an ending and a non-ending. Providing analyses of French, Italian, German, Spanish, English, and Irish drama, the book covers key aspects of Western European history of drama and drama theory against diverse cultural and temporal backgrounds. The problem that death may lose its finality when performed on a theatre stage raises the question of how theatrical representations of death relate to the notions of the tragic and catharsis. All ten essays address this question by the example of various plays and performances, corroborated by manifold theoretical approaches. The wide range of languages, centuries, and theory covered makes the volume a comprehensive and multifaceted contribution to the study of death and theatre. Expanding the focus with another chapter on nineteenth-century drama or a chapter with examples taken from Scandinavian or Eastern European drama would add even more valuable insights to an otherwise very rich volume. However, the strong emphasis on Western European plays forms a coherent and convincing approach to analysing death in drama, which enables comparisons across time and space, always within the common framework of drama theories that date back to ancient Greek tragedy. All in all, the thorough and in-depth analyses presented in Last Scene of All provoke new discussions of the representation and function of death in Western European drama and performance.

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The Routledge Handbook of Literary Translation Edited by Kelly Washbourne and Ben Van Wyke (Routledge, 2019)

May 2023

The Routledge Handbook of Literary Translation, Kelly Washbourne and Ben Van Wyke (eds.). Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019. GBP 31.99. ISBN9781138699298.

Reviewed by Sui He, University College London


Literary translation is an eclectic theme of research which thrives at the intersection between literary studies and translation studies. As noted in the half-title page of the volume, The Routledge Handbook of Literary Translation ‘provides an accessible, diverse and extensive overview of literary translation today’ (i). It covers the latest and the most pertinent topics in literary translation studies, organised into four main themes: Contexts (Part I); Genres (Part IIa), Methods, Frameworks and Methodologies (Part IIb); Applications and Debates in Production and Reception (Part III). Given the broad coverage of the book (and the variety of audiences that it addresses), the current review is written from the perspective of translation studies, focusing on a range of topics related to learning and teaching literary translation in higher education settings.

             Zooming in on the content, the bite-size chapters are informative. Most authors follow the structure of definition, historical development, current landscape, practical implications and/or case studies, future direction, and conclusion. It is thus easy for readers to locate the information needed, if reading it as a resource book. One of the highlights is the inclusion of historical overviews in some chapters. Speaking from the perspective of translation students and early career researchers, this makes it possible to form a holistic view of translation theories. It enables readers to evaluate our perceived knowledge of literary translation, or translation in general, in different social and historical contexts, and on top of this, to understand that the post-structuralist ‘truth’ that we believe in today can be outdated tomorrow. This is particularly important for postgraduate students in translation studies—one of the main audiences of this book—to strengthen their awareness of critical thinking. Additionally, some chapters offer complementary insights into a more general topic. For example, Chapter 23 ‘Self-translation’, Chapter 24 ‘Writers as Translators’, and Chapter 25 ‘Pseudotranslation’ collectively contribute to the discussion on the author-translator relationship. For intertwined chapters as such, the editors have successfully managed to arrange them in proximity, which helps the reader to develop their knowledge of these topics in an intuitive way.

             The thirty-seven chapters collected in this book offer a wealth of factual information and intellectual inspiration. The introduction, written beautifully by Kelly Washbourne, sets the scene for the book, accompanied by Juan G. Ramírez Giraldo’s reflection on ‘The Limits and the Forms of Literary Translation’ (Chapter 1). Part 1 comprises four chapters discussing the teaching, learning, and research of literary translation, touching on keywords such as knowledge (Chapter 2), interdisciplinarity (Chapter 3), and theory and practice (Chapters 4 and 5). Bridging onto Chapter 6, the analysis of literary translation as a profession consolidates the importance of aligning literary translation theory with practice, especially for industry-oriented translator education.

             Part IIa ‘Genre’ comprises thirteen chapters, many of which are delights to both the eye and the mind. The genres covered in this section include: classical poetry, classical prose, oral literature, fairy tales and folk tales, children’s literature, sacred writings, prose fiction, crime fiction, comics, the graphic novel and fan fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, music, and theatre. Genre plays a key role in literary translation, from commissioning and translating to producing and marketing. For students working on literary translation, chapters included in this section can serve as a good starting point. These chapters contain detailed introductions to these genres and their circulations, pointing the readers to the key literature in the field. Needless to say, apart from practical implications as such, they also provoke theoretical reflections on relevant research, inspiring the readers to explore in their own right.

             Part IIb ‘Methods, Frameworks and Mythologies (tools, techniques and processes)’ comprises six chapters, featuring the issues of revising and retranslating, stylistics, transnational poetics, self-translation, writers as translators, and pseudotranslation. Supported by clarifications of key concepts and robust demonstration of specific examples, these chapters present a well-rounded angle to understand these interlocked topics, referring to various topics in literary translation studies such as writer-translator authorship, ontology, and methodology. Notably, Chapter 20 ‘Revising and Retranslating’ provides a convincing argument about the significance of case studies, i.e. the relationship between specific cases, theoretical hypotheses, and ‘armchair philosophising’ (318), which is pertinent to the methodological issues in the Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) paradigm, disentangling the myth of the importance of individual case studies to the generalisation end of DTS. Another noteworthy feature emerging from this part is that research on literary translation cuts across the administrative boundary of academic disciplines. Therefore, statements such as “literary translation […] constitutes an aspect of translation that has received relatively scarce scholarly analysis” (338) would need to be contextualised to avoid potential misunderstandings.

             Part III comprises two sections focused on the opposite ends of the translation trajectory: one on production (7 chapters) and the other one on reception (4 chapters). From the production side, four key issues including ethics, pragmatics, discourse, and collaborative translation are presented, complemented by three inspiring chapters discussing ‘Feminist Translation’ (Chapter 30), ‘Eco-translation’ (Chapter 31), and ‘Queer/LGBT Approaches’ (Chapter 32) touching upon some fundamental questions in contemporary translation theory and practice. Specifically, Chapter 30 on feminist translation provides a detailed overview of the development of feminist translation in literary translation studies in a continuum, starting from the well-known Canadian pioneers to the less-known names in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world. In addition, Chapter 32 on Queer/LGBT approaches to literary translation brings up two interesting notions in translation: ‘insider knowledge’ (496) and translation as ‘a way out of domestic oppression’ (498), leading once again to the importance of knowledge in translation practice, and the power of translation in shaping the society and soothing humanity. For the reception section, the audience’s reception—at the levels of individuals, institutions, and societies—is discussed from classical (Chapters 33 and 34) and relatively novel (Chapters 35 and 36) standpoints. From a pedagogical perspective, these chapters contain very helpful resources: they present detailed case studies which can be used as examples in classrooms, as well as new aspects of researching and understanding translation which can enlighten students and ignite their enthusiasm for translation. For example, Chapter 36 discusses criticisms, reviews, and assessments of literary translations. Although these materials have been analysed widely in context-oriented research in translation studies, current curricula barely cater for the need to embed this information in translation training whereas reading reviews and criticism will undoubtedly enhance source text comprehension allowing translators to make informed decisions.

             Chapter 37 ‘Afterword: The Death of the Translator’ wraps up the wonderful story with witty takeaways, leaving the readers to taste and digest the rich flavour of the book. It would be unfair to comment negatively on the coverage of this book given what it has included already. However, Joanna Trzeciak Huss rightly observes that ‘advances in networking and computer technology […] have expanded the possible modes of collaborative translation’ (449), which is also true for literary translation studies in general. Emerging topics such as machine translation of literary texts and cognitive approaches to literary translation studies are missing from the landscape portrayed by the book.

             In general, this book is a very good read for students, translator trainers and translation researchers alike, thanks to the consistently high quality of content and writing that the chapters collectively present. The content resonates with many key themes in translation studies as incorporated in university curricula, providing essential entries for the expansion of existing reading lists. Meanwhile, this book also contains many refreshing teaching resources with concrete examples drawn from various domains, introducing a wide range of interdisciplinary topics that students can explore beyond this book and their courses. With practical recommendations provided by the authors, infused with critical insights and illuminating ideas, this book undoubtedly sheds light on the current curriculum of literary translation, opening new possibilities for the design and delivery of theoretical modules and practical workshops centred around literary texts. Reflecting on the interdisciplinary nature of this book, it also reminds us of the necessity of thinking outside the box of translation stu dies, for example, to know how translation is perceived in sister disciplines such as comparative literature.

March 2023

Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation, Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang (eds). London: Tilted Axis Press, 2022. £12. ISBN 978-1-911284-78-9.

Reviewed by Alyssa Ollivier-Tabukashvili, University of Oxford


Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation

Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation, edited by Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang (Tilted Axis Press, 2022)

Translation has a vital role in contributing to—and perhaps even leading—the increasingly prevalent conversation of decolonisation. There is now a consensus among scholars on the violent and colonial history of translation across millennia, as well as the neo-colonising tendencies within translation today. Most of these discussions, however, remain in the academic context of theorising decolonisation, whilst praxis is discussed in ostensibly informal—or rather unpublished—settings like Twitter, translation workshops, or collectives. At the 2020 British Centre for Literary Translation summer school—a space that may act as a bridge between the practical publishing field and academia—the multilingual workshop group presented problems in the translation industry that upheld colonial ideologies.

             The group went on to publish their panel discussion, ‘Who is the Mythical English Reader?’ and continue their work through interviews and essays on platforms such as Words Without Borders and now, as a collection of ideas in our present text, Violent Phenomena. The editors, Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang, explain in the introduction that this collection emerges in a context where the means for decolonisation increasingly require violence. The essays in this collection look at a variety of aspects of literary translation, including the industry itself and the various streams we engage with that can, and do, uphold colonial practices. The collection features twenty-one thought-provoking essays, with a great variety of language combinations and issues explored. It would therefore require a significantly longer text that is beyond the scope of this review to cover each essay individually.

             The collection begins with a discussion between Gitanjali Patel and Nariman Youssef, ‘All the Violence It May Carry on its Back’. The writers explain that this essay follows a conversation they previously had about their shared feelings and experiences as professionals in the field of literary translation, and features quotes interspersed from many other literary translators of colour they had spoken to. These discussions are stamped along the margin with key facts, figures, and notes that elaborate on (and maybe serve to further validate) the individuals’ experiences in the profession. Collectively, this almost functions as an additional introduction, highlighting how literary translation is a field in dire need of decolonising, particularly with how white Western colonialism feeds into the daily interactions that translators of colour experience within the profession.

             Across the essays, a number of themes arise which are problematised in varying ways according to their specific context, including the concept of bridge translations (meaning those that act as a ‘source text’ where some translators may not have knowledge of the source language), collaboration, ‘un’-translatability and L2 (second-language) translation. Amid these questions is also what Anton Hur titles as the ‘Mythical English Reader’. Hur’s essay explores the problem of the ‘English reader’ that frequently turns up as a mythical judge of literature. The depiction of this mythical individual provides a helpful image of a barrier in translation. It gives a name and an imaginary face to a reader whom all translators are expected to please.

             Accordingly, as echoed in many of the other essays, translators, particularly when working from a non-European language or text, come up against the idea that their work—often perceived as representing the source culture as a whole—isn’t ‘palatable’ or ‘understandable’ to the English reader. This repeatedly comes up in linguistic choices and representations of specific cultural terms. Kaiama L. Glover, for example, draws on Haitian vodou practice and how it is frequently misappropriated to ‘voodoo’ in order to fulfil ideologies of exoticism. Haitian writers, Glover explains, encounter the question of how they write themselves to be consumed by a global audience. Further on this note, Sawad Hussain explores this idea—of making one culture palatable and comprehensible to a Western audience—going beyond linguistic choices and how it affects paratextual elements including book covers, making design choices that may exoticise the source culture. The stories told by these translators throughout their essays are thought-provoking yet upsetting examples of how the translation and publishing industries perpetuate Western and Anglocentric values. Considering these issues in a theoretical context, it is clear that the common translation debate of ‘domestication’ versus ‘foreignisation’ is reductive, as it does not take into account the layers of colonialism and orientalism embedded within each strategy.

             Lúcia Collischonn and Sandra Tamele address in their respective essays the circumstances of working with languages that may not be ‘their own’, that is to say second languages or colonially enforced languages. In their case, this has largely impacted the relationship they developed with their working languages, but also generated assumptions from agents and publishers on their linguistic ability. The meaning and possibility of terms such as ‘native language’ or ‘mother tongue’ differ across varied geographical and historical contexts, and there appears to be a recurring problem of assigning languages to the translator based on a perceived ability, depending on ethnicity and accent. In a similar vein, both Collischonn and Sawad Hussain allude to being referred to as emerging translators despite years of experience and success; similarly, Mona Kareem addresses the approach of ‘guardianship’ in which Western translators filter and adapt the Arab writer, guiding them to be more ‘appealing’. For example, they may use a native speaker’s literal translation and then heavily workshop it under the guise of collaboration, but what is produced might instead be considered a rendition or ‘loose adaptation’ as opposed to a translation. Tamele’s essay specifically draws on her knowledge of Portuguese as a necessary bridge to bring literature into Mozambique—without her work of translating into her adopted Portuguese, literature outside Mozambique would not be translated to the local languages, creating a problem of accessibility.

             Tamele’s view of the necessity for bridges is echoed in Elisa Taber’s essay on bringing Guaraní writing into English, which, she argues, requires the Spanish interference to create a sequence of translations (not equivalences) to fully demonstrate from where the English meaning originates. In a different context, however, Kareem problematises the use of bridge translations resulting in a Western rendition that domesticates and loosely adapts the text from its source text/first version to a target language after a series of metamorphoses.  These essays do not contradict but build upon one another as a crucial reminder to readers and producers of Western Anglocentric writing that it is not the US/UK and then the World, but individual cultures and contexts versus colonising systems of power—historically and presently.

             Such is the view presented in Violent Phenomena. Other essays in the collection bring even more to the conversation, including debates around disability and accessibility (Khairani Barrokka), the contradiction of living as both coloniser and colonised like in Wales (Eluned Gramich), gender in religion across translation (Sofia Rehman), and whether we have a right to translation in the first place (M. NourbeSe Philip). In summary, this is a generous collection of essays from many key names in the world of literary translation, putting their extensive thoughts and experiences into writing with real-world stories and examples of a problematic profession. This book will, hopefully, trigger active decolonisation work from all those involved and contribute to the translation industry—from the production line to consumption, for practising translators, academics, and all readers alike.

February 2023

A Fictional Commons: Natsume Sōseki and the Properties of Modern Literature, Michael K. Bourdaghs. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2021. £124.50. ISBN 9781478021926.

Reviewed by Pauline Yang, University of Oxford


A Fictional Commons: Natsume Sōseki and the Properties of Modern Literature by Michael K. Bourdaghs

A Fictional Commons: Natsume Sōseki and the Properties of Modern Literature by Michael K. Bourdaghs (Duke University Press, 2021)

Property and possession are central themes in modern society and nation states. While they are frequently staged in literature, the pleasure the latter offers is often based on the failure or inherent contradiction in the political ideal and legal fiction. Meanwhile, the affinity between property regimes and emergent forms of knowledge is not merely metaphorical. What does it mean to address these topics engagingly throughout one’s oeuvre? How can one redefine literature when other nascent disciplines collude with capitalist enclosure? These are the concerns of Natsume Sōseki, who is too often oversimplified as a—if not the—national fictionist of Japan.

             In Theory of Literature (Bungakuron, 1907, hereafter Theory), Sōseki defines literature as (F+f): the alternation of the intense cognitive factor ‘F’ and the emotional factors ‘f’s. The temporal ramification of the ‘f’s in generations of readers’ responses is what distinguishes literature from science. Following his 2009 translation of Theory, Michael K. Bourdaghs, in his new monograph A Fictional Commons, probes the correspondence between such a reader-centred conception of literature and Sōseki’s thematisation of the ambivalence embedded in economic, epistemic, and psychological private ownership in his fiction. Locating this underrated theory in dialogue with the affective turn in literary studies and the current debates over the counter-sovereignty commons, Bourdaghs explores the political potential of Sōseki’s literature as not only a device of representation that problematises reality but also an alternative form of knowing and a possible mode of coexistence with others beyond the modern property system.

             The first chapter reads I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru, 1905), ‘Hearing Things’ (‘Koto on sorane’, 1905) and Sanshirō (1908) as animal fables. These dialogic fables, which relativise human properties, resemble his negotiation with the existing definitions of literature. In Theory, psychology and sociology are the two scientific approaches deployed to demarcate literature. Chapter 2 analyses Sōseki’s critical reception of William James’s psychology and the bankruptcy of possessive individualism in The Gate (Mon, 1910). On the other hand, by interpreting the narrative invention in To the Spring Equinox and Beyond (Higan sugi made, 1912) as a return to the original form of exchange, Chapter 3 illustrates Sōseki’s anticipation of Marcel Mauss’s revolutionary theorisation of the gift. Apart from the proliferation of narration, Chapter 4 scrutinises the symptomatic aphasia in Kokoro (1914) and its relation to peripheral subjects in imperial Japan.

             Both the fictional theme of property and a re-evaluation of Theory have been discussed in Japanese academia. At times Bourdaghs’s interpretation of Sōseki is reminiscent of Karatani Kōjin and Komori Yōichi, two contemporary critics who exemplarily combine literary criticism and political action. A Fictional Commons is innovative for it is also concerned with the dispossession of literature itself, especially in conversation with intellectual property and the notion of world literature as exemplified in the Conclusion. Distinct from the legal allocation of copyright to either the author or the publisher, Sōseki suggests literature to be an affective process ‘that is necessarily shared between the writer, fictional characters, and the reader’ (11). Moreover, for Sōseki, the evaluation of literature is historical, democratic, and dialogical. This is particularly significant as Theory showcases his endeavour to engage with the English canon as one instance of literature from the perspective of someone cultivated with classical Chinese and Edo culture in his early years. As Bourdaghs contends, Sōseki’s insistence on the agency of the reader more effectively ‘provincialises European literary history’, for, unlike scholars such as Pascale Casanova and Franco Moretti, Sōseki does not ‘position [his] own readings at the end of history’ but awaits ‘readers to continue to take up and interact with literary texts’ (173). Nor is such an emphasis on the reader identical with David Damrosch’s advocation of ‘detached engagement’, because for Sōseki the universality of literature consists of every reader’s particularity: ‘one has to start reading from one’s own place and time and move outward from there, creating one’s own world’ (173).

             Sōseki not only contemplates world literature from the perspective of a reader. As an author, he is skeptical about requests to translate his own work. Citing his negative comments on Rabindranath Tagore’s international success granted by English translations, Bourdaghs argues that such a posture is a rejection of both the hegemony of English and the capitalist rules underlying the uneven market of world literature. Besides the biographical episodes, Bourdaghs examines the multilingualism in Theory and Sanshirō through the lens of ‘untranslatability’. The central problem of (mis)translation in Sanshirō is crystallised in a spectrum of mix-matched renderings and pronunciation glosses of ‘stray sheep’—a metaphor of the young protagonist baffled in university life. Such a material heteroglossia simultaneously relativises the definitive transparency of the modern institution of genbun itchi (‘writing as equivalent with speech’) and poses a challenge to translation.

             Bourdaghs also introduces the possibility of comparison, especially that of Sōseki with Franz Kafka, from the deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of humanity, language, and nation, to the unending issues of the ownership of their legacies. But the comparison also sheds light on the limitation or uniqueness of this book. First, despite beginning with the story told by a cat, due to the relevance of property as a theme, A Fictional Commons mainly focuses on Sōseki’s realist fictions set in his own era. Yet just like in Kafka’s stories, the fantastic aspect of Sōseki’s oeuvre, exemplified by Ten Nights of Dreams (Yume jūya, 1908), instantiates the play against the politically charged prevalence of realism as well as the emancipatory transgression of the rules of genre.

             Second, while Kafka’s ethnic and linguistic minority is hard to ignore, Sōseki’s non-belonging asks for more defense. For instance, when Sōseki rejects translation into English with an undifferentiated disavowal of being ‘read by Americans’ (170), when he states himself as an ‘independent Japanese’ (174), is there not an identification of nationality with language that attests the limitation of the world opened up by a multilingual reader? In addition, although Bourdaghs paints a vivid picture of Sōseki as a specific reader, the discussion of the plural readers remains abstract. For example, the heterogeneity of Theory cannot be separated from the fact that it was prepared as lecture notes for English majors at the Imperial University of Tokyo. If a multilingual reader was sought after, what was the threshold for becoming that, or what is the infrastructure required for those to come?

             Finally, unlike the cognate English ‘literature’ and German ‘Literatur’, Sōseki experienced the transition from an old denotation of ‘bungaku’ (literally the study of letters, indicating broadly classics, historiography, etc.) to the recently established translational equivalent of ‘literature’. Bourdaghs seems equivocal about whether Sōseki is grappling with various ‘literary tastes’ (159) or the different domains such as ‘Chinese classics’ versus ‘nineteenth-century British domestic novels’ (168). In fact, his use of ‘literature’ as a transcendental bricolage reflects Sōseki’s effort to, first, group the diverging concepts under the modern European definition of literature as written work judged aesthetically by artistic merit, and then to contemplate what the standard is. Similarly, if the scientific formula (F+f) provides Sōseki with ‘a way out of the existing language for theorising literature’ (171), it nonetheless idealises a neutral and universal science registered in Latin letters. While the nuance of adequate modernisation and westernisation being the condition of discussing and realising universality is present in Sōseki’s writings, it is strategically eclipsed in A Fictional Commons.

             Finishing the monograph, I am left with the impression that Bourdaghs attributes an optimism to Sōseki which may have undermined his own ambiguity—the source of critical power the author claims. One powerful justification is to juxtapose Bourdaghs’s reparative reading of Sōseki with the neonationalist discourse’s manoeuver of this master of modern literature at the recession of globalisation. In The Fall of Language in the Age of English (2015), Mizumura Minae interprets Sanshirō as an allegory of the destined failure of Theory and the marginalisation of a Japanese scholar of English literature. Whereas Mizumura might be more sensitive in attending Sōseki’s traumatic experience with English and England, her branding of Sōseki as a writer choosing to write in his mother tongue is complicit with world literature’s agenda of selectively promoting regional canons rather than interrogating the structure of Anglophone hegemony.

             Thus, what Bourdaghs offers is—as the striking cover intimates—an alternative portrait of Sōseki that is polemically ideal. With the resonation between Sōseki’s theory and fiction overlooked by many, Bourdaghs convincingly illustrates that a universal but not unified understanding of literature and the practice of fictional writing based in Japanese language and society is not an either-or question. Rather, it is the obsession with the conflict between the two that sustains the circulation of both the homogeneous global bestseller (such as Murakami Haruki) and the orientalist national classics (e.g., the better-known aspect of Kawabata Yasunari and the beautiful Japan). Another volume dedicated to Sōseki must, indeed, invoke the uneasiness of ‘why again the canon?’. A Fictional Commons, responding to both the ‘world’ that refuses to include Sōseki’s theory and the ‘nation’ that enshrines his fiction to perpetuate the status quo, embodies the central thesis: the commons of literature is politically significant, ‘a verb rather than a noun’ (175).

December 2022

Mobilities and Cosmopolitanisms in African and Afrodiasporic Literatures, Anna-Leena Toivanen. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2021. £70. ISBN: 9789004442726.

Reviewed by Adam Husain, University of Oxford


Mobilities and Cosmopolitanisms in African and Afrodiasporic Literatures

Mobilities and Cosmopolitanisms in African and Afrodiasporic Literatures by Anna-Leena Toivanen (Brill, 2021)

Amongst postcolonial literary critics, it is almost tradition to present one’s work as redefining the boundaries of their chosen field. Anna-Leena Toivanen’s latest monograph is no exception. She argues that her new book, Mobilities and Cosmopolitanisms in African and Afrodiasporic Literatures, addresses what she sees as an ‘irony’ and an oversight in postcolonial studies (1). This is that: ‘postcolonial literature studies is more interested in the outcomes of mobility than in mobility per se’ (208). Toivanen believes that critics are more likely to be interested in what it is to be migrant rather than the actual ‘concrete’ process of migration itself, and for this lacuna in contemporary postcolonial studies she makes a persuasive case.

            Her approach is governed by the attempt to read ‘postcolonial texts’ in the light of the ‘new mobilities turn’ in literary studies (2). This perspective seeks to read instances of movement in literary texts as of thematic importance to the work, and as ‘imbued with meaning.’ While we might question quite how far this ‘turn’ to mobility is genuinely ‘new’—it is, after all, quite ordinary to consider how and why a particular character moves—in practice, it results in a series of well-planned chapters, each of which produces a thematic analysis of usually two novels, with a constant eye to how characters’ movements suggest wider and deeper themes.   

            Toivanen’s choice of texts, and particularly the comparative analyses of Francophone and Anglophone writers, is inviting and well-balanced. While many of the more famous African and Afrodiasporic writers are accounted for (including a marked preference for the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), she also explores less commercially and critically successful novelists, including J. R. Essomba and Michèle Rakotoson. The work explicitly strives to include analyses of characters from a variety of economic backgrounds. It is divided into three parts, each of which, we are told, caters for a different economic group. Thus, the first part, which includes analyses of texts by Ama Ata Aidoo, Adichie, and Alain Mabanckou, is centred on characters who are ‘Afropolitans’ or ‘élites’ (29–84). The second part considers characters who are from more ‘everyday’ backgrounds (87–147), while the third focuses on ‘underprivileged African travellers’—which is to say, for the most part, stories of migrants journeying to Europe (149–206).

            It could be objected that the parcelling of African and Afrodiasporic stories into these three categories is reductive, or else that it gives the reader, upon finishing Toivanen’s monograph, a false sense of completion. Yet, on the other hand, this strategy balances the book nicely, avoiding a superabundance of analysis that treats either fiduciary extreme of characters in African and Afrodiasporic fiction, while also allowing the reader to draw some interesting parallels across the spectrum. Moreover, Toivanen’s monograph shows some of its greatest potential when she concentrates upon the experience of African characters drawn from the middle and lower middle classes.

            For example, in Chapter 5, Toivanen pursues a critical comparison of urban mobilities in Rakotoson’s Elle, au printemps (1996) and Mabanckou’s Tais-toi et meurs (2012). She considers how the migrant characters of these novels experience Paris as a new and unknown space, inviting comparisons both with the work of Parisian psychogeographists, and the long and rich history of Parisian flâneurs. Then again, unfortunately, while theoretically her study remains strong, Toivanen’s close analysis of these texts is unpersuasive. Often there is unnecessary thematic extrapolation from events that do not require any. Much is made, for example, of the difficulties certain characters experience in negotiating Paris. Yet, since the instances cited are often taken from scenes when these characters are new to the city, their troubles with complicated Métro and bus itineraries seem to be neither particularly unique nor surprising. Indeed, I might suggest that it does not seem at all too dissimilar from my own experience of the Parisian transit system:

Tu te débrouilles bien, facile à dire, trois niveaux, plusieurs lignes, RER… comment « se débrouillait-on bien » dans ce labyrinthe ? […]

 

You are doing well, it is easy to say, three levels, several lines, RER … how does one ‘manage well’ in this labyrinth?

(119, quotation from Elle, au printemps, 82; Toivanen’s English translation)

Toivanen’s conclusion to this chapter deserves to be cited as a typical example of the conclusions drawn in this book, as well as its rather jargon-heavy prose:

My analysis of Rakotoson’s and Mabanckou’s representations and poetics of everyday mobilities demonstrates how the application of a mobility studies perspective to postcolonial literary texts that are readily definable as ‘migration novels’ allows for a reading that recognises African migrants as urban mobile subjects who actively engage in everyday urban mobility practices (125).

Her work on Rakotoson and Mabanckou’s fiction has proved, apparently, that we can recognise African migrants as subjects who use public transport!

            The problems of Chapter 5 are to some extent endemic throughout the monograph. Toivanen’s texts are conceptually rich, and so too is her proposed angle of critical approach. She is well-aware of the subtleties of the deeper themes to which she finds allusions in her texts, such as ‘cosmopolitanism’ (Chapters 6–7), the public and the private (Chapters 1–2), and the ever-slippery notion of ‘home’ (Chapters 3–4). Yet the substantive analysis of these themes as they appear in the literary texts is often humdrum. Much attention is paid to describing the plot of each novel or short story in question, while there is little interest in subtler effects of ‘movement’ in prose. Perhaps this is simply personal preference, but I would have enjoyed more analysis of how a particular quoted passage manipulates language in order to provoke a certain range of responses from the reader in regard to different mobilities, rather than a reading that took passages from novels as more or less transparent windows to the real world.

             Indeed, throughout the book, Toivanen takes novels and stories written about migrants and travellers as a means for the reader to garner ‘a deeper understanding of the complexities and contradictions of “real life” mobilities’ (17). This is to say that she reads these texts as anthropological documents, through which we might gain an insight into the actual experiences of real migrants and travellers. While there is something to be said for this approach, which Toivanen also defends in her opening chapter, it leads, in this work, to a systemic failure to understand these texts and their stories as constructed works of fiction. Indeed, Toivanen does not appear to draw any significant distinction between how she reads these novels and how she would read real-life accounts of African and Afrodiasporic experiences. The implicit argument is often, as we saw with the conclusion of Chapter 5, that because certain characters in certain novels are mobile in certain manners that Toivanen has elucidated, we can say the same of real people in similar economic circumstances. This elision between fiction and reality, even if it is succoured by a postmodern deconstruction of any impermeable boundary between the two spheres, is in equal parts alarming and unconvincing. It could even be said, perhaps at a push, that it is suggestive of a certain failure to take these novels ‘seriously’—that is, as genuine literary works—rather than as ‘voices’ for more or less marginalised communities.

             Overall, Mobilities and Cosmopolitanisms in African and Afrodiasporic Literatures cannot be recommended. Despite some promising content and an interesting theoretical approach, the book consistently fails to deliver persuasive close analysis of the many novels and short stories which it considers. It might be useful, however, as a jumping-off point from which to consider any of the texts discussed in greater detail, since Toivanen has clearly performed a great deal of critical reading, and her bibliography is both extensive and good. Beyond this, the reader cannot help but feel that the monograph is fundamentally superficial in its treatment of contemporary ‘African and Afrodiasporic literatures.’

November 2022

Critica sperimentale. Franco Moretti e la letteratura, Francesco de Cristofaro and Stefano Ercolino (eds.). Rome: Carocci, 2021. EUR 28. ISBN 9788829004454.

Reviewed by Yuan Zhang, Beijing Language and Culture University


Critica sperimentale. Franco Moretti e la letteratura

Critica sperimentale. Franco Moretti e la letteratura, edited by Francesco de Cristofaro and Stefano Ercolino (Carocci, 2021)

Thanks to his original ideas and the innovative methodologies applied to the analysis of literary phenomena, Franco Moretti has been a key figure in the literary-critical field of the last decades. As stated by the two editors in the introduction, Critica sperimentale focuses on Moretti’s works, rather than paying attention to Moretti himself, so that the volume can ‘become the springboard for an updated and polyphonic discussion on the statutes of literary theory, here and now’ (11). What distinguishes the volume is precisely the criteria of representativeness and pluralism: highlighting the experimental nature of Moretti’s criticism, this collected work brings together fourteen voices from different fields, such as literary theory, comparative studies, sociology, digital humanities, as well as the voice of Moretti himself.

             The volume is divided into three sections. The first aims to retrace Moretti’s intellectual trajectory, from his student years to the present day, drawing attention especially to some fundamental moments in the critic’s career. Stefano Ercolino focuses largely on Moretti’s critical development between 1976 and 1986, examining Letteratura e ideologie negli anni Trenta inglesi (1976) and The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture (2000). The profound changes in content and style, as well as in the theoretical and ideological horizons, between these two volumes comes to represent the development of Moretti’s work and of his critical voice.

             Turning to the last decade of the twentieth century, Francesco de Cristofaro focuses on Moretti’s experimentation with the methodologies applied to comparative literature during the twenty-five-year period of his life spent in the United States, between 1990 and 2005. Through an in-depth analysis of Opere mondo (1994), the editor remarks that evolutionism provides Moretti with ‘an epistemological foundation of reasoning’ (48). What is present in Moretti’s methodology of this decade is ‘a restlessness that is the basis of criticism’ (52), as he continued to try to address new problems. Under this perspective, examining Conjectures on World Literature (2000), Atlante del romanzo europeo (1997), and Letteratura vista da lontano (2005), de Cristofaro points out that it is in this period that Moretti’s method shifts to distant reading, which ‘opens up a much more articulated and profound knowledge of the literary system’ (57).

             In the following chapter, Giuseppe Episcopo outlines Moretti’s intellectual activities and critical meditations since 2011, as well as his experimentations within the digital humanities. As stated by Episcopo, in this latest stage, the ambition to find new ways of researching literature as well as to make literary criticism falsifiable pushed Moretti towards an analytical methodology and quantitative criticism that could exploit the resources offered by information technology.

             The second section provides a wide-ranging study of Moretti’s works, from close reading to distant reading, from literary history to literary theory, and from sociology to digital humanities. Each of the chapters provides an original response to Moretti’s thought and methodology, revolving around the topic of experimentation.

             Guido Mazzoni’s contribution opens this section, providing accurate insights into quotations from a far-reaching selection of Moretti’s essays, belonging to a wide variety of fields such as history, social sciences, philosophy, and literary theory. Outlining two stages of Moretti’s criticism—namely, the first stage based on Marxism, and the second, on Darwinian evolutionism and the biological sciences—Mazzoni defines Moretti’s work as a long-term interpretation of modernity as accomplished through literature. He considers Moretti as the critic who has best interpreted world literature and who has pushed its theory to measure up to digital archives. Indeed, as Patricia McManus notes in her contribution, to Moretti, world literature is not just the sum of a growing number of literatures, but something new, which needs to be defined as a problem that requires a new critical method. This is valid not only for world literature, but also for literary history and theory. Supposing that the cultural dominance of an era exists and that it is the result of a process of canonisation, as stated in Andrea Miconi’s contribution, Moretti’s response to the zeitgeist of this era of big data is his approach to Darwin’s theory of evolution: quantitative analysis and computer science.

             On the one hand, as Mads Rosendahl Thomsen asserts, Moretti has been interested, since the early years, in natural evolution and its possible analogies with the development of literary genres. Even though Moretti was not the first to consider evolution as a metaphor for the development of literature, his insights into genre theory—and the gradual development of specific genres, in particular—were strengthened through dialogue with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which provides a rational explanation of historical processes.

             On the other hand, Moretti defines the history of literature as a series of interlinked experiments. Thomsen remarks that the experimental approach does not only concern Moretti’s definition of literary history as ‘a chain of interlinked experiments’ (170), but that it is present in all of Moretti’s work: ‘His work was moved by the ambition to bring the discipline [of literary criticism] towards new knowledge, not in the hope that new tools could produce something different, but that serious experiments can change our point of view’ (180). In this regard, Moretti’s methodological revolution, drawing on computational analysis, opens up numerous possibilities. Federico Bertoni’s essay focuses on the changes in literary studies brought about by modern technologies and the contribution of quantitative analysis to the knowledge of literature as a whole. Meanwhile, Gisèle Sapiro moves her focus towards literary sociology, highlighting the significant contribution of Moretti’s theory of distant reading to the historical sociology of literature, as well as the complementarity between Moretti’s close and distant reading practices and Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory. In addition to this, Jérôme David examines Moretti’s thoughts about digital humanities, with the aim of exploring the relationship between digital humanities and Moretti’s literary theory. He remarks that the Italian scholar claims that the digital humanities seem to be a crucial opportunity to enrich literary criticism, and comments that the application of models taken from the scientific world should be seen as an invitation to dispel the misunderstandings and vagueness of some notions of literary theory and history.

             This section is concluded with a contribution by Moretti himself, in which he examines the relationship between quantitative methods and hermeneutics, arguing that the two activities could work perfectly side by side, but not together. Moretti states that, despite what he had hoped, quantitative and qualitative methods are like ‘day and night’ (208): they are certainly complementary, but they cannot take part in the work of the other. If hermeneutics looks at the literary product in search of its significance, transforming it into a bridge to non-literary questions, quantitative methods treat literary products as data, and keep their results within the literary sphere. While interpretative research moves between the literary form and the world, quantification treats form as a world in itself.

             The third and last section of the volume includes three contributions that focus on fiction—the genre that Moretti has studied the most. The essays provide thorough analyses of Moretti’s ideas from three points of view: the relationship between serious and tragic style, the study of nineteenth-century fiction, and the tension between fiction and tragedy. This section is enriched by two essays by Franco Moretti himself, one of which is a critique of György Lukács’s The Theory of the Novel (1916), and the other is Moretti’s own meditation on the questions discussed by the scholars included in the book.

             To conclude, Critica sperimentale. Franco Moretti e la letteratura provides a comprehensive and thorough study of Moretti’s work, as well as a rich and wide-ranging examination of the crucial issues of his criticism. The volume’s originality and greatest success, however, lies in its analyses and meditations on literary theory from various disciplinary perspectives. It is certainly a worthy addition to literary criticism studies, that calls for a deep meditation on modern methods.

 All of the quotations in this review are my translation from the Italian text.

October 2022

Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere. Stacey Balkan and Swaralipi Nandi. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2021. $124.95. ISBN 978-0-271-09158-7.

Reviewed by Antony Hoyte-West, Adam Mickiewicz University


Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere

Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere, edited by Stacey Balkan and Swaralipi Nandi (Penn State University Press, 2021)

With the current global situation ensuring that the spiralling price of oil has once again returned to the headlines, Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere presents a timely analysis of literary and cultural responses to the petroleum phenomenon. Indeed, the discovery and exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves have had a profound impact not solely on the economies and societies of the relevant countries over the last century, but also on their literary and cultural production. With the rising scholarly interest in environmental humanities, ecocriticism, and the emerging field of energy humanities, this collection—expertly edited by Stacey Balkan and Swaralipi Nandi—brings together a range of contributions covering a breadth of literary styles, geographies, and approaches.

             Noting the work’s focus on the Global South, the editors use the volume’s introduction to situate postcolonial responses to petroleum-related discourses within world literature, highlighting the significance of the author Amitav Ghosh’s 1992 essay on ‘petrofictions’. This landmark text, which is referenced by many of the collection’s contributors, locates the category at the intersection of literary studies and the sociocultural impact of oil and the petroleum industry. Taking into account the ‘stark invisibility of energy systems’ (2), especially with regard to Indigenous peoples, the current volume develops this notion through defining an oil fiction as a ‘variant of Amitav Ghosh’s petrofiction in which the trope of the oil encounter is often sublimated within the broader lineaments of our contemporary petrosphere’ (3). This includes such issues as how postcolonial literature has dealt with the political, environmental, and social impact of oil and whether works arising from it do represent, in fact, a specific and independent genre of their own. In bringing together contributions from established and emerging scholars who analyse the concept of oil fiction within a variety of geographical milieux from both individual and comparative perspectives, the volume aims to explore petroleum primarily as an intensely local experience, yet also in full awareness that the seeming ubiquity of oil transcends national literatures and thus could be regarded additionally as a transnational phenomenon. Accordingly, the work posits itself as a ‘collective effort to question and contemplate oil through contemporary cultural forms of world literature’ (14).

             This opening presentation and rationale are followed by Ghosh’s own contribution to the collection, which provides brief but insightful recollections of the personal role that oil has played in his life. The second chapter, by Ashley Dawson, offers a historical and literary analysis of the intersection between oil and the labour movement in the American context, focusing on how energy regimes have changed over time and their impact. In the third chapter, Sharae Deckard adopts a world literature approach to petrofictions through an analysis of two feminist novels set in an unnamed Gulf state and Colombia, using social reproduction theory to explore the interrelationship between gender and sexuality with capitalism and oil.

             Moving to the African context, Helen Kapstein’s contribution looks at the omnipresence of oil in a range of Nigerian romance novels, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s prize-winning book Americanah (2013), which attained global fame. This is followed by Wendy W. Walter’s chapter, which takes two short stories by the Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okarafor as the point of departure for a discussion on the role of the oil pipeline not only within ecocriticism, but also in its links to wider aspects of petrocapitalism. The complex relations between politics and petroleum are also highlighted in Henry Obi Ajumeze’s analysis of Ben Binebai’s play My Life in the Burning Creeks (2014), where oil remains an omnipresent backdrop to the events portrayed in the drama.

             Asia and the Gulf are the geographical focus of the next few contributions. In Chapter 7, Stacy Balkan, one of the co-editors, outlines the arguments as to why Ghosh’s historical epic The Glass Palace (2000) could also be considered as an oil fiction (as defined in the volume’s introduction), noting the work’s setting in colonial Burma, the importance of the plantation economy, and the exploitation of various natural resources. In co-editor Swaralipi Nandi’s chapter, Deepak Unnikrishnan’s whimsical short story ‘In Mussafah Grew People’ (Temporary People, 2017) is analysed through a critical irrealist lens, locating that work within the general visibility of oil and the life of migrant workers from Kerala in the Gulf context. This is complemented by Micheal Angelo Rumore’s chapter which, through the prism of Ghosh’s first novel, The Circle of Reason (1986), explores cosmopolitanism and the politics of petroleum across the wider Indian Ocean. Simon Ryle’s contribution examines ecocritical concerns as portrayed in Cyclonopedia (2008), a path-breaking novel by the Iranian writer and philosopher Reza Negarestani, a work which transcends genres and disciplines. Turning to Latin America, Scott DeVries looks at the aesthetic, cultural, and ethical aspects of oil as depicted in two mid-twentieth-century Spanish-language novels from Mexico and Venezuela.

             The twelfth chapter of the volume, ‘Conjectures on World Energy Literature’, is by Imre Szeman, an eminent figure in energy humanities. It is an edited version of an essay which was previously published in 2017. Here, relevant perspectives on the intersection of energy and literary studies are delineated and discussed, thus enhancing the strong theoretical underpinnings of the collection as a whole. The final literature-based contribution is by Corbin Hiday, who adopts philosophical concepts of how social space is constructed to explore petrofinance and petromodernity in two novels. One of these is Abdelrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt (1984), the work which originally provided the impetus for Ghosh’s foundational essay on petrofictions, referred to in the volume’s introduction and several of the contributions. As such, this gives the work a significant internal cohesion.

             The collection concludes with a two-part section entitled ‘Memoirs and Interviews’. In the first part, Maya Vinai interviews the Malayalam-language Indian author Benny Daniel, who writes under the pen name of Benyamin. Focusing on his works chronicling the lives of Malayalees in the Gulf states, this wide-ranging interview examines literary and extra-literary perspectives on the author’s works, including the reception and political impact of his writing, as well as practical insights into publishing. The following chapter, by Kristen Figgens, Rebecca Babcock, and Sheena Stief, offers an overview of a research project carried out in the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil-rich region vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles. Here, the focus of the initiative centres on collecting written narratives from the people who live in the area, noting the key oil-related themes that have affected their lives. The volume ends with an Afterword by Imre Szeman, who synthesises the diverse themes and perspectives presented by the contributions and illustrates, by suggesting pointers for further research, new ways in which history can be narrated through the prism of energy humanities.

             In summary, Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere is an excellent addition to the relevant literature on energy humanities. Through bringing together a diversity of approaches from experienced and emerging scholars, the editors have ensured that this is an important and topical volume. In addition to the literature-based contributions, the collection is also enriched by the presence of the interview and project reports, which bring practice-based perspectives to the reality of oil as a literary and cultural phenomenon. In recognition of the ecocritical turn in world literature, the volume demonstrates that oil fictions do have a place within world literature, not solely individually but also in a comparative context. In addition, as the critical analyses have outlined, there are grounds for it to be delineated as a novel genre within the wider spectrum. In shedding light on previously under-researched aspects of the petroleum phenomenon in the Global South within the context of world literature, it is a well-edited and engaging work which will interest readers seeking to broaden their knowledge of this influential yet understudied area. In short, Stacy Balkan and Swaralipi Nandi have created an important volume which doubtlessly, given current geopolitical events, will be of great relevance to the scholarly community over the years to come.

August 2022

The Geschlecht Complex: Addressing Untranslatable Aspects of Gender, Genre, and Ontology, Oscar Jansson and David LaRocca (eds). London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2022. £81.00. ISBN 9781501381928.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


The Geschlecht Complex: Addressing Untranslatable Aspects of Gender, Genre, and Ontology

The Geschlecht Complex: Addressing Untranslatable Aspects of Gender, Genre, and Ontology, edited by Oscar Jansson and David LaRocca (Bloomsbury, 2022)

As someone who has followed untranslatability for many years, it is with great pleasure that Oscar Jansson and David LaRocca have brought this theme to a point of philosophical sophistication in The Geschlecht Complex—a brilliant, bold, and eccentric work. The German Untranslatable, Geschlecht, and its rich and complex history provides the point of departure for this complicated, broad-ranging, and innovative collection to take shape. The collection gravitates around a single word, Geschlecht, a word that variously denotes genosgenus, gender, sex, race, kinship, lineage, stock, generation, community, species, and human (292). The editors take the risk of basing a book on a single word, but the results are magnificent. Out of a single source with multiple meanings, many directions are taken by the volume’s contributors. The Geschlecht Complex embraces the multivocality of language, taking that disorientating list of meanings as a cue to make a solid and persuasive case for translation and philosophy to further engage and better understand one another.

             Emerging from a series of summer seminars at Cornell University led by Emily Apter, the collection begins with the bold imperative of trying to grasp not only the meaning of this German Untranslatable, but to assume, in the process, ‘the epistemological validity of the unparadigmatic’ (19). As such, the editors situate their work within the landscape established by Apter and Barbara Cassin’s ‘radically contemporary and field-defining work on untranslatability’ (2). The collection pointedly examines ‘the range of possible actions at the boundaries of disciplines, thoughts, and texts; of lingering at intellectual border-crossings and exploring the translational measure made necessary by that lingering’ (19). In other hands, this could easily have led to a work that was vague and inconclusive. Not so here: from Early Modern theatre to painting and choreography, untranslatability is revealed as a theme that is capable of opening more doors than it closes. The unicity of Geschlecht, for Jansson and LaRocca, is that it ‘tests the validity of the law of non-contradiction […] to respond to the variability and endless evolution of language as it interacts and constructs thought’ (9).

             To that end, it accommodates not only a broad range of individual chapters, but also Appendices. These Appendices truncate a series of voices—those of Emily Apter, Barbara Cassin, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Cavell, and others—into a conversant reflection of the themes that bind the book together. This is not to make the mistake of assuming that the overarching tone of the collected essays is one of repetition. Rather, Carro Pirri’s opening on antitheatricality marks a welcome historical broadening of these talking points, drawing out the categorial theme characteristic to what follows. Brian W. Nail follows this with a chapter on Donald Trump’s animalistic language. The separation between these contexts feels sharp upon first reading; but perhaps the editors were keen to impress upon their readers the referential range of such approaches. Nail establishes a fascinating connection between Trump’s rhetoric and Derrida’s notions of ‘the sovereign’: ‘Endlessly disturbed by its own incomplete and unjustifiable appropriation, the Trumpian complex about Geschlecht is a predictable, indeed inevitable, by-product of the violent solipsism of settler sovereignty’ (90).

             Lauren DiGiulio’s chapter on the Nigerian choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili demonstrates that this theme is not restricted to the written page. Focusing on Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic (2017), ‘one is faced both with the transitional aspects of its structure, and the clashes between different generic categories’ (101). Jansson next brings Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) to light as the simultaneous collapsing of both sexual gender and literary genre in a single text, or, in Jansson’s words: ‘Is it without genre – a notion hardly conceivable? Does it move beyond genre?’ (159) Jansson’s chapter thus unearths the sheer complexity of the words into which Geschlecht is translated—that is, beyond the proliferation of meanings it already evokes.

             Richard Hajarizadeh’s following chapter marks, for this reviewer, the collection’s highlight: rigorously mapping the intellectual history of Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan’s differing attitudes to Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas, one finds here the combination of conceptual energy and scholarly rigour the theme of untranslatability makes possible. LaRocca’s chapter on Lectiocentrism and Gramaphonology, which follows, must be considered an equally ambitious piece, making a dramatic intervention into the dialogue between ‘reading’ and ‘seeing’ as hermeneutic imperatives for cinema and contemporary media. LaRocca insists that Stanley Cavell’s thoughts on cinema lead us to reconsider sound in film as a crucial (but, curiously, until now undervalued) component to its aesthetic experience.

             Finally, Emily Apter’s Afterword addresses Geschlecht from the perspective of the present ‘culture wars’ on gender identity and transgender discourse. With characteristic verve, she scales Judith Butler, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Luc Nancy toward a consideration of gender, genre, and categorial imperatives. Recalling General Jeff Sessions’s attempt to oust transgenderism from the U.S. military, Apter remarks how, in his statements, ‘“sex” was split off from “gender” with the express aim of legalizing gender discrimination, something that could not have happened with the word Geschlecht’ (194). Apter thus ends the book with a radically contemporary gesture to these divisions and discussions in present debates.

             Among these individual chapters, the Appendices list a series of quotations from a range of thinkers. They serve to orientate untranslatability toward a broader range of perspectives. While these Appendices could very easily have fallen into a series of quotations from The Dictionary of Untranslatables (2014), they instead push open the volume’s central theme toward larger discursive horizons. The Appendices simultaneously offer the reader previously unconnected sources while also revealing, in the editors’ careful ordering, the gradual instantiation of a new tradition and line of inquiry whose prospects and innovations are theoretically infinite. They allow for a sense of discursive diversity across the collection that only makes the process of reading it more layered in both intention, inspiration, and, ultimately, accomplishment.

             What results is an energetic, bold, and accomplished collection not quite like any before it; one reads in the scale of its ambition the possibilities that untranslatability has long gestured to. Here, at last, it has developed a new paradigm of its own. Untranslatability Goes Global (2017) and Untranslatability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2019) were the earliest examples of Apter and Cassin’s reception. With erudition, they plumbed the depths of Apter and Cassin’s project from a largely provisional and commentative perspective. D. M. Spitzer’s Philosophy’s Treason (2020) marked a more philosophically ambitious exercise, combining testimony of translators and philosophers in an account of untranslatability and philosophy unmatched before now. Here, at last, one reads it realised. Restricting themselves to a single (but impossibly complex) German word, a range of scholars from different fields of inquiry and analysis have nonetheless  produced a collection that signals a new maturity in the approach to untranslatability. In that sense, it may (hopefully) be the first of many such works. This is a collection that bravely attempts to overcome the constraints of traditional scholarship in the hope of generating work that lives up to Apter and Cassin’s invocations to ‘philosophize with languages’. The very form of the book itself challenges and expands a series of preconceptions on this topic. It is a brave, well-rounded, and seismically significant publication insofar as it exercises what previous scholars have only prescribed and envisioned.

June 2022

Literature in Motion: Translating Multilingualism Across the Americas, Ellen Jones. New York: Columbia University Press, 2022. Price: £108.00. ISBN: 9780231203029.

Reviewed by Lúcia Collischonn, University of Warwick


Literature in Motion: Translating Multilingualism Across the Americas

Literature in Motion: Translating Multilingualism Across the Americas by Ellen Jones (Columbia University Press, 2022)

A recent publication, Ellen Jones’s Literature in Motion: Translating Multilingualism Across the Americas (2022) is already making waves in the world of literary translation studies and multilingualism. Recently, the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) hosted a talk with Jones introducing some of the ideas in her book, and the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre hosted an online discussion  with the author on 16 May. Such a success is proof of the gap Jones’s study addresses. Written by a prolific translator and academic, the book explores theories of multilingualism and translation with practical examples and foregrounds a way of thinking about multilingual texts as texts that are not untranslatable, but rather demand translation. As the title suggests, Jones focuses on examples of multilingualism in literature of the Americas, bringing cases from South and Central America into dialogue with cases from the North of the continent. While cases of multilingual literature in the United States often centre on the Latinx community, much of multilingualism in Latin America tends to be forgotten. In this volume, Jones sheds light on examples of multilingual writing and possibilities for its translation across the whole continent, foregrounding texts that have not yet been the focus of academic study. 

             The book is structured into an introduction, three chapters, and a coda. In the introduction, Jones outlines the structure of the book, broaching some of the terminology that she uses throughout the publication. The introduction is focused also on explaining the concept of ‘literature in motion’, featured in the title of the book. The concept of motion, as opposed to the static and fixed, and relating to fluidity and malleability, is, according to the author, a common thread in conceptualisations of both multilingualism and translation, bringing the two creative practices closer. The author also introduces us to several portmanteau terms that will be referred to throughout the book: ‘Spanglish’, ‘Portunhol’, ‘Frenglish’. The author briefly points out the different currencies such terms have in their contexts, and why these are important for her analysis. For example, Jones discusses the use of Spanglish in multilingual US American literature, borrowing the concept of ‘borderlands’ from Gloria Anzaldúa, while also critiquing the ease of reading that some Chicano and Latinx authors provide for the Anglo-monolingual reader. Jones then proposes to look at examples of new multilingual writing in these contexts: works that destabilise fast-reading practices, and make the reader slow down by actively engaging with the multilingual at different levels. Contemporary multilingual texts are also pointed out as having a few often-recurring features: they have a commitment to slow and difficult reading, a debt to orality, metatextuality, and an unfinished/unfinalisable status. 

             The core of this book can be summarised by this excerpt from the introduction:

Translation need not—as is often assumed—undermine or eliminate the diversity, complexity, and subversive potential of multilingualism. On the contrary, the two creative practices are closely intertwined, to the extent that translation is always to some extent implied in multilingual writing. (2)

Jones furthers Rebecca Walkowitz’s (2017) notion of texts that are ‘born translated’. However, she applies it to specific multilingual texts and the attempts at translating them by keeping this multilingual feature alive with varying levels of success. It is with the examples of contemporary multilingual texts at the end of the introduction that Jones brings about three main ways of thinking about multilingual writing: namely as palimpsest, as a form of censorship, and as a queer practice.

             In Chapter 1, Jones explores the concept of palimpsests in multilingual writing and translation through what she calls Susana Chávez-Silverman’s ‘palimpsestuous writing’. Using the OED definition of a palimpsest, ‘[a] parchment or other writing surface on which the original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by another’, Jones claims that, similarly, Chávez-Silverman’s writing is layered and fluid in different ways—modal, genre, and textual—and invites translation, even when it might seem to be untranslatable. In Part I, the author outlines the different types of palimpsests (namely, linguistic, sonic, textual, and creative/critical), focusing more closely on Chávez-Silverman’s Axolotl Crónica (2004). In Part II, she uses her own experience of translating the aforementioned text as a basis for a proposal on how to translate such palimpsestuous, multilingual texts. 

             Chapter 2 is centred on the concept of ‘blanks’ and pseudotranslations. In the first part, Jones focuses on examples of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) in which blank spaces say more about the narrative and cultural/linguistic references than the multilingualism of the surface text may suggest. She then explores the idea that Oscar Wao is a work of pseudotranslation. Jones argues that Wao contains the trope of ‘páginas en blanco’ or blank pages—that is, censored content that readers may or may not uncensor themselves. Through the use of translation as a narrative device, pseudotranslation creates the suggestion of these blank spaces, these censored unsaids. The translations of Oscar Wao into Spanish by Achy Obejas have two different titles and differ slightly from each other. One, entitled La maravillosa vida breve de Óscar Wao (2009) was published for the European and Latin American markets, whereas the other, La Breve y Maravillosa Vida de Óscar Wao (2008) was published for the North-American market, specifically for a Spanish-speaking audience. The chapter ultimately argues, through its analysis of two versions of Obejas’s translation, that translating a text such as Wao works by partially uncensoring it as well as by creating new blank spaces. 

             With Chapter 3 Jones broaches the important issue of queer textual practices applied to the specific case of Giannina Braschi’s bilingual novel Yo-Yo Boing! (1998) and its attempted monolingual translation into English by Tess O’Dwyer (2011). Due to the way Spanish and English are used throughout the novel, she defines Yo-Yo Boing! as queer practice because it sets out to transgress, it resists fixity and transparency, and is queer in its indeterminacy. Any translation that makes this text more fixed, determined, and transparent is thus unqueering Braschi’s writing. Jones uses the example of O’Dwyer as one of such unqueering practices, which no longer challenge normative monolingual discourse. However, the author concedes that both texts are complex and could be seen as collaborating with one another, and her proposal is ultimately that translation is in itself a condition of textual production, thus disrupting the typical hierarchy between original and translation. 

             In Chapter 4, Jones explores the idea of borders and fluidity when applied to the trilingualism of Wilson Bueno’s Mar Paraguayo (1992) and its transgressive translation, Paraguayan Sea, into Frenglish (and Guaraní) by Erín Moure (2017). Jones demonstrates that the fluidity of the  trilingual and translational text by Bueno is not only in that of genre, but also in that of its content and concepts. Then, she explores what she calls this volume’s ‘most powerful example yet of a translation that is multilingual, creative, and fluid, and which interacts with the source text in ways that enhance and extend it’ (34). Through Moure’s positionality towards her translator’s subjectivity, wherewith she draws upon Canadian feminist and queer translation traditions, Jones proposes that translation may be seen as ‘productive and original, rather than derivative and secondary’ (34). 

             The short coda that concludes the volume is a summary of the examples presented by Jones seen in practice, in the context of editing two volumes for the literary journal Asymptote. In these volumes, Jones dealt with source and target texts that are multilingual, transgressive, not ‘well-behaved’ within and conforming to a monolingual paradigm, not unlike those presented in the chapters of Literature in Motion. According to the author, ‘translation can help retain and even supplement a text’s complexity and indeterminacy’ (194). Concluding her powerful analysis, Jones proposes that in today’s highly globalised world this type of multilingual writing, constantly in transit, is increasingly present. Placing such multilingual texts in dialogue with translation as something that complements and furthers their unfinished and unbound nature is, as defended in this book, one of the ways the study of multilingual literature can move forwards.

             This is a powerful monograph brimming with rich theoretical discussions. It shows the immense breadth of knowledge Jones has as a translator and a translation studies scholar. At the same time, it is highly engaging and Jones applies the ideas she puts forth to real-world textual practices, fluidly establishing a dialogue between originals and translations. With this book, the author very strongly proves her main points while also opening spaces for discussion at every juncture. Jones’s book has already proven to be worthy of a coveted position in the libraries of anyone studying literary multilingualism and translation. As the author herself puts it:

It is likely that this kind of writing will become even more widespread in coming years (...). Increasingly, both writers and readers will have to be translators—they will have to jump on the already moving train and see where it takes them. (194)

May 2022

Romantic Legacies: Transnational and Transdisciplinary Contexts, Shun-liang Chao and John Michael Corrigan (eds). New York: Routledge, 2019. £120.00. ISBN 9781032241357.

Reviewed by Ola Sidorkiewicz, University of Oxford


Romantic Legacies: Transnational and Transdisciplinary Contexts

Romantic Legacies: Transnational and Transdisciplinary Contexts, edited by Shun-liang Chao and John Michael Corrigan (Routledge, 2019)

Romantic Legacies: Transnational and Transdisciplinary Contexts, edited by Shun-liang Chao and John Michael Corrigan, is a collaborative inquiry into the legacies of the Romantic tradition. An introduction by the editors is followed by sixteen essays, split between five sections reflecting five paradigms of Romanticism and its legacies: Realist, Fin de Siècle, (Post)Modern, Environmental, and Oriental. The book positions itself in dialogue with eleven earlier publications which directly address the legacies of the Romantic movement (all are listed thoroughly in the introduction), as well as with three publications with a similarly comparative approach as the one proposed by Corrigan and Chao, namely Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (2001), Charles Larmore’s Romantic Legacy (1996), and Peter Gay’s Why the Romantics Matter (2015). However, as the editors state, ‘Romantic Legacies recognises but moves beyond these earlier studies by offering transnational contexts and transdisciplinary perspectives’ (11). In their overview of the earlier publications, the editors make a point of distinguishing between ‘multinational’, ‘international’, and ‘transnational’ approaches to the study of Romanticism, an important point to which I shall return.

             Corrigan and Chao open their introduction with an epigraph from Jean Paul Richter: ‘Every century is differently romantic’ (1). They link this statement to Friedrich Schlegel’s assertion that ‘the Romantic type of poetry is still becoming; indeed, its peculiar essence is that it is always becoming and that it can never be completed’ (1). Thus, they lay out the aim of their volume which is to consider ‘the ongoing project of Romanticism’ (1). They treat Romanticism as a ‘designation for a historical movement in which a mindset or worldview, if not first formed, at least emerged to prevail in the West’, and aim to show how that very mindset continues to permeate art long after the end of the Romantic era (1). The editors view Romanticism as a movement which was both transnational and transdisciplinary at heart, and which is best analysed through comparative methodologies. Finally, they point to three liminal figures—Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, and John Ruskin—who all helped to transport and transform some of the key Romantic ideas.

             The first section puts under scrutiny the notion of ‘Realist Romanticism’. The essays here blur the line between Romanticism and Realism, showing how the latter used the former to establish and develop its own ideas, not simply by discarding Romantic attitudes, but also by incorporating and transforming them. Rachel Bowlby’s ‘Romantic Walking and Railway Realism’ is a phenomenal, well-written opening piece to the edited volume, that draws the reader in with a brilliant line of inquiry into the two modes of transport and their relationship to Romanticism and Realism respectively. Geoffrey Baker’s ‘The Use and Abuse of Romance’, in turn, approaches the question of the shifting reception of Walter Scott between the 1830s and the 1930s. Yuri Corrigan’s ‘Chekhov on the Meaning of Life’, moves beyond Western Europe and considers the relationship between Nietzsche’s and Chekhov’s approaches to ‘creating and discovering meaning’ (67). Sadly, Corrigan’s is the volume’s only essay which considers Eastern European literature, where Romanticism played a fundamental socio-cultural role, and whose legacies are pivotal to all subsequent epochs in all art forms.

             Romantic Legacies’ second section is titled ‘Fin-de-Siècle Romanticism’ and it is perhaps the most transdisciplinary—or rather interdisciplinary—part of the book. While the section opens with a traditional literary analysis centred on the Anglophone sphere—Ya-Feng Wu’s ‘Wilde’s Romantic Self-Fashioning at the Fin-de-Siècle’—it then moves onto two fascinating essays on visual arts and opera. Shao-Chien Tseng’s ‘Delacroix, Signac, and the Revolution in Fin-de-Siècle France’ and David Chandler’s ‘Mediating Richard Wagner and Henry Bishop’ are deeply engaging and invite the reader to approach the subject-matter with different analytical tools, grounding their analyses on painting techniques, artists’ engagement with scientific scholarship on human perception (Tseng), as well as socio-economic circumstances which prompted the development of opera in Germany and hindered its growth in England (Chandler).

             The section on ‘(Post)Modern Romanticism’ remains anchored in Anglophone Romanticism, with all three essays taking Ralph Waldo Emerson’s or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s thought as their point of departure, alongside other Anglophone writers. In ‘Platonism, Its Heirs, and the Last Romantic’, Arthur Versluis takes a closer look at the work of Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) whom he deems ‘the last Romantic’ based on her intellectual affinity to Platonism. Justin Prystash’s ‘Romantic Idealism in Coleridge and Its Afterlife in Bataille and Irigaray’ analyses the indirect engagement of Georges Bataille and Luce Irigaray with Coleridgean idealism, which draws from Hindu mysticism and is embodied in the act of meditation. The section’s last essay is perhaps the most unusual, as it tackles the legacies of American Romanticism in the popular TV series Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner. It traces the series’ allusions, quotations, and reconfigurations of Emerson’s and Walt Whitman’s ideas regarding self-transcendence. This move beyond the realm of ‘high art’ is certainly appealing, and a welcome one.

             The fourth section engages with the environmental legacies of Romanticism, drawing from recent ecocritical scholarship. Caroline Schaumann’s ‘Tracing Romanticism in the Anthropocene’ provides a fascinating analysis of Ludwig Tieck’s Der Runeberg, and argues that its plot can teach us how to cope with the volatility brought about by ecological crises. Next, Sophie Laniel-Musitelli engages with the nonhuman in her ‘Nonhuman Vision from Blake to Contemporary Ecocriticism’, by analysing William Blake’s poetry. Finally, Carmen Casaliggi’s ‘Turner, Ruskin, and the Climate of Art’ considers the indistinctness of J. M. W. Turner’s paintings, linking it to the issue of environmental pollution in his time, and the impact of Turner’s art on the thought of John Ruskin. Hers is a truly transdisciplinary inquiry into the dialogue between visual art and social thought, as it shows how the latter can productively incorporate models of representation and perception from the former.

             The final section opens with the essay which most thoroughly realises the transnational aim of the book. It is the only contribution which attempts to look beyond the traditional, Western-centric understanding of Romanticism, and instead ‘challenge[s] both [the] successionist chronology and the diffusionist model whereby Romanticism is imported from European traditions whose residual authority remains unquestioned’ (251). Indeed, Steve Clark’s ‘ReOrienting Romanticism’ best exemplifies the potential of a truly transnational literary critique. Johannes D. Kaminski’s ‘Grafting German onto the Chinese Revolution’ is a thought-provoking piece on the reception of Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers in early-twentieth-century China, and shows the malleability of Western European Romanticism. In a similar vein, Ou Li analyses the reception of William Wordsworth’s poetry in China in the twentieth century in his ‘Two Chinese Wordsworths’. Finally, in the closing essay, ‘The Sentimental Grotesque in Tetsuya Ishida’s “Self-Portraits of Others”’, Shun-liang Chao provides an insight into Tetsuya Ishida’s use of grotesque, and shows how his understanding thereof springs from Romantic humour, so central to Romantic ethics. Indeed, Chao concludes that grotesque and self-mockery invite Ishida’s audience to ‘awaken the sensible soul (…) to the depths of human suffering and unhappiness in modern Japan’ (324).

             Whilst positing that the Romantic movement was a ‘quintessentially transnational and transdisciplinary’ phenomenon, Romantic Legacies seems to settle down for a traditional, Western-centric mode of defining Romanticism and its legacies. Although the editors venture out into non-Western literatures and cultures in Y. Corrigan’s essay on Chekov, as well as in the section on Oriental Romanticism, one cannot shake the feeling that their inquiry into the transnational nature of Romanticism relies more on analysing the spread of Western ideas to ‘the Rest’, rather than inviting a re-thinking of Romanticism at its core (with the notable exception of Clark’s essay). The Romantic figures which permeate the book and serve as a springboard for a discussion of Romantic legacies hardly ever leave the Anglo-Franco-Germanic cultural sphere, preserving the hierarchical structure of cultural dissemination. Similarly, the editors’ promise that their book is a transdisciplinary one does not entirely come to fruition, as only two out of sixteen essays—by Casaliggi and Chao—truly cross constructed boundaries between different art forms. In what is otherwise a fascinating volume on the various legacies of Romanticism, there seems to be a gap between the promises made in the introduction, and the essays that follow. Perhaps the way to salvage this would be to refer to ‘international’ and ‘interdisciplinary’ Romantic legacies, rather than settling for the prefix ‘trans’. ‘Trans’, I believe, invites the scholar and the reader to assess critically and rethink the construction of borders, whether between countries or forms of art, emphasising their artificiality; ‘inter’ accepts their existence and shows how those seemingly separate fields intersect. ‘Multi’, interchangeable at times with ‘inter’, could be another choice, although it seems evocative of stasis, rather than active exchange. Corrigan and Chao themselves acknowledge in the introduction that a ‘transnational paradigm often entails a reciprocity in which what was transplanted is informed by its new soil and transformed as a result’ (20). That is perhaps what is most lacking from Romantic Legacies—the multidirectionality of academic inquiry and the truly transnational exchange between ‘the West’ and ‘the Rest’.

April 2022

'Metaphors in Translation' Conference, St Anne's College, 26 February 2022

Reviewed by Maëlle Nagot, University of Oxford


As the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre has transitioned back to in-person events this academic year, the Metaphors in Translation conference on 26 February marked the Centre’s first large public event since 2020. The aim of the conference was to illuminate the connections between metaphor and translation by reflecting on the modalities of linguistic and semiotic transfer. As Matthew Reynolds pointed out in his closing remarks, even the simplest metaphor signals that ‘something translational’—a transposition of meaning—has occurred in language. Conversely, the act of translation often hinges on metaphorical and imaginative associations. Both processes are therefore to be placed along a creative continuum whose boundaries are perpetually redefined by authors and translators alike.

             This dialectic between rupture and continuity formed the crux of presentations in our first postgraduate roundtable discussion. Among the metaphors used to make sense of translation, Billy Beswick chose that of resurrection, focusing on the defence and promotion of indigenous Taiwanese culture. In this context, resurrection figures the survival of native languages through successive waves of Japanese and Chinese migration. In the late twentieth century, the Indigenous Voice Bimonthly magazine was founded with the aim of increasing cultural capital amongst indigenous populations. This movement gave birth to a revival of indigenous languages, specifically through the appropriation of Chinese characters with the goal of bringing them to a wider cultural market. Typographic transfer and translation thus came to voice political claims about linguistic and cultural revival.

             Isabel Parkinson also demonstrated the capacity of oppressed social groups to use translation as a means of emancipation. She discussed English translations of 1970s Quebec feminist writings, depicting the linguistic, social, and political disruption brought about by language transposition. Such endeavours were geared toward making experimental texts in French available to English-speaking audiences. To this end, feminist translators adopted an interventionist approach and engaged in inventive re-writing, relying on heavy prefacing and footnoting to reflect their ideological standpoint. This deviating method, Parkinson explained, radically subverted traditional views of the resulting text as a passive, ‘domesticated’ form retaining no trace of the translator’s work.

             The patriarchal perception of the translator as an inferior, subservient, and therefore feminine agent was also addressed by Trisevgeni Bilia. The recurring image of a secret intimacy between the agents involved in translation enables us to study the interactions between texts, paratexts, and their audiences. Bilia focused on the career of Greek poet, critic, and translator Manto Aravantinou, whose biographical and archival work on James Joyce offered novel insights into his Greek notebooks. Aravantinou interpreted these texts as productive, open spaces rather than as mere pieces of information and compared them to talismans shielding the author’s feelings. However, critics widely denigrated or overlooked her analyses, a silencing method which Bilia described as expressing gendered power dynamics in translation studies.

             Lastly, Hannah Scheithauer’s contribution emphasised the difficulty of articulating rupture and continuity, and of maintaining a consistent line of thought in a multilingual context. The Revue Internationale, she explained, was a concerted effort to unite French, German, and Italian authors on a common platform of critique. Translation became an emblematic metaphor which encapsulated the innovative, transnational purpose of the project as a whole. Not only was translation a practical requirement for the success of the journal, but it was a barrier against easy unification: the goal was to put forth the historical substance of languages—their existence as both synchronic and diachronic systems, essentially unstable and calling for perpetual transformation and revision.

             The act of translation was thus considered by all the contributors as a form of contextual mediation, and the failure of the Revue Internationale highlights the difficulty of negotiating language transactions and finding satisfying modes of expression. This challenge was the touchstone of Sophie Seita’s workshop, Visualising and Performing Translational Metaphors, as she invited participants to explore the materiality of translation. Her reminder that translation is always a dialogue not merely with the other, but also with the self, was later developed by Ayça Türkoğlu’s description of the practice of co-translation. The casual format of the workshop was ideally suited to match this conversational tone.

             Attendees were encouraged to choose various materials and play with them. The aim was to find ways to translate texts or speech acts into objects, thus establishing connections between the textual and the organic, the intellectual and the corporeal. Seita guided participants towards grasping the material dimension of language and translation. This was perhaps the most forceful manifestation of the inventive character of translation, as a means of creating new means of expression out of previously existing forms.

             Sometimes, however, invention requires short-circuiting relations between the old and the new, or between the source and the target. Such is the acknowledged purpose, as Patrick McGuinness argued, of pseudo-translation, a process which consists in composing a translated text that has no original. Rather than a fake or a hoax, pseudo-translation provides a means to free oneself from constraining considerations of fidelity, linguistic qualification, or aesthetic payoff. McGuinness argued that metaphor, which in Modern Greek means transport or removal, constitutes the essence of this writing practice based on the full acknowledgment of foreignness and otherness within one’s own language.

             This served as an apt introduction to our translators’ roundtable discussion, which brought to the fore different translational practices and underlined the relative importance of the mother tongue in a translator’s work. Peter Bush, Mohini Gupta, and Ayça Türkoğlu all learned standardised English as a second language and mentioned the sustained presence in their translations of the languages and dialects—respectively, Lincolnshire dialect, Hindi, and Turkish—with which they first came into contact.

             Bush evoked the process of active interpretation and re-writing involved in translating texts by a close friend, Juan Goytisolo, thereby illustrating Bilia’s intimacy metaphor. Showing the interdependencies between texts, images, and titles, he discussed the difficulty of translating titles which draw on running metaphors from the book. According to him, translating metaphor involves acquiring a sense of the tone and rhythm of the entire work, aspects which are built and sustained by the concert of different instruments playing different strands within an orchestra. Coining another metaphor for the translation process, he reinforced this idea with various examples from his translated works.

             Mohini Gupta focused on Indian poet Vinod Kumar Shukla, whose writings are notoriously fraught with poetic metaphors which are difficult to translate. Her methodical comparison of different translations of one of Shukla’s poems, including her own, corroborated Bush’s holistic hypothesis: the interpretation of metaphor is to be defined on a much broader scale than individual sentences. Furthermore, her version of the text under consideration offered a somewhat more contemporary poem than the earlier translation, with a looser syntax at times. Thus, the data she offered emphasised the enduring relevance of stylistic choice on the translator’s part, especially when working on poems.

             The question of style was also addressed by Ayça Türkoğlu through the notion of voice, which she considers to be at the heart of her translation strategy. The translator’s sensitivity to voice accounts for a desire not to ‘deforeignise’ the text: Türkoğlu defended a practice of translation based on the preservation of the slightly alienating effect of any foreign text. To this end, when translating from Turkish into English, she retains some Turkish elements in the target text, and refuses to surrender to the expectation that translations should prove forensically correct.

             When it comes to translating children’s literature, correction and fidelity truly become subsidiary concerns, as Hélène Boisson’s interactive workshop, Images and Analogies in Children’s Literature, demonstrated. Using a variety of examples, she led participants to investigate the transposition of texts and images from one language to another, and sometimes to question the feasibility of the process. Again, the participative format of the workshop created an ideal setting for creative exchange. The peculiar case of children’s books sheds light on the semantic and symbolic transfers which occur when juxtaposing words and pictures, once more supporting the hypothesis of the inextricability of metaphorical and translational processes. It also confirms the idea of a conversation in that children’s books are mostly designed to be read aloud by an adult: according to Boisson, that is why, in many cases, rhythmical considerations must be prioritised over faithfulness to the strict meaning of the original.

             Matthew Reynolds’s closing remarks offered an insightful conclusion to this event. As he explained, the significant degree of overlap between metaphor and translation simply proves that both phenomena equally manifest an effort to organise language difference. He therefore insisted on the political commitment entailed by any translational endeavour, which consists of a perpetual re-writing and remaking of meaning and form. This, he argued, is something that speakers do with language each and every day.

             After nearly two years of online conferences, we were delighted to welcome such a large and diverse audience to St Anne’s College. The organisers would like to thank all speakers and attendees for their enthusiastic involvement, curiosity, and patience throughout the event. For more information about the contributors, please visit https://www.occt.ox.ac.uk/metaphors-translation-conference.

December 2021

Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women, Natalie Edwards. New York: Routledge, 2020. £29.59. ISBN: 9781032087566.

Reviewed by Erin Nickalls, University of Oxford


Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women: Translingual Selves

Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women: Translingual Selves by Natalie Edwards (Routledge, 2020)

With an ever-increasing percentage of the world’s population traversing geographic and linguistic borders, Natalie Edwards’ call ‘to theorize the trans in translingual’ literature is all the more pressing (18). Adopting the term ‘translanguaging’ originally developed in linguistics and pedagogical studies, Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women examines how six female authors incorporate other languages into their writing in French. Grounded in the view that multilinguals draw on a continuum of linguistic resources which work together—as opposed to separate linguistic systems which operate in parallel—Edwards’ analysis focuses on how writers juxtapose their languages to ‘create new formulations of subjectivity within their self-narrative’ (18). Selecting writers who hold distinct relationships to France and the French language, Edwards trains her lens on the work of Lydie Salvayre, Kim Thúy, Catherine Rey, Gisèle Pineau, Chantal Spitz and Hélène Cixous. In the case of writers whose work has received considerable critical attention, such as Salvayre and Cixous, this study contributes an important analysis of the relatively under-researched question of multilingualism in their writing; and, in the case of authors whose work is under-represented in life writing research, notably Catherine Rey, Edwards showcases their work’s significance to current discussions in the field.

            The introduction takes the pulse of existing scholarship in the areas of applied linguistics, life writing, transnational French studies, and multilingual women’s writing. This includes an overview of terms used to refer to multilingual individuals and practices—which, although more granular than necessary for the ensuing discussion, gives a convincing rationale for Edwards’ adoption of the term ‘translanguaging’. Edwards also refers to an impressive range of key works—outlining how research in these fields has evolved in recent decades and, importantly, where she believes it is going next. As part of this, Edwards underlines the significance of women’s writing to current life writing studies. As she explains, translanguaging is an integral part of how female writers present alternative forms of self-narrative to univocal autobiographies.

            The chapter on Lydie Salvayre focuses on her 2014 Prix Goncourt-winning work Pas pleurer. While Salvayre was born in France and writes predominantly in French, her parents crossed the Pyrenees as political refugees during the Spanish Civil War. Pas pleurer offers a portrait of this complex period of Spanish history from the alternating perspectives of celebrated author Georges Bernanos and the narrator’s aging mother Montse. Salvayre’s work thus juxtaposes written testimony in standardized French with oral testimony which draws on lexical and grammatical elements of Spanish and French. Edwards’ focus on Pas pleurer’s linguistic dimension is a significant contribution to existing research on Salvayre’s promotion of under-represented accounts of the past. One shortcoming of this otherwise insightful discussion is Edwards’ contention that Salvayre’s ‘craft is to consult multilingual sources and render the information she garners from them for a monolingual audience’ (41). Even if Edwards acknowledges that readers will have different levels of access to the text’s multilingual elements, there is an unjustified assumption that the intended audience is monolingual—a generalisation which aligns with her weighted focus on these readers throughout the study.

            The following chapter focuses on the life writing of Kim Thúy, who learned French after moving from Vietnam to Quebec at the age of ten. Her works Ru and Mãn recount her journey of forced migration and later success as a restauranteur. An interesting point of discussion is the close relationship Edwards identifies between food and multilingualism in Thúy’s work—a connection she also highlights in Pineau and Spitz’s writing. To be sure, adopting food names from other languages is common to almost anyone’s lexicon; however, Edwards’ discussion invites further investigations into the recurring link between cuisine and language in transnational literature. As another point of strength, Edwards discusses how the multilingual context of Quebec adds a layer of complexity to Thúy’s translanguaging practices, such that Mãn is ‘not an expression of a decontextualized French but one that reflects, intervenes in and complicates a particular multilingual context’ (63).

            The third chapter focuses on the life writing of Catherine Rey, who moved from France to Australia as an adult. As part of her drive to reinvent herself abroad, Rey began to supplement her writing in French with elements of English. Compared to other chapters, this discussion is more biographical and focuses on more non-linguistic issues raised by the author’s writing—perhaps because Edwards calls for more critical attention to be paid to Rey’s work. Taking the lead in this direction, Edwards offers a perceptive analysis of how mixing languages allows Rey to reflect on her past struggles and present spirituality in a more intimate way. The chapter ends with a neat articulation of Rey’s translanguaging strategy: in her work, the ‘“langue minoritaire/minority language” that she claims to speak is not a reference to the fact that she speaks French in Australia but to the fact that she has fashioned her own unique language with which to practice life writing’ (88).

            The next chapter focuses on three works by Gisèle Pineau, who, though born and raised in Paris, has also spent considerable portions of her life in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Edwards tracks how Pineau’s translation strategies evolve across her life writing—from giving translations in footnotes, to taking away these translations, to removing the italics from Creole words. Pineau differs from the other authors in adopting a consistent approach within each work, even though her strategies change in accordance with each text’s aims and audience. In this chapter more than others, it is important for Edwards to refer to ‘dominant and dominated languages’, as Pineau’s translanguaging strategies are motivated by postcolonial power imbalances (98): L’Exile selon Julia criticises racism in contemporary France and Mes quatre femmes explores slavery’s ramifications on generations of Caribbean women. Notably, Edwards provides a thoughtful comparison between Pineau’s inclusion of footnotes in Un papillon dans la cité to Maryse Condé’s glossary at the back of Contes vrais de l’enfance—arguing that the latter sets a clearer hierarchy between French and Creole, even if the two are intermingled in the text.

            The fifth chapter centres on the work of Chantal Spitz, a groundbreaking author from French Polynesia who incorporates both French and Tahitian into her writing. Although Spitz uses similar translanguaging tactics to those adopted by the other authors, Edwards notes that the intended effect is different: rather than focusing on how languages intertwine to express a unique subjectivity, Spitz juxtaposes her languages to stress the incompatibility of French and Tahitian cultures. For one, on a diegetic level, language plays a key role in the characters’ failed intercultural relationships and attempts to assimilate into metropolitan French society. As Edwards astutely analyses, rather than incorporating Tahitian to add local flavor, Spitz uses it to stress the importance of language, land, and the traditional belief system which compose the ‘triptych’ of a uniquely Tahitian identity (126).

            The final chapter gives a thoughtful discussion of Hélène Cixous’ translanguaging practices—an aspect of her work which has received little critical attention to date. This gap in the scholarship is likely due in part to the fact that, as Edwards recognizes, Cixous’ writing shows little evidence of her multilingualism—even if her play on language through neologisms and puns is an oft-discussed dimension of her work. Of particular note, Edwards explains how Cixous’ experience of being Jewish in Algeria differs from that of Jacques Derrida as a result of their seven-year age gap and different linguistic backgrounds. According to Edwards, Cixous did not feel the same exclusion from French; and, as such, her concept of ‘pluslangue’ manifests a different view of language from that presented by Derrida’s ‘monolinguisme’ (156). She also discusses how Cixous’ mother’s death during the drafting of Une autobiographie allemande likely augmented her desire to express her emotional connection to the German language—a relationship she can separate from her family’s experience of trauma during the Holocaust. Edwards also gives an insightful explanation of how the grammatical distinctions between the terms ‘Muttersprache’ and ‘langue maternelle’ affect Cixous’ relationship to German and French.

            The conclusion synthesizes the similarities and distinctions between the authors’ translanguaging practices and suggests several avenues for further research. Refreshingly, the study ends on a positive note: given that the prevalence of border and language crossings are set to increase in the future, Edwards contends that paying more attention to multilingual literature will ‘call for a more engaged reading process and for reading to become an act of solidarity: to listen to a writer’s multiple languages and to read in an appropriate way as a response’ (167). This is certainly an admirable ambition which may explain why she tips her analysis towards monolingual readers; that said, her study would be more attuned to the variegated effects of heteroglossic writing if multilingual readers were considered more consistently. Overall, despite its minor shortcomings, Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women offers an original contribution to the fields joined in its title and will no doubt prompt further research on multilingual women authors within and beyond French studies.

March 2022

Modernism and Theology: Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, Czesław Miłosz, Joanna Rzepa. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan 2021. £79.99. ISBN 9783030615291.

Reviewed by Sarah Fengler, University of Oxford


Modernism and Theology: Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, Czesław Miłosz

Modernism and Theology: Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, Czesław Miłosz by Joanna Rzepa (Palgrave, 2021)

It is a commonplace that the relationship between modernism and theology, in the beginning of the European twentieth century, was shaped by scientific progress and secular trends. On closer examination, this view turns out to be simplistic: modernism, a complex phenomenon, is not automatically equivalent to the vanishing of religion from society, the arts, and literature. Neither do new processes of secularisation and the rise of the sciences mean religion has become obsolete. In the first half of the twentieth century, many theologians explored how modernism and Christianity could be productive for one another, and poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salomé, T. S. Eliot, and Czesław Miłosz examined the interface between theology and modernism through poetry itself. Indeed, the problem of theological modernism engaged intellectuals from various language areas and cultural backgrounds: theologians, philosophers, and writers alike attempted to determine the relationship between modernism and theology with their own disciplinary approaches.

             With her monograph Modernism and Theology: Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, Czesław Miłosz, Joanna Rzepa presents a highly original comparative study into twentieth-century works on the complex relationship between Christian and literary modernisms. Based on both theological and literary responses to the theological crisis and modernist controversy, she examines not only the intertwined development of modernism and theology, and the way they both undermine and enrich one another, but also sheds new light on the work of four renowned poets from a transnational point of view. The monograph is divided into two parts: the first section, ‘Reconciling Christianity and Modernity in the Early Twentieth Century’, investigates the role theology played in the emergence and development of modernism, both as an aesthetic concept and a religious movement. It provides the historical and theological background to the second part of the book, ‘Poetry, Aesthetics, and Theology (c. 1900–1950)’. This section contains three case studies with readings of Rilke’s, Lou-Salomé’s, Eliot’s, and Miłosz’s poetry through the lens of the relationship between modernism and theology.

            The starting point of Rzepa’s examination of the relationship between theology and modernism in the early twentieth century is the observation that the concept of modernism was highly disputed, especially among theologians. The vigorous debate surrounding theological modernism is not only mirrored by its rejection by Pope Pius X, who feared negative consequences for Catholicism, but also by new challenges for scholasticism—the established way of reading the Bible at the time—which led to the rise of neo-scholasticism. Rzepa analyses how modernist theologians across Europe, like Alfred Loisy, George Tyrrell, and Friedrich von Hügel, called for a new evaluation of the historical context of certain Catholic doctrines and attempted to adjust Christianity to the new realities of the twentieth century. Tracing the transnational development of these demands for a new, ‘modernist’ view of Catholicism, Rzepa points out how the debate on theological modernism spilled over to different religious communities.

            Building on this theoretical foundation, Rzepa outlines the historical development of the notion of modernism as well as the significance of religion for political ideologies from World War I to World War II. She stresses the growing importance of ‘the supernatural, the metaphysical, and the religious’ (121) during and after World War I, especially as spirituality promised to offer solace to some of those affected by the war in one way or another. However, the transnational ties of theological modernists were somewhat cut during the war. The Vatican considered theological modernism one of the causes of the war, and both the Germans and the Allies accused one another of having promoted modernist developments to such an extent that it had undermined the Christian faith. Rzepa also points out that, during the interwar period, nationalist and antisemitic tendencies gained steam, and Nazi Germany framed World War II ‘as a fight for the survival of Christianity’, first and foremost against Judaism.

            Against this background, Rzepa argues, both literature and literary criticism were important arenas of early-twentieth-century theological modernism. The role of theology was increasingly addressed in contemporary fiction, for example in novels by the Austrian writer Enrica von Handel-Mazetti or the Italian writer Antonio Fogazzaro, both of whom, at least in their writing, expressed criticism against orthodox positions. Literary critics, among them Wyndham Lewis and T. S. Eliot, engaged in contemporary debates on modernism and employed theological terms and concepts for literary criticism, often equating modernism and neo-scholasticism with romanticism and classicism respectively. At the same time, theologians attempted to use poetry to support and renew their own positions, especially as some viewed poetry as something that existed in a void, remaining untouched from modernism.

            Having outlined the theoretical and historical background of the debates surrounding modernist theology in the first half of the twentieth century, Rzepa turns to the work of four poets to analyse the relationship between modernist theology and poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salomé, T. S. Eliot, and Czesław Miłosz. In the first of the three chapters on poetry, Rzepa focuses on Rilke and Andreas-Salomé. Both writers, she points out, abandoned Catholicism and took an interest in Russian Orthodoxy. Religious icons played a vital role in Rilke’s work, especially because they changed the individual relationship to the divine and, in Rzepa’s words, allowed ‘an individual believer to co-create its meaning’ (247). Rilke and Andreas-Salomé understood spirituality and mysticism through the lens of gender, and viewed the affectionate as female and the rational as male, a perspective that must also be seen in the historical context of psychoanalysis and emancipatory women’s movements. In their poetry, the religious is moved to the individual, situating God in ‘the inner self of the believer’ (248).

            The third poet Rzepa looks at is T. S. Eliot, who, as she points out, engages with the notion of modernism not only in his poetry, but also in his literary criticism. Rzepa demonstrates that Eliot understood modernism as embedded in theological thought. However, he found it valuable for literary criticism as well, especially as it was used in other philosophical contexts too. Interestingly, although Eliot is concerned with theological modernism in his poetry, turning to mysticism and exploring how religion can be experienced in a world increasingly influenced by modernity, he did not want his work to be labelled modernist, or even associated with it. The final case study, then, is dedicated to Czesław Miłosz, who engaged intensively with Eliot’s poetry and poetics, and viewed Eliot’s work as an attempt to restore the power of religion through poetry. Miłosz himself, Rzepa points out, explored the tension between modernism and theology, both in poetry and prose, especially with regards to the debate on the pureness of poetry and the new aesthetics tied to neo-scholasticism. What comes along in his writings is his criticism of the role of culture and literature in the veiling of the horror of fascism.

            Based on theological and philosophical works on the relationship between theology and modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as on readings of the poetry and literary criticism of Rilke and Andreas-Salomé, T. S. Eliot and Miłosz, Rzepa draws two conclusions: that the emergence of the concept of modernism was indeed connected to theology, and that the theoretical debates about theological modernism provoked manifold cultural responses, ranging from ‘contemporary philosophy, cultural criticism, print culture, and literary production’ (407). The political dimension of Rilke’s, T. S. Eliot’s, and Miłosz’s poetical engagement with theological modernism is evident from different developments: for instance, Rilke’s growing interest in Russian Orthodoxy, Eliot’s concern regarding the role of Christianity after World War II, or Miłosz’s condemnation of Nazi Germany. What the three poets have in common is their belief ‘that religious imagination was shaped through language, and that that language was always already insufficient and in need of renewal’ (421). Rzepa’s monograph not only challenges the view of literary modernism as a generally secular trend, but also presents a thought-provoking and comprehensive study into the complex relationship between modernism and theology. Offering new perspectives on the links between literature and religion in the early twentieth century, it contributes greatly to the field of modernism. At the same time, Rzepa’s comparative focus leads to a better understanding of the transnational development of theological modernism. The findings of her study call for further analyses of the work of other poets in and beyond Europe, both in the first half of the twentieth century and thereafter.  

February 2022

Colonial and Postcolonial Cyprus: Transportal Literatures of Empire, Nationalism and Sectarianism, Daniele Nunziata. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. Price: £47.99. ISBN 978-3-030-58236-4.

Reviewed by Annika Coralia Demosthenous, Independent Researcher


Colonial and Postcolonial Cyprus: Transportal Literatures of Empire, Nationalism and Sectarianism

Colonial and Postcolonial Cyprus: Transportal Literatures of Empire, Nationalism and Sectarianism by Daniele Nunziata (Palgrave, 2020)

Cyprus is an island with a history of divisions—cultural, political, and linguistic—often exacerbated by the interference of more powerful nations acting in their own interest. A British colony until 1960, it experienced a brief period of independence characterised by outside involvement by Turkey, Greece, and Britain, culminating in an attempted coup orchestrated by Greek right-wing actors in 1974. This led to the controversial occupation of the north of the island by Turkey. Within this context, literary productions from and about the island are often consumed and studied within exclusive categories defined by language or ethnicity, ignoring potential cultural currents which transcend borders.

            In Colonial and Postcolonial Cyprus: Transportal Literatures of Empire, Nationalism and Sectarianism, Daniele Nunziata breaks Cypriot literature out of its linguistic silos to trace the genealogy of a variety of common themes across borders, including preoccupations with historiography, isolation, and the concept of home. He highlights the cultural diversity of the island, treating Armenian-, Maronite-, Greek-, and Turkish-speaking Cypriots as equal stakeholders in the production of the island’s culture. He brings together diverse authors by looking at them through the lens of what he calls ‘transportal’ writing, examining the various ways in which works both explore and enact transportation across borders. The concept of ‘transportal literatures’ is rooted in an examination of travel writing, beginning with the representation of the island through the eyes of travel writers from Britain, who, Nunziata argues, formed an integral part of the project of colonialism. This is followed by an analysis of Cypriot works from a variety of linguistic contexts which reclaim the island through their authors’ evocation of the landscape, writing back to the culturally-dominant works of British writers.

            Nunziata explains that he coined the term transportal to help make sense of the postcolonial legacy of trauma and division in Cypriot literature. Cyprus’ postcolonial condition is complicated by the multiplicity of its ‘centre-periphery’ relationships: Greece and Turkey exert real economic and cultural influences on the south and north of the island respectively, while the dominance of British culture as a result of colonialism persists through the supremacy of British education on the island. Consequently, he argues that while postcolonial theory is useful in decoding the cultural complexities of Cyprus, it requires a nuanced approach that takes into account the uniqueness of Cyprus’ circumstances. Nunziata draws connections between the Cypriot experience and the works of Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Frantz Fanon, and others, making a convincing case for the relevance of postcolonial theories to understanding Cypriot literature.

            The first chapter has three functions: it establishes a global genealogy of travel writing beginning with the Epic of Gilgamesh; it positions Cyprus in its geopolitical context through a historical overview; and it outlines a range of relevant concepts from postcolonial theory. These include Said’s concept of Orientalism and Spivak’s theory of the Subaltern. Nunziata describes Cyprus as a ‘strategic gateway or portal through which military and cultural paradigms are exchanged’ (3), outlining a diachronic sequence of geopolitical tensions that have been centred on Cyprus and the waters around it. He suggests that Cyprus is imagined from the outside as one of two diametrically opposed images: an idyllic tourist destination or a convenient ammunition dump. This sets the scene for an exploration of contrary views of the island through the eyes of a range of locals and visitors, who have recorded their experience in a range of ‘transportal’ literary productions. Nunziata argues that travel writing is particularly important for the emergence of an authentic Cypriot identity, as the novel, traditionally considered the apex of national literatures, does not allow for the true expression of Cyprus’ cultural heterogeneity, since a single narrator cannot encompass all perspectives.

            Chapter 2 details the production of an Orientalist image of Cyprus through travelogues by British visitors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, contextualising these as part of the British imperial project of objectifying Cyprus and fetishising Cypriots in order to justify Britain’s colonial possession of the island. The chapter covers a heterogenous group of writers, including members of the colonial establishment Sir Samuel White Baker and William Hepworth Dixon, British female travellers Esmé Scott-Stevenson, Annie Brassey, and Agnes Smith, as well as Lawrence Durrell, whose travelogue Bitter Lemons (1957) elicited strong responses from a range of Cypriot writers. Nunziata argues that women writers occupied a liminal position which enabled them to sympathise with Cypriot people under colonial rule, as they also experienced a position of inferiority in the gendered power structure of Empire. Male writers, on the other hand, used their writing to further the British colonial project by packaging the island in terms comprehensible to their readers and presenting it as a ‘literary terra nullius’ (24), silencing the voices of Cypriot people. The range of authors and periods covered in the chapter serves to demonstrate that this silencing is pervasive within the structure of colonialist cultural production, regardless of authorial intent: whilst women writers felt sympathy for the Cypriot people they encountered, their narrativisations of them were no less exploitative. This is reminiscent of Fanon’s argument, put forward in The Wretched of the Earth (1963), that independent culture cannot evolve under oppressive rule.

            Nunziata describes the emergence of a post-independence Cypriot identity in Chapter 3, focusing on direct ‘writing back’ to British imperial narratives. In particular, he examines Costas Montis’ Closed Doors: An Answer to Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell (1964) and Taner Baybars’ Plucked in a Far-Off Land (1970), both responses to Durrell’s travelogue. Nunziata argues that these travelogues work to counter colonialist discourse as did novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958). However, he contends that the travelogue is more suited to the fragmentary and multivalent nature of Cypriot identity.

            Chapter 4 consists of a comparative reading of liminal works which cross the buffer zone: Yiannis Papadakis’ Echoes from the Dead Zone (2005), an account of the author’s visit to Northern Cyprus; Nora Nadjarian’s short story collection Ledra Street (2006); and Aydın Mehmet Ali’s Forbidden Zone (2013), also a collection of short stories. Nunziata traces the authors’ attempts to resist ethnocentric narratives and dominant discourses of an artificially monocultural environment in Cyprus, revealing the potential for a wider cultural conversation finding common ground after trauma. The analysis leaves the distinct impression that nationalism and intercommunal conflict have pernicious consequences for everyone involved. Papadakis, Nadjarian, and Ali all present images of Cypriot citizens forgiving of each other, who recognise that they have a shared experience of victimhood regardless of their linguistic, cultural, or political identifications.

            The intersectionality of the colonial experience is examined in Chapter 5, through a close reading of the above-mentioned short story collections by Ali and Nadjarian, as well as a poetry anthology by Neşe Yaşın translated from Turkish into English, Rose Falling Into Night (2017). Nunziata suggests rethinking Spivak’s concept of ‘translation as reading’ to include ‘translation as writing’, given the complexities inherent in identifying one’s ‘mother tongue’ in Cyprus (259). He argues that because the standard versions of Greek and Turkish dominant in publications on the island are already a significant departure from the authors’ true native languages—Cypriot Greek, Cypriot Turkish, and Armenian—writing in English is empowering for them, as it allows them to transcend divisions and is no more alien than any of the other print languages on the island.

            Through the concept of ‘transportal literatures’, Nunziata draws together disparate strains of Cypriot literature traditionally read in separate silos, making a case for a shared intercommunal culture. The very thorough diachronic discussion of a broad range of ‘transportal’ texts from and about the island makes a compelling case that the similarities between residents outweigh their differences, eroding the nationalist mythologies prevalent on the island.

            The structure of the book can make it challenging for readers without much prior knowledge of Cyprus, as the chapters are dense and connections between them are often not explicitly pointed out. For example, Chapters 2 and 5 begin with discussions of idealised images of femininity which erase and silence real women, the former alluding to a representation of Cyprus as a woman in a Punch cartoon from 1878, the latter to the representation of two women in the Nicosia Liberty Monument. An explicit reference to Chapter 2 when the discussion of idealised femininity is reprised in Chapter 5 could enrich the analysis of this concept.

            Overall, this is a book that challenges entrenched ethnocentric views about Cypriot identity, making a strong case for the existence of a common multivalent, multilingual culture on the island. In this time of continued tension on the island, exacerbated by external pressures such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a timely read that promotes the kind of cross-cultural healing that could help Cypriots prevail against adversity.

January 2022

Literary Translator Studies, ed. by Klaus Kaindl, Waltraud Kolb, Daniela Schlager. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 2021. EUR 99/USD 149. ISBN 9789027208163.

Reviewed by Antony Hoyte-West, Adam Mickiewicz University


Literary Translator Studies

Literary Translator Studies, edited by Klaus Kaindl et al. (John Benjamins, 2021)

Over the past few years, research in translation studies has paid increasing attention to the importance of the human factor within the broader translation and interpreting professions. Among other things, this so-called sociological turn has led to greater scholarly focus on translators and interpreters as practitioners. In focusing solely on literary translators, the current volume therefore represents a novel and relevant contribution to the field. Edited by three researchers at the University of Vienna’s Centre for Translation Studies, this collected work brings together sixteen chapters spanning a variety of timescales and approaches, but all pertaining directly to literary translators.

            The book is opened by a wide-ranging introduction by Klaus Kaindl, who skilfully outlines the history and development of translation studies—and by extension, of Translator Studies. In aiming to locate the literary translator as a research subject within wider Translator Studies, Kaindl provides a thorough analysis of the necessary theoretical and methodological background through the presentation and analysis of relevant frameworks, perspectives, and concepts. Drawing on a comprehensive bibliography with over 180 references listed, Kaindl also articulates the structure of the edited volume, which is divided into four sections based on the relevant methodologies and concepts used.

            The first section foregrounds aspects relating to the histories and biographies of literary translators themselves. As such, Mary Bardet’s contribution outlines her attempts to trace a forgotten early-twentieth-century French woman translator through diligent detective work in the archives, linking her subject to wider societal trends at that time. In the next chapter, Sabine Strümper-Krobb examines the biographies of two prominent late-nineteenth-century female translators, paying particular attention to the importance of their work in the literary and social contexts of that time. Turning to nineteenth-century Polish Galicia, Markus Eberhardt explores aspects of the lives of four translators, with the aim of highlighting the added value that translator biographies can bring to Translator Studies. However, unlike the historical focus of the preceding chapters, the final contribution to the opening part of the volume deals with the contemporary interface between Translator Studies and Library and Information Studies, as illustrated by Belén Santana López and Críspulo Travieso Rodríguez’s overview of the literary translator’s invisibility in Spanish library catalogues.

            The three chapters which comprise the second section focus on social science-based approaches. The first contribution, written by volume co-editor Waltraud Kolb, examines the self-concepts of literary translators within the translation process itself. This is accomplished through the prism of a single sentence taken from a short story by Hemingway as translated by experienced English-German literary translators, together with information regarding the translators’ decision-making processes. The two subsequent chapters are both interview-based studies grounded in the Nordic context. In Anu Heino’s chapter, it is the biographies of modern Finnish literary translators with regard to their translatorial activities that are highlighted using insights from narrative theory. Yvonne Lundquist’s study, however, explores the notion of “star translators” through analysis of fifteen leading literary translators in Sweden, using Bourdieu’s concept of institutional consecration as the relevant analytical framework.

            The book’s third section is centred on paratexts and their implications for literary translators. Accordingly, Nitsa Ben-Ari’s opening chapter focuses on the translator’s note and its apparent resurgence. She provides a general historical and contemporary overview before analysing a series of literary translations produced in Israel, which leads to interesting findings regarding the voice, status, and participation of literary translators. The analysis of the literary translator’s voice, together with other aspects regarding self-perception and self-positioning, all feature strongly in the chapter by Anna Fornalczyk-Lipska. Through the examination of prefaces to books translated by and media interviews with Polish literary translators of children’s literature, Fornalczyk-Lipska notes that, in giving translators greater prominence, awareness of literary translation beyond the ivory tower is increased. Daniela Schlager’s contribution provides a different conceptual approach to studying translators as individuals. Through the lens of the life of the nineteenth-century British writer and translator Harriet Martineau, Schlager examines the theoretical concepts of multipositionality and translatorial telos as expressed through Martineau’s life philosophy and translations. Beatrijs Vanacker’s chapter also focuses on a female translator, the noted eighteenth-century Dutch translator Elisabeth Wolff-Becker. Through analysis of her paratexts and personal correspondence, Vanacker seeks to examine Wolff-Becker’s position in the contemporary literary field at that time and how she used translation to construct her own “transla(u)t(h)orial posture”.

            Comprising five chapters, the fourth and final section of the work also focuses on the idea of translations and gateways. In this regard, Michelle Wood’s chapter provides a novel approach to the study of movement by exploring the nineteenth-century women translators of Tolstoy’s work. Here, the concept of travel by train is analysed not only by citing examples of the Russian author’s use of relevant stylistic devices in his literary works, but also by providing insights into the physical journeys made by these pioneering translators in the imperial Russia of that time. The chapter on the poetical and translatorial voice of the twentieth-century founder of Translation Studies, James S. Holmes, is co-authored by Elke Brems and Jack McMartin. In interpreting Holmes’s translations of Dutch poetry into English as well as his own poems, Brems & McMartin contextualise these works through analysis of Holmes’s translatorial and authorial practices as well as his gay identity. Turning to the nineteenth century, Susanne Hagemann’s contribution tests the model of translatorial “attitude”—as defined by the scholar Theo Herman—through the case study of Wilhelm Adolf Lindau, the German translator of Sir Walter Scott’s works. Taking this notion, Hagemann explores this concept through judicious comparative analysis of relevant texts and paratexts, leading to interesting conclusions regarding the efficacy of the theoretical framework. Andrew Chesterman’s engaging chapter provides an insight on the translatological oeuvre of the non-conformist polymath Douglas Hofstadter. Taking Hofstader’s three works of literary translation as case studies, Chesterman also highlights Hofstader’s own concepts and practice of translation, including his conscious decision to distance himself from mainstream translation studies scholarship. The final contribution to the volume is by Judith Woodsworth, whose study explores the growing concept of “transfiction”; in other words, how translators and translation has become ever more widespread in fictional works. Woodsworth takes two novels by female New York-based writers as case studies, exploring not only the lives of the authors (whom she interviews) and the principal protagonists of their novels but also the critical reception, summing up that ultimately translators and translation are portrayed in a positive light.

            In general terms, Literary Translator Studies represents a pioneering landmark in translation studies scholarship, particularly with regard to the magisterial introduction which outlines the scope of the sub-field. Though the work covers a variety of historical periods as well as a range of theoretical and conceptual approaches, a broader geographical focus would have been appreciated—to that end, and reflecting current discussions among literary translators, future research could perhaps also include aspects exploring literary translators from languages and cultures beyond the European context. Yet this observation does not detract from an excellent and carefully curated edited volume. As such, this collection is a timely and worthy addition to the translation studies literature which will prove extremely valuable over the years to come.

November 2021

Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age, David Damrosch. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. £28. ISBN 9780691134994.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age

Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age by David Damrosch (Princeton University Press, 2020)

Within the field of Comparative Literature, the name David Damrosch needs little introduction. Damrosch completed his doctorate at Yale in the 1970s, finishing a thesis on James Joyce and Ancient Egyptology. His taste for breadth has not subsided since. His seminal work What is World Literature? (2003), and the subsequent establishment of the Institute of World Literature (with various anthologies, conferences, and publications in its wake) have revived a discipline in need of leadership and initiative. But what is that discipline, anyway? As many comparatists are asked, what are they comparing exactly, and what are they expected to compare literature to? Damrosch’s book seeks to address such questions with authority, intimacy, and eloquence, for those of us tired of answering them. 

            Comparing the Literatures acts as both a compass for Comparative and World Literature for the uninitiated, while also offering a globally panoramic account of its exciting and challenging developments around the world. ‘Comparative literature today is experiencing a paradigm shift of the sort that occurs only once or twice in a century,’ he claims, ‘and an effective response will require us to rethink the grounds of comparison from the grounds up’ (5). This charming, well-paced, and exhaustive account historicises this moment—considering its contributors, contexts, challenges and possibilities—conveyed in an immensely readable and accessible format.

            As such, it presents as comprehensive an overview of these disciplines as can be imagined (one far too wide-ranging to summarise here). It is an account that foregrounds institutional history, while incorporating archival correspondence, comical anecdotes, from ancient scribes in Mesopotamia to literary video games in New York. Damrosch thankfully manages this plethora under simplistic Chapter headings (Emigrations; Theories; Languages). Altogether, Comparing the Literatures seemingly manages the impossible task of condensing a global body of literature, criticism, and theory into an extended study that avoids contrivance, pretension, self-congratulation, or inappropriate verbosity.

            For an audience of educators, Damrosch addresses the question of language proficiency:—a matter of anxiety to many academics in the English-speaking world. While we need not ‘achieve near-native fluency in every language,’ he insists, ‘each of us does need to know whichever languages are most important for our teaching and research, and we need to decide just how well need to know each of them for our purposes’ (173).

We also need to know how to work intelligently with translations when necessary, and for this purpose it is important to gain a good grounding in the field of translation studies. Most fundamentally, we need to use originals and translations alike in active awareness of the deeply intertwined problems of language and of politics that confront every use of language today. (173–174)

In this sense, Damrosch recognises the importance of integrating translation into syllabi as well as language-learning: a view expressed in 2003 but given greater emphasis here. Perhaps in response to Nicholas Harrison’s 2014 query as to Damrosch’s acumen with languages (“World Literature: What Gets Lost in Translation?”), the author is also admirably honest in relaying his own experiences on this topic and many others. Yet Damrosch’s interjections only serve to personalise an otherwise dizzying range of material. The reader follows the twentieth-century institutional narrative of Comparative Literature through the Cold War and out again: ‘Comparatists weren’t just in bed with the State Department and the Pentagon; they were having to share the bed with the scientists who were hogging the blankets and the balance sheets’ (88). By extending the history of the discipline to include such institutional critique and political contexts alongside the oft-quoted thoughts of René Wellek and Eric Auerbach, Damrosch here stakes a claim for writing a substantial and unparalleled history of the discipline.

            This is not to consider the present work an acritical overview of its field. The author does not shy away from those who vehemently disown World Literature on various grounds (most prominently Emily Apter and Susan Bassnett). One senses a quiet exhaustion with the blunt edges of a literary theory blind to the contexts of history and thus to the full dimensions of a given text: ‘How successfully can we employ a theory formulated by Derrida in Paris or by Partha Chatterjee in Kolkota—to analyse a poem composed in China or India a millennium or more ago?’ (156)? ‘Used badly,’ he observes elsewhere, ‘a theoretical lens may distort as much as it reveals’ (126), though Damrosch admits that theory will be necessary in the face of a growing body of reading if only as an organising principle. Addressing his contemporaries, Damrosch claims comparatists should not only be drawn to works appropriable to their own context but must persist in reading more locally-informed theorists of literature, like Antonio Candido and Roberto Schwartz. Damrosch settles for the more nuanced mission: ‘The challenge is to employ our modern theories in dialogue with the theoretical knowledges found in the traditions we explore’ (156).

            Much of the material will be familiar to those who have read Damrosch’s publications over the past decade or so, while some of his case studies echo his choices on the various anthologies that he has overseen (from Hu Shih and Germaine de Staël to Partha Chatterjee). Yet the consolidation of these various lines of argument, observation, and inquiry into one coherent work only underlines the ambitious scope of Damrosch’s project. That is not to suggest it is merely an introduction to the discipline. Rather, there is also a sense in which Damrosch seeks to amend here for prior oversights. Firstly, to amend for the lack of attention to female comparatists, making poignant reappraisals of Germaine de Staël, Barbara Johnson, and Lilian Furst. Polemical, controversial, and well-travelled, Germaine de Staël led a fascinating life and should be read today, insists Damrosch, ‘for her pioneering analyses of the relations of literature to social institutions,’ and ‘her sobering reflections on the limits of what criticism can accomplish’ (30). Barbara Johnson was a Professor of Psychology and English at Harvard University in the 1960s, producing literary criticism of tremendous rigour and scope. The mid-century émigré Lilian Furst, meanwhile, demonstrates for Damrosch how deeply migration figures in a discipline obsessed with language, borders, and boundaries. Yet Damrosch’s inclusion of these female critics is less a matter of moral obligation and more an attempt to sketch out the rich history, sequence, and tradition of the discipline more fully (to which female critics continue to make resounding contribution). Secondly, there is the sense that World Literature has ran further than Damrosch’s prior definitions intended:

After two decades of ongoing discussion, it ought to be possible to flesh out the ghostly or vampirish concept of world literature. […] As with literary theory, no one will need to utilize every approach to world literature; what we need to know is what choices we are making, and why we make them, when we adopt a given definition of “the world” in world literature, and we should be able to use different definitions for different purposes. (268)

So elastic is this term that Damrosch inevitably feels a need to redefine its possibilities after so much ‘ongoing discussion’. From my own reading, one senses that the author finds the invocation of World Literature has rested too much and for too long on the geographical emphasis of that term, while resting too little on the historical scope it could equally initiate. In his opening, Damrosch critiques what he sees as the persistent presentism of the discipline (9), while closing the book with the belief that it would be ‘a tremendous impoverishment of literary studies if we only studied contemporary world literature’ (298–299) Various extracts of pre-modern texts are scattered luminously throughout the book. Damrosch is at pains to point out the enduring value of these texts (as both literature, and even as literary theories in their own right). He pointedly reminds us early on that institutional syllabi tends to only focus  on the last two centuries: ‘just 1% of the history of literacy to date’ (9). This is a provocative truth, one that uncovers the sheer range of works still unconsidered in many of World Literature’s various critiques.

            Despite the expectations that must have weighed upon its completion, Damrosch’s book is sweepingly vast yet delivered with charismatic clarity and an admirable coherence. Constructed over twelve years as its field gradually developed, it takes a sober view of both its achievements and the paths that lie ahead. This latter sentiment finds its most modest articulation when Damrosch confesses: ‘Both in theory and in practice, we have a long way to go if we want to have a world literary theory worth the name’ (164). Yet Comparing the Literatures charts the course of this brilliant and fragmented global tradition, its interruptions and accelerations, with such impassioned interest as to inspire its readers to contribute to just that end. The book constitutes, depending on its reader, a charming introduction, a rigorous literary history, and an enduring point of reference for ‘anyone interested in incorporating a comparative dimension into their work’ (1).

September 2021

Depicting the Divine: Mikhail Bulgakov and Thomas Mann, Olga G. Voronina. Cambridge: Legenda, 2019. £75. ISBN 9781781885468.

Reviewed by Sarah Fengler, University of Oxford


Depicting the Divine: Mikhail Bulgakov and Thomas Mann

Depicting the Divine: Mikhail Bulgakov and Thomas Mann by Olga G. Voronina (Legenda, 2019)

In twentieth-century Europe, literary adaptations of biblical stories were by no means extinct. The novel The Master and Margarita (1967, ‘Macтep и Mapapитa’), written by the Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov, is mainly set in Moscow, but contains several chapters on the last hours of Jesus Christ before his death in Jerusalem. While Bulgakov draws on the Gospels, the German writer Thomas Mann, in his tetralogy of novels, Joseph and His Brothers (1933–1943, ‘Joseph und seine Brüder’), adapts the Old Testament story of Joseph, with recourse to Abraham and other biblical patriarchs. What The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers have in common is not only the biblical subject, but also that both works were being written under regimes that sought to suppress religion. This raises the following questions: which narrative strategies do Bulgakov and Mann use in their novels, how do they represent Jewish and Christian faith, and to what extent do they endow the biblical stories with a political dimension?

            Olga G. Voronina’s monograph, Depicting the Divine: Mikhail Bulgakov and Thomas Mann, is the first comparative study of The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers, and is an important and original contribution to research on Bulgakov’s and Mann’s novels as well as on biblical literature in more general terms. Both novels, Voronina argues, polemicise the biblical stories they adapt—for example the Passion of Jesus or the story of Joseph—by offering their own versions in the form of literature. Voronina’s research objective is therefore to examine Bulgakov’s and Mann’s specific narrative strategies and to capture the political dimension of their novels. Her study contains six chapters with in-depth readings that also consider the broader historical and cultural context, with the first three chapters dedicated to The Master and Margarita and the other three to Joseph and His Brothers.

            The basis of comparison for Voronina’s study is the hypothesis that The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers have a similar relationship to the Bible. Both novels, Voronina convincingly argues, adapt biblical narratives in a demythologising way that deviates from the mainstream Bible interpretations at the time. In The Master and Margarita, for instance, Bulgakov makes profound changes to the Gospels by telling the Passion of Jesus in the so-called Yershalaim chapters in Jerusalem from Pontius Pilate’s perspective, and by omitting the resurrection of Jesus after his conviction. Voronina points out that Joseph and His Brothers, in turn, offers competing narratives within the tetralogy itself: Eliezer, for instance, Jacob’s half-brother and Joseph’s tutor, tells several deviating stories about the relationship between Abraham and God, and questions whether it has been shaped by faith or doubt. Mann draws also on other sources than the Old Testament, for example on Jewish folklore or Gnostic myths.

            The biblical basis of the novels poses the question how The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers present the religious and the supernatural. Voronina gives ample space to this problem and shows that Bulgakov and Mann again employ similar strategies to depict the divine. Both writers, she argues, secularise the biblical narratives and portray Jesus or God as rather profane than divine. In The Master and Margarita, Jesus, who is called Yeshua in the Yershalaim chapters, is depicted as a human, not the son of God. His one wondrous deed—to heal Pilate from a headache—is neither explained nor considered important by the other characters. In the Moscow chapters, only the existence of Voland, the devil, indicates the existence of God. Similarly, in Joseph and His Brothers, Yahweh is mainly presented as a psychological construct without external proof. Jacob, for example, conceives God as an inner voice that endows his life with meaning, including the disappearance of his beloved son Joseph. Similarly, Joseph himself believes that Yahweh inspires his dreams, and thus begins to interpret the recent events of his life as part of a divine plan. As a character, however, God, or Yahweh, is absent in both Joseph and His Brothers and The Master and Margarita.

            Voronina also highlights the significance of meta levels in The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers. In Bulgakov’s novel, she states, this feature is first and foremost evident from the fact that there is virtually a novel within the novel. Even though the relationship between the Yershalaim chapters and the Moscow chapters is not always clear, the Yershalaim narrative is framed as a meta level of the latter, be it as Voland’s report or as the Master’s novel. Yeshua transcends this meta level by appearing in Moscow after his death in Yershalaim. In Joseph and His Brothers, the conception of meta levels is tied to the figure of Eliezer: Joseph’s tutor functions as a narrator within the narration, and his narratives—for instance on biblical patriarchs like Abraham—are in turn commented on by the narrator of the novel. Voronina shows plausibly how these meta levels reinforce the ambiguity and incoherencies of competing narratives in Bulgakov’s and Mann’s novels.

            The political dimension of The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers, Voronina argues, is linked to the historical and cultural context of Bulgakov’s and Mann’s literary work. In The Master and Margarita, only the chapters on Yeshua and Pilate are set in Jerusalem, while the other chapters are set in Moscow. It is especially in these Moscow chapters that the political dimension of the novel becomes apparent: the cultural elite in Moscow is committed to atheism, and this imperative is reinforced by Soviet control. Literature, in this context, is supposed to serve atheist purposes. However, Voronina demonstrates that also in the Yershalaim chapters, the narrative on Yeshua serves the ideology of the authorities, here represented by Pilate and his perspective on the events surrounding the conviction and death of Yeshua. In Joseph and His Brothers, there are no profane chapters that resemble the Moscow chapters in The Master and Margarita as the entire novel is based on the story of Joseph. The political dimension is therefore more strongly linked with external historical events, such as the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

            The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers, Voronina concludes, are unparalleled within their respective cultural context. She convincingly demonstrates that both novels detect gaps in the Old Testament and the Gospels, and these gaps are being filled with fiction or supplemented with other mythological or historical sources. Human creativity is therefore key in the novels, both as a motif and a narrative strategy, while the authority of the Bible is continuously called into question. Voronina infers against this background that The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers do have a political dimension, but the novels should by no means be reduced to this dimension. On the contrary, Voronina shows that The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers are not merely political metaphors or literary adaptations of the Bible, but have literary value of their own. The chief accomplishment of her excellent study is therefore that it reveals the elaborate narrative strategies Mann and Bulgakov employ in the way they retell biblical narratives.

            One of Voronina’s final remarks is that ‘[t]he divine provides a framework for the elucidation of the human’ (118). This is not only true of The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers, but also of Voronina’s monograph itself and the way she uses the divine as a prompt for comparison. Her analysis of how Bulgakov and Mann use certain narrative strategies to depict the relationship between the human and the divine illustrates the great benefits of this approach. But what remains unclear is the significance of the different textual sources on which the novels are based—Bulgakov draws on the New Testament, Mann on the Old Testament. Voronina’s findings therefore encourage further research into the impact that the choice of narratives either from the Old or the New Testament might have on the way they can be adapted for literature, not only in relation to The Master and Margarita and Joseph and His Brothers, but also in other twentieth-century novels based on biblical stories or inspired by them.

August 2021

Western Theory in East Asian Contexts: Translation and Transtextual Rewriting, Leo Tak-hung Chan. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2020. £21.99 (Paperback). ISBN: 9781501327827.

Reviewed by Sarah Puetzer, University of Oxford


Western Theory in East Asian Contexts: Translation and Transtextual Rewriting

Western Theory in East Asian Contexts: Translation and Transtextual Rewriting by Leo Tak-hung Chan (Bloomsbury, 2020)

Translation theories have tried to define the nature of translational rewriting for decades, but have often drawn exclusively on examples from Western literature. Critiquing this Eurocentric point of view, the question has been raised as to whether Western theories can actually be used to explain phenomena in different cultural dynamics adequately, pointing at the risk of universalizing Western concerns and experiences in the process.

            In Western Theory in East Asian Contexts, Leo Tak-hung Chan explores the relevance of Western theory as applied to phenomena from non-Western traditions at the periphery, looking at East Asian contexts in particular. According to Chan, translational rewriting in East Asia has developed independently of that in Western cultures, leading to a more ‘free’, ‘adaptive’, or ‘imitative’ style of translation with its own regional characteristics. While various Western theories serve as the basis of his study, Chan argues that only with an enlarged definition of translation—one which also includes adaptation and imitation—are we are able to explain the subtleties of translational interaction between China, Korea, and Japan. Divided into three parts, Chan’s study is organised around three forms of transtextual rewriting: ‘free’ translation, adaptation, and imitation.

            Chapter One lays the theoretical foundation for the rest of the book. Chan begins by giving a brief overview of the history of translation, touching on topics such as the appreciation of originality during the Romantic movement, and leading eventually to the dismissal of adaptation and imitation. However, Chan demonstrates how the quest for originality has collapsed in recent times, drawing on Gérard Genette’s concept of ‘transtextual perfusion’, among others. He goes on to define his study’s keywords—free translation, adaptation, and imitation—and the relationship between them. Chan argues that their relationship is one between siblings, similar but not the same. Trying to distinguish the three, he sees them as being in a spectrum, where one moves from translation, through adaptation, to imitation, witnessing an intensifying degree of transformation, distortion, and infidelity.

            Part I is divided into two chapters: ‘Freely Rendered: Aesop’s Fables in Nineteenth-Century China’ and ‘A Higher Loyalty? The (Ab)uses of Aesthetic Theories of Translation’. The first one explores the question why free translation was the preferred method of translation in China at that time through a functionalist approach, drawing on examples of different translations of Aesop’s fables into Chinese. Chan concludes that this free method of translating allowed respective translators to assign the fables a new function, depending on the translators’ intentions and perception of the target audience. The second chapter gives an overview on modern Chinese translation theory and introduces the concept of ya, a translation principal that aims to ‘beautify’ the source text. Using Lin Shaohua’s translation of Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood as an example, Chan examines the discourse surrounding ya and how it was (and is) put into practice. While Lin used the concept of ya to justify the liberate style choices he made to capture the novel’s ‘true spirit,’ Japanese scholars such as Fujii Shōzō see his translations as coloured by a nationalistic agenda. Chan points at the problems that occur with the importance of ya in modern Chinese translations, as terms like ‘beautifying’ and ‘true spirit’ remain very vague. Furthermore, this example reveals the nation language debates in East Asia that needs to be considered when talking about transnational rewriting in that region.

            Part II consists of three chapters. The first one, ‘Adaptation Studies through a Translation Lens’, looks at adaptation in relation to translation studies from a Western theory perspective, trying to differentiate the two. Again, Chan follows his argument of their relationship as being one of siblings, similar yet different. He argues that while translation leans towards highlighting the ‘foreignness’ of a text, adaptation can be a strategy for the assimilation or acculturation of a non-native text. The next chapter, ‘Accommodation and Adaptation: The Case of East Asia’, turns its focus more towards adaptation theories in East Asia, looking at three case examples in particular, which are 1) Korean and Japanese adaptations of Chinese classical novels since the eighteenth century, 2) adaptations of Western literature in Meiji Japan and 3) free translations in China of Western literature from the nineteenth century. He draws the conclusions that adaptations serve to make the foreign more familiar and that they are coloured by their adaptors’ agenda and the socio-political context they were created in. In the last chapter of Part II, ‘Boys over Flowers: Localization in a Web of (Re)adaptations’, the study explores the web of interconnections between several East Asian TV-adaptations of the Japanese manga Hana yori dango (1992-2004) by Kamio Yōko. The chapter is less concerned with the intermedial aspects of adaptations but focuses more on their cross-cultural dimension, as these TV adaptations span from Japan to Taiwan and Mainland China, as well as Korea. Chan examines the strategies deployed by the adaptors to enhance the reception by audiences of the respective cultures. Chan argues that the huge popularity of all these adaptions can be explained through the cultural proximity of East Asian cultures, as certain core values are shared by these communities.

            Part III deals with different forms of imitative rewriting. Starting again with a chapter on Western translation theory and how it has understood imitation throughout history, Chan goes on to explain the importance of imitative translations in East Asia, having played a major role in mediating the exchange between Japan, Korea, and Vietnam at the periphery and China at the centre. As Chinese used to be the East Asian lingua franca, the norm of transtextual rewriting in premodern times was rather transcription than translation of Chinese texts. However, with the growth of nationalist sentiments and the wish for linguistic autonomy, the view towards China changed among the East Asian countries. Chan concludes that the surge of imitations of Chinese classics in Japan can be seen as a sign of an increased distance between both countries, as these imitative rewritings not only try to domesticate the foreign, but also aim to cut the ties to the source material by incorporating multiple sources from China and Japan alike into their creative process. The next chapter, ‘Receptive Transcreation: Simulating James Joyce’s Narrative Style’, explores the link between imitation and influence by examining Ulysses’s impact on Chinese modern literature and emergence of the Chinese stream of consciousness novel in the twentieth century. Imitators of Ulysses aimed to transfer its narrative style into Chinese, which Chan describes as a process of apprenticeship rather than replication. These imitations, on the other hand, facilitated the reception of the genre, paving the way for more ‘faithful’ translations of Ulysses in the future. The final chapter of Part III, ‘The Aggregate Monkey: Parody and Pastiche in Japanese Manga’, examines another case of Sino-Japanese rewriting, namely that of the Chinese classic Journey to the West and its imitations in Japanese manga. Chan also reads these parodic imitations as a barometer of the relationship between Japan and China. Calling these manga imitations ‘radical translations’ that only leave very few of the original elements intact, Chan argues that these parodies are ‘a deconstructive act against a canonical Chinese text’ (194), implying that the imitators’ intention is to make fun of Chinese classics, going so far to see the waves of Chinese anger against manga imitations of Journey to the West as justified.

            Chan’s study of the complex web of cross-cultural rewriting of texts in East Asia and the (in)applicability of Western theories for these cultural dynamics fills a significant gap in translation studies, particularly since studies on intra-Asian translation are often sidelined by those on East-West translational rewriting. The book impresses with in-depth analyses of multiple examples, most of them from the Sino-Japanese context, but also various examples from translational rewritings of Western texts in East Asia, demonstrating how theories on translation, adaptation, and imitation can be put into practice in East Asian contexts. Chan’s study makes a convincing case for the need of a more holistic view in order to explore translational rewriting in non-Western cultures, that sees translation, adaptation, and imitation rather as siblings in the same spectrum than opposing terms. However, Chan misses the opportunity to integrate Western and East Asian theories alike to make this case. Chan himself addresses the lack of Chinese or Japanese translation theories in his conclusion, stating that there has been a paucity of theories that could be usefully deployed. However, they still do get mentioned in his study, but usually separately from Western theories and not in a discursive manner. What is also missing is a critical self-reflection of the position of the author himself. While the tone remains overall observational and mostly unbiased, there is a normative judgement of Japanese manga parodies of Chinese classics in the last chapter, going even so far to label the shift from novel to manga as one from a ‘high-brow’ to a ‘low-brow medium’ (196). This seems to contradict Chan’s otherwise convincing effort to ‘lift the cloud of suspicion’ that hangs over more liberal forms of translation.

March 2021

Translation Movement and Acculturation in the Medieval Islamic World, Labeeb Ahmed Bsoul. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019. £39.99. ISBN: 9783030217020.

Reviewed by Beatrice Bottomley, The Warburg Institute


Translation Movement and Acculturation in the Medieval Islamic World

Translation Movement and Acculturation in the Medieval Islamic World by Labeeb Ahmed Bsoul (Palgrave, 2019)

Over the last two decades, new research into the transmission of texts, techniques, and artefacts across the Mediterranean has revived interest in the medieval Translation Movement.  The term ‘Translation Movement’ is most often used in this context to describe the translation of texts from Greek, via Syriac, into Arabic, beginning around the eighth century, and the subsequent translation of these texts from Arabic into Latin, beginning in the tenth century and reaching its peak in the thirteenth. However, it would perhaps be more productive to frame this tendency as a network, rather than a movement. Scholars did not only translate texts from Greek into Arabic, but also from Persian, Sanskrit, and Chinese. Furthermore, these texts were not only translated into Latin, but also into Hebrew and Castilian. These scholars made up a network, which stretched from the Academy of Gondishapur, cultivated by the Sassanid emperor Khosrau I in the sixth century, to the Toledo School, led by Archbishop Raymond of Toledo in the twelfth century. In this way, the network extended not only over a large geographical area, but also over a number of centuries and political dynasties (although the translation of texts into Arabic flourished under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates). The texts translated into, and from, Arabic were diverse not only in terms of their original source language, but also their subject area. Among them, we find texts of medicine, including translations of works by Galen, astronomy, such as the Zij al-Sindhind astronomical tables, philosophy, including Aristotle’s logic and natural science, and literature, such as the tales Kalilah and Dimnah.

            In Translation Movement and Acculturation in the Medieval Islamic World, Labeeb Bsoul goes some way in describing the complex of actors, institutions, and texts that make up the Translation Movement, retreading much of the ground already covered by scholars such as Dimitri Gutas, George Saliba, and Jim Al-Khalili. He traces the Movement’s evolution not only within the wider socio-political context of shifting caliphates and cultural contact brought about through trade and conquest, but also within the development of techniques, chiefly that of paper-making, which is said to be the result of a (somewhat violent) contact with the Chinese Tang dynasty. Bsoul classifies the periods of the Translation Movement according to four different caliphs or caliphates: the Umayyad caliphate, the era of Abbasid caliphs Al-Mansūr and Hārūn Al-Rashīd, the era of the Abbasid caliph Al-Maʿmūn, and the era following Al-Maʿmūn. In this way, Bsoul places the caliphs at the centre of his examination of the medieval Translation Movement. He further underlines that the caliphs were a key factor in its development through their generous financial patronage—a description of which is enough to make the eyes of any modern freelance translator water. However, Bsoul also notes the important role played by other patrons, for example the physician Jurjīs Ibn Bukhtīshūʿ, or the minister Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbdul Malik al-Zayyāt. These figures were brought together with translators in institutions, such as Bayt al-Ḥikma—“The House of Wisdom”—in Baghdad, which acted as sites of interaction for scholars from diverse linguistic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, many of the key translators (for example Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq or Yūḥannā Ibn Māsawayh) were themselves scholars or physicians. The dynamic between translation, the developments of other disciplines, and political change shaped which texts were selected for translation and the approaches undertaken.

            Bsoul also includes the nature of the Arabic language itself and the emphasis placed by Islamic texts on learning as key factors in the development of the Translation Movement. Both these points need further reflection. However, to a certain extent, they allude to an underlying question – that of agency. In early twentieth-century scholarship of medieval Arabic translations, the texts were sometimes reduced to passive storehouses of Classical Greek thought, ignoring the creative processes of dissection, assimilation, and innovation undertaken by Islamicate scholars. Indeed, although Bsoul does refer to some of these developments, he also suggests that ’the Arabs became a receptacle that stored thought and knowledge for the entire known world’ (95).We could perhaps trace the sometimes conflicting views contained within Translation Movement and Acculturation to the sources employed by Bsoul. In addition to referring to a select number of primary sources (chiefly medieval biographies and indices), Bsoul draws on a range of Arabic and European secondary scholarship. Although it is refreshing to see the use of so many modern Arabic sources, which are often neglected in Anglophone scholarship, the selection of European sources is puzzling. Apart from a small number of notable exceptions (Charles Burnett, Emilie Savage Smith, Dimitri Gutas), the European scholars cited by Bsoul include Orientalists that are today considered outdated (Will Durant, Tjitze de Boer) or even controversial (Roger Garaudy, Gustave Le Bon). This indicates, to a certain extent, a lack of critical engagement not only with the sources, but also with the concept of Orientalism, which is foundational to any interaction with European scholarship of Arabic texts, from the medieval to the modern.

            The work is further undermined by a lack of engagement with the complex nature of translation as both a literary process and a negotiation of cultural difference. Bsoul appears to attempt to reconcile this through his use of the term ‘acculturation’, which he endows with a ‘positive impact on humanity’ (5), suggesting that  ‘openness to others and understanding their achievements pave [sic] the way for societies to progress’ (5). The term ‘acculturation’ is most often used to describe the change in beliefs or practices that occurs when the cultural system of one group displaces that of another. This does not accurately describe the complex interactions that took place through the translations, literary and cultural, of the medieval period. Indeed, the approach employed towards questions of cultural identity appears sometimes reductive. For example, when describing the Alexandrian School, Bsoul writes ‘it was the home of Neo-Platonism, which flourished in the second/eighth century in Egypt. Its language was Greek, and the Jews were constantly reading the Septuagint, the Old Testament in its Greek translation’ (186). Or when depicting the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, he underlines that ‘after the Arabs reached the peak of civilisation, they turned to luxury and idleness. They gave up seeking knowledge and the pursuits of the mind, and suffered from inertia and nostalgia for past achievements and glory. Others took over the torch of civilisation’ (12). After reading both these statements (among others), one might ask—who are these Jews? Or, who are these Arabs? Employing such broad labels minimises the precision and potential weight of the work. Furthermore, these labels do not reflect the complex of identities negotiated by scholars in the medieval Islamicate world—a negotiation which was, in fact, the subject of much work of the period.

            This somewhat reductive approach to cultural identity appears at first surprising, given that the author, before undertaking a doctorate in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, had studied International Relations at San Francisco State University. However, here we should perhaps acknowledge the differing approaches of the author and the reviewer. In both the introduction and conclusion to Translation Movement and Acculturation, Bsoul outlines the aims that underlie his approach, stating, for example:

It has become obvious that translation in the present era is the bridge that connects Arabs to world cultures. It is a basic building block of their contemporary culture and an effective means to participate in modern life while preserving Arab originality and identity. The age of interaction is necessary and not optional. When two cultures interact, one strong and the other weak, the stronger culture absorbs the weaker. Therefore, the Arabs’ only choice is to accept the challenge and to become a dominant culture and civilisation. Translation is one of the most powerful pillars on which this is based. (21)

The aims underpinning this project are clear—by examining the medieval Translation Movement, Bsoul wishes to encourage the development of translation in the contemporary Arab world(s) and thus revive the perceived glory of the Islamic Golden Age (a concept whose emphasis on a decline narrative has been critiqued in much recent scholarship). The ambitions of this project are undermined by the frequent repetition, syntactic errors, and inconsistent referencing that appear in the book, which could have benefited from stronger editing. Bsoul’s Translation Movement and Acculturation points to the need for further research into the complex linguistic, religious, and cultural interactions at the heart of the medieval transmission of scientific, philosophical, and literary texts. Research, this reviewer hopes, that would build on existing studies in order to engage with primary sources from an original perspective.

July 2021

The African Novel of Ideas: Philosophy and Individualism in the Age of Global Writing, Jeanne-Marie Jackson. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2021. £70. ISBN: 9780691186443.

Reviewed by Joseph Hankinson, University of Oxford


The African Novel of Ideas: Philosophy and Individualism in the Age of Global Writing

The African Novel of Ideas: Philosophy and Individualism in the Age of Global Writing by Jeanne-Marie Jackson (Princeton University Press, 2021)

The inaugural question of Jeanne-Marie Jackson’s The African Novel of Ideas (2021)—‘[w]hat kinds of reading and which writers and texts would be privileged by viewing the African novel as a source of thinking about thinking, a site of agile negotiation between private minds and public spaces’ (2)—announces a timely and provocative intention: determining the opportunities for literary study that arise from ‘viewing the African novel as the vanguard of the broader literary world, instead of its marginal “other”’ (28). This, in the context of this particular book, means ‘peeling away the sticky associational layers that have accreted to the notion of “individualism” in postcolonial-cum-globalist literary and theoretical debates’ (3). Targeting liberalism, and reminding readers that there ‘is something deeply presumptuous about assuming that liberal ideals […] are intrinsically or irredeemably Western’ (8), Jackson’s book probes the relationship between individualism, narrative, philosophy, and comparison within the works of a range of African writers.

            Across its chapters, Jackson’s incisive readings establish unequivocally that ‘African philosophy provides an essential though largely untapped resource for thinking about individualism as a tool for demarcating thought’ (4). The African Novel of Ideas shifts focus away from preoccupations with the interrelationship between the philosophy of individualism and colonial history, offering instead an approach capable of remaining sensitive to individualism’s specifically African trajectories, to Africa’s counter-individualisms, but also to individualisms that have developed apart from Europe entirely. As such, the book represents ‘an effort to move beyond liberalism’s conception as a prepackaged collusion between the integrous self and the civilizational violence of Western colonial rule, looking instead to the philosophical individual’s purposive intellectual formation by African writers whose moral and political terms are largely homegrown’ (7). Jackson stresses, consequently, ‘what appear as narrativized instances of both “reason” and “autonomous selfhood”’, but instances ‘whose complicity with imperial models is not foreordained’ (7-8).

            The book is divided into two parts, with a separate introduction, conclusion, and epilogue. Part One, ‘National Horizons’, comprises two chapters: ‘Ethiopia Unbound as Afro-Comparatist Novel: The Case for Liberated Solitude’, and ‘Between the House of Stone and a Hard Place: Stanlake Samkange’s Philosophical Turn’—both chapters focusing on ‘novelists working in anticipation of national independence’ (19). Part Two, ‘Global Recessions’, also contains two chapters: ‘A Forked Path, Forever: Kintu between Reason and Rationality’, and ‘Bodies Impolitic: African Deaths of Philosophical Suicide’—the focus now on ‘novelists working right in the belly of the hungry “global literature” beast’ (19).

            If well-trodden critical pathways have emphasised how individuals are ‘instrumentalized by the African novel’, treated as ‘stand-ins for a social situation’, then Jackson—across these chapters—seeks to foreground situations in which the African novel’s individuals are instead ‘instrumental of some analytic function within it’ (31). This begins in Chapter One, which focuses on the ‘pan-Africanist lawyer, politician, and man of letters’ J. E. Casely Hayford (1866-1930), and considers, more generally, ‘comparison as an Afro-originating intellectual model that insists on lateral, conceptually grounded exchange, with the individual philosopher serving as a kind of lever’ (32). What will be of particular interest to readers of this journal is this chapter’s outlining of a decolonised, ‘full-fledged, systematic, Afro-originating comparative practice’ rooted in the work of Ghanaian philosophers, as well as Jackson’s considerable ability to weave between accurate and compelling textual commentary and incisive theoretical intervention (40).

            Jackson continues to read Casley Hayford’s novel Ethiopia Unbound (1911) ‘as an unheralded work of decolonial literary comparison’—one which shares a comparative ‘methodology’ with the later work of Wiredu and Appiah (60). Comparison and comparability ‘are, respectively, the novel’s method and its achievement, or its means and its end’ (49). Balancing  comparison—‘depicted as an argumentative strategy of a distinguished individual mind’—and comparability—‘the projective fulfillment of cultural equality in an independent Ghanaian state’—Ethiopia Unbound provides a compelling and clear example of Jackson’s overall focus (49). Designed ‘to systematically graft a liberal-developmental temperament onto an anticolonial Afrocentric politics’ (50), the novel’s ‘capacity to imagine both radical transformation and orderly argumentation, both the practical demands of racial politics and the philosophical expression of transracial ideas’ (52), generates rich and important discussion of the tensions, as well as concordances, between liberalism’s Euro- and Afro-centric conceptual worlds. Jackson concludes the chapter by situating more recent (and familiar) writing in the Anglo-Fante tradition—namely, Ayi Kwei Armah’s Fragments (1970) and Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy (1977)—in contrastive relation to Ethiopia Unbound.

            Chapter Two turns attention to the Shona writer and intellectual Stanlake Samkange, and what Jackson calls his ‘commitment to individual character as the locus of new national institutions’ (25). Throughout, Samkange’s fiction is read through and in relation to his philosophical texts; the latter sometimes the subject of formal close reading. For instance, the chapter’s discussion of Hunhuism or Ubuntuism (1980)—which Samkange co-wrote alongside his wife, Tommie—links the work’s attempt to connect ‘Zimbabwe’s independence to a universally replicable way of being’ to ‘a narrative strategy of “zooming out” in time and space’ (90). Marshalling ‘a sense of cultural embeddedness that’, nonetheless, ‘avoids the trap of so-called ethnophilosophy’ (92), Samkange favours a ‘representational mode that is individualized but not subjectivized’ (96): a mode in which ‘the movement from the self to the collective appears as an act of differentiated generalization rather than opposition’ (97). This chapter, also featuring discussion of novels by Dambudzo Marechera and Stanley Nyamfukudza, underlines the often complex interplay and tension between philosophy and fiction, individualism and collective representation, independence and political engagement, within Zimbabwean fiction and philosophy.

            Chapter Three focuses on Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s novel Kintu (2014), contrasting its engagement with a range of ‘African debates about tradition and modernity’ (26) with the work of the philosopher Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, which foregrounds a ‘version of reason at once situationally embedded and universally attuned’ (109). Kintu, for Jackson, is especially important because it captures the ‘impasse’ between ‘two expressions of Africa’s place in the world that both seem progressive in their own way’ (107). On the one hand an expression that ‘suggests that pluralizing what should be self-evident claims—to being modern, or universal—substitutes relativistic “difference” for Africans’ full-fledged humanity’; and on the other a rejection of ‘singular nouns that have long been used to humanize some and not others, seeking to build more inclusive terms of critical exchange’ (107). As such, the novel, ‘at its core’, is ‘about whether and how reason can accommodate cultural plurality’ (107). Jackson’s readings establish Kintu firmly as a philosophical novel capable of enlightening and nuancing questions of nationalism, pluralism, and individualism.

            Chapter Four approaches the work of two contemporary writers—the Zimbabwean Tendai Huchu and the South African Imraan Coovadia—by way of ‘philosophical suicide’. This means a focus on the ‘relation between self-reflection and self-killing’ (147)—‘texts that “fail” to make the thinking subject speak for a shared condition but succeed in representing the recent challenges of sustaining a meaningful relation of part to whole’ (146-7). This chapter provides a number of challenging insights, particularly with respect to what might be missed by the current ‘transnational conjuncture of global-cosmopolitan novels and global-cosmopolitan criticism’ (153).

            The study’s ‘Epilogue’ is intended to highlight ‘some of the disciplinary challenges lurking behind the book as a whole, before offering some more speculative remarks on the future of both the field and the African novel of ideas’ (28). Throughout the book, Jackson raises essential questions for a field yet to appreciate fully the extent to which African literature contributes to and problematises disciplinary debates. Chapter Three, for instance, begins with a general discussion of African Literature’s ‘mapping’ of ‘debates over whether to expand or pluralize Enlightenment concepts’ (107). But the epilogue’s main thrust is over the question of ‘how to navigate literary nonrepresentality’, or ‘how to advance a literary field when an implicit or explicit claim to “speak for” a large population grows untenable’ (181). As such, Jackson’s interest in individualism and singularity comes full circle: the epilogue’s challenge to a literary criticism content to retain African Literature merely as a representative of marginality—African authors merely as representatives of a culture, continent, and ethnicity figured as homogenous and static—underlines the book’s disciplinary importance, its ability to recalibrate ways of reading, and mapping, literature in the twenty-first century.

            Overall, The African Novel of Ideas provides excellent navigation across an impressive and conceptually challenging range of material. Acknowledged absences, like Bessie Head, together with unacknowledged ones, such as Kojo Laing—whose career-long engagement with questions of universalism, though not quite in keeping with the specific emphases of Jackson’s book, might provide another direction for the kind of inquiry exemplified by The African Novel of Ideas—serve to encourage other critics and theorists to continue to build on the foundation of Jackson’s study. Future scholarship will, undoubtedly, take inspiration from this book, particularly with respect to its pursuit of a means of thinking about the ways in which ‘individuality, universality, rationality, sovereignty, civility and even philosophy itself are informed by the contexts of their emergence and elaboration outside the West’ (12).

June 2021

Genetic Translation Studies. Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces, ed. by Ariadne Nunes, Joana Moura, Marta Pacheco Pinto. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2021. £95.00 ISBN: 9781350146815.

Reviewed by Anna Saroldi, University of Oxford


Genetic Translation Studies: Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces

Genetic Translation Studies: Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces, edited by Ariadne Nunes et al. (Bloomsbury, 2021)

One of the key concepts of this new volume, based on the understanding of translation as process, is that ‘the original does not exist’. The reaction to such a statement is indicative of the reader’s background, and divides the two audiences that the volume would like to reach, and put in contact. For anyone coming from studies of textual criticism, and who has struggled with stemmatics as an undergraduate, this would sound very familiar. But for someone coming from author studies, heavily based on the great names of the canon or on the close-reading of their masterpieces, the notion might still be seen as provocative.

            With this book, the editors Ariadne Nunes, Joana Moura, and Marta Pacheco Pinto want to bring the notions and scholarly practices of textual criticism to a field – that of Translation Studies (TS) – that, being born from different premises, is yet to reconcile itself with its ancestors. Medieval Philology could in many ways be seen as the obvious predecessor of TS: at the end of the day, there is very little in medieval scribal practices that is not related to translation, and whoever has worked in translators’ archives knows very well the problem of establishing the source text, often through revelatory errors – nothing more Lachmannian than that! There is, however, a dual problem: most of philology does not theorise its issues in terms of translation theory, and translation studies do not have recourse to the methods of textual criticism. Two fields that, for the few practitioners of both, are evidently intertwined, are instead seen by far too many scholars as distant and, erroneously, unrelated.

            This volume has the admirable goal of bridging the gap. As it declares, it aims to bring to light what has so far been a ‘shadowy presence’ (1) of translation studies. The questions of textual criticism were there – as the introduction shows by re-analysing Toury’s research – but they went unnamed. The editors chose to adopt the label of ‘genetic’ translation studies (GTS), thus choosing to align themselves with a specific branch of textual criticism, most notably the French critique génétique, a strand of contemporary philology that has the goal of publishing all successive versions of a given text in chronological order (mostly notably compared to the Italian method of authorial philology). The book, however, adopts this notion in a very extended sense, branching out to include contributions based on different sorts of extratextual material (including private correspondence, interviews, articles, prefaces, etc.) and forms of archival research that do not necessarily have what would be traditionally interpreted as a genetic goalThis explains the huge variety and number of contributions (fifteen), all of various lengths and scope. This richness is well represented from the first section, ‘Genetic approaches to translation and collaboration’, opened by João Dionísio’s chapter. Presenting his perspective as a textual scholar, Dionísio argues for ‘the possibility of describing the writing process of medieval and modern texts alike through the same critical vocabulary’ (31), which constitutes the key point of the book. This is put into practice in Laura Ivanska’s contribution on compilative translation and de facto source texts, where key philological terms such as ‘best-text method’ and ‘collation’ are used. Ivaska shows how the translator can proceed as a copier and critical editor, employing different versions of the text (the so-called original being one among others, if not secondary as in this case) to produce their own. In the same section, Esa Christine Hartmann shows how GTS can constitute the backbone of studies on Collaborative Translation, providing the evidence to show what happened ‘behind the page’, Ewa Kołodziejczyk analyses Miłosz’s genetic dossier of ‘Negro spirituals’ translation, and at the end Elsa Pereira presents a digital-editorial approach, investigating whether the translations of an author should be included in their in digital edition (including a short practical demonstration).

            An interesting aspect that emerges from the second part of the book, titled ‘Translators’ stories and testimonies’, is how the renewed interest towards archival studies of translation is not only fundamental for GTS, but also goes hand in hand with other strands of TS focused on the personal and bodily experience of the translator: this direction, advocated by Pym in 1998, is now emerging more and more, through micro-histories of translators and ‘Translator Studies’ (on which the Vienna research group has just published a collected volume, entitled Literary Translator Studies). This part of the book, however, appears to be the least closely related to genetic studies proper, as the text – in any form or version – is not part of the enquiry. Archival material might be used (such as private correspondence, in Moura’s chapter on Handke’s translation theory), but the overall focus is on how extratextual material can contribute to embodiment theories of translation (Barbara Ivančić and Alexandra L. Zepter). Dominique Faria looks at the translators’ testimonies published in the journal Colóquio Letras, tracing the evolving opinions of the practitioners (somewhat similarly to The Paris Review’s Art of Translation series) and highlighting how this publication helped changing the status of translation in Portugal. At the end of the section, Marisa Mourinha focuses on Gregory Rabassa, translator into English of, among others, García Márquez, discussing his views of translation as collaboration and how he dealt with an author, Lobo Antunes, who was not interested in that kind of relationship. These entries read as exemplary in their kind, but the overall impression from the second part is that the link to genetic studies is forced, and that GTS would benefit more from preserving the specificity of its contribution and purpose, rather than pursuing such a broad scope.

            In the third section, ‘Translators at work’, the contributions vary considerably in their level of focus: some are extremely detailed and deal with a very specific application of GTS to precise case-studies, while others rather have an exploratory ambitionIn the first chapter of this part, Patrick Hersant lists a number of rare and precious archives that have rich collections of translation materials, focusing on the Coindreau papers at the IMEC. Through the analysis of this material, Hersant argues for the inclusion of drafts in the sequence of translation analysis: rather than comparing only source and target text, the draft should, if possible, be included. He proceeds to demonstrate ‘how much richer and more informative the source-draft-target sequence is for the scholar of translation studies’, as it illuminates the ‘process which precipitated th[e] choice’ in the translation (168). Having the archive at his disposal, Hersant is also able to assess Coindreau’s translatory method, breaking down the features of his working practice. In the following chapters, Carlota Pimenta also focuses on a particular translator’s method, studying Castelo Branco’s chronology and amplitude of corrections to understand if he adopts different writing procedures as author or translator, and Pacheco Pinto and Nunes discuss Vasconcelos Abreu’s unfinished translation of O Panchatantra, and establish the different roles of the manuscript volumes composing it. In the same section, Karen Bennett, similarly to what Pereira was doing at the end of the first section, charts new approaches and describes how GTS could be successfully applied to research on authorship in academic self-translation.

            The book ends with a Coda, a useful summary to recapitulate what covered in the preceding chapters. The final sentence is a promising ‘TO BE CONTINUED’, and encourages us to think in which ways future publications on GTS could continue, exploring the missed opportunities of this book. GTS should expand geographically and most importantly chronologically. It would be stimulating to see research on translation studies from different methods and traditions of textual criticism cohabit and converse in the same volume (while this volume is predominantly the product of the Lisbon research group). And GTS would be able to reach its goal if translation studies could engage in a deeper relationship with the centuries-old tradition of textual criticism, as much could be gained from this encounter. Parallel research on translators, copiers, and editors, sharing methods, and vocabulary would constitute a milestone not only in both fields but in literary studies at large.

May 2021

Modernism in Trieste: The Habsburg Mediterranean and the Literary Invention of Europe, 1870-1945, Salvatore Pappalardo. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021. £81.00. ISBN 9781501369964.

Reviewed by Denis Topalović, University of Oxford


Modernism in Trieste: The Habsburg Mediterranean and the Literary Invention of Europe, 1870-1945

Modernism in Trieste: The Habsburg Mediterranean and the Literary Invention of Europe, 1870-1945 by Salvatore Pappalardo (Bloomsbury, 2021)

It would be hard to overstate the timeliness of a work that explores the literary invention of Europe at a time when the very question of ‘what it means to be, or who gets to be, European’ (2) has come under such renewed pressure. That is what Salvatore Pappalardo’s Modernism in Trieste does: casting its net over a period that stretches from the fin de siècle to the Second World War, Modernism in Trieste interrogates how literary modernism ‘invented’ a united, nonnational Europe avant la lettre. The laboratory for this experiment in ‘transnational literary modernism’ (3) is, as the title signals, none other than the Italian (formerly Habsburg) port city of Trieste, the polyglot outpost tucked away at the top of the Adriatic Sea, in between Italian, German, and Slavic worlds. Modernism in Trieste is therefore the first book-length study to examine the relationship between literary modernism and Trieste.

            Unlike the other, decidedly more renown capitals of modernism—London or Paris, for instance—Trieste makes for a somewhat marginal presence across modernist scholarship. Even for Proust, one of the modernists par excellence, Trieste was nothing like nearby Venice: ‘an unknown world’, so his hero Marcel describes it, that exuded a ‘hostile, inexplicable atmosphere’. And yet, Pappalardo argues, that was the place where some of the figures most commonly associated with modernism (Freud, Svevo, and Joyce, to cite but a few) lived and, at times, met. It was also the place, he adds, where many of these writers conceived their literary idea of Europe as a challenge to the bellicose nationalisms of the early twentieth century, seeing in this cosmopolitan city ‘an urban experiment for a future United States of Europe’ (3).

            While it is not true, as Pappalardo claims, that scholars of modernism have overlooked ‘the national indifference of authors’ (26) (after all, E. M. Forster’s oft-quoted readiness to betray his country rather than his friends is by now a common topos), the alternative network of political affiliations that he uncovers is certainly an inventive and neglected one. There is for instance what he calls the Habsburg Landespatriotismus of Trieste, a regional patriotism decoupled from national belonging in favour of loyalties at once local and multicultural. Pappalardo finds the most glaring catalyst for nonnational sentiments, however, in the period’s reappropriation of the Phoenicians as Europe’s forgotten forbears. Against the nationalist glorifications of a Greco-Roman lineage, modernists affiliated with Trieste appointed the famed and ancient seafarers of the Mediterranean—nomadic, diasporic, cosmopolitan—‘as an alternative cultural foundation for a new Europe’ (35).

            Modernism in Trieste stages its argument across four main chapters. The extensive introduction, which couples Pappalardo’s formidable range of reference with clarity (and elegance) of exposition, surveys the multiple and conflicting loyalties, allegiances, and commitments that animated Trieste during and around the Great War, from the Italian Irredentism of Scipio Slataper to Aurel Popovici’s reformist project of a United States of Greater Austria.

            Chapter One addresses one of these political strategies in particular: the reclaiming of Trieste’s Phoenician origin as a nonnational alternative to Austrian loyalism as well as Italian Irredentism. After dwelling on the nineteenth-century debate of Triestine antiquarians concerned with local Phoenician settlements, Pappalardo examines how this Phoenician myth plays out in the work of such diverse figures as Sigmund Freud, Srečko Kosovel, and Theodor Däubler.

            Chapter Two centres on the first of his chosen modernists, Robert Musil, whose novel The Man without Qualities (1930-1943) turns Trieste’s political upheavals of 1913 into a portentous sign foretelling the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pappalardo’s critical acumen, however, is less at home in the novel’s pages than in the events surrounding it, as evidenced from his dazzlingly detailed account of one of the novel’s unspoken yet pivotal backdrops: the 1913 Adria-Ausstellung, the exhibition with which Vienna staked its claim on the Mediterranean.

            Chapter Three reclaims Italo Svevo—long celebrated in the canons of Italian literary studies—as an Austrian Jew engaged in quietly yet cunningly dismantling Italian hegemony via his ‘politics of style’ (151). In his novel Zeno’s Conscience (1923), rhetorical camouflages like Zeno’s corrupt Italian or his preference for Austrian cigarettes serve to smuggle Svevo’s Habsburg Europeanism into his flaunted yet ambivalent loyalties to Italy. Again, Pappalardo’s focus on the cigarette as a token of ideological identification confirms his eye for the mundane and its political subtexts.

            Chapter Four moves to the last of Pappalardo’s modernists, James Joyce, whose decade-long sojourn in Trieste’s polyglot environs made its way, so he argues, into the ethnolinguistic hybridity of Finnegans Wake (1939). Focusing on the novel’s rewriting of Europa’s rape, Pappalardo shows how Joyce’s Gaelic Phoenicianism—the theory, that is, of Ireland’s Phoenician origin—becomes the organising principle of the novel’s anti-colonial politics. Joyce’s Ireland, in short, is less British than European, less Atlantic than Mediterranean.

            The idea of Europe that comes out of Modernism in Trieste, then, is at once Habsburg and Phoenician, Mitteleuropean and Mediterranean—its literary champions, conversely, a hybrid species under the catchy name of ‘Homo Europaeus habsburgensis’ (190). Pappalardo does acknowledge the persistence of cultural divides—and the consequent lack of dialogue—even among the city’s modernist intelligentsia, whose projects for a future Europe were often crafted ‘in tightly sealed parallel compartments’ (87). What to make, for instance, of Svevo’s silence about Trieste’s ‘Slavic component’ (144)? Modernism in Trieste, however, is more attracted to the frisson of recognition than to the friction of conflict, and its modernists are made to agree more often than disagree: to be a Habsburg European, they tell us, is (or rather was) something creditable.

            If this sounds at all like naive Habsburg sentimentalism, Pappalardo never tires of cautioning us against it: his approach banishes any facile nostalgia by interrogating ‘the very ambiguities of a rhetoric of European cosmopolitanism’ (5). Stating caution, of course, is not the same as being cautious, and so at times the book’s argumentative force unwittingly comes under the spell of its own object of study. This might explain the impression one gets of a critic unduly charitable toward his chosen authors: their texts prove, time and again, to be the invariable product of some ‘carefully constructed and shrewdly deployed strategies’ (198). No blindness is allowed, no margin of error permitted.

            Modernism in Trieste opens with an epigraph from Claudio Magris’s Danube, according to which ‘the European spirit feeds on books’ (1). It ends, unsurprisingly, with a consideration of Magris himself, the Triestine intellectual who did most to retrieve the nonnational legacy of the Habsburg experiment during the last throes of the Cold War. And just like that of his predecessors, Magris’s Europa is a paper one only, enshrined nonetheless as a possible cure to Europe’s ongoing ills. Here Pappalardo stops, though one might as well want him to probe further: what of this literary Europe at the end? Didn’t one such experiment in nonnational, multiethnic coexistence just on Trieste’s doorstep—Yugoslavia, which Magris himself saw as the later inheritor of the Habsburg mosaic—turn into genocidal violence shortly after Magris’s pronouncement? That said, these are questions beyond the ostensible scope of Pappalardo’s book, which is more preoccupied with the hopes and regrets of an older literary guard.

            In this sense, Modernism in Trieste delivers on what it promises, which is to say that it uncovers the many ways in which modernism plotted and replotted Europe’s future at a time when such future might have otherwise seemed foreclosed. As such, Modernism in Trieste is a long overdue intervention in the field, restoring this peripheral city to its place of merit among other capitals of modernism in modernist studies. As its literary denizens show, Habsburg Trieste was Europe en miniature; small wonder, then, that it should have fuelled so much European soul-searching among a generation of intellectuals grappling with war and fascism. Pappalardo traces these forgotten histories in the pages of modernism’s classics, but also in their authors’ lesser-known essays, lectures, and journalism (Pappalardo’s attention to these frequently overlooked documents is in fact one of the book’s strengths). The book can therefore be of value to scholars in Modernist, Mediterranean, and Habsburg studies alike—so many, and so varied, are indeed the disciplinary threads that Pappalardo deftly interweaves.

April 2021

The First English Translations of Molière: Drama in Flux 1663–1732, Suzanne Jones. Cambridge: Legenda, 2020. £75. ISBN 9781781888391.

Reviewed by Sarah Fengler, University of Oxford


The First English Translations of Molière: Drama in Flux 1663-1732

The First English Translations of Molière: Drama in Flux 1663-1732 by Suzanne Jones (Legenda, 2020)

Molière is considered one of the most canonical playwrights of seventeenth-century France. Numerous translations attest to the widespread recognition of his oeuvre. But his plays had already crossed national borders during his lifetime. The first English translations of comedies such as Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaireLe Tartuffe, or Dom Juan, published from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards, are of great value to research into the early reception of Molière beyond France. In addition, they give insights into early modern theories of translation and cultural transfers between France and England. A study of these translations should therefore compare specific lexical choices in both the original plays and their different translations, and place these choices in the underlying cultural contexts of France and England.

            In this book, Suzanne Jones explores the first English translations of Molière’s plays from 1663 to 1732, a time span that extends from the last years of Molière’s life up to more than half a century later. Divided into two parts, the first part of the book provides the theoretical background to the study and contains three chapters on early modern and contemporary theories of drama and translation. The second part is dedicated to specific terms and concepts in Molière’s plays, such as cocouagezèle, or bourgeois, and the different ways they were translated into English. Jones concludes that late seventeenth-century translators adapted Molière’s plays primarily for satirical purposes and accommodated them for the English society, whereas early eighteenth-century translators started to develop an interest in the originality of Molière’s authorship and more often chose to keep certain lexical idiosyncrasies.

            In Chapter One, ‘Dramatic Theory and Plotting’, Jones discusses the conceptions of dramatic plot in seventeenth-century treatises by Pierre Corneille, John Dryden, and others. A common thread in these treatises, which often engaged with Aristotle’s Poetics, was the intention to maintain the unity of action. The early translations of Molière, however, approached the problem of the unity of action in varying ways. William D’Avenant’s The Playhouse to be Let (1663), for instance, the very first English play that contained parts of a play by Molière, framed the one-act comedy Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire with other plots. Jones describes this method as plot hybridization. Another recurring feature in the early English translations was the adjustment of existing characters and the addition of new ones, as in Matthew Medbourne’s translation of Molière’s Tartuffe as Tartuffe; or, the French Puritan (1670). A main impetus behind such plot changes was to adapt Molière’s plays to the taste and everyday reality of the English society.

            In the second chapter, ‘Translation Theory and Paratext’, Jones turns from theories of plot to theories of translation. As in the first chapter, she examines French and English treatises on translation from the seventeenth century, as well as paratexts to some early translations of Molière, and identifies the concepts of fidelity and infidelity as a key issue of early modern translation theory. Drawing also on modern definitions, for example by the translation historian Lawrence Venuti, she distinguishes between practices of domestication and foreignization: the former intends to accommodate a literary text to the horizon of the new audience, whereas the latter keeps the foreign features to the benefit of originality. In the late seventeenth century, Molière’s plays were often translated loosely, in compliance with the modern notion of domestication. Early eighteenth-century translators rather committed to verbatim translations, in accordance with the concept of literary fidelity or foreignization.

            Chapter Three, ‘Rhythm, Rhyme, and Song’, focuses on different approaches to translating metre and prosody. Jones demonstrates that the first English translations often replaced Molière’s alexandrines and rhymes with blank verse or prose. One reason for that, as Jones suggests, could be the fact that blank verse and prose were generally more characteristic of English comedies at the time. Some translators, however, were creative in their attempts to preserve the prosody of Molière’s plays: D’Avenant’s translation of Molière’s Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire was intended for French actors, who should speak English with a French accent. Some translators chose to add English or French songs, such as John Dryden: his translation of Molière’s L’Étourdi as Sir Martin Mar-all; or, The Feign’d Innocence (1667) contains a French song written by Vincent Voiture, which was not part of the original.

            In the fourth chapter, ‘Cuckoldry and Gallantry’, Jones moves to the second part of the book and to specific translation problems. First, she examines the depiction of marriage in Moliére’s plays, with an emphasis on the terms cocouage and galanterie. In seventeenth-century France, cocu or cocue referred to someone who has been cheated on by their partner. By the example of Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire, Jones shows that most of the early translations attempted to preserve the term: Molière’s Sganarelle, who regards himself as a cocu, describes himself as ‘Monsieur Corneillius’, a Latin wordplay that refers to the word ‘horn’ and evokes the image of cuckoldry. English translations of Sganarelle’s self-description include, for instance, ‘mi lore Cuckol’ and ‘Mr. Cuckold’. Most translators thus relied on imagery from the Romance languages. The situation is different with galanterie, a term and concept featuring in Molière’s last four plays: while the French adjective galant was usually translated with ‘honourable’, the translations of the identical noun varied and were more context-dependent, ranging from ‘gallant’ to ‘spark’.

            In Chapter Five, ‘Zealotry and Hypocrisy’, Jones looks at religion and the terms zèle and hypocrite. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Catholicism was the prevalent religion in France. In England, however, the Protestant Church had to find its new place after the English Civil War and the Restoration. Against this background, Jones first compares different translations of terms related to the concept of religious zeal. In Tartuffe, Molière introduces the titular character as a Catholic, whereas Medbourne’s translation portrays Tartuffe as a Puritan, presumably for satirical purposes. In early eighteenth-century translations, Tartuffe’s denomination is rarely defined. By the example of Dom Juan, Jones also examines translations of hypocrite and concludes that these, in contrast to those of zèle, always remained close to the original.

            The sixth chapter, ‘Malady and Quackery’, deals with the English translations of Molière’s medical satires. In this chapter, Jones focuses on the terms médecin and malade, especially in the translations of L’Amour médecin, Le Médecin malgré lui, and Le Malade imaginaire. The word médecin was often translated as ‘quack’ or ‘physician’: at the time, the former term also referred to gambling, while the latter carried strong sexual connotations. Jones therefore argues that many translators sought to develop Molière’s medical satires further, for example by evoking the notion of a doctor who gambles with the life of others, or by implying that the malade, the patient, would need a sexual treatment to recover.

            In Chapter Seven, ‘Bourgeoisie and Urbanity’, Jones examines the depiction of social status and the terms bourgeois and urbanité in Molière’s plays, for instance in Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. As the term bourgeois was not incorporated into the English language until the end of the eighteenth century, it was usually translated as ‘citizen’. In addition, late seventeenth-century translations often moved the plot to England, with the aim of conveying to the English audience the social differences between urban and rural areas. But early translations of the eighteenth century tended to preserve the French setting of Molière’s plays, which is another proof of the growing interest in Molière’s originality at the turn of the century.

            Jones’s study of the early English translations of Molière’s plays impresses with both comprehensive and in-depth analyses of lexical fields in French and English. Moreover, the book takes into account the historical background of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and always situates certain translation choices within the cultural contexts of France and England. Based on modern and early modern translation theories, Jones constantly reflects on the relationship between Molière’s plays and their English counterparts, illustrating how conceptual distinctions between original and translation have evolved over time. The book thus makes a substantial contribution to the early modern reception of Molière in England as well as to translation theory in general. But Jones’s findings also raise the question of whether the first translations of Molière are representative of how foreign-language translators, in practice, approached French plays around 1700. Further research should therefore also examine translations of the work of other French playwrights, and expand the focus on translations in other languages than English as well.

January 2021

Multilingualism and the Twentieth-Century Novel: Polyglot Passages, James Reay Williams. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. £59.99. ISBN 9783030058104.

Reviewed by Katherine Helmick, University of Oxford


Multilingualism and the Twentieth-Century Novel: Polyglot Passages

Multilingualism and the Twentieth-Century Novel: Polyglot Passages by James Reay Williams (Palgrave, 2019)

Multilingualism has gained increasing recognition as a critical area of study, particularly in the field of comparative literature. The topic is as difficult to define as it is omnipresent: indisputably the underlying reality of not only the global literary market, but also the everyday lives of people whose experiences often went overlooked in previous eras devoted to nationalization and linguistic standardization. Multilingualism nonetheless often defies recognition through its complexities and ambiguities. Before exploring multilingualism, a critic must consider questions such as, what qualifies as language, and how to isolate its role in a literary work from the very material of which that work consists. The controversies entangled with the most basic questions regarding multilingualism render its study elusive and even problematic.

            In this book, James Reay Williams aims to explore multilingualism in the twentieth-century novel, as well as to situate multilingualism within the field of literary criticism more generally. He draws together strands of postcolonialism and modernism studies to investigate the novel itself as a form inherently pluralistic and therefore resistant to monolingualism. Williams defines his purpose as destabilizing Anglophone literature through the novel—a form associated with Empire and monolingual nations but inherently equipped with a plurality of voices. He undertakes this project by bringing authors embraced by the Anglophone canon—Joseph Conrad and Jean Rhys—into conversation with the Caribbean authors Wilson Harris and Junot Díaz. The result cuts an unusual course through the popular understanding of these literary categories to reveal surprising links between the authors and their works.

            Williams’s book divides into four main chapters, along with an extensive introduction and brief conclusion. In the introduction, Wilson identifies multilingualism as a key site for modernist authors within and outside of Europe over a long twentieth century to engage with the legacy of imperialism. To avoid a Eurocentric understanding of modernism, he follows Eric Hayot in defining it as the ‘“world-denying” mode [...] in which communication becomes a cacophony’ (19). This understanding not only equips Williams to involve authors from the periphery, but also foregrounds multilingualism as a critical feature of the texts under discussion. A functional rather than identity-oriented definition of modernism lays the groundwork for Williams’s argument that modernism represents both a crisis for the novel and also an opportunity to extend its capacities.

            The chapter on Conrad, ‘Post/Colonial Linguistics: Language Effects and Empire’, focuses on Heart of Darkness and Nostromo. Here Williams investigates how Conrad’s works interrogate European colonialism through the breakdown of language. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad builds an introspective mono-narrative paradoxically through the breakdown of and encounter with many voices. In Nostromo, Conrad departs from a facade of monolingualism, but the environment of linguistic pluralism effectively renders the characters ridiculous. While approaching the problem of language from opposite directions, these two works act in concert to undermine assertions of European hegemony. Williams emphasises that neither work resolves these issues, but rather forces a recognition of their ongoing complications.

            In Chapter 3, ‘Lost for Words in London and Paris: Language Performance in Jean Rhys’s Cities’, Williams observes a shift from the psychological to the social impact of language. Noting the author’s complicated attitude towards her own multilingualism, he observes that language acts as a weapon for and against her characters’ efforts to belong in the urban centers of London and Paris. He emphasises instances of wordless language, such as laughter and ‘aphasia,’ or tongue-tied silence, while underscoring the complexity of assigning native or fluent speaker status to language users. For Williams, the characters’ struggle with language reveals the instability of constructing national identities. Just as Rhys’s works are often relegated to the periphery of the modernist canon, so her marginalised characters represent a challenge to the urban centre.

            Williams turns to a Caribbean author in Chapter 4, ‘Self, Dialect and Dialogue: The Multilingual Modernism of Wilson Harris’. Famously difficult to interpret, Harris’s works engage with the colonial past by invoking mythological figures from El Dorado in The Dark Jester to Poseidon in The Secret Ladder. Williams draws out a parallel between the river-bound journey in Palace of the Peacock and Heart of Darkness, emphasising the characters’ dive into their own subconscious. In Harris’s work, the relationship between language and identity is even more conflicted: the colonial imposition of shared language on indigenous and enslaved people renders language itself an erasure of identity. Unusually among his counterparts, Harris addresses this issue by advocating for an inward turn to discover a collective identity. The postcolonial identity depends on its essentially linguistic nature: an internal dialogue that reveals universal truths.

            Chapter 5, ‘The Dangerous Multilingualism of Junot Díaz’, engages with the contemporary critique of a Dominican author living and writing in the United States. Similar to Conrad and Harris, Díaz confronts the problems of postcolonialism through an obscure and often opaque text. His unconventional use of footnotes in his 2007 novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, brings attention to his engagement with readers. Williams concludes from the variety of references and often untranslated languages that no single reader could be expected to possess the breadth of knowledge necessary to grasp fully Díaz’s text. The combative tone of footnotes directly addressed to readers, combined with the violent content of the plot, leads Williams to suggest that Díaz deliberately reflects the violence of colonisation onto his readers by making this multilingual text aggressive, intimate, and ultimately impossible to interpret.

            The strength of this book lies in its awareness of the overall critical landscape. As demonstrated by his argument that modernism is both a crisis and an opportunity for the novel, Williams persuasively bridges the gap between contrary accounts of the novel to enrich our understanding of the genre. By making language ‘praxis,’ or practical use, central to his analysis, Williams offers the possibility of engaging with contemporary issues such as migration and multilingual nation-building. The book effectively introduces some uncommon works to other more famous novels, examining both from an original perspective.

            The major drawback is that the book’s conclusion falls short of drawing all the threads together and closing the loop between the four authors. While Williams occasionally references works from other chapters, the overall effect is more of reading four separate essays than one unified study. In juggling the wide range of authors and topics, his analysis of multilingualism itself becomes somewhat overshadowed by the emphasis on modernism and postcolonialism.

            As Williams emphasises in his conclusion, this book does not seek to prescribe a particular solution to the problems it explores. It is not an assertion of what the novel should be but rather evidence that the Anglophone novel does not exist. Because the novel as a form constantly questions language, it cannot belong to any one particular language. Williams offers a substantial contribution to the study of the twentieth-century novel by spotlighting multilingualism as a critical area of engagement between authors and their contexts, as well as between authors from different eras. He navigates longstanding debates over more inclusive definitions of modernism, proposing an innovative approach without attempting to discredit other views. As this discussion often looms larger than the question of multilingualism itself, however, his work will be of more  interest to scholars seeking a fresh perspective on familiar fields than to those hoping to break into a new one.

December 2020

Philosophy's Treason: Studies in Philosophy and Translation, edited by D. M. Spitzer. Wilmington, DE: Vernon Press, 2020. £45.00. ISBN: 9781622735068.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


Philosophy's Treason: Studies in Philosophy and Translation

Philosophy's Treason: Studies in Philosophy and Translation, edited by D. M. Spitzer (Vernon Press, 2020)

Translation and Philosophy are vast and capacious disciplines, and it is to D. M. Spitzer’s credit that the volume Philosophy’s Treason (2020) collects contributions from a suitably international range of thinkers, translators, and critics—from Moscow to Rio, Hong Kong to Vienna. Maybe it is too early to say with certainty, but if practitioners of both disciplines are not careful they may come to regret not capitalising on the recent interjections of Barbara Cassin and Emily Apter’s work on untranslatability. The recognition of their mutual importance will need to be sustained in pedagogy and syllabi—as much as in recent research—if it is to continue and develop further.

            By emphasising the ‘treasonous’ nature of a translated work of philosophy, Spitzer’s title may lead some to believe that it follows the ‘instrumentalist’ view of translation Lawrence Venuti has warned scholars against. At its worst, it is one that considers a translation an inherently inferior version of the unquestionable (and thus untranslatable) original, and thereby overlooks the achievements and complexities that translated texts can also extend. Thankfully, this is far from the case, as Spitzer’s introduction elaborates:

To name such actions ‘treasonous’ is metaphorical, yet it also points to a history of the philosopher’s oppositional status, their marginalisation with respect to the state: no wonder Socrates was sentenced to death; that Plato’s Academy was built outside the city walls […] and that, in the last century great figures of the European philosophical scene—Adorno, Arendt—fled a Europe in the grip of totalitarianism. In this political dimension, a pattern of oppositionality within Western philosophies, tolls a third valence of philosophy’s treason: a suspicion that thinking violates, transgresses, betrays, might erode trust in philosophy and philosophers. (xii) 

            The American poet and scholar H. L. Hix opens the collection with an overview of the philosophy that has come explicitly to denounce translation, along with the flaws therein: translational equivalence, he explains, ‘would work, and translation and philosophy sister seamlessly, if words stood to the world as Hobbes insists they do. But they do not’ (6). Hix goes on to stabilise various categories or paths for how Translation and Philosophy’s engagement could continue.

            Brazilian scholar Paulo Oliveira goes on to direct these debates to an analysis of Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblances—though more attention to the philosopher’s views on translation itself would have strengthened this argument. Spitzer’s own contribution comes next, marking a significant shift in length and ambition with an extensive, masterful analysis of translative gestures in the work of Immanuel Kant. ‘If,’ Spitzer argues, ‘thinking occurs inseparably from language(s), as language(s), the formulation of philosophic vocabulary constitutes the work of philosophy, the task and operation of thinking itself’ (48). The chapter reflects the merit derived from this engagement of disciplines: work equally targeted at Kantian scholars as to those preoccupied by the phenomena of translation in his work.

            Emerging scholar Sabina Folnović-Jaitner’s contribution comes next, tackling the issue of untranslatability in its recent reincarnations of discourse, before looking more closely into its instances in the work of Martin Heidegger. She reminds us that, while translators complain that untranslatability is untenable, the idea of ‘equivalence’ in translation is a concept disowned by its own scholars, yet remains a topic researched in ‘analytic philosophy, hermeneutics, and deconstruction’ (73). She ends with a brilliant remark on translation and philosophy’s synonymity:

philosophy in itself is a sort of translation […] by studying the history of philosophy, we also study the history of translation. In line with Walter Benjamin’s thought that one should be able to hear the echo of the original resounding in the translation, one may also say that in each philosophical text, the echo of the translation already resonates. (86) 

            Next is, perhaps, the collection’s most impressive contribution, from Natalia S. Avtonomova. That Avtonomova was the first to translate the likes of Derrida, Foucault, and Freud into Russian should lend her more global attention in this field. Beginning by considering the topic in the abstract, the chapter shifts to the post-Soviet thaw in access to academic texts, her own contributions to this process, and the work still to be done in this direction. She recounts the terminological untranslatability of presenting post-structuralist thinkers to post-Soviet audiences, who had largely been isolated from the discourses where these works took shape. Turning to Apter and Cassin’s work, her assessment is refreshingly nuanced:

The Vocabulaire is an open text which is designed to be constantly updated. Yet for us, it is not only a cultural fact but also a cultural challenge. This is certainly a valuable aid, but besides that, it is a perspective, a stimulation of our participation in the overall work, of the realisation of its resources and discursive possibilities of every intellectual culture. (101) 

            Mauricio Mendonça Cardozo’s next chapter is equally far-reaching, as it critiques the institutional and pedagogical issues of Translation and Philosophy, before considering their interaction in anthropological, psychoanalytic, and scholarly contexts. Along the way, Cardozo makes a salient point about Translation Studies (TS), which tends to be increasingly split between the literary and the technological: ‘does the contemporary state of TS (in all research branches) really allow us to speak consensually of one real subject, of one subject that can be taken unequivocally as the real one’ (120)?  Cardozo goes on to elaborate on the relationality of translation in ways that are as philosophical as they are eloquent: ‘every single translational act, no matter how simple, immediate and transparent it may seem, always implies the whole complexity of human conditions’ (126). By way of an anthropological metaphor, Cardozo continues that ‘the way we relate to each other is not just an external, instrumental way to get access to the world, but actually a constitutive and transformative movement of ontological force’ (126):

Translation is not only the practice par excellence that performs relations to/with the other; this is manifest even in the most blatant expression of its instrumental reduction. If one takes its opacity into account, translation becomes evident also as a practice that dramatizes the conditions of possibility and impossibility of relationality. (126) 

            Spitzer’s chosen ending to the collection is an eccentric but interesting one: Douglas Robinson provides a postscript in which he analyses the texts of the volume altogether, commenting on their lacunae, connections, and blind spots. Robinson ends by claiming that no understanding of the topics of this collection is complete without reference to periperformativity. ‘One of the verbs Spitzer uses frequently in his introduction is “perform”—twelve times, in fact, always with salutary effect […] but he does not reach into his theoretical toolkit to pull out for transformative use J. L. Austin’s notion of the performative utterance, and none of the other writers of Philosophy’s Treason does either’ (133). As a strangely abortive conclusion, Robinson suggests ‘the claim of “translatability” or “untranslatability” is likewise a periperformativity,’ (150) before a brief diversion back to Heidegger.

            Curious as its end may be, it does little disservice to what is a slender but bold collection, one that not only envelops the thinking of globally disparate scholars, but also points to new directions for work on these topics. Philosophising translation—and, conversely, rendering philosophy’s dependence on translation more intelligible—can offer us work that is eloquent, thought-provoking, and genuinely original. While, for much of its history, philosophy ‘did not understand itself as the action of translation’ or the ‘object in translation’ (102), Avtonomova insists it is a field that ‘constructs its own language’: ‘it is similar in some ways to a foreign language because one needs to learn it and it does not grow spontaneously on its own’ (96). Both Avtonomova’s and Cardozo’s chapters, especially, offer glimpses of the promise that such dialogue can lead to. If, as Cardozo points out, Translation Studies is split between its literary and technological inquiries, it is high time the former rank demonstrates how elegant and accomplished its inquiries can be.

            Translation Studies is a relatively new field, still in the process of recognising its possibilities. Philosophy, by contrast, is a discipline under longstanding critique for its Anglo-American exclusivity. Calls to ‘decolonise’ its syllabi are frequent, while Cassin and Apter’s Dictionary of Untranslatables (2004) presents perhaps the most articulate and formidable demand for such change. Spitzer’s collection only reaffirms that, if Philosophy as a discipline is genuinely interested in broadening and sustaining its horizons as a part of the Academy in a globalised world, it will struggle to do so for much longer without engaging with translation. Whether reference is made to Apter and Cassin, if (or when) this happens, is of a secondary importance; this change would not have happened without their enduring input. Spitzer’s collection, while accomplished, is not a book that leaves one with a sense of totality, but one that the reader puts down with a sense that the possibilities it gestures to are only now beginning to come to light.

November 2020

Sociologies of Poetry Translation: Emerging Perspectives, edited by Jacob Blakesley. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2019. £28.99. ISBN: 9781350163829.

Reviewed by Anna Saroldi, University of Oxford


Sociologies of Poetry Translation: Emerging Perspectives

Sociologies of Poetry Translation: Emerging Perspectives, edited by Jacob Blakesley (Bloomsbury, 2019)

In recent years, Jacob Blakesley’s scholarship has had the clear goal of working towards the legitimation, methodological assessment, and expansion of the sociology of literature. In particular, as he started his academic career with a monograph on Italian poet-translators, he is interested in applying sociological methods to research on poetry translation, and furthering its study as a social act.

            As editor of this collected volume, Blakesley stresses how the sociology of translation is a field still fighting for its legitimacy. The introduction asserts in the first place its existence as independent from descriptive translation studies—‘even if they do often overlap’ (2)—and claims that a ‘sociological turn’ in translation studies has indeed happened, despite the hesitance expressed by scholars such as Mary Snell-Hornby. Legitimacy needs ancestors: thus, the main device used by Blakesley to reach this goal is reclaiming a history for the field, which by now is twenty years old. The genealogy is traced back to scholars such as Jean-Marc Gouvanic and Theo Hermans, and their preliminary works in the late 1990s, followed by Daniel Simeoni, Johan Heilbron, Gisèle Sapiro, and Michaela Wolf in the early 2000s, and 2009 is highlighted as the year in which the sociology of translation finally started to appear in manuals of translation studies. However, as Blakesley laments, ‘the sociology of translation has still not achieved canonical status’ (5). For this reason, this volume comes as a desired contribution, as it offers to those who want to approach the field a suitable and interesting key, with a wide range of topics and approaches (hence ‘sociologies’), while at the same time remaining aware of its own limitations (for instance, its predominantly European focus).

            Of particular importance is the fact that sociological methods have yet to be applied consistently to studies on poetry translation, which occupies a marginal position in the literary field: as pointed out by Sergey Tyulenev in the book, ‘the poetry that makes it into translation is a veritable minimum minimorum’ (105). As clearly highlighted in Sapiro’s contribution, poetry publishing is a disinterested act from an economic perspective, but driven by symbolic capital. As such, the limited subfield of poetry translation becomes the stage for more innovative dynamics, offering ‘clearer results’ (7) of what the sociological approach can offer. The approaches chosen by the contributors to the book rely mainly on the paradigms established by sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Bruno Latour, and Niklas Luhmann, as well as on distant-reading and paratextual analysis.

            The book is openly self-aware of the sociological strategies that it adopts. Overall, it recurs to the symbolic capital of established voices that have contributed to the very creation of the field, such as that of Susan Bassnett, Gisèle Sapiro, and Lawrence Venuti. The contributions by these three scholars are also put first, with lesser known authors following. It feels right to start with Bassnett and Venuti, considering the role of their scholarship, but, apart from the fact that they can be criticised for certain recurring tendencies (such as Venuti’s love for binary oppositions), the true potential of the book is revealed from the central part onwards.

            The contributions by Michèle Milan, Sergey Tyulenev, Serena Talento, and Eva Spišiaková, despite being divided into different sections, form an overarching reflection on politics, social change, and poetry translation, with far-reaching implications that extend beyond poetry research. Both Tyulenev and Talento recur to paratextual analysis to examine, respectively, the reception and framing of Soviet and post-Soviet Russian poetry in the UK and the US, and translations of Shakespeare and Sophocles in Tanzania. Their articles are notable as they interrogate some of the main existing assumptions of the sociology of literature. Adopting Luhmann’s concept of Collective Action (CA), Tyulenev contradicts Toury’s theorisation that translators prevailingly work in the context and influence of their target field. Examining translations of Russian poetry into English published in the USSR, he explores how translation can serve primarily the purposes of the source culture, to project (or manipulate) a precise image of itself—with potential backlashes on the target culture audience. Talento, on the other hand, challenges Bourdieu’s heterodoxy/orthodoxy dichotomy: in her case study, Julius Kambarage Nyerere and Samuel M. Mushi frame their  potentially heterodoxic translation of Shakespeare into blank verse within the history of Swahili in order to stress its continuity with pre-existing local poetical forms—‘a strategy to mitigate heterodoxy by inscribing it into orthodoxy’ (140). These contributions show how the field is ripe to engage more critically with its founders and predecessors, not just relying on Bourdieu’s symbolic capital to be legitimated, but questioning its originary theories and assumptions.

            In the chapters by Milan and Spišiaková, translation is examined as a tool against gender-, sexuality- or politics-based oppression. Milan shows how translating for the radical press gave women access to the male-dominated world of politics in nineteenth-century Ireland, and was as such a tool of liberation, while Spišiaková proves how the forewords and afterwords to the translations of Shakespeare’s sonnets published in Czechoslovakia during the Communist regime gave visibility and legitimation to  queer readings of the poems, rather than denying them as was intended. The following contributions on quantitative methods, by Cecilia Schwartz and Blakesley, who write respectively about the translation of Italian poetry in contemporary Sweden and about English, French, and Italian-language poet-translators of the 20th century (Blakesley’s most recent monograph, a wider study of the same topic, is highly recommended), are precise and accurate, and work towards establishing contexts for future research. The fact that they do not deal with more specific case studies, or with methods like close-reading, is intentional, and necessary in the eyes of the editor:

Ideally speaking, the goal for research into literary translation is for the combined ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ analysis, which Bourdieu himself recommended many years ago. However, we still have a long way to go before this is possible, since new methodological innovation requires time to carry out the preliminary work that would allow such a combined analysis to take place. (17–18)

            Schwarz’s piece also engages with the issue of gender, which, she claims, is too often neglected in world literature studies. As she remarks, building on Toril Moi, Isabelle Kalinowski, and Wolf’s work, an increase of women translators of Italian poetry corresponded with its loss of status in the Swedish literary field. On the other hand, like Spišiaková, Schwartz shows us the necessity of going beyond the first impressions gathered from data: while Italian poetry has today more publishers and translators in Sweden, its reception is actually more fragmented and dispersed. On a final note, Tom Boll’s contribution on Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson’s friendship and translation, the only chapter included in the final section on ‘Microsocial Approaches to Poetry Translation’, would have benefited from a companion. His arguments on the pivotal role of friendship in literary exchanges and on the hybridity of public and private spheres are insightful, and yet dialogue with another article would have helped to enlighten the potentiality of this perspective, as otherwise the volume has a drifting coda.

            The fact that the contributions by emerging and lesser known scholars are the most substantial of the volume indeed constitutes a promising sign, as it shows that the field is in good health, ready for a change in voice and leadership, and for a new generation of researchers to lead the discourse. Since the publication of the book, in a subfield like Italian Studies, its impact has already been profound: from Leeds to Buenos Aires, various international conferences are taking into account the sociological perspective it puts forward, so that, also thanks to this volume, in a few years there will be no doubt about its canonical status.

October 2020

Cross-Channel Modernisms, edited by Claire Davison, Derek Ryan, and Jane A. Goldman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020. £80.00. ISBN: 9781474441872.

Reviewed by Rowan Anderson, University of Oxford


Cross-Channel Modernisms

Cross-Channel Modernisms, edited by Claire Davison et al. (Edinburgh University Press, 2020)

The English Channel has become a metonym for transcultural exchange in modernist studies, with texts on this topic published in recent years including Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever’s edited volume The Literary Channel: The Inter-National Invention of the Novel (2002) and Andrew Radford and Victoria Reid’s Franco-British Cultural Exchanges, 1880–1940Channel Packets (2012). Cross-Channel Modernisms, edited by Claire Davison, Derek Ryan, and Jane Goldman, moves beyond discussing this exchange in an abstract sense in order to pinpoint specific acts of crossing the Channel itself. The Channel becomes the focus of journeys by Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West on holiday to France at the beginning of their relationship, Jean Rhys in her toing and froing between London and Paris, and, across both the Irish and English Channels, James Joyce’s migration to the continent. The foundation for this project, as the editors write in the introduction, comes from the ubiquity of Channel crossings in modernist texts in the early-twentieth century:

New cheaper, quicker crossings and interlinked political alliances inevitably favoured a multiplication of crossings in the cross-Channel era that we are exploring here, as new classes of traveller, the newly defined indispensable paraphernalia of travelling and the cross-currencies of language and financial exchange along the way impacted upon the poetic forms best suited to recount the traversing of borders. (8)

            A further impetus for the collection comes from contemporary focus on the channel as a site of anxiety about national borders, with the Channel both contributing to and placing in question an image of an isolated Britain divided from the rest of the world. The editors write that ‘the dismal state of transmanche imaginaries and Britain’s ongoing constitutional crisis, which is founded on the political and cultural permeability of the waterway, makes our volume all the more timely’ (8). It is the subversive undercurrent of modernism that the editors seek to harness in order to disrupt narratives surrounding the impermeability of borders, writing that, ‘at this time when swords are being sharpened, if not crossed, in the name of reactionary forces, the essays collected herein revisit and renew the radical potential of modernist cultural crossings in an effort to channel more positive, creative and collective intellectual and artistic exchanges’ (11). This contextualisation also places the volume’s ethos within a wider field of transnational, internationalist work in modernist studies, which includes Jessica Berman’s Modernist Commitments: Ethics, Politics, and Transnational Modernism (2012), and Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel’s edited volume Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (2005).

            Translation forms a fundamental aspect of the collection’s focus: Derek Ryan’s introductory section cites Adam Piette’s assertation that ‘much of Anglophone modernism was constituted by translation’ (14), owing to the fact that Proust, Woolf, Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Pound all worked on translation. This utopic vision of modernist internationalism is emblematised by Max Saunders essay ‘Impressions of Translation: Ford Madox Ford’s Cosmopolitan Literary Crossings’. Here, Saunders describes how Ford’s multilingualism—across English, French and German – informed his writing, to the extent that he advised writers such as Rhys, if they were struggling to articulate something in their writing, to write first in French before translating back into English. But to what extent does this portray a hyper-idealised vision of modernist international collaboration, in which modernism’s call to ‘make it new’ broke down the staid ideas of nationalism? After all, it is difficult to disentangle the slogan ‘make it new’ from its originator, Pound, whose writings are rarely discussed without mention of his fascist collaboration and antisemitism. The inescapable influence of fascist and reactionary politics remains a thorn in the side of modernist studies, with volumes such as Paul Morrison’s The Poetics of Fascism (1996) grappling with the more troubling ideological undertones that permeate the work of Pound, Eliot, and Paul de Man—who were also, incidentally, frequent border-crossers—as well as across the wider movement. This volume therefore exemplifies this tension between conservatism and innovation within modernist studies by concentrating exclusively on the progressive facets of modernism.

            While the volume does not confront this issue in modernist studies directly, it does complicate the vision of idealised cultural interdependency. Ryan emphasises that contributors have attempted to ‘acknowledge the pitfalls of connectivity, and in a moment when the map of global modernisms seems increasingly networked, it seems timely to pause and consider the kinds of work connectivity does and doesn’t do – and about connection’s unintended effects’ (16). The volume opens with a humorous example of Woolf asking a passenger on a Channel crossing if the sea was ‘brusque’ rather than ‘agitée’, while Claire Davison writes in ‘On Unknowing French? Rhythm and Le Rythme on a Cross-Channel Exchange’ that understandings of Bergson’s conception of time may diverge on either sides of the Channel due to difference in connotations of the words rhythm and le rythme. In the entertaining article ‘Sydney Schiff and Marcel Proust: Table-talk, Tribute, Translation’, Emily Eells explores how Schiff’s desire for a mutually beneficial friendship with Proust, and to be seen as the primary representative of A la recherche du temps perdu in England, eventually resulted in a poorly rendered translation by Schiff of Le temps retrouvé in 1931. This version of the final volume contained such discrepancises as the line ‘Mlle Swann me jetait de l’autre côté de la haie d’épines roses, un regard dont j’avais dû, d’ailleurs, rétrospectivement retoucher la signification, qui était du désir’ being rendered as ‘Mlle. Swann throwing some thorny roses to me from the other side of the hedge, with a look I had retrospectively attributed to desire.’ Examples such as this led the final volume to be retranslated by Andreas Mayor in 1970 as part of the many-storied history of English versions of the Recherche. The volume therefore does not position these misunderstandings as a stumbling block, but as a source of productivity within modernist studies, since the impetus to analyse and correct leads to the proliferation of texts, and versions of texts. This places the volume within the overlap between translation and modernist studies, as it aligns with similar arguments within translation studies that see mistakes and incongruities as part of the generation of new ideas. Could this approach to incongruities perhaps also provide a starting point for making sense of the tension between modernism’s reactionary and progressive impulses?

            The focus on the Channel as a site of cultural mediation is nevertheless prescient and compelling, as the collection creates a convincing image of pan-European cultural interdependency that undermines the idea that Britain, and crucially, British culture, is ever a self-sustaining entity.  In line with the collection’s focus on the materiality of Channel crossings, the second section is firmly rooted in the physical implications of cross-Channel exchanges. In ‘Jean Rhys’s comédie anglaise’ and ‘Betray to Become: Departure in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, Vassiliki Kolocotroni and Naomi Toth both frame the act of physical displacement, as a result of Rhys and Joyce’s cross-channel voyages, as a fundamental driving force of their modernist aesthetic. This focus on writers as migrants is a key thread of the volume, and is further explored by Lauren Elkin in the article ‘Across the Other Channel: Elizabeth Bowen and Modernist Mediation’, in which Elkin explores Bowen’s much disputed Anglo-Irish-Welsh identity through the lens of Channel-crossings, across both the English and Irish Channel. Elkin proposes that Bowen’s frequent voyages across these waterways provide a useful framework for examining her writing in a way that moves beyond discussion in terms of national borders. By calling into question our ability to categorise each writer by national identity, Rhys, Joyce, and Bowen become a microcosm for the mutability of national borders within Europe.

            The volume concludes this thread with Patrizia A. Muscogiuri’s essay,  which explores Woolf’s conception of a cross-Channel space as a rebuttal to British censorship during the First World War, particularly in the light of her pacifist politics. Muscoguiri argues that, in texts such as To the Lighthouse and Jacob’s Room, ‘Woolf’s spectral aesthethics haunt the reader, insisting on bridging gulfs, crossing abysses, forging cross-Channel connectedness, pacifism’ (239). This promotion of the Channel as a pacifist image is emphasized by the paper’s acknowledgements: Muscoguiri dedicates the chapter to Jo Cox (1974-2016) and Liu Xiaobo (1955–2017).

            The scope of Cross-Channel Modernisms’ enlightening essays, with their interdisciplinary focus on the worlds of music and art, means that it would be of keen interest to researchers working across the breadth of modernist studies—particularly those working on interdisciplinary modernism and translation studies. Readers may also be interested in the possibility of further research prompted by the volume, such as examining border crossings through the lens of modernism’s undercurrent of reactionary politics. Additionally, in Jane Goldman’s introductory chapter to the volume’s third section on cross-channel mediation, she mentions that Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker crossed both the Atlantic and the Channel during their lifetimes. Given the volume’s contextualisation amidst contemporary discourse on Channel crossings, it would be compelling to see further research move beyond the Channel-crossings of canonical, typically white figures of Anglo-French modernism.

September 2020

Jorge Luis Borges in Context, edited by Robin Fiddian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. £85.00. ISBN: 9781108470445.

Reviewed by Jorge Sarasola, University of St Andrews


Jorge Luis Borges in Context

Jorge Luis Borges in Context, edited by Robin Fiddian (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

As of July 2020, the University of Pittsburgh Borges Center lists a total of 1,336 freely accessible academic publications (mostly articles, with only a few books and dissertations) on the work of the doyen of Argentine letters, Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). One of the latest additions to the unfathomable universe of Borgesian criticism is Jorge Luis Borges in Context, a collection of thirty-two short essays by leading scholars in the field, edited by Robin Fiddian. As evidenced by his previous study, Postcolonial Borges: Argument and Artistry (2017), Fiddian has a successful track record carving new lines of inquiry in this over-crowded field. Devoting a volume in the ‘Writers in Context’ series to Borges is especially apt, according to the editor, because of Borges’s own illustration of the critical importance of ‘context’ in one of his best-known short stories, ‘Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ (1944): ‘[t]he history of the world and of the Argentine nation; family history and specific cultural matrices; the afterlife of a text and the conditions of its reception: these are the principal building blocks of context as modelled in “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”’ (6). Fiddian extracts these principles from the tale and uses them as part of the book’s methodological approach.

            The first 16 essays of the collection, stringed together under the rubric ‘Self, Family, and the Argentine Nation’, can be further subdivided into two broad categories. Chapters 1–7 discuss Borges’s attitude towards the Banda Oriental (now Uruguay), his family history, the influential women in his life, as well as the relevance of both World Wars, Peronism, the Argentine military dictatorship, and the Falklands War in his life and work. Chapters 8–16 ‘centre on the cultural context of Argentina, from the mid-nineteenth century […] until the end of the twentieth century’ (6), touching on gauchesque literature, Argentine identity and aesthetics around the time of the Centenary, popular culture, tango, the collaborative writing with Adolfo Bioy Casares, and his influence on writers César Aira and Ricardo Piglia.

            In Part Two, entitled ‘The Western Canon, the East, Contexts of Reception’, Chapters 17–24 trace the relation between the Western Canon and Borges (specifically Cervantes, Shakespeare, Idealism, the English Romantics, the first Spanish avant-garde, Joyce, Kafka, and the Bible). Three studies examine the roles of Judaism, Buddhism, and Persian literature in Borges’s life and literature (Chapters 25–27), and the final five essays are devoted to ‘contexts of reception and afterlives’ (7) of his literary production, which consider his influence on the Latin American ‘Boom’ and on J. M. Coetzee, as well as the reception of his work in Cuba, Italy, and Portugal. Some chapters echo each other in reinforcing central contextual considerations which become major themes, permeating the whole collection: Borges’s avowed anti-Peronism as a cornerstone of his political beliefs; his perception of the orillas (neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires facing the pampas) as a mythical space on which to build an ideal of Argentine identity; as well as his irreverent attitude towards the Western canon, are some of the topics that recur throughout the book.

            Aside from a few chapters which are almost wholly biographical, most contributors attempt to strike a balance in foregrounding a contextual aspect of Borges’s life, while conducting a concise analysis of selected pieces of writing. Ben Bollig’s ‘Borges and Las Islas Malvinas’ (Chapter 7) is illustrative of an approach where the personal, political, and aesthetic are fruitfully explored in tandem. Borges’s caustic quip comparing the Falklands War to ‘two bald men fighting for a comb’ is the starting point for a study which argues that his attitude to this conflict evidences a progressive politics in contrast with his early comments welcoming the dictatorship. While contemporaneous military feuds were rarely represented in Borges’s literary works, the Argentine writer devoted both ‘Juan López and John Ward’ and ‘Milonga del muerto’ to address the regrettable death of rank and file soldiers in the 1982 war between the United Kingdom and Argentina. His unequivocal challenge to the nation’s jingoism during this conflict marks a turning point in his own attitude towards the military government, as examined also by Annick Louis in Chapter 5.

            Focusing on a detailed contextual understanding of Borges’s lifetime in relation to his work yields insightful findings in each chapter. In ‘Borges and the Bible’ (Chapter 24), Lucas Adur’s contextualisation of the rise of Catholic integralism in Argentina during the first half of the twentieth century, ‘characterized by its intransigence and intolerance’ (195), renders Borges’s use of the Bible a defiant and bold strategy. His non-reverential attitude towards the sacred text, the questioning of anti-Semitic discourse, as well as his use of Protestant versions of the Scriptures, all serve to undermine the discourse of Catholic integralists at a time when they were consolidated as a political force in Argentina. In ‘Borges and Cervantes’ (Chapter 17), Roberto González Echeverría looks beyond the usual links drawn between these two towering figures in Hispanic letters, and considers the impact of both Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War and the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death, two events which promoted the work of Cervantes during Borges’s lifetime. In turn, Borges’s criticism of the use of Cervantes for nationalistic purposes, ‘the ultimately fascistic linking of language, culture and politics’ (146), illustrates his long-held views on the problematic intermingling of literature and nationalism. These are simply two examples amongst countless others, where the focus on contextual considerations not immediately obvious to the reader of Borges (at least not to this reader) can be especially rewarding.

            The different chapters cover several of Borges’s best-known pieces of writing, especially his short stories from Fictions and The Aleph, yet the collection also includes analyses of some of Borges’s lesser known (and less philosophical) writings. For example, Ana C. Cara’s ‘Borges, Tangos, and Milongas’ (Chapter 13), takes the reader on a tour-de-force of the beguiling world of tango and milonga, and examines Borges’s profound interest in these practices through his writings. In this vein, Philip Swanson (‘Borges and Popular Culture’) posits that Borges’s focus in much of his work was ‘the popular or even the vulgar’ (123). The misguided yet pervasive perception of Borges as a mind without a body, aloof from political reality and preoccupied with logical puzzles and aesthetic dilemmas alone, is compellingly subverted in this volume.  

            In Chapter 12 (‘The Argentine Writer and Tradition’) Humberto Núñez-Faraco examines Borges’s views on tradition, allowing us to grasp why he became an unavoidable reference point in the fields of ‘World Literature’, comparative literature, and canon studies. The author’s understanding of literary influence echoes a rallying cry of comparatists: ‘Borges scorned a nationalist version of Argentine literature that sought to eliminate the notion of writing as a complex web of cultural influences’ (100). Though immersed in his country’s literature, Borges proclaimed that Argentine writers should not be constrained by national tradition. Instead, he advocated for an irreverent attitude to the Western canon (as Chapters 17–24 in this volume exemplify), whilst also including non-Western traditions in his work (examined in Chapters 26 and 27). In his rewritings and re-readings of the canon, Borges also upsets traditions of literary history and criticism by undermining chronology in favour of a creative and ludic approach to the canon: ‘For him, reordering the library, placing Homer after Virgil or a French symbolist poet next to Cervantes is a form of literary criticism available to every reader’ (99).

            Fiddian is candid about the limitations of the study: ‘Homer, Anglo-Saxon literature, Quevedo, Pascal, and Hawthorne are notable absentees’ (7). Indeed, the habitual reader of this Review may also be disappointed by the absence of a chapter devoted to Borges’s collaborations with his translator into English, Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Nevertheless, the scope of contexts considered in this volume is impressive, and the dialogue which emerges between the chapters shows that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, whilst there is not a specific chapter considering Borges and José Hernández’s Martín Fierro, thoughtful engagements with this text abound in Chapters 1, 8, 9, and 15.

            Some readers may be taken aback by the brevity of the chapters, as each essay is on average only six pages long (without endnotes). This places stringent constraints on the depth of analysis each contributor can strive for, especially when they attempt to marry detailed contextual considerations with close readings of selected texts. Whilst limited by this format, it would be unfair to claim that the essays do not reconcile these two goals effectively. Akin to how Fiddian extracts principles from ‘Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ to approach the subject matter, contributors appear to emulate Borges’s ‘legendary economy of form’ (as Robert Gordon aptly describes in Chapter 32) in their own essays. Indeed, some of Borges’s most quoted essays (‘The Argentine Writer and Tradition’, ‘The Flower of Coleridge’, or ‘The Homeric Versions’) are only a few pages long. The articles may well be deemed to be homages to Borges by virtue of their own pithy approach to essay-writing.

August 2020

Unweaving The Odyssey: Barbara Köhler’s Niemands Frau, Rebecca May Johnson. London: University of London Press, 2019. £20.00. ISBN: 9780854572700.

Reviewed by Holly Ranger, Institute of Classical Studies


Unweaving the Odyssey: Barbara Köhler's Niemands Frau

Unweaving the Odyssey: Barbara Köhler's Niemands Frau by Rebecca May Johnson (University of London Press, 2019)

Barbara Köhler’s Niemands Frau (2007) is a multimedia translation of Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, into text, audio, and video. It is also an assemblage of materials, voices, and allusions—a ‘woven’ (58) text whose warp and woof threads interweave the texts of antiquity with scientific papers, The Waste Land, and internet forums. By engaging with this assemblage, Rebecca May Johnson’s Unweaving the Odyssey (2019) reveals that Niemands Frau (Nobody’s Wife/Woman) is not so much a translation of Homer’s text as it is a critical engagement with the Nachleben (‘afterlife’) of the Odyssey in German intellectual history and culture. Johnson argues that Köhler’s ‘radical’ translation practice does not simply produce a Barbara Godard-ian ‘intervention’ into Homer’s patriarchal text, but effects a poetic and epistemological feminist ‘unweaving’ of the systems and discourses of rational patriarchal thought Homer’s text inaugurated.

            In a move which mirrors Köhler’s non-linear, non-narrative dismantling of Homer’s text, Johnson offers a series of thematically linked explorations of Niemands Frau rather than ‘one overriding argument’ (30). The introduction establishes the cultural context of Niemands Frau’s production, sketching a history of German readings of the Odyssey from the eighteenth-century philhellenists to the ‘classical turn’ in post-reunification German language writing, and addresses the form and content (material and poetic) of Köhler’s tapestry.

            Chapter 1, ‘Niemands Frau as a “minor” translation of the Odyssey from “er” to “sie”’, is the most explicitly theoretical chapter and situates Köhler’s radical text as a ‘minor’ translation of its Homeric source text. Over the course of the chapter, Köhler’s ‘radical’ translation practice emerges as one characterised by foreignisation, antiequivalence, lexical polysemy, irregular syntax and lack of capitalisation, and grammatical and orthographical play. Johnson shows how Köhler’s translatorial and discursive shift of the Odyssey from major to minor is focalised around the pronoun sie, ‘a form of “possibility”’ (43) that can be singular or plural, subject or object, and a referent whose ambivalence Köhler identifies metaphorically with the multivalent possibilities of a particle-wave function. Köhler’s quantum mechanics of translation is shown to figure the translator as an observer, who, in Niels Bohr’s use of the term, changes the system/text/tradition by her act of observation, and enacts a shift from the ‘objective, measurable reality of Newtonian physics’ to ‘the plural, co-existing possibilities of quantum physics’ (31). Johnson also reveals how Köhler’s radical translation enacts a critique of the scholarly exegesis of the Odyssey via paratextual features, including explanatory notes, prefaces, and afterwords, in previous German translations. Such critical apparatus, Köhler’s text implies, has been ‘insufficient to communicate the semantic flexibility of the Ancient Greek and […] privileged a patriarchal, nationalist perspective to the exclusion of other, notably female perspectives’ (35). In contrast, Köhler’s own paratexts are formally ambiguous and self-reflexively metaleptic, ‘creating simultaneous internal-external narrative positions’ (52) which work to problematise the notion that there is an ‘external’ space from which to comment on language; Kohler rejects the convention in which paratexts have the final word on the text at hand. The most significant, and at the same time, the most challenging aspect of Köhler’s radical translation practice is its participatory ethos, under which, ‘from the outset the reader is left to work at meaning and to insert him- or herself into the logic of its creation’ (47). In Niemands Frau ‘the onus to interpret language actively’, dynamically, and generatively moves from a character within the story via the translator to the reader (48). The implication of Köhler’s participatory ethos for translations and commentaries which conventionally telescope meaning—in any discipline—is a reconceptualisation of hermeneutic authority and responsibility.

            In Chapters 2 to 6, Johnson structures her analysis around four Homeric figures central to Köhler’s text (Penelope, Helen, Tiresias, and Odysseus), each of whom is revealed to function as a network of thematic and structural associations rather than as a character in a narrative. Each chapter begins with a survey of the literary and critical reception traditions of each of the Homeric characters, both to orient the student of German without training in ancient literature and to contextualise Köhler’s densely allusive text for the philological analysis that comprises the greater part of each chapter.

            Chapter 2, ‘Penelope’s Web, or, “the Voice[s] of the Shuttle”’, examines Köhler’s use of weaving as a metaphor for the construction of her poetic text and her re-imagination of Homeric narratives. Johnson shows how the domestic labour of weaving is not simply a metaphor for the feminist act of (re)writing the canon but is the fundamental structural principle for Köhler’s text. Weaving offers a paradigm for narrative construction, that is, a quantum, ‘“Penelopean” poetics’ (75), characterised by the ‘processual’, multiplicitous movement (76) of Penelope’s unweaving of Laertes’s shroud, providing an alternative to Odysseus’s teleological, monological journey home.

            Chapter 3, ‘Helen of Troy: the Image, Power and the Impoverishment of Life’ reveals how Köhler uses Homer’s figure of Helen to reflect critically on the relationship between the image and the ‘woman’ in Western culture, from antiquity to Greta Garbo. In this chapter, Johnson shows how reading Homer through Köhler recovers Helen’s description of herself as ‘dog-faced’ (Iliad 3.180 and Odyssey 4.145) as a radical act, an anti-Platonic insistence on an embodied subjectivity ‘outside a sexually sanitized and politically problematic ideal of “beauty”’ (123). Chapters 4 and 5 extend Johnson’s analysis of Köhler’s philosophical interest in embodied subjectivity. ‘The Possibility of Recognizing and Loving “Niemand”’ examines Köhler’s reimagination of the relationship between Odysseus and an ageing Penelope. Here, Johnson also shows how Köhler’s graphically unstable text enacts ‘a performative meditation on Penelope’s struggle to recognize Odysseus in which Köhler challenges the reader’s ability to recognize printed signs as words with referents’ (125). ‘Tiresias, Turing, and Dystopian Transformations’ discusses Köhler’s casting of Alan Turing as a queer seer and a contemporary Tiresias and takes this as a jumping-off point for an exploration of the threatened effacement of the embodied queer subject in a homogenous technocapitalist future (155).

            Chapter 6, ‘The Genealogy and Operation of Patriarchal Power in Niemands Frau’ finally turns to Odysseus and analyses the Homeric figure’s relation to patriarchal power structures, both in his own narrative and over the extent of the classical tradition. Johnson argues that Köhler attempts to recover Odysseus from his history of representation, ‘a system he cannot control’ (223), and she suggests that ‘in the regrets that Köhler attributes to him lie the beginning of a way out of violent patriarchy’ (226).

            Throughout her book, Johnson’s exegesis and analysis remain alert to the polysemy of Köhler’s text and never attempt to foreclose meaning. Johnson also pays careful attention to some central paradoxes of Köhler’s text and draws out the ways in which these paradoxes limit the radical possibilities of Köhler’s feminist project: how amassing the critical apparatus necessary to understand the text’s networks of allusions is a ‘durational experience’ (225) that undermines the text’s aspirations towards democratisation; how Köhler’s critique of binary patriarchal epistemologies is expressed by normatively gendered subjects and so ultimately fails to offer a more radically envisioned subject (32); how the text fails to recover the enslaved figures of Homer’s texts, for all its focus on embodiment (229); and how Niemands Frau is impossible to fully comprehend without recourse to Google’s search engine, despite its critique of bluescreen hellscapes (225). Johnson concludes by intimating that, in choosing the canonical Homer as the source text for her radical translation, Köhler’s project was compromised from the moment of its genesis, for ‘by doing so she must share literary territory with those she criticises […] refusing to obliterate the past while projecting a changed future’ (229).

            The form and function of Johnson’s book works to undo the paradoxes of Köhler’s text, providing as it does an accessible commentary and an excavation of the queer epistemologies and genealogies which Köhler’s text gestures towards. While the central argument of Unweaving the Odyssey may have benefitted from an exploration of the ways in which the ‘minor’ female characters of Köhler’s/Homer’s text (Nausicaa, Circe, Leukothea) modulate the privileged ‘major’ voices of the central female speakers, this omission was likely a practical issue; given the complexity of Niemands Frau, the necessary exegesis would have doubled the length of Johnson’s book. Despite Köhler’s engagement with Homeric figures in Niemands FrauUnweaving the Odyssey is the first study to analyse these figures in any extended form, and the book provides an essential ‘reader’ for any student of radical translation or contemporary German poetry seeking to unpack the allusive structure of Köhler’s text.

July 2020

World Literature in Motion: Institution, Recognition, Location, edited by Flair Donglai Shi and Gareth Guangming Tan. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2020. £37.81. ISBN: 9783838211633.

Reviewed by Ann Ang, University of Oxford


World Literature in Motion: Institution, Recognition, Location

World Literature in Motion: Institution, Recognition, Location, edited by Flair Donglai Shi and Gareth Guangming Tan (ibidem-Verlag, 2020)

The field of world literature has been shaped in no small part by the debates that define world literature itself as a matter of contestation, be it in terms of the object of study, its associated methodologies, or its relation to other established critical fields such as postcolonial studies or comparative literature. In World Literature in Motion, editors Flair Donglai Shi and Gareth Guangming Tan intervene in such conversations by foregrounding an approach that they term ‘critical world literature studies’, after Stefan Helgesson and Pieter Vermeulen’s earlier coining of the term. For Shi and Tan, the meta-language of world literature theorising obscures the ‘actualities’ that should rightfully inform the priorities of such scholarship. Accordingly, the fifteen essays that make up this edited volume employ close attention to archival methods of research, analyses of prize culture, and the materialities of what Gérard Genette defines as paratexts, to achieve a ‘more ideologically neutral, materially grounded, and self-reflective way to study world literature (as well as the academic field of World Literature)’ (24). The term ‘motion’ in the volume’s title has a double-meaning, alluding not only to the field’s longstanding concern with contexts of circulation, but also to the collection’s proposal for a grounded sociology relying on ‘solid primary data from specific locations’ that ‘makes clear the structural mechanisms and limitations of world literature in whichever definition mentioned so far’ (23).

            However, as is the case with any attempt to participate in the debates surrounding world literature, Shi and Tan recognise the need to adopt a critical stance. They have chosen to adopt the anti-hegemonic ethics of postcolonial studies while generously situating the work in this volume to accommodate relationalities to fields abutting world literature. The chapters are organised in four sections: ‘Postcolonial Institutions’, ‘Recognition through Prizes’, ‘Minor Locations’, and ‘Translations beyond the Anglophone’. Each of these, to adopt Emily Apter’s much quoted term in Against World Literature (2013), employs a ‘deflationary’ stance towards overarching categories, while re-constructing these productively in light of new research, often from geographies and literary traditions on the periphery of the Western academy. Many of the chapters tap on previously unstudied primary material from the Booker Prize Archive at Oxford Brookes University, and delve into the paratexts of lesser-known literary institutions unfamiliar to most on the Anglo-American circuit, such as China’s foremost journal in translation and world literature, Yiwen/Shijie wenxue.

            While recognising the importance of fruitful intersections with research on postcolonial studies, the book’s first section departs resolutely from a cultural studies approach by foregrounding hierarchical power structures in postcolonial institutions that have a bearing on publishing and readership. The opening essay can be seen as representative of such an approach—Rivkah Brown’s extensive study of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair and its championing of book development in Africa reveals how residual colonialist attitudes towards literature as acculturation persist alongside perceptions of reading as a utilitarian activity. Likewise, the next section—‘Recognition through Prizes’—departs from the academy’s tendency to focus on the success of major prizes in order to examine how authors continue to exert their influence as individual agents in the economy of cultural production. This section includes essays examining how V. S. Naipaul and Arundhati Roy tactically exert an influence on their readerships beyond how the Booker has presented their authorial personas. The focus on bringing minor perspectives into view is again apparent in ‘Minor Locations’, with chapters on the literary prizes of Mauritius and the evolution of Cypriot literature(s), both of which examine the scope for the consecration of new literary and interlingual registers beyond the formerly colonial languages that dominate the publishing industry. Finally, the closing section on translation(s) turns our attention to an alternative world of literary relations beyond the Anglophone, with new work exploring lesser-known intersections of world literature with the literatures of East Asia, particularly in relation to translations into and out of Chinese and Korean.

            An important strength of the collection is the responsiveness of these essays to major theoretical frameworks in world literature scholarship, and many are illuminating for both their application of existing methodologies and how they gesture towards the limitations of these. For instance, Rashi Rohatgi’s illuminating comparative study of two literary prizes in Mauritius – the Le Prince Maurice prize and the Ledikasyon pu Travayer Prize – departs from how prior scholarship tends to measure the success of writing from a minor location by its presence on the world stage. While a prize like the Le Prince Maurice would be typically dismissed as overly touristic for its association with a beach resort, it generates its own scandal as an exotic location associated with glitz and glamour, which, while failing to accrue sufficient cultural capital in comparison to the Booker, nonetheless sets the stage for other curatorial efforts. Similarly, the Ledikasyon pu Travayer Prize is awarded to a new work in Kreole Morisyen, a French-based creole, which, while seemingly insular for its strict choice of language medium, occurs in support of activist efforts to adopt Kreole Morisyen as the main language of education. Rohatgi’s chapter expands on previous scholarship by Graham Huggan and James English to show that literary prizes in a minor location, like Mauritius, may respond to a different set of priorities beyond literary consecration and canonisation – priorities which become visible and productive when we suspend our judgement in relation to the implication of these in the inequalities of the global book trade. Likewise, in his account of the brief lifespan of the Man Asian Booker Prize, editor Flair Donglai Shi attends to how its organising committee failed to marshal the tactics of the Man Booker in accumulating sufficient capital. It fell short of achieving the ‘interventionist ambition’ of bringing literary works from Asia as a region with burgeoning economic and political presence into the same Western orbit as the Booker. Shi’s chapter highlights how there is an over-reliance on literary prizes in the creation of literary value, and by extension, an over-scrutiny of its effects within the academy.

            World Literature in Motion is also a collection that rewards reading across its four sections for unexpected points of dialogue. In a collected volume which is overwhelmingly concerned with the literary institution as the focus of cultural capital in the field of cultural production, the figure of the author as an individual agent is also examined in the nexus of institutional forces. Carmen Thong’s chapter takes as its starting point the 1971 Booker committee’s determined identification of V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State as a novel, in order for it to meet the prize criteria. This is balanced against Naipaul’s employment of innovative and deviant literary forms at this stage of his career. While such experimental forms are characteristic of Caribbean writers in the 1960s, Thong notes Naipaul’s active dissociation from the West Indian habitus as he continued to produce works like The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and A Way in the World (1994), which defy critics’ efforts to classify them and can be seen as part of Naipaul’s endeavour to exert his authorial identity. Likewise, Lubabah Chowdhury discusses the rhetoric of authenticity surrounding Arundhati Roy’s authorial persona to make a case for how she tapped into the celebrity discourse surrounding her to draw attention to her activist work, effectively reorienting the reader towards different aspects of her oeuvre. Chowdhury’s chapter is refreshing for its attention to Roy’s non-fiction, which is less-studied, but could have considered existing scholarship on her role in a globalised discourse of dissent.

            Due recognition must be given to the editors for bringing together such a wide range of new scholarly voices within an overarching frame, and for a deftness of editorial curation that allows all chapters to speak from their respective material contexts. However, given the relative unfamiliarity that many general readers may have with these, a number of the chapters have provided the required sociohistorical background, making for educational but somewhat lengthy reading. With the volume’s conscientious methodology in mind, some chapters err on the side of being overly descriptive, and could have used a sharper engagement with the theoretical categories laid out in the introduction. Still, World Literature in Motion provides excellent accounts of archival research, which are truly novel for their determined approach to geopolitical situatedness and sociocultural specificity, and their rigorous assessment of prior concepts and categories. After all, a neutral position remains positional for its neutrality, and this recent volume is a timely reminder that researchers can expect to be pleasantly surprised by literary phenomena in the field at large.

June 2020

The Birth and Death of Literary Theory: Regimes of Relevance in Russia and Beyond, Galin Tihanov. Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2019. £50. ISBN: 9780804785228.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


The Birth and Death of Literary Theory: Regimes of Relevance in Russia and Beyond

The Birth and Death of Literary Theory: Regimes of Relevance in Russia and Beyond by Galin Tihanov (Stanford University Press, 2019)

Galin Tihanov’s new book, The Birth and Death of Literary Theory (2019), chronicles the birth of theory, yet begins and ends with its death. In most anthologies of literary theory, Russian Formalism holds a comparable place with silent cinema in the history of film: dusty, old, neglected, and often seen as more an antiquated precedent than a substantial area of interest. As the George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature at Queen Mary (University of London), Tihanov has long sought to alter this view, reframing debates in Comparative and World Literature with German and Slavic contexts.

            The book’s title, however, may be misleading. This book is not another paean to the end of theory but is, altogether, more impressive and circular in its elaboration. It is a brilliant distillation of theory’s inception, concluding with an argument for its circularity with present movements, namely World Literature. Alongside this, Tihanov encourages us to interpret theories through the historical contexts that informed them. ‘For the historian of intellectual formations’, he insists, ‘radical historicity is the only credible approach; I would even submit that our understanding of literary theory has been greatly skewed and impoverished by our reluctance to historicise it’ (5).

            When faced with theorists, Tihanov complains, we are ‘more willing to inscribe’ them ‘in current debates than to contextualise’ their ideas in their ‘historical ambience’ (132). In doing this himself, Tihanov argues elegantly over the course of this book that our understanding of literary theory must do the same. Despite the plethora of titles declaring the death of literary theory, few have concentrated on its ambivalent and troubled birth, or prioritised its historical evolution so rigorously. Tihanov locates the birth of theory in interwar Eastern and Central Europe, and Russia. Until the 1940s, he reminds us, it existed nowhere else.

            Throughout, Tihanov structures his narrative according to what he calls  a ‘regime of relevance,’ meaning a criterion or norm under which literature functions. By this key term, the author refers to ‘a prevalent mode of appropriating (both interpreting and using) literature in society at a particular time’ (20). He remarks how, in our own time, literature ‘is no longer endowed with special status’ but instead ‘competes for attention as one of the many commodities of the leisure industry’ (30). Just as these various regimes of relevance alter and overlap over time, he continues, ‘so too there are distinct forms of conceptualising’ them ‘and the transitions between them’ (22). Suggesting that critics be mindful of the ‘regime of relevance’ they themselves occupy, Tihanov believes that we ought to give works of theory the radically historical treatment they deserve—without this, his book confirms, our understanding remains limited.

            Beginning with an analysis of Viktor Shklovsky, which seeks to foreground ‘his embeddedness in the context of World War I’ (41),  Tihanov argues that we ‘have not been paying sufficient attention to his political biography, which is an indispensable key to his text’ (41). His analysis alternates between reinterpretations of Shklovsky’s famous notion of estrangement, its inheritances in Brecht and Althusser, with biographical texts that open Shklovsky to more socio-political and poetic dimensions.

            The next chapter moves on to Gustav Shpet, whose influence over literary translation and theatre deserves, he argues, more contemporary recognition. As with Shklovsky, Tihanov argues that Shpet’s work reflects a strange mixture of conservatism and adventurousness: ‘Shpet’s reflections on literature thus come into view as a complex amalgam of innovation and regression, a stirring mixture that embodies the turns of intellectual history at its most attractive and challenging’ (95).

            The next chapter, on Mikhail Bakhtin, is the most extensive and impressive. Tihanov presents him as a deeply misunderstood thinker of humanism—that is, of humanism without ‘the individual human being at its core’ (107). Bakhtin’s highest achievement, Tihanov suggests, was his ‘gradual forging of a theoretical platform informed by what I wish to call humanism without subjectivity’ (109). The scope of Tihanov’s study covers a revelatory variety of historical contexts and sources, lectures and correspondences, formulating the genealogies that led to Bakhtin’s discoveries, including the exile to Central Asia so informative to his work (yet so often unconsidered in its appraisals). Within each of these analyses, the theorists emerge as rounded, multidimensional and problematic.

            The final two chapters follow movements rather than individuals, and resultingly lack the depth of analysis that the previous three chapters afford. The former introduces the short-lived (but reemergent) field of Semantic Paleontology: a movement which ‘questioned the very core of literature by enquiring into what was there before literature, and asking how literature came to be’ (139). Tihanov traces the Moscow seminars and lecture halls where this movement took place, in all its heat, character, and drama; yet, among all its proponents, ‘language, as we can see, was the main protagonist in Russian literary and cultural theory after World War I, and into the 1930s’ (147).

            The subsequent chapter turns to Russian émigrés. For those in exile, the dilemma was stark: ‘Soviet literature enjoyed a wide audience and state protection but no freedom, whereas the émigré writers had freedom but no readership and no economic security’ (166). Yet, as Tihanov points out, this area has suffered severe neglect. While these chapters lack the depth of the previous case studies, they still compliment them with a broad and vivid insight into their academic, political, and philosophical origins.

            Tihanov’s epilogue is less a summary than it is an address, one directed to the burgeoning field of World Literature. ‘World Literature’, he argues, ‘usually refers to a particular liberal Anglo-Saxon discourse grounded in assumptions of mobility, transparency, and a recontextualising (but also decontextualizing) circulation’ of texts, which ‘supports the free consumption and unrestricted comparison of literary artefacts’ (174). Yet it is within the birth of literary theory that a discernible circularity occurs: ‘the current discourse on “world literature” is an iteration of the principal question of modern literary theory at the time of its birth: should one think literature within or beyond the horizon of language’ (182)?

            Tihanov concludes by historicising the present, tracing this current discipline to the Formalism that made it possible. His final thoughts are stunning—constituting an eloquent but righteous address to the discipline, one that cannot go unheeded. The book offers an exhaustive account of literary theory’s birth in interwar Russia, and Central and Eastern Europe, positioning Russia as the birthplace of what has become today the most prominent topic in Comparative Literature.

            The rigorously researched history that Tihanov advances demonstrates an ambition unparalleled in much literary history and criticism. However, for a project that attempts to radically historicise theory, and whose validity depends on the overarching idea of a ‘regime of relevance,’ it is curious that Tihanov does not expand upon this notion to better articulate what this has meant in different eras and in different places. As convincing as a ‘regime of relevance’ may be as a conceptual scheme or criteria, much like the regimes that ruled over the theorists in this book, one assumes there were those who deviated from its laws and escaped its prescriptions; yet this receives surprisingly scant attention. Even if literature does not exist under the same ‘regime of relevance’ as it did in interwar Russia, does treating literature critically in today’s time not itself constitute a deviation from our present regime? Such questions go unanswered—had they been, they could have rendered Tihanov’s argument more contemporaneous. The book otherwise depends on its impressive opening and closing dialogue with the field of World Literature to instate its own relevance, whereas more expansion on this concept would have been welcome.

            Nevertheless, the dialogue that begins and ends the book condenses an authoritative knowledge of its field into a contemporary demand, bookending a narrative that rigorously substantiates this period for reappraisal. As such, it proves as indispensable for World Literature as for Slavic Studies more specifically. Russian Formalists, who often occupy a marginal role, are framed convincingly as pioneers of theories they anticipated. Each figure’s challenges are brought to life: difficult governments and secret police loom over their writings, and their projects are sometimes cut tragically short. Tihanov masterfully forces us to reengage with these figures through contexts as much as concepts, then ends with the more fascinating intervention of depicting World Literature as derivative of these moments.

            Many of the proponents of World Literature have expressed their desire to ‘decentre the centre,’ in other words, to shift the attention of critical analysis away from the Western metropolitan centres and toward the areas that have previously been more marginal, peripheral, or undervalued. Do such declarations prepare the field to accept Tihanov’s brilliant conclusions, and to reconfigure the history of the discipline according to this new periodisation? Tihanov’s reception within this field, and how it deals with this intervention, will prove a fascinating measure for how genuine (and obtainable) this desire is.

May 2020

Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address, Douglas Robinson. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2019. £96.00. ISBN: 9781501345548.

Reviewed by Eleonora Colli, University of Oxford


Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address

Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address by Douglas Robinson (Bloomsbury, 2019)

In his 2019 book, Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address, literary critic and translator Douglas Robinson sets out on what the blurb calls a quest ‘to understand the “translational” or “translingual” dialogues between cisgendered and transgendered people’. The book moves aptly between queer, gender, and translation theory in order to create a practice of communication and ‘dialogical engagements between and among communities’ (x), breaking away from binary restrictions of original and target languages. Throughout four different chapters focused on different yet connected theoretical approaches, and drawing from a wide range of examples—predominantly from Scandinavian literature—Robinson shows how to think socially about the engagement of language across cultures and genders, not constricted to a simple binary exchange.

            The premises and objectives of the book appear somewhat generic in their now commonplace intent to break down national boundaries, and in their almost interchangeable use of theoretical terms. Robinson’s ambiguous terminology is evident from the opening line of the text, where he states that ‘this is not a book about transgenderism’ (x), thus almost rejecting the title of the book itself. Robinson in fact broadly takes from Halberstam’s view of ‘trans’ as an identity and umbrella term which ‘refuses […] stability’ and instead ‘embraces more hybrid possibilities for embodiment and identification’ (Halberstam, In A Queer Time and Place, 92). By employing this definition, Robinson justifies his adoption of the term ‘trans’ as a word capable of portraying all communities which refuse definition across language and translation: to do so, he pairs it up with the idea of translinguism as a term for ‘a subject-in-transit’ (xi), emphatically moving and shifting between communities and languages. To Robinson, then, ‘transgender, translation, and translingual address are all “stories” that get left out of those intertwined homo-hetero binaries’ (xii): he thus adopts the language of queer theory in order to draw out the potentialities and characteristics of a theory of translation beyond the binary of both gender and source–target equivalence, instead setting out to understand language as ‘crossing over […] whatever boundary one cares to posit’ (xxix). Robinson’s preface reaches its conclusion with an additional explanation of why he included the term transgender in the title: as he says, ‘if translation as translingual address is unstable transition between and beyond binary poles, transgender is translation too’ (xxv).

            After setting out the broad theoretical approach of his analysis, Robinson then moves to the explanation of the goals and benefits of figuring translation as ‘trans/formation, trans/versality, trans/ition and trans/lingual address’ (12). The first chapter effectively deals with the question of why this should be a topic worth analysing: after assessing different options, Robinson resolves that such transitional encounters in language – encounters taking place beyond the binary—effectively work ‘against knowledge-as-regulation’ (16) and as ‘translingual platforms for empathy and connection’ (33), thus presenting the study and the use of translingual address as an effective tool against nationalist and anti-LGBTQ+ ideologies. Having done this, Robinson then sets out in his second chapter to theorise and define new ways of understanding language that go beyond binaries and boundaries: Robinson here finds a third option between what he defines as the ‘Overall Language’ (41), which operates on the idea of the binary, and the ‘Underall Language’, which he borrows from Otto Lehtinen 2016 novel Wurlitzer—about a mtf trans character—and repurposes in order to foreground a conceptualisation of language as defined by embodied feeling and cognition. To combine the two, Robinson finds the solution, taking from Bakhtin, of a ‘transdiegetic narrator’, reading, writing, and translating across languages and cultures (58).

            Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia as providing different cultural reflections in language(s) continues to be important for Robinson in his third chapter, which employs the concept along with the idea of translinguality to show the many different cultural and ideological trends within one single language, and how to move and translate across them. Here, Robinson operates on the idea that ‘the binary gender system’ of language is so ‘policed, and so artificially stabilised’ that this ‘stabilization never works perfectly’, instead showing its cracks through hetereglossia, which for Bakhtin comprises ‘the tension between order and disorder’ in language (91–93). This use of heteroglossia points to an understanding of the binary system in language as ‘chaotic […] in its constant vulnerability to breakdown’ (110). Benefitting from close textual analysis of different works dealing with trans characters, such as Jarboe’s “Greenhorn”, this chapter is convincing in its use of a specific theoretical approach – the Bakhtinian one – and its opening up to new theories across queer and post-modern writing. A similar outlook is employed in the fourth chapter, where Robinson borrows Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the rhizome, as both a symbol of resistance to hierarchical and binary structures, and a concept useful for understanding local and gender dysphoria across languages and cultures. Deleuze and Guattari’s influence allows for an analysis of  ‘translation as becoming-trans’ as ‘de-/reterritorializing’ (164), in its avoiding set organisation both across genders and cultures. This practice of translation also succeeds in bringing together the two previously quite disjointed understandings of trans Robinson had presented across the book, the geographical one and the gender one.

            Despite the fact that the fourth chapter manages to bring together the concepts of transgenderism and translinguism into a single theoretical address, that of becoming-trans as deterritorialization, the rest of Robinson’s book is somewhat unclear on how to use the two terms in separate ways, and in ways that can productively engage with each other. From the very start of the book, and from his use of Halberstam’s notion of trans, it is clear that Robinson either has an extremely wide definition of the term, or that he has not attuned his understanding of it to one clear purpose. This becomes evident in the concluding remarks as well, where Robinson asks himself the question of target audience: ‘what group am I writing [this] for? Queer people? Trans people? I don’t really know. There does not seem to me to exist a ready-made target audience for the book’ (200). This struggle to understand his audience also comes from Robinson’s struggle in explaining why he should employ queer and trans theory, addressed in the Preface: ‘I have often […] felt uncomfortable in the traditional masculinity that society prescribes for the male body […] it was because I wore glasses and was uncoordinated, and traditional males tended to despise me. It was because I was an intellectual’ (xxvi). Robinson then describes his actions which he perceives as crossing binary roles, concluding that ‘if we allow for the existence of middles between the binary poles, I am somewhere in the middle’ (xxviii). On the back-cover of the book, however, Robinson describes himself as ‘cis-gendered in a male body’, thus seemingly contradicting his statement in the preface. While Robinson’s own identity obviously should not be policed, his struggle in defining his audience and his own somewhat casual engagement with trans and queer theory seems to undermine the success of his conceptualisation of transgender and translingual address as one single theoretical approach rather than two separate ones. While the book provides interesting points of discussion and successfully provides new ideas for both queer theory and translation studies in its understanding of Bakhtinian heteroglossia and Deleuze and Guattari’s deterritorializition, then, Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address remains often vague and confusing in its engagement with queer and trans theory. Still, Robinson provides readers with interesting ideas and prompts, which could be productively employed and further explored in future studies: for a book that sets out to open up new avenues for translation theory, then, Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address is generally successful in its pointing at new and interesting—while still hard to define—ideas on translation studies, across cultures and across binaries.

April 2020

The Classics in Modernist Translation, edited by Miranda Hickman and Lynn Kozak. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. £85.00. ISBN: 9781350040953.

Reviewed by Holly Ranger, Institute of Classical Studies


The Classics in Modernist Translation

The Classics in Modernist Translation, edited by Miranda Hickman and Lynn Kozak (Bloomsbury, 2019)

In its central thesis and thematic concerns, The Classics in Modernist Translation (2019), edited by Miranda Hickman and Lynn Kozak, is heavily indebted to Steven Yao’s Translation and the Language of Modernism: Gender, Politics, and Language (2002). Yao’s book demonstrated that an engagement with ancient literary and material culture via experimental translation practices was fundamental to the ideological discourses and formal innovations of Anglo-American modernist literature. Hickman and Kozak acknowledge this debt, and Yao lends a brief foreword to the volume, ‘The Classics, Modernism and Translation: A Conflicted History’. His foreword recounts the founding insult that engendered the historical antipathy between classicists (defenders of philological rigour in the name of ‘fidelity’) and modernists (defenders of the impulse to ‘make it new’): William Gardener Hale’s catalogue of Ezra Pound’s ‘howlers’ in his Poetry review of Homage to Sextus Propertius. This anecdote sets the scene for the book’s claim to bridge this disciplinary divide by defining and introducing ‘a developing, intersectional area of study […] which we call “classical modernisms”’ (2).

            That an academic study of the modernists’ experimental translation practices as translation is felt to necessitate the creation of a new subdiscipline is symptomatic of the ways in which translation remains heavily policed in Classics (big C). Heedless of the feminist and cultural turns of Translation Studies in the twentieth century, which redefined the processes and products of literary translation, twenty-first-century Classics scholarship and pedagogy suffers from an obsession with what may be termed ‘extreme foreignisation’. A trope of the Ancient Greek or Latin translator’s preface, for example, is the apology for the mutilation in English of Homer’s incomparable Greek; and students sit translation examinations that assess their ability to replicate rather than creatively recreate the rhetorical devices and characteristics of the ancient source texts. One consequence of this obeisance to ‘objective’ philology is that discussions of translations of ancient texts have fallen under the umbrella of ‘reception studies’, a field which in turn has attempted to categorise and demarcate ‘translation’ from ‘adaptation’, and ‘refiguration’ from ‘appropriation’. Hickman and Kozak’s use of ‘translation’ as an ‘organizing concept’ (4) in The Classics in Modernist Translation, and their refusal to delineate the ‘various forms’ (4) of translation, is significant. It evidences the beginning of a long-overdue disciplinary shift in classical scholarship from catalogues of translators’ mistakes towards an appreciation of the critical and creative work of the experimental translator.

            The book is organised into three main sections, with essays clustered by writer(s) and their particular ‘emphases’ (5). Central essays on the pre-eminent Anglo-American modernists (Ezra Pound, H.D., T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Laura Riding and W.B. Yeats) are bookended by two standalone chapters. The first, contributed by Elizabeth Vandiver, discusses The Poets’ Translation Series founded in 1915 by Richard Aldington and H.D., a poetry imprint which exemplified ‘the modernist commitment to translation and the often maverick spirit in which their experiments with translation […] were pursued’ (5); the last is a collaborative essay in which English scholar Marsha Bryant and Classical archaeologist Mary Ann Eaverly discuss ‘how their work with modernist classical reception has entered the museum and the classroom’ (6). In an afterword to the volume, J. Alison Rosenblitt reflects on the impact of modernist translations in twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetics. In the spirit of bridging the divide between classicists and modernists, the editors have assembled contributors from Classics, English Literature, Translation Studies, and Comparative Literature; one essay is by a poet. In addition, each of the three main sections is appended by a ‘Respondent Essay’, written by scholars chosen to foster a cross-disciplinary dialogue between classics and modernist studies: Michael Coyle, Eileen Gregory, and Nancy Worman, respectively.

            Part I, ‘Ezra Pound on Translation’, comprises three essays dealing with Pound’s translations of Homer’s Odyssey. The essay by George Varsos on Pound’s Cantos argues that ‘[e]xpressions [in the Cantos] such as “eternal and irrepressible freshness”, or “life and afterlife”, should not be misread as instances of conventionally hyperbolic rhetoric’ (22) but—via Walter Benjamin—should be reread as metapoetic commentary on Pound’s translation practice. Massimo Cè’s essay explores the linguistic and stylistic consequences for Canto I of Pound’s use of a Renaissance Latin translation of Homer’s Odyssey by Andreas Divus as the source text for his Homeric allusion; and Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Sara Dunton explore the dense allusive structure of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, and Pound’s use of classical prosody as a medium for allusive play and textual transmission.

            Part II, ‘H.D.’s Translations of Euripides: Genre, Form, Lexicon’, opens with an essay by Anna Fyta, who argues that H.D.’s translation and rewriting of Euripides’ Helen and Stesichorus’ Palinode to Helen in her Helen in Egypt works as a ‘meta-palinode’ which ‘negotiates with, and muses on, the nature and boundaries of the palinode’ (65)—‘meta’ here signalling H.D.’s self-consciously theatrical, arcane, and philosophical translation practice. Jeff Westover’s chapter on H.D.’s Ion examines her translation through the lenses of psychoanalytic theory, ritual practice, and feminist translation theory; he reads H.D.’s translation of Euripides as a Godardian ‘transformation’, ‘producing something new in an English text that reflects her concerns as a twentieth-century woman’ (77)—a member of ‘the race of women’ (78). Catherine Theis compares Euripidean music and mysticism in the work of H.D. and her contemporary Robinson Jeffers; and Miranda Hickman and Lynn Kozak contribute a chapter on H.D.’s translation of Hippolytus. Hickman and Kozak explore H.D.’s use of the play’s Aphroditic erotics to critique the discourse of shame in Euripides’ text vis-à-vis female sexual desire, and to reformulate the chaste goddess Artemis (a Victorian archetype of femininity) in a mode which incorporates eros as empowering for feminist thought.

            Part III, ‘Modernist Translation and Political Attunements’, includes essays on the feminist, public, and nationalist concerns in the ‘functionalist’ (5) translations of Riding, Joyce, Eliot, and Yeats. Anett K. Jessop continues the feminist concerns of the preceding chapters in her discussion of Laura Riding’s Lives of Wives and A Trojan Ending. Riding’s ‘translations’ propose ‘an alternative historiography in which women’s power is exerted through dimensions of their lives “untranslatable” for men seeking to understand women through their own frameworks and terms’ (136). Leah Flack’s essay examines the valency of the Homeric Sirens in Ulysses and The Waste Land. Flack suggests that the tantalising yet dangerous figure of the Sirens reveal Joyce and Eliot problematising to a far greater extent ‘the ideals of authority and mastery that have so often been applied to modernist writing and […] their project of reimagining the classical tradition for the twentieth-century’ (144). Mattias Somers examines Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes as an instance of high modernism’s engagement with ‘low’ Aristophanic comedy, an element of anglophone modernism overlooked by dominant critical accounts of the ‘profoundly serious enterprise’ of Eliot and his peers (155); Somers treats the ‘Aristophanic’ as a paratextual term which reveals much about Eliot’s relation to comedy and his use of the ‘primal ritual’ (166) of ‘savage comedy’ (167) to revitalise modern literature. Part III’s exploration of the ways in which modernist translations respond to ‘cultural problematics of their moment’ (5) concludes with Gregory Baker’s essay on W.B. Yeats, Sophocles’ Oedipus, and Irish nationalism.

            Nancy Worman’s respondent essay to Part III tentatively points to one significant failing of the volume. Namely, that while the translations of H.D., Riding, Joyce, Eliot, and Yeats are treated as politically-engaged works, Pound’s translations are treated discretely and apolitically—despite his completion of the later Cantos while interned near Pisa, convicted of treason for his pro-Fascist and antisemitic radio broadcasts. This fault reflects a failure in Classics more broadly to fully reckon with problematic uses of classical literature and culture, which it continues to dismiss as ab-uses. Worman’s essay on the relations between politics and aesthetics urges ‘heightened awareness about how we handle modernist writers in our present moment. The cultural politics of new nationalisms, with their shadings of racism and misogyny, make it all the more urgent that humanists call attention to such shadings in the traditions they study’ (187).

            The volume is of topical and methodological relevance to classical reception scholars and students, and will be useful for students and scholars of English Literature seeking to better understand an important group of intertexts for the Anglo-American modernists (all Ancient Greek is translated). While the essays exclusively discuss modernist translations of ancient Greek source texts, this is, as Hickman notes in the volume’s introduction, reflective of the Hellenism of many modernist writers’ work, and the volume lays solid foundations for future research on modernist engagements with Latin source texts.

March 2020

New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship, edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. £89.99. ISBN: 9783030006976.

Reviewed by Aoife Cantrill, University of Oxford


New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship

New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship, edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva (Palgrave, 2019)

Mona Baker, in her seminal work Translation and Conflict (2006, 2018), cites translation and interpretation as parts of the ‘institution of war’ (2). Baker places language at the heart of war’s processes, beginning with declaration, ending with statements of victory and surrender. Practically speaking, throughout history multilingual groups have coalesced due to or for the purpose of conflict; whether that be peace-breakers, mercenaries, or victims. Translation becomes a practical component of such interactions. Importantly, it also becomes the medium through which stories of conflict reach wider audiences.

            New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship (2018)edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva, echoes Baker’s understanding of translation and interpretation as counterparts to conflict. The collection of essays seeks to redress two interconnected imbalances: first, the dearth of narratives about experiences of defeat, trauma, and victimhood during the Spanish Civil War; and second, the use of translation as a tool to exclusively forward a victor’s narrative in the aftermath of war. Central to this idea is the conception of translation as a means to control information flows—not only what flows out, but also what flows in. The volume is careful in its recognition that the control of translation is not only about censorship pre-publication, but also constricting the export of narratives that can leave a society and reach foreign audiences. The book’s central theme is thus translation’s ability to present particular narratives of conflict to those beyond its bounds through source selection, omission, exaggeration and so on. The book itself achieves this act. Through its various essays, it presents a body of translated material relevant to the Spanish Civil War that has previously been either unseen, underappreciated, or in some instances forgotten entirely.

            The collection’s essays are divided into four parts: the first dedicated to the African-American writer Langston Hughes, a member of the Harlem Renaissance who came to Spain to write reports for the Afro-American magazine; the second to interpretation practices within the International Brigade; the third to censorship practices following the war; and the final section to translation and memory. When read as a whole, the essays reflect the vibrancy of translation studies at present, as the reader encounters theories of textual translation, intercultural translation, and adaptive translation.

            The two essays on Langston Hughes are configured nicely in this regard. The first, contributed by Patricia San José, looks at how Hughes’s understanding of the Spanish Civil War was informed by his own participation in the struggle for Civil Rights in 1930s America. His articles written during the conflict equate racism and fascism as socially oppressive forces: ‘give Franco a hood and he would become a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a kleagle’ (31). While in Spain, Hughes became intellectually preoccupied with the North African soldiers fighting in Franco’s armies, translating a number of poems about their experiences. In his essays, he interprets their role in the conflict through his experience of racial prejudice in the United States: he sees them as ‘deluded and driven’, pawns in the games of fascism (35). José uses Hughes’s commentary on this matter to highlight the new perspective he provides on the conflict. In the American author’s writing on North African soldiers, José sees a ‘bidirectional motion’ (24); the narrative of conflict is altered, as an outsider adds new dimensions through their legitimate and unique perspective. José describes this as ‘cultural translation’ (24)—a conceptual process that goes beyond the translation of a text from one language into another. Andrew Samuel Walsh’s essay, on the other hand, considers more orthodox translation practices, discussing Hughes’s ‘lost translation’ of Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads (Romancero gitano) (46). Walsh sees Hughes and Lorca as equally committed to social justice, emphasising the effectiveness of Hughes’s translation—particularly in its mirroring of Lorca’s use of rhythm. Read together, the two essays present parts of the book’s overall aims in microcosm—new narratives of the conflict, and an embracing of a definition of translation practices that stretches beyond the textual.

            The book’s other main concern is memory – a topic dealt with most convincingly by María Pilar Cáeres Casillas’s essay on memory and translation in La cabellera de la Shoá [The Hair of Shoa] (2015) by Felix Grande. Here, Casillas applies Derrida’s concepts of hauntology, thanatography, and untranslatability to talk about translation as ‘the endless process of attempting to name the experience of death-in-life’ (212). She develops this idea by evoking an equivalence between translation and grief, arguing that the process of translation provokes a kind of mourning, as some degree of loss is an inherent part of the action itself. What this discussion articulates quite convincingly is the capacity for translation to be a therapeutic act of healing—a way of communicating trauma, whilst also working through it. Behind this idea is an argument for translation for translation’s sake—removing the obligation to communicate with a wider audience, the act becomes about the individual. The position of this essay, at the book’s close, is an apt conclusion to a body of work that explores translation’s ability to foreground forgotten voices, as it restores emphasis to the owners of those voices themselves, and their personal reckonings with conflict.

            In such a collection it is difficult to pinpoint a substantial moment of weakness. That said, though the essays are very effective when read collectively, the four parts do exist fairly independently from one another. The compartmentalisation of the structure prevents an explicit discussion of the interaction between memory and censorship, for example. There are also some small areas where I wished analysis had delved a little further. Inês Espada Vieira’s chapter on the post-war manipulation of memory successfully compares Spain’s Civil War to Portugal’s Colonial Wars. Vieira discusses the parallel traumas of the two nations, and questions whether Portugal will eventually mirror Spain with an open discussion of memories from conflict. With this analysis in mind, her treatment of the Portuguese translation of Los girasoles ciegos (Blind Sunflowers) by Alberto Méndez (2004) would benefit from more exploration of the translation’s ‘shortcomings’ (198), and in particular how they might affect the Portuguese reader’s understanding of the text. Similarly, Marcos Rodríguez-Espinosa’s article on interpretation in the International Brigades, despite aiming to focus especially on ‘common language’ (69), provides limited examples of the hybrid language of the ‘universal soldiers’ (71). A more extensive discussion of the topic would have enriched not only Rodríguez-Espinosa’s article, but also the content of the collection as a whole. 

            The collection also leads the reader to consider how the project could further its aims. At various moments the essays make reference to non-textual translation practices, particularly in Kyra A. Kietrys’s chapter on the TV adaptations of María Dueñas’ 2009 novel El Tiempo entre costuras. The story first appeared on Spanish television in 2013, in a version directed by Iñaki Mercero, and is currently available on the streaming platform Netflix with the English title The Time In Between (borrowed from the American title of Daniel Hahn’s English translation of the novel published in 2012). Kietrys argues that adaptation here ‘distances trauma’ allowing a younger generation to glimpse something ‘triumphant’ in the Civil-war Era (178). Given the effectiveness of this chapter, there is certainly potential for future discussions that look at translation through non-textual sources, whether that be painting, photography, or film. Similarly, an approach guided by the theories outlined in Sherry Simon’s recent publication Translation Sites: A Field Guide (New Perspectives in Translation and Interpreting Studies) (2019), focusing on translation practice in the urban landscape, could also be very rewarding. Though these areas of interest are all beyond the remit of the study itself, it is testament to the quality of the project that one is led to consider how memory is translated across other media.

            In his introduction to the edited volume, Michael Cronin suggests that the essays are deeply pertinent to the ‘memory wars’ (ix) currently being waged in a number of societies today. 2019 marked 80 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, and the process of re-remembering the conflict is still ongoing. The controversy surrounding the closing of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de Los Caídos) in October 2019 to prepare for the movement of Franco’s remains to a municipal cemetery is the most recent reminder of the highly-charged discussions still taking place. Elsewhere, Michael Cronin (2003) has written about translation in postcolonial societies, pointing out how there is often an assumption that the act of translation itself brings about a resolution, that it allows a moment of post to be reached—when the reality is actually far more complex. This collection of essays does important work in highlighting translation’s similar relationship with conflict—not providing resolution, but a purposeful re-remembering of conflict’s reality, in a necessary but understudied step toward reconciliatory justice.

February 2020

Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic, Lawrence Venuti. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. £20. ISBN: 9781496205131.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic

Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic by Lawrence Venuti (University of Nebraska Press, 2019)

The energetic lucidity of Lawrence Venuti’s writing and its accompanying historical sweep owe much to Michel Foucault: yet if one looks at most English editions of Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses—a book whose overriding structure has no doubt influenced Venuti considerably—one cannot find any sign of its translator. This is exactly what Venuti has spent a career addressing. Enjoying an unparalleled importance within his field, he has long argued for translation to be recognised as a process of hermeneutic agency, with creative responsibilities and broad political consequences.

            In the process, he has brought to bear on the translator’s invisibility to foreign audiences and uninitiated consumers. He has tirelessly contradicted the idea that translation is a simplistic, mechanical means to enable equivalences from one text to another. His latest book finds Venuti at his most seething. The time for ‘coolly detached reasoning’ on the topic is past, he claims; rather, ‘the provocation of polemic has become necessary to realise and redirect it’ (37).

            Consequently, in Contra Instrumentalism (2019), Venuti creates a binary to make his argument as simplistic (and persuasive) as possible. He claims there are two types of translation: the hermeneutic and the instrumentalist. The hermeneutic model encapsulates what Venuti has spent years putting into practice as well as theory: it requires the translator to reinvent the source-text creatively, while being mindful of the cultural and political contexts of both the source-culture and the translation’s audience. Hearkening back to Friedrich Schleiermacher and Antoine Berman, Venuti has long claimed that the translated text should be foreignised rather than domesticated, meaning that readers should be aware that what they experience has come from somewhere drastically different. Rather than reducing the text to the familiar tropes of one’s own culture, one should adopt its language without doing disservice to its source.

            Instrumentalism, on the other hand, is the attitude that translation is nothing more than the mechanical conveying of words from one language to another. It comes, Venuti argues, in many forms: ‘The instrumental model, in particular, has accumulated a battery of rhetorical moves,’ the variations of which structure this book (16). It comes in the form of proverbs and aphorisms: ‘word-for-word’ and ‘sense-for-sense’ (11), in terms like ‘faithful’ and ‘compromise’: ‘Whenever the notion of “compromise” is used to describe translation, instrumentalism is at work: it assumes the existence of a source-text invariant that a translation can approximate but never reproduce’ (67). This, Venuti claims, is as false in practice as it is misleading in theory. It renders the role of the translator marginal, replaceable or redundant, where translation is always a failure, somehow inferior to its original. It renders the text ahistorical, decontextualized and oddly unmoored. Instrumentalism ‘is conceptually impoverished,’ he writes, removing texts from the historical, political, linguistic and social contexts ‘that invest it with significance as an interpretative act’ (59).

            Yet it is a way of thinking that goes beyond transnational industries and technology to the realms of literature and academia, both of which are treated to scorching critiques: ‘academics harbour an anti-intellectualism, ironically, bred by the splintering of intellectual labour into so many institutional compartments’ (41). Nevertheless, Venuti claims that academia urgently needs to ‘recognise that translation lies at the core’ of ‘humanistic study and research’; that is, ‘provided that translation is conceived and practised as an ethically charged and politically engaged act of interpretation’ (40). While congruent with David Damrosch’s advancements, the comparative discipline does not escape Venuti’s wrath, and his attack is worth quoting at length:

When, one wonders, will comparatists realise that no necessary connection exists between teaching in translation and setting foreign language requirements? When will they admit that their research and teaching unavoidably depend on translations? And when will they therefore stop whining about an ineradicable state of affairs and instead apply their energy and expertise to learning how to read translations as texts in their own right? (46)

While Rebecca Walkowitz and Ursula Heise receive more detailed accusations of perpetuating the monolingual rubric of the Anglophone academy, no critics are more guilty of instrumentalism—for Venuti—than Barbara Cassin and Emily Apter. Venuti’s historical panorama—accommodating Jacques Derrida, Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze and Joachim du Bellay—demonstrates the solidity of his distinction: whether it be Italian proverbs colluding translators with traitors (“Traduttoretraditore”), 16th century satirist Nicolò Franco or American poet Robert Frost, Venuti’s proposed binary of hermeneutics and instrumentalism is pervasive, and persuasive, in his examples. The former offers creative dialogue and intercultural exchanges of ideas and concepts; the latter assumes the translator is an intellectually inanimate decoder, someone who is somehow outside the boundaries of space and time, dealing with a text without issue, intuition, complaint or reinvention. As his diatribe continues, the less plausible this latter stance appears.

            In relation to The Dictionary of Untranslatables, Venuti commends its breadth while pointing out that since ‘the terms are repeatedly mistranslated in Cassin’s view, calling them “untranslatable” doesn’t seem precise’ (68). Untying a handful of entries for their lack of historical rigour, Venuti concludes that ‘the translation analysis raises more questions than it answers’ (56). Transforming past thinkers through the lens of literary theory, Venuti claims this approach tends to ‘turn the past into a mirror’ of contemporary academic trends: ‘This form of cultural narcissism we can do without’ (59).

            By this verdict, it is Apter’s crime to have elevated untranslatability ‘to a methodological principle, unfortunately, and the results seem misguided’ (65). Claiming that Apter’s preoccupation with French theory renders her analyses retrograde, even risking ‘turning back the clock in comparative literature’ to its Eurocentric past (65), Venuti proceeds to explain that because ‘Apter’s notion of untranslatability is essentialist, it cannot enable an account of the contingencies of translation’ (67). He passionately argues that ‘Apter is interested in theory, not in translation’ (71), while ‘the materiality of translation is evaporated into abstraction’ (73).

            Why does he harbour such vitriol? Apter’s critical sophistication cannot disguise, for Venuti, instrumentalism’s latest instalment. His concern is that notions of translation as a straight-forward process have been ‘so deeply entrenched’ and ‘for so long as to be unconscious, knee-jerk, rote’ (37). It is this conviction to overturn prior assumptions that lends energy to his critique, leading it across a myriad of centuries and cultures to demonstrate the distinction. ‘Isn’t it time,’ he concludes, that ‘we acknowledged instrumentalism to be a hoax, born out of the fear that translation contaminates and falsifies when it ought to reproduce’ (172)? The visceral aggression and energy of the book makes his argument more accessible—but accessibility is also, perhaps, where one locates issue.

            This is not to reduce Venuti’s book to one of simplistic binaries, nor is his critique not tempered by a self-conscious humility. He acknowledges a desire to remain ‘mindful of the limitations of [his] own discourse,’ because it is borne from the very situation he attempts to disrupt: his claims ‘derive from, in order to intervene against, the contemporary situation of translation theory and commentary, where the instrumental model enjoys such dominance as to marginalize the hermeneutic approach’ (26). Nor does he go so far as to endorse hermeneutic translation in all its forms: when analysing the subtitles of the South Korean film Thirst, he admits that it can, in such instances, prove inopportune, and even detrimental.

            In many ways, he is correct; yet his derision towards publications considering ‘the untranslatable’ overlook the attention they have brought to the field. This may be indirect, its theoretical positions may indeed be problematic, but the fact that it has brought greater attention to translation is undeniable:

Of course any project that generates a conversation about translation might be welcomed in Anglophone cultures […] Yet if Cassin’s dictionary were to become the main source of the talking points, the marginal status of translation would persist, unaffected, and may actually worsen. (62)

As persuasive as his polemic is, I find it difficult to subscribe to this claim. I myself would never have been led toward translation studies were it not for Apter and Cassin’s publications, and have met many who have said the same. A conversation has, indeed, been generated—but it is not one that necessarily contradicts Venuti’s complaints about the academic field: one need only look to Matthew Reynolds opening the Comparative Literature and Critical Translation course at the University of Oxford, or the ‘translational turn’ that Apter and Cassin deserve credit for instigating (even if, as in Duncan Large’s recent Untranslatability collection, the criticisms are numerous). If Venuti was concerned that the topic of untranslatability could ‘worsen’ the conversation, that anxiety, after finishing Contra Instrumentalism, appears misplaced.

            After all, it was only a matter of time before Cassin’s dictionary gathered its opponents and critiques, the most persuasive of them within this text. While discovering the limitations of Apter and Cassin’s works, this may well become another ‘main source of talking points’: its readers will realise the extent to which translation needs a seismic reinterpretation, and that its practice deserves a vigorous reappraisal.

January 2020

The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature, edited by Aleksandar Stevic and Philip Ta-Hang Tsang. New York: Routledge, 2019. £115.00. ISBN: 9781138502048.

Reviewed by Andreea Scridon, University of Oxford


The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature

The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature, edited by Aleksandar Stević and Philip Ta-Hang Tsang (Routledge, 2019)

For the vast majority of critics setting the tone for literary analysis today, cosmopolitanism has become the norm, and, as a result, the questioning of this predominance is viewed by many of the adherents to this trend with a certain degree of alarm. Indeed, the subject is a delicate one, especially if we consider why this ideology became predominant to start with: precisely as a reaction to the absolutism that underpinned many of the ideologies of the twentieth century—a century of bloodshed, poverty, and radical change for every continent on the globe.

            As such, the decision to flip the coin and to discuss ‘our prison house of cosmopolitanism’ (1) is a daring but necessary one, as we must admit the evident paradox at stake—a reactive concept is frequently a limited one. The planet’s shared dilemmas of the past few years make for proof that cosmopolitanism might not be the sole answer to our troubles, or that, at any rate, we must understand its nuances and ironies before ‘implementing’ it, as stated in the introduction: ‘Cosmopolitanism seeks to transcend certain limits—the limits of narrower communities in the name of an encounter with the world as a whole. At the same time, that encounter is always conditioned on and even defined by geographical, historical, and cultural limits’ (1). Thinking of it that way, a book entitled The Limits of Cosmopolitanism does strike one as profoundly pertinent.

            The Limits of Cosmopolitanism is composed of ten essays, in which one or more novels (most of which are deliberately selected as non-Western) are dissected at length in relation to the way cosmopolitanism is implicitly or explicitly represented, often incongruously, within each text. Overall, the book is informative, clear and intelligible, answering the questions formulating in the reader’s mind in due time. Given that we live in an age so cosmopolitan on every plane, the intention of this book to reframe the debate is so necessary that the ‘stakes’ must be quite high. In this sense, one notes that the bibliographical selection falls short of its potential. One might have expected a reading list that pointed back towards a long tradition, in the manner of Harold Bloom’s selections, though not in the sense of ideology but rather in that of panoramic scope, given the subject itself. We find however, a series of novels that are respectable, and worthy of discussion (these being Season of Migration to the North, The English Patient, Lyrics Alley, and Foreign Gods, Inc., to name a few), but the guiding principle of their selection is difficult to identify. For this reason, one gets the sense that the overarching argument spins on a smaller axis than it might have otherwise have done, and that the readership might be slimmed down statistically thanks to this hyper-specificity. Ironically, the limit itself is the critics’ failure to appeal to lionised titans, for it was precisely an appeal to the canon that caused critics to break away from ‘minor national writers’ in the first place, and select the best of each national literature in the process of constructing world literature.

            In a similar vein, the fact that the limits of cosmopolitanism are explored mostly through postcolonial terms strikes one as self-defying on one hand, given that the same preoccupations, though worthy in their own right, have already been discussed at length in scholarship in the past ten or twenty years (from Edward Said’s Orientalism, that revolutionized the tone of literary criticism), and unequal on the other hand. If we are to examine the limits of cosmopolitanism in regards to ‘Theory’, it may be redundant to focus on postcolonialism in disproportion to other topics that usually come up in systemic study of this nature. The minor deviations from this prism—for instance, a chapter on the fashionable topic of eco-fiction—are representative of the fact that this book is not written with the intention of asserting an atemporal relevance, but rather of addressing the limits of cosmopolitanism in the here and now.

            Still, the essays in this collection are well constructed in themselves, and some are particularly notable as being representative of the various strengths and weaknesses of cosmopolitanism. The most complex and thus interesting is Philip Tsang’s ‘“Why is the Patient ‘English’?”: Disidentification in Michael Ondaatje’s Fiction’. While the arguments for Ondaatje’s perceived cosmopolitanism are sometimes so forceful as to be presumptive towards the author’s intentions - one could argue that the book is more subtle than presented here, and that this counterargument might have been teased out despite Tsang’s—justified—logos for his argument), some points raised are extremely interesting: ‘Almásy’s (and Ondaatje’s) choice of “English” is not arbitrary, but reveals a curious logic in the novel: to be English, or to identify as English, is to have no identity’ (109). This is a satisfactory possibility for the interested reader of the text, looking to wrap up an intelligent explanation of the undeniable metaphor governing the novel, which Tsang highlights with finesse, and an excellent trampoline for a reader who could very well develop an entire essay, if not a book, based on the assertion that ‘Englishness, for which literary education served as its most powerful vehicle, thus came to be both exclusively national and potentially universal’ (109).

            ‘Building Bridges: Constructing a Comparative Sufi Cosmopolitanism in Rock and Roll Jihad’ by Mukti Lakhi Mangharam proves to be an engaging essay, if sometimes prescriptive: ‘Resistance to the current international wave of ethno-nationalisms can only be fought back by an international alliance of those who define one’s allegiance in universalizing terms to all human beings’ (35). The reactions that can easily be provoked by such declarations highlight the delicacy of the question at hand, and its easy slippage into the terrain of anti-cosmopolitanism. After all, some readers would see the decision to take such affirmations ‘in context’ as an act of grace that they aren’t obligated towards. A declaration like the following can thus appear downright alarming: ‘In fact, the issue of martyrdom violence—understood as mimetic violence that draws suicide bombers into martyrdom—can be linked to the invisible, symbolic violence and overexploitation that accompanies transnational neoliberalism’ (55). While intriguing in itself, this topic does not necessarily make for a convincing anecdote in comparison to other potential examples, only signaling the fact that cosmopolitanism is a reactionary ideology in the same manner that anti-cosmopolitanism is, just as the decision to understand postcolonialism in the same terms that it has been previously discussed is a deliberately anti-cosmopolitan step. Overall, however, the criticism of the book is often exceptional (an essay that stands out in this sense is Suha Kudsieh’s ‘Stuck Between England and Egypt’), generally non-biased and non-judgmental. The essays are objective in their treatment of the often anti-democratic nature of this ideology, questioning the homogenisation and thus increasingly superficial tendency of literature by way of cosmopolitanism’s sometimes-commercial approach on to the literary market, and structure their arguments from a logical rather than moral point of view.

            ‘Cosmopolis Besieged: The Exilic Reunion of Bogdan Bogdanović and Milo Dor’ by Vladimir Zorić, for example, is not at all an elusive essay, often dismantling the enigma of its own metaphors and preferring clear and mechanical analogies. It does excellent work in defining what the term ‘cosmopolitanism’ means by unpacking it piece by piece, exploring both its internal and external mechanisms, and as such is determined to repeatedly scoop out the weaknesses of both sides of the problem. However, works like Doctor Faustus and Auto-da-fé are only briefly touched upon, in comparison to the attention given to more obscure books, which, as stated before, limits the readership, and the application of theory seems to be in detriment to the argument: Martha Nussbaum’s insistence on definition through spatial forms, for instance, strikes one as inescapably nebulous and formulaic.

            Ultimately, however, this collection of essays, varied in tone and satisfyingly explanatory, makes for a promising start to a wider discussion about the limits of cosmopolitanism in regards to world literature. As any courageous theory that opens itself to the possibility of deliberate misinterpretation, it is absolutely useful for literary critics, validating literature’s important role by considering the practical application of cosmopolitanism and its visible results through writing.

December 2019

Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art, Ariane Mildenberg. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. £66.99. ISBN: 9780230289369.

Reviewed by Niamh Burns, University of Oxford


Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art

Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art by Ariane Mildenberg (Palgrave, 2017)

Ariane Mildenberg's Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art (2017) depicts a complex web of interrelation between phenomenological, artistic and literary texts in the modernist period. Mildenberg conceives of modernity, quoting Gertrude Stein, as ‘a time when everything cracks’ (17): habitual modes of thought and expression are disrupted, and those more ‘primitive’, ‘pre-reflective’ modes of experience that precede such habits are suddenly visible through these cracks. Phenomenology represents one response to this challenge: in ‘bracketing’ the conventions that govern our thought (including, significantly for Mildenberg, the distinction between subject and object), we might find the wondrous hiding in the everyday. Mildenberg outlines how a variety of modernist artworks operate with comparable impulses.

            Mildenberg’s book is made up of five chapters, with the three central chapters offering original close readings of works by Paul Cézanne, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kafka, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, Paul Klee, and Virginia Woolf. This book follows a number of other volumes which similarly survey the open interplay of phenomenology and modernist art and literature: for example Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei’s The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature (2007), and another volume which Mildenberg co-edited with Carole Bourne-Taylor: Phenomenology, Modernism and Beyond (2010). The originality of Modernism and Phenomenology: Literature, Philosophy, Art lies to a large extent in the particular case studies it brings to light.

            Mildenberg grounds her comparisons on the premise that ‘phenomenology is not a theory, it is a practice’ (3); as such she is ‘less interested in using phenomenology as a theoretical tool for analysing selected texts or artworks than in bringing into dialogue modernism and phenomenology’ (2). This makes for a fruitful comparative approach. The network of relations between texts built here is one without absolute limits, and the book offers a model for a truly interdisciplinary approach to different sorts of texts. Mildenberg’s open approach to her texts is an appropriate strategy given her subject: phenomenology has as its delineating limits receding ‘horizons’ as opposed to clear lines, as the reality and experience it describes resists attempts at thorough systematisation. Similarly, the modernist artworks considered exhibit ‘less one particular style than a search for a style’ (19). Mildenberg’s own book maintains the same open, un-fixed and unfinished character; she ‘[concludes] by starting again’ (139), avoiding absolute pronouncements on the nature of the connections she makes. However this approach paradoxically displays another kind of systematising impulse: in an enthusiasm to make clear the relevance of the different kinds of writing (and other artistic output) to one another, Mildenberg does not incorporate into her schema a framework by which to consider difference: between the writers, or between different kinds of writing, arising out of different historical cultural/academic traditions.

            Mildenberg’s introduction, ‘Phenomenology, Modernism and the Crisis of Modernity’, is breathless, as she jumps between sources and layers connections upon connections between thinkers, writers and artists in a manner that at times requires some effort to follow (there are almost 200 endnotes which reference a sizeable corpus in a 26 page introduction, and this density does not let up much throughout the book). Nonetheless it makes a strong case for the relatedness of the fields and fruitfulness of comparative study of phenomenological and modernist artistic and literary texts. Mildenberg shows this kind of comparative-critical approach to be a generative, active one: following Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the function of philosophy, Mildenberg demonstrates that her critical approach ‘actualises’ connections between texts, rather than merely reflecting pre-existing connections.

            Chapter 2, ‘On Apples, Broken Frames and Fallenness: Phenomenology and the Unfamiliar Gaze in Cézanne, Stein and Kafka’, offers a persuasive account of how certain modernist artworks engage with a loss of faith in the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, and the new grounds of the relations between objects that this involves. The ‘apples’ of the chapter’s title become a point of focus in the discussion of works by Paul Cézanne, Gertrude Stein and Franz Kafka. The apples act as a thread, providing a kind of thematic unity to the comparative thinking on these artworks that allows Mildenberg to avoid relying on a systematic framing; this is important as this ‘lack of a frame’ is precisely the subject of the chapter. A highlight is Mildenberg’s close reading of Stein’s ‘Apples’ (50–52), which carefully traces the relations between the words of this text.

            Chapter 3, ‘Earthly Angels and Winged Messengers: Experience and Expression in Hopkins, Stevens and Klee’, uses common angel imagery in order to draw out a shared emphasis on ‘a shift in perspective’ in the texts considered that reflects phenomenological procedure. Though often convincing, the comparisons between these primary texts are not always given sufficient space to unfold, with too many references to material beyond the texts in question. There are moments at which it might have been beneficial to slow down: such as with this chapter’s only very brief treatment of religion. Mildenberg takes for granted the ‘sacred secularity of the two poets’ work’; the lack of specificity regarding the sacred and the secular appears unsatisfactory especially in the case of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

            Chapter 4, ‘Virginia Woolf’s Interworld: Folds, Waves, Gazes’, makes a convincing case that Virginia Woolf ought to be considered a ‘literary phenomenologist’ (106). Mildenberg reclaims Woolf’s The Waves, sometimes seen as an ‘aesthetic failure’, arguing that its interplay of voices makes it Woolf’s ‘strongest aesthetic statement’, and that it is ‘the most phenomenological of Woolf’s longer works’ (109). An analysis of Woolf’s use of brackets is related to Husserlian bracketing; and both are well defended from accusations of introspection. This chapter is particularly strong in its examination of issues of articulation in Woolf’s work, revealed in close-reading: the modernist literature examined here operates, like phenomenology, between the articulate and the inarticulate, the reflective and the pre-reflective.

            The book’s final chapter, ‘Hyperdialectic: A Modernist Adventure’, reflects on the texts examined throughout as well as some new ones (including Nederlands Dans Theater’s 2003 dance production ‘Shutters Shut’, inspired by Gertrude Stein’s ‘If I Told Him’), explicitly without acting as conclusion. Mildenberg emphasises the ‘polyphony and polysemy of reality’ (149) identified in the texts she considers, and how these texts are characterised by their form of embodied practice, not by any conclusive results. The ‘continual questioning’ at issue here is said to ‘[surpass] dichotomies’ rather than resolve them (143). The trouble with this is that certain dichotomies or sources of difference hinted at in the text, between the religious and the secular, or between theoretical and non-theoretical traditions of writing, are not always satisfactorily surpassed or dissolved.

            Nonetheless, this book makes a compelling contribution to a growing body of work on the connections between modernism and phenomenology, particularly in its effective close readings of modernist texts. The grounds of its comparisons, whereby both artistic production and phenomenological procedure are conceived of as practices, and responses to a modernity in which the relatedness of objects appears fluid, remain well-established, if not fixed. Indeed it is precisely the openness or unfixed nature of these comparisons, in keeping with the strategies of the texts examined, which ensures that they are productive.

November 2019

Collaborative Translation: From the Renaissance to the Digital Age, edited by Anthony Cordingley and Céline Frigau Manning. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. £100. ISBN: 9781350075290.

Reviewed by Sui He, University College London


Collaborative Translation: From the Renaissance to the Digital Age

Collaborative Translation: From the Renaissance to the Digital Age, edited by Anthony Cordingley and Céline Frigau Manning (Bloomsbury, 2017)

What is collaborating, collaboration? What is translating, translation? (1). The stereotypical image of a lonely translator, presumably working in a relatively small room, is defied by the editors at the very beginning of the book. Drawing on the expertise of experienced translation researchers, Collaborative Translation: From the Renaissance to the Digital Age (2017), edited by Anthony Cordingley and Céline Frigau Manning, delves into various aspects of ‘collaborative translation’, crossing numerous temporal and spatial borders. Based on insightful case studies, the concept of ‘collaborative translation’ is subjected to fragmentation and unification as the analysis moves between practice and theory, all the while raising intriguing issues from the Renaissance to our contemporary, technology-driven world.

            In Chapter 1, Cordingley and Manning demonstrate how challenging it is to define ‘collaborative translation’ in different European languages due to the intrinsic link shared by these two words. Laying the foundations for later chapters, they include both nominal and relational definitions of ‘collaborative translation’, addressing both the ‘non-essential, open and dynamic’ nature of collaborative translation activities, and the propensity for the ‘multiple definitions of the term to evolve from changes in its elements and the relationships between them at a given moment’ respectively (3). This inclusive definition takes various stakeholders of translation activities into consideration and helps to structure the forthcoming discussions. Building upon this definition, the authors contribute to untangling the myth of singular authorship. They acknowledge the individuality of translators with ‘unique personality, different aptitudes, styles of writing and ways of reading’ (14). However, rather than reinforcing the idea of absolute singularity, they bring out the concept of ‘harmony’—‘a new voice emerges in its own right, with its unique texture and range’ (22). This consolidates their position—discussing collaborative translation activities in terms of unity, while accepting individual rights embedded in these processes—which is exemplified in following chapters.

            The three parts in the main body comprise eleven chapters. Part 1: Reconceptualizing the Translator: Renaissance and Enlightenment Perspectives, opens with Belén Bistué’s challenge to Italian historian Leonardo Bruni’s (1370-1444) definition of ‘correct translation’ as a ‘single task [that] should be performed by a single translator’ (44), drawing attention to the explicit yet self-contradictory exclusion of collaborative translation arising from this definition (35). The author shows that, in the context of early modern European unification, this model met the need for translating Greek and Arabic manuscripts. However, under contemporary circumstances, it is beneficial for scholars to re-evaluate collaborative translation models. Following this idea, Françoise Decroisette, in Chapter 3, showcases collaborative translation practices in contemporary theatrical settings—coined as ‘shared’ translation (49)—based on her experience of translating Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni’s (1707-1793) comedies from Italian into French. The author shows that apart from the prototypical involvement of stakeholders, theatre translation includes different media of interpretation based on both textual and non-textual elements, which calls into question the idea of ‘faithfulness’ due to its lack of relevance in the absolute (59). In Chapter 4, Jean-Louis Fournel and Jean-Claude Zancarini introduce technology into the existing discussion on the temporal gap, reflecting on their experiences translating Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), and Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). Once again, the keyword ‘harmony’ emerges when the issue of orality is examined, revisiting the art of translation proposed in Chapter 1. Noticeably, the authors question the credibility of certain words (‘fidelity’ and ‘clarity’, for example) that translators use to describe their conception of translation in contemporary contexts, suggesting that these terms fail to cover the dynamic ‘actual reality’ of the translation process, which, with the help of technological development, is undergoing extensive research (83).

            Part 2, Collaborating with the Author, starts with Patrick Hersant’s informative typology of various collaborative exchanges in translation practice (Chapter 5). Hersant notes that some presuppositions regarding the collaboration between authors and translators, such as the utility of the author’s participation, are not necessarily true (103). Based on this observation, Hersant argues that efficiency plays an essential part when discussing collaborative translation. This pragmatic insight is enriched by Olga Anokhina in Chapter 6 through an intriguing example based on the collaborative experience of Vladimir Nabokov and his translators into English and French, presenting different modes of author-translator collaboration conditioned by various power relations. She observes that in real-life scenarios, practical factors such as copyright issues (especially nowadays) and stakeholders’ social impact with regards to the market condition could leave these presuppositions at fault, which resonates with Hersant’s conclusions regarding the collaborative efficiency (and compromise) of each stakeholder. Proceeding with the example of two seminars (1978 and 2011) organised by Günter Grass, Céline Letawe sheds light on the discussion of ‘translatability’ from a translator’s (not researcher’s) perspective (137), bridging the gap between theory and practice. With the intention of facilitating the translator’s work, these seminars grappled with Grass’s seemingly untranslatable texts, making use of concrete translation strategies. It is shown that similar difficulties faced by translators working with different target languages may share common solutions, which could contribute to overall efficiency (133; see also Chapter 9, 184-185). Additionally, similarities and differences embedded in this process reveal the collaborative nature of translation practice. In Chapter 8, Abigail Lang offers more practical insights, reviewing the Royaumont seminars hosted in Paris during 1983 to 2000—a collaborative poetry translation project which involved poets translating the work of their contemporaries. This chapter provides concrete examples of participants’ reflections, and concludes the section by presenting a comprehensive picture of collaborative translation in an experimental laboratory environment.

            Moving away from examples of author-translator collaboration from the recent past, Part 3 offers a detailed insight towards an Environment of Collaboration fuelled by advancing technology and modernisation. In Chapter 9, Anna Zielinska-Elliott and Ika Kaminka review three conventional types of collaboration—collaboration between the author and one translator, between the author and a group of translators working in different languages, and between two or more translators working on the same text into the same language (169). They then move on to the fourth type—an emerging collaboration model between translators of the same work into different languages based on a solution-oriented approach (174). Through case studies, they discuss the concern with collaborative efficiency, and shed light on the dual liberation of author and translator in practice. Chapter 10 turns to a specific collaborative phenomenon—translation crowdsourcing—driven by the ‘technological turn’ in Translation Studies (192). According to the author, Miguel A. Jiménez-Crespo, the most important feature of crowdsourcing is ‘its dependency on collaborative web-mediated environments’ (194). With this foregrounded, crowdsourcing and its subtypes are mapped onto the framework of Translation Studies, including a detailed review of methodological and theoretical issues. In Chapter 11, Gillian Lane-Mercier reviews Canadian institutional collaboration and its implications for multi/bi-lingual countries regarding the shaping power of translations influenced by identity issues related to nationalism. Chapter 12 by Michael Cronin approaches translation from the angle of a relatively novel post-human ecology. This draws attention to the value of a translator’s individual activity in relation to collective responsibility at a global level, and inspires the reader to think and digest the whole book from a brand new perspective.

            Overall, this edited volume presents insightful case studies elaborating on various forms of collaborative translation, and includes detailed lists of references directing further reading. The scope of this book, ranging from the Renaissance to the digital age, provides the reader with an efficient exploration of the topic. With the theme in mind, it is interesting to notice that five out of the twelve chapters are themselves translations (but only with the translators’ names at the end of each chapter in brackets). Also, the idea of harmony in the process of collaborative translation mentioned by several authors somehow speaks to the Taoist idea of achieving harmony through balancing the relationships between different forces in a collective whole. However, in this volume, only Japanese translation examples are included as representative of the contemporary Eastern world, leaving the vast realm of the early modern East untouched. Despite this, however, this book invites readers to think about the potential perspectives with which one can approach detailed case studies, and raises important questions as to whether to view translation pragmatically as an efficiency-driven and solution-oriented activity, or as an intellectual-enriching activity in its own right.

October 2019

Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement: Translation and Transcultural Dialogue, Shuangyi Li. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. £74.99. ISBN: 9789811351426.

Reviewed by Yuri Cerqueira dos Anjos, Victoria University of Wellington


Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement: Translation and Transcultural Dialogue

Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement: Translation and Transcultural Dialogue by Shuangyi Li (Palgrave, 2017)

Even before the publication of Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement: Translation and Transcultural Dialogue, the work of Shuangyi Li on Proust and China was already on the radar of Proustian scholars around the world. In a 2011 conference held at the University of São Paulo, Marion Schmid referenced it as an example of the fertility and dynamism of the Proustian field in the UK. This promising project became a book (recently awarded with the 2019 Anna Balakian Prize) that reaches beyond the field of French Studies.

            Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement is a study that deals with a vast array of concepts, references, corpora and languages in order to provide a prismatic vision of a core problem: how can we understand the main traits of the reception and recreation of La Recherche by Chinese translators and writers? Within this core problem, the author makes some strategic choices that allow him to maintain the broad scope of his subject (Proust and China) while being conceptually and methodologically precise. In particularising his objects and promoting the framework for a more detailed analytical approach, Shuangyi Li allows the reader to feel relatively comfortable even though some of the themes covered in his book might be entirely original or unfamiliar to some readers.  

            Dealing with such a large and complex topic, Li had to make some delicate choices. The first of these choices regards his conceptual tools. The importance of translationintertext and transcultural dialogue, as the main notions guiding the book, is highlighted from the onset by the title. What the title is not able to make clear is that, firstly, each of these three concepts are equally important in the text and, secondly, they suggest a progression within the book, starting with a focus on translation and moving towards the idea of transcultural dialogue. This triad creates the basis for the interpretation of the many aspects and stages of the Chinese reception of Marcel Proust. Like links in a chain, these concepts are, at the same time, distinct and attached to one another, firmly placed but also part of a larger mobile structure.

            As readers, we are challenged to keep track of this subtle and sometimes blurred interaction, but equally are reminded to focus on one of those notions at a time. In his analysis of the Chinese translations of La Recherche, intertext and transcultural dialogue appear to support the understanding of the textual and ideological dimensions of the translational process. In his account of intertextual engagement of mainland Chinese authors with La Recherche, he shows how they depended on translations and dialogues between French and Chinese cultures. In analysing the more complex case of the transcultural dialogue established between François Cheng’s and Proust’s work, we are also invited to draw on (or contrast with) the first two stages of the study and to think of translation, intertext and transcultural dialogue as the threads of a compactly weaved history of cultural connections.

            Another important aspect of this book is the choice of its corpus. Consisting mainly of Chinese translations, the work of three mainland Chinese writers (Wang Xiaobo, Yu Hua, Wei Hui) and that of a Franco-Chinese writer (François Cheng), the corpus also bears a triple nature that somewhat mirrors the triple conceptual basis we have discussed.

            The structure of the book, however, does not reflect that triple nature. Instead, the work is divided into two parts. Part One analyses the sometimes misguided and reductionist, but mostly interesting, reception of Proust by mainland Chinese translators and writers. Shuangyi Li interprets those productions in detail, but always against the wider backdrop of China’s socio-historical context. For him, the fact that this reception provides ‘limited understandings of Proust work per se’ (115) reveals a hasty appropriation of external cultural references. This limitation, he argues, not only is linked to the broader Chinese modern cultural landscape and its ‘impatient cultural ambition (...) to be integrated into the world literature network’ (116) but also contributes to an important process of reinterpretation of Proust’s creations (119).

            Part Two focuses on a different perspective regarding Franco-Chinese cultural interactions. Here, François Cheng’s case becomes the centre of the study. Cheng’s writings seem to epitomise the contrast between mainland Chinese reception and that initiated by the Chinese diaspora in France. Cheng’s peculiar position is in this sense intelligently underlined by the bi-folded structure of the book. His work occupies a large portion of Li’s analysis, and for good reason: Cheng’s interactions with La Recherche produce more complex and powerful creative outcomes. Cheng is simultaneously aware of (and tries to transcend) both Chinese and French receptions of the work, advancing not only new perspectives of La Recherche and new creative engagements with Proust in Le Dit de Tianyi, but also new ‘positions in the literary field’ (237).

            Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement integrates an analysis of different objects (that is, translations and literary texts) into a coherent narrative, leading to a thesis on how to interpret the overall process of Chinese reception of Proust. Through the different translations, and intertextual and transcultural dialogues, we are able to sense an evolution of the contacts between Proust and China. Progressively, but not linearly, as the understanding of the French author became more rich and creative, the interactions between the work of Proust and Chinese literary actors seems to become more complex and profound as well.

            Certainly, we can disagree with some of Shuangyi Li’s choices in this study. We can ask, for instance, if important aspects of translation analysis were not left aside. When a large part of the discussion around the Chinese translations is consigned to the topic of the language of sexuality, we might feel that problems like memory, literary creation, narrative voice or phrasal rhythm could have been more thoroughly analysed. They seem equally important and would also be able to produce important insights. Reading Li’s fine and detailed analysis can sometimes make us lose sight of some other important aspects of the corpus.

            But these are inevitable disagreements that do not overshadow the overall power of this work. Its merit lies in its capacity for articulating the methods of Translation Studies, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory and History within a profound investigation that illuminates both the work of Proust and that of Chinese writers and translators. This capacity for expanding our knowledge of both sides of the comparative equation is maybe one of the few golden rules in the field of Comparative Literature, where consensus is rare. Shuangyi Li provides us with a potent intellectual telescope with which we can observe the complex network linking Proust and China.

September 2019

The Translation of Films, 1900–1950, edited by Carol O'Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2019. £70.00. ISBN: 9780197266434.

Reviewed by Daniella Schütze, University of Oxford


The Translation of Films, 1900–1950

The Translation of Films, 1900–1950, edited by Carol O'Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu (Oxford University Press, 2019)

It has become, since the cultural turn, almost a truism to say that translation is a process of recreation rather than reproduction, a form of rewriting via which a text emerges like a reflection in a funhouse mirror, transmuted in more than words alone. Yet, moving from the field of translation studies to film studies, we find that the translational prism of language and culture has been largely overlooked, eclipsed by cinema’s fabled universality. It is this—and many other—surprisingly stubborn myths that The Translation of Films 1900-1950, a collection of fourteen essays, seeks to redress.

            In a comprehensive introduction, editors Carol O'Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu, a translation scholar and professional subtitler respectively, situate translation at the core of film’s development as an international art form, emphasising translation’s ‘crucial contribution not only to the worldwide circulation of films, but also to the art of cinema’ (cover copy). Film translation, for the editors, is a conceptually broad and ‘unique form of translation’ due to the medium’s polysemiotic nature (5), involving not just ‘language transfer activity’, but ‘interventions of all kinds’, such as re-editing, image manipulation, and censorship (8). Readers need not, then, puzzle over the inclusion of a long-snubbed party into the conversation on translation, namely silent cinema—an importantly accommodating gesture which this volume is the first of its kind to make.

            The most striking aspect of the collection, nonetheless, is its novel approach to the ground on which it treads. According to the editors, the volume traverses a new and generously multidisciplinary field, which they dub ‘film translation history’ (19). Despite the concerns shared with translation studies (changing norms; ethics; the interface of art and industry), the volume resists becoming mired in translation theory, with contributions coming not just from film and translation scholars, but from the hands-on perspective of curators and restorers. Collectively, they present a diachronic panorama of film translation that is rooted right in its fin-de-siècle origins: the opening chapters (2-6) explore the translation and restoration of silent films and the attendant aesthetic, commercial, and ethical conundrums, while the remaining chapters (7-15) trace the creative ferment in film translation effervescing around the transition to sound in the late 1920s and beyond.

            To suggest that the volume is structurally bisected, however, would do a disservice to one of its major achievements: debunking the fallacy of a clean break between silent and sound eras. The need for film translation, we learn, did not suddenly arise with the invention of the talkie, but predated it by decades, as distributors adapted silent pictures for audiences at home and abroad. In chapter 3, Claire Dupré la Tour discusses Pathé’s ‘full-scale international marketing strategy’ of producing intertitles in multiple languages by 1903 (60), while film historian Charles Barr, in one of the most engaging essays of the collection, explores an ingenious example of Soviet re-editing in which the fundamental post-war plot of a silent Anglo-American drama, Three Live Ghosts (1922), is—intentionally—lost in translation. Given the potential for moralising, Barr’s conclusions are pleasingly nuanced: the manipulation of images and the complete rewriting of intertitles (originally composed by a young Alfred Hitchcock), ‘does not constitute some kind of shocking aberrant case, a sneaky piece of Communist distortion’ (98). This is, rather, an exceptionally creative experiment in narrative construction that would have left Hitchcock ‘fascinated, rather than resentful’ (100), counting as just one among many of the ‘reshaping strateg[ies]’ operating in abundance throughout the world (82).

            These strategies have made cinema an international story, one that does not revolve on an anglophone axis. Though the editors acknowledge that ‘a book in English about film translation may seem a contradiction in terms’ (22), the provision of footnoted quotations in the original languages nods towards cinema’s linguistic diffuseness, while the essays themselves demonstrate the varied trajectories taken by film translation in different lingua-cultures. After the coming of sound, Carla Mereu Keating discusses how linguistic-purist ideology in Mussolini’s Italy became a motor for the dubbing industry, while conversely in Sweden, as Christopher Natzen explains, dubbing foregrounded ‘the technical procedure of film production’ (263), causing a 'heightened media sensitivity’ which disrupted viewers’ immersion in the filmic world, thus paving the way for the success of subtitling (256).

            Rachel Weissbrod’s examination of the conflictual forces of politics and commerce within the ‘subsystem’ of translated films in 1930s Mandatory Palestine demonstrates that filmic texts, like literary ones, are enmeshed in a network of dialectical systems. It is characteristic of the collection that films are studied not in an aesthetic or theoretical bell-jar, but with a refreshingly non-abstracted approach to films-in-context. Comparative stylistic analysis of Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna (1933) and its French translation is mobilised by Charles O’Brien alongside copious extra-textual material, such as contemporaneous press reports and cinematographers’ accounts, to explore the possible impact on film production after dubbing became the translational norm for Hollywood exports.

            Within the volume’s historic-contextual frame, film is treated not only as art, but as artefact. Indeed, many of the entries turn an archaeologist’s eye to their objects of study: in an entertaining contribution titled ‘Confessions of a film restorer’, Thomas Christensen offers a first-hand account of the ethical quandaries of restoring intertitles from other-than-original versions, admitting to inevitable losses on ‘the sacrificial altar’ when negotiating respect for original material and demands of contemporary accessibility (109). Restoration, it seems, could be counted among the interventional strategies subsumed by the editors under ‘translation’, and its complexity is only compounded by early film’s susceptibility to the sands of time, for it is often the case that only badly-weathered relics, if any, remain (15).

            With numerous printed stills providing vivid reminders of the volume’s 'drifting, volatile, almost paleontological’ project (150), one wonders whether it ought to have been titled ‘Film Translation History’. Yet the authority exuded by a label of this kind would ill befit a volume whose thrust tends more towards destabilisation than postulation, driving a wedge—but not drawing a line—under many of the myths that beset film scholarship and preservation today. Thus the period under scrutiny remains in touch with the present: the collection’s sleuth-like attention to rewriting practices, whether explicitly translational or restorational, confronts our indifference to the provenance of the films that we—as scholars, curators, and cinephiles—‘unthinkingly consume’ in the age of digital availability (4).

            In view of the volume’s laudable efforts in exploring a ‘still largely uncharted territory of scholarly research’ (xix), I am chary of nitpicking. I would, nonetheless, suggest that its paratextual framing could benefit from revision; despite its claim to offer an ‘international history of audiovisual translation’ spanning ‘across the USA, Europe, South America, and the Middle East’ (21), a cursory glance at the contributors’ biographies hints at what is set to be a Euro-centric survey, in which Latin America and Mandatory Palestine—though valuable inclusions—make appearances so solitary as to seem almost tokenised. Likewise the cover image, depicting a spot-the-difference misprint in the English-subtitled version of a 1946 V. Shantaram film, elicits some misleading expectations, for the only representation Hindi film receives is on the dust jacket. One book, of course, cannot cover everything. Yet, despite circumventing the honeytrap of making Hollywood the pivot on which all film history hinges, perhaps more reserve should have been exercised before attributing such vast intercontinental scope to the volume.

            Another weak spot is the somewhat dissatisfactory ellipsis on which the collection hangs as a whole: the ‘so what?’ towards which the essays head—‘what does film translation say about the producing and receiving lingua-cultures?’—is rarely addressed head-on. It must be said, however, that the volume presents itself as a venture, the essays being ‘the inaugural episodes of a new scholarly endeavour’ (xix), geared as much towards stimulation as to exposition.

            The collection’s comparative spirit of challenging and probing, of stimulating the contact zone between disciplines, does not cover new ground, but it does cover old ground in new ways: as essays from archive and academy shed light on each other’s disciplinary emphases, early film translation in all its incarnations is revealed at once to be an engine of international circulation, a site of artistic experimentation, and an inextricable part of the story of cinema. In foregrounding a film’s transformation through a translational prism, and in confronting the scholarly lacuna where silent film translation should be, the collection dismantles the myth of cinema as a ‘universal language’, and proves that translated films—those ‘neglected "orphans” of film history’ whose notionally inferior status leaves them subject to deliberate destruction (xviii)—are eminently worthy of preservation and study. Here, rather than in any individual essay, lies The Translation of Films’ accumulative potential to change how films are preserved, distributed, studied, and seen, such that the archaeological puzzle of film translation history, with all its missing pieces, may start to look more complete.

June 2019

Stanley Cavell and Philosophy as Translation: The Truth is Translated, edited by Paul Standish and Naoko Saito. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. £85.00. 9781786602893.

Reviewed by Georgina Edwards, University of Oxford


Stanley Cavell and Philosophy as Translation: The Truth is Translated

Stanley Cavell and Philosophy as Translation: The Truth is Translated, edited by Paul Standish and Naoko Saito (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017)

In light of the passing of Stanley Cavell last year, this volume is a welcome celebration of the American philosopher’s work and enduring impact. Each of the eleven short chapters provides an original response to Cavell’s thought, revolving around the themes of translation, in the contexts of ordinary language philosophy and education. The book’s subtitle, ‘The Truth is Translated’, is an allusion to the following quotation by Thoreau, cited by Cavell in The Senses of Walden: ‘The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth is translated: its literal monument alone remains’ (1). Thoreau’s words are used as a springboard by each of the authors responding to the theme of ‘philosophy as translation’ in this volume.

            Standish and Saito, in their introduction, warn that ‘philosophy as translation’ is ‘in danger of becoming a somewhat vague metaphor for transformation’ (2). Instead, we should see translation as ‘a metonym of our lives’ (2). Saito and Standish choose to focus on intralingual translation, which is ‘not simply a matter of linguistic conversion’, but rather ‘the movement of meaning within language more generally’ (2). The underestimation of interlingual translation is problematic; it is not ‘simply’ linguistic conversion. The complexity of interlingual translation and its importance for philosophy is unfortunately underrepresented in several of the volume’s essays, but this is raised as an issue by some authors (such as Claudia Ruithenberg in Chapter 9). Furthermore, the editors’ argument that they want to move their focus towards intralingual translation and away from ‘the ordinary sense of translation’ (2) seems potentially at odds with their interest in ‘ordinary human experience’ and their claim that intralingual translation is ‘internal to Cavell’s ordinary language philosophy’ (3).

            However, the editors do make a good case for the general importance of translation to philosophy, particularly to pragmatism and the philosophy of education. Translation is useful as it is a process that ‘exposes aspects of language that can easily be ignored’ (5). It cultivates ‘self-criticism and receptiveness of the imagination,’ because when translating ‘our words [are] always being tested in the eyes of others in the language community’ (6). Wouldn’t these qualities also be achieved (perhaps even better) by interlingual translation? It is unclear what is unique to the term that adds to philosophical discussion once the linguistic elements are downplayed.

            For Saito, in the first chapter of the volume, translation is essentially ‘an incessant process of human’s reengagement with language’ (12). This reengagement means that ‘humans are always open to a new possibility of and hope for rebirth and conversion when they are undergoing crisis. Such moments of self-transcendence are crucial components in one’s understanding of other cultures’ (12). Saito writes engagingly about why translation is philosophically interesting, in that it prompts us to think about language, and therefore ourselves and our relationship to others. She advances on this by connecting Cavell’s ordinary language philosophy with translation. ‘Returning language back to the ordinary does not mean to replace philosophy’s language by mundane ordinary words;’ rather, Saito claims, it ‘means to find something uncommon in the common by being reengaged with language’ (13). Again, while these are important points, it is unclear why Saito would not agree that interlingual translation would achieve this reengagement just as well. The need to talk of translation as intralingual, and as a ‘metonym’ rather than a ‘metaphor’, seems to tend towards finding the central “essence” of our language and our lives, the essential part that can represent the whole. This need to find the essential gestures towards a metaphysical point of view, where translation could be the key to all philosophical problems. Saito makes the appealing but aggrandising claim that ‘philosophy as translation’ can show us how ‘the life of humans is always being translated, transformed, and transcended; our selves are always on the way, with the gap and chasm never to be filled’ (20). The equation of translation with the human condition strikes a chord, but once again further clarification is needed to explain why ‘translation’ should be used as opposed to ‘transformation’. By adhering adamantly to the idea of intralingual translation as a metonym of our experience of language, Saito is in danger of downplaying its linguistic features. Yet this is precisely why ‘translation’ has been chosen over other analogous terms for the title of this volume.

            This point sadly does not always come across. There are some essays in the volume (such as Chapter 2, ‘Stanley Cavell, the Ordinary, and the Democratization of Culture(s)’ by Sandra Laugier) in which the inclusion of ‘translation’ seems almost tokenistic. While such chapters have their own merit as studies of ordinary language philosophy, it is not clear what ‘translation’ adds to this discourse. In the general philosophical explorations of intralingual translation (Chapters 7 and 8 by Sami Pihlström and Megan L. Laverty respectively), the volume misses an opportunity to discuss real intralingual issues which could also relate to education—such as dialects, loan words and academic literacy.

            The most successful essays draw a connection between ‘untranslatability’ and education. The premise for this is Saito’s conception of translation as ‘reengagement’ with language, which is developed by Vincent Colapietro in Chapter 3, ‘Speaking Out of a Sense of Our Impoverishment’, and Standish in Chapter 4, ‘Rebuking Hopelessness’. According to Colapietro, translation unsettles our complacency when using language. Confronting the difficulties of translation means that one never speaks with over-confidence; rather with humility, ‘out of a sense of impoverishment’. In a fruitful meditation on a meeting between Martin Heidegger and Paul Celan, Standish turns the potentially pessimistic notion of ‘impoverishment’ into a positive view of translation as a constant necessary process of negotiation and compromise. Language should always be thought of in terms of an encounter with others, and such encounters are opened up by poetry and translation. Standish’s close reading of literary and philosophical texts adds a rich depth to his interpretation of translation as intralingual, which is sometimes lacking elsewhere.

            In Chapter 11, Standish describes how as a student, Cavell hoped that all language could be eliminated of misunderstandings and ambiguities by being perfectly translated into logic (171-2). Cavell later moved away from this idea, towards a view of translation not as a complete process but as one always necessarily incomplete. In Chapter 10, Saito links this process with learning and education. Saito aptly states that ‘We continue education not to know about ourselves, but to realize the little we knew’ (168). Ian Munday, in Chapter 7, usefully highlights how this is a significant point for education, in that ‘frustration and confusion’ are ‘integral to a good education’ (96).

            The connection between translation and education is a valuable one. Joris Vlieghe describes situations of ‘radical translation’ in Chapter 5, as contexts where students and teachers have to rely on communicating in a language that is not their mother tongue. Even native speakers are ‘heirs’ to their language, meaning that they are ‘forced to speak the words of others’ and remain ‘strangers to “our” language’ (81). Through interlingual and intralingual translation, ‘we are constantly required to negotiate the terms we use’ (79). Drawing on his own experiences of teaching, Vlieghe describes how negotiating situations of radical translation are educational in a profound sense, in that they show us 1) that a ‘we’ is developed through our endeavours and 2) that commonality is not a condition of communication, but the result (76).

            This book is just as much about untranslatability as it is about translation. Untranslatability can demonstrate the potential of language as well as its limits. Claudia W. Ruitenberg discusses the benefits of ‘untranslatables’ to education. They enhance the students’ vocabulary, adding ‘nuance and complexity to international education’ (142). Untranslatables also prompt the philosophical insight that concepts are not universal across cultures, or independent of the words that represent them (142). Encountering untranslatables enables us to overcome a ‘oneworldedness’, a complacent acceptance of the dominance of a global language. Ruitenberg’s argument is strengthened by her references to her personal experience teaching students philosophy in English (as a native-speaker of Dutch) and trying to explain foreign terms, such as the German concept of Bildung (147)Such experiences ‘demand that we pause before engaging in “cross-cultural” dialogue’ and therefore ‘cannot take for granted that we speak from a common ground’ (153). Ruitenberg takes issue with Saito’s claim that interlingual translation is ‘simply’ linguistic conversion, arguing that ‘we should not abandon attention to the linguistic aspects of translation too quickly’ (145).

            In this respect, the book manages to resolve some of its own problems and contradictions. The downplaying of interlingual translation is surprising, given that its importance has already been widely acknowledged (such as in the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, edited by Barbara Cassin). Many of the creative responses and meditations on the philosophical appeal of translation could have been improved by further specifying the distinction between ‘translation’ and analogous terms, such as ‘transformation’. The volume’s originality and greatest success, however, lies in its connecting of translation with the philosophy of education.

May 2019

Untranslatability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Duncan Large, Motoko Akashi, Wanda Jóźwikowska, and Emily Rose. London: Routledge, 2018. £115. ISBN: 9781138082571.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


Untranslatability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Untranslatability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Duncan Large et al. (Routledge, 2018)

We assumed, for a while, that globalisation was as continuous as it was inevitable; nowadays, we are less certain. In such a climate, what better time for the theme of the ‘untranslatable’? For Duncan Large, ‘untranslatability has always been both a philosophical problem, and a problem for philosophy’ (50). In the wake of resurgent nationalisms on every continent, ‘untranslatability has never had a higher profile than at present.’ (2) The question no contributor here can avoid is a simple one: does such a thing as an ‘untranslatable’ exist?

            The topic’s academic attention was sparked by two highly significant works, published in close succession: Emily Apter’s ‘Against World Literature’ (2013) and the English translation of Barbara Cassin’s ‘Dictionary of Untranslatables’ (2014). Apter argued that literary critics must learn to ‘think of translation as a kind of philosophy, or as a way of doing theory,’ and claimed her aim was ‘to activate untranslatability as a theoretical fulcrum of comparative literature.’ (2013: 247; 3-4) Cassin’s ‘Dictionary of Untranslatables’ (2004/2014) meanwhile, was more ambitious still: her Dictionary contains hundreds of such words, each entry an overview. With each word, we see its etymology, altering usages, philosophical purchase, with contributors ranging from linguists to translators to philosophers, from Judith Butler to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

            Fittingly, Cassin’s opening chapter rearticulates the Dictionary’s purposes once more. Addressing the questions that have plagued its reception (its critics ranging from Carlo Ginzburg to Lawrence Venuti) Cassin’s entry reads like an afterword to the Dictionary and a prelude to this collection. She responds to her critics with a palpable relief, and ends her chapter with a statement as bombastic as the Dictionary itself:

there is no point of view that sees all points of view, no Leibnizian God who, if each language is a vision of the world, possesses the tota simul vision of all visions. If there is a God, it is rather a translator God. (22–23)  

            In Chapter 2, Theo Hermans’ masterful overview chops confidently between Apter’s and Cassin’s projects, before approaching his case studies: Juan de Betanzos, a Spanish interpreter who learned Quechua in Peru; Thomas Harriot, an Early Modern scientist who invented a phonetic alphabet for native American dialects; Matteo Ricci, the first Italian Jesuit to learn Chinese. ‘What renders these cases compelling as well as colourful is the complex set of entanglements, agendas, preoccupations, needs and desires that made up their outlook.’ (33) Their contexts remind us that ‘the concrete, real-life entanglements’ of such figures ‘cut through the theoretical problems’ recently posed. (33) Largely complimentary of Apter and Cassin’s work, his contention lies in the scope of what their version of untranslatability comes to accommodate: acknowledging how it seems to stand for ‘the bumps in the road which give translators occasion to pause and reflect,’ he expresses concern that ‘if every hesitation is an index of untranslatability, there is little else besides untranslatability.’ (38) Where and how do we draw the theoretical line?

            It is a question that co-editor Large begins by articulating next: ‘Any attempt to define untranslatability is obliged to map the contours of the translatable, to delimit its furthest extent, and that in turn presupposes a definition of translation itself.’ (50) Tracing the earlier genealogies of Cassin’s project, Large claims the German Romantics were keen on ‘philosophising translation in a minor key,’ (55) before turning to his recent translations of Nietzsche’s complete works. It is a perfectly-written meditation on how philosophy and translation are forever at odds. Philosophy may aspire to be timeless, but translation must always be revised to stay relevant.

            Klaus Mundt’s chapter argues that the recent popularity of the concept of untranslatability reflects a novice’s naivete, ‘a concept that seems to work best in an artificial, theoretical environment with deliberately narrow definitions of translation.’ (65) He seems less interested in engaging with Apter and Cassin than revealing that their project, as he sees it, is symptomatic of a postmodern ideology that has spread ‘around the globe, creating in many parts of academia a somewhat homogenised school of thought.’ (71) David Gramling’s chapter proves perhaps the most ambitious and comprehensive of all the contributions, examining a series of clashes caused by this controversial term, be it in translation, philosophy, political theory or advertising. Both chapters impress upon the reader the sheer scope that the topic entails.

            As the collection moves towards issues encountered before, during and after literary translation, untranslatability comes to the fore as a variety of practical problems. Phillip Wilson explores the untranslatability of an ineffable God in various theological texts, with help from Wittgenstein’s early work and the more accessible thoughts of David Bellos. Simon Everett claims that Chinese regulated verse ‘is impossible to translate in its entirety,’ yet ‘such an inflexible stance’ (114) does not foreclose a historical narrative that encompasses the 8th century T’ang poets and ends with a demand for translators to continue ‘doing the undoable.’ (125)

            Helen Gibson suggests next that translations themselves ‘may play with, and shift between, modes of translatability and untranslatability,’ dealing more delicately with the issues of cultural comparability than ‘Apter’s large-scale analysis accommodates.’ (129) She finds impressive confirmation of this in her exploration of how poet Ciaran Carson made Dante’s Inferno resemble the murky checkpoints and conflicts of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Wanda Józwikowska’s contribution offers a grand historical landscape of Polish Jewish interwar fiction, tracing how such texts have battled with cultural exclusion, anti-Semitism and Communist censorship, only to now find themselves hopelessly untranslated amidst the country’s recent rise in nationalism. Józwikowska makes the convincing case that a work’s untranslated status or ‘untranslatability,’ stems from broader issues than linguistic eccentricity.

            Continuing in this vein, Emily Rose and Andrea Stojikov present projective assessments of translations (that is, of translations that do not yet exist). Rose revisits a 1646 Basque memoir by Catalina de Erauso where the first-person singular shifts between masculine and feminine. It is vital, Rose claims, ‘that undecidability be maintained in translation so that the text is not cheated’ (162). A new translation, in such cases, ‘can counter the fossilisation of 17th century gender identifications but can also be a locus of trans engagement today.’ (164) Picking up an autobiography from a famous Yugoslav musician, Andrea Stojikov claims that due to the book’s ‘strong cultural embeddedness, its translation into English would be rather tricky: the text could be deemed untranslatable.’ (178) Enumerating references now lost with the fall of Tito, Stojikov anticipates how some texts are doomed to singularity when their context crumbles.

            In the final chapter, Joanna Drugon scales empirical NHS data to detail the necessity of translation when multiculturalism meets medical demand. Pointing out that 25% of UK births in 2013 were to women born abroad, she asks us to ‘consider a Tagalog-speaking mother, speaking to a Tagalog-mother tongue interpreter, who then translates English for a Polish-mother tongue midwife.’ (207) Such speculations close the collection with a reminder that issues of untranslatability reverberates far beyond the realms of academic debate.

            However diverse its contributions, the book’s quality is consistent, singular and assured. While many collections aim for such standards, its diversity never feels forced, nor does the topic ever feel stretched beyond its scope of relevance. All the contributions are referring and responding to Apter and Cassin’s work, nevertheless in ways that are diverse and original each time. The contributors who are translators themselves, inevitably, baulk at a notion that refutes their profession. As Gramling sarcastically puts it, the topic of untranslatability ‘exacerbates the sense among translators that theorists who do not themselves translate (often, well or at all) ought perhaps to go ahead and translate a novel or poem cycle before writing an essay about untranslatability.’ (86) Some concerns are of a more practical nature: how applicable can such grand projects be to literary criticism? While Everett applauds Apter’s originality, ‘it is less clear how individual literary translations might enact the kind of untranslatability she advocates.’ (129)

            This does not mean that Cassin’s appearance in this volume feels like that of an uninvited guest. The collection is aware of the works to which it owes its themes – though the range of approaches prevent repetition, or a sense of slavish praise. It successfully addresses the void between these works and the wealth of translation studies, between theoretical comparatists and practicing translators. While the collection does not necessarily put such debates to rest, the range provided does not make us wish for closure. As this brilliant collection amply demonstrates, engagement with Apter and Cassin’s work is far from over.

April 2019

Translation and Global Spaces of Power, edited by Stefan Baumgarten & Jordi Cornellà-Detrell. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2018. £34.95. ISBN: 9781788921800.

Reviewed by Joseph Hankinson, University of Oxford


Translation and Global Spaces of Power

Translation and Global Spaces of Power, edited by Stefan Baumgarten and Jordi Cornellà-Detrell (Multilingual Matters, 2018)

Stefan Baumgarten and Jordi Cornellà-Detrell’s edited volume, Translation and Global Spaces of Power (2018), gathers together thirteen essays united by the conceptualisation of translation as ‘a socially situated and decision-making activity embedded in fluctuating and often conflict-ridden networks of power’ (2). The analysis of these ‘networks’ should, the editors argue, hinge upon attention to what they term the ‘libidinal, digital and political economies of translation’ (14). As such, they propose ‘an integrated cultural-economic focus’ capable of combining the approaches associated with ‘the cultural turn’ with a more materialist sensitivity to the ‘underlying structural and institutional conditions which allow elites to reproduce their privileges and dominant positions in society’ (11).

            The structure of the book itself is intended to reflect these various ‘economies of translation’. Separated into four parts (‘Translation and the Spaces of Power’, ‘Domination and Hegemony in History’, ‘Media Translation in the Global Digital Economy’, and ‘Commercial Hegemonies in the Global Political Economy’), it organises essays in order to emphasise and encourage points of intersectionality between the ‘classical’, ‘postmodern’, and ‘structuralist’ perspectives—all to some degree popular within translation studies—and between seemingly very different specific historical events (14). For example, Cristina Gómez Castro’s essay on bestselling fiction in Franco’s Spain is profitably positioned alongside essays such as Karen Bennett’s study of ‘Radical Bible Translation’ from Luther and Tyndale to contemporary feminists, and Maria Sidiropoulou and Özlem Berk Albachten’s essay on ‘The Greek-Turkish Population Exchange’ of 1923. This positioning foregrounds the ways in which the figure of the translator is implicated in negotiating complex power dynamics, and ‘reshaping the most controversial aspects of historical experience’ (106).

          Castro’s essay, in many ways, exemplifies what is best about the volume. She foregrounds the manner in which literary ‘translation fields curtailed by censorship can be described as sites of struggle’ (110); and joins historical attention to detail (such as the widespread use of specific translation strategies—‘modification’ and ‘elision’) to a broader analysis of the ‘interaction of authoritarian control with the subjective intuitions of self-censorship’ in Franco’s Spain (116). Indeed, her instrumentalisation of ‘the Bourdieusian prerogative to situate the fortunes of translation within sociological parameters, within fields of conflict’, amply satisfies the editors’ call for an ‘integrated cultural-economic focus’ (120). By interweaving various levels of analysis (historical, discursive, sociological, economic), she is able to reflect the complexity of power networks in action, and provide case-studies which serve to discourage any conceptualisation of these levels as non-overlapping. 

            Pei Meng’s essay on ‘Translated Chinese Autobiographies’ also convincingly exercises a Bourdieusian approach. Emphasising the ‘ideological and market-driven nature’ of many translational decisions, the essay explores translations of autobiographical writings from Communist China with particular focus on the figure of the literary agent (220). Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ informs this exploration, demonstrating its impact ‘on the selection and translation of Chinese autobiographical writings’ (220).

            Other contributions include an updated, and newly translated version of José Lambert’s 1989 essay ‘La traduction, les langues et la communication de masse’, Roger Baines’s exploration of the workings of translation and interpreting within the English Premier League, and M. Cristina Caimotto’s analysis of Italian translations of official political discourse regarding Osama bin Laden’s death—all of which continue to accentuate ‘links between translation and the globalised world’, and demonstrate, in Baines’s words, that translating and interpreting ‘processes are just as interwoven into […] market-driven power dynamics as other kinds of communication’ (127, 191). Indeed, Lambert’s characterisation of translation as ‘both an active agent in and symptom of linguistic and cultural exchanges’ is representative of the volume’s approach in general (133).

            Certain essays, however, attest to a tendency to lean upon the authority of theorists (Baudrillard and Derrida most obviously) associated with post-structuralist understandings of power and language, without explicitly endorsing the sort of ‘integrated cultural-economic focus’ heralded by the editors. Agnieszka Pantuchowicz’s essay, ‘Bloodless Academicians and the Power of Translation Studies’, for example, rightly stresses the ways in which translation studies can serve to challenge ideas such as the ‘transparency of the text’, or any claim for the ‘translator’s invisibility’ (30). Yet, by tethering these arguments to the writings of Derrida and to Lacanian understandings of desire, the essay might be seen to overinvest in post-structuralist readings at the expense of the volume’s stated aim.

            Similarly, Maria Sidiropoulou and Özlem Berk Albachten’s essay on ‘The Greek-Turkish Population Exchange’ demonstrates to great effect the ‘ways in which translation shifts reflect and refract the narratives that mediate and construct reality’ (91), but has to pause to establish the efficacy of applying Baudrillard’s idea of ‘simulation’ to their material (92). While this interweaving of theory and textual analysis does raise interesting questions about the extent to which viewing translation as simulation can provide ‘opportunities for reprocessing experiences and consolidating narratives about the self and the other in fast-moving globalised societies’, it encounters difficulties in finding a clear balance between materialist and post-structuralist readings (106).

            While the volume’s essays are in places marked by a hesitation to explicitly seek out points of intersectionality between ‘classical’, ‘postmodern’, and ‘structuralist’ perspectives, it succeeds in demonstrating incontrovertibly the importance, in Christina Schäffner’s words, of ‘shed[ding] light on the multidimensional way in which power is manifested’ in translation and translational writing (159). In exploring the ways in which translation is always embedded in uneven and globalised power dynamics, Translation and Global Spaces of Power represents an essential contribution to the field, and a vital reminder of the ways in which the figure of the translator is implicated in the discursive struggles that characterise twenty-first century existence.

March 2019

Stages of European Romanticism: Cultural Synchronicity across the Arts, 1798-1848, Theodore Ziolkowski. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2018. £75.00. ISBN: 9781640140424.

Reviewed by Karolina Watroba, University of Oxford


Stages of European Romanticism: Cultural Synchronicity across the Arts, 1798-1848

Stages of European Romanticism: Cultural Synchronicity across the Arts, 1798–1848 by Theodore Ziolkowski (Camden House, 2018)

Theodore Ziolkowski is a nestor in the field of German and comparative literature. Of particular relevance for his most recent monograph are his many publications on German Romanticism, including German Romanticism and Its Institutions (1990), Clio the Romantic Muse: Historicizing the Faculties in Germany (2004), four monographs in German on the Romantic circles in Jena, Berlin, Heidelberg, and Dresden (1998, 2002, 2009, and 2010, respectively), and a number of essays on music and visual arts in the age of Romanticism. As Ziolkowski writes in his preface to Stages of European Romanticism, ‘it seems inevitable […] that this book should finally have sought to bring it all together’ (xi-xii). Indeed, the book comes across as a retrospective on his own research: the bibliography lists one or (in just a few cases) two works by various other critics alongside no fewer than 24 works by Ziolkowski himself.

            Apart from brief introductory and concluding sections, Stages of European Romanticism is divided into six parts, each of which discusses five or six works of art created in the same year, beginning in 1798 and proceeding at ten-year intervals up until 1848. According to Ziolkowski, each such slice ‘enables us to examine in considerable detail the representative works of that year and to determine their underlying similarities’, while the intervals ‘allow time for development to take place and, as a result, enable us to note changes and contrasts as Romanticism progresses’ (4-5). Ziolkowski briefly mentions Hegel’s notion of the ‘Geist der Zeit’ and Jung’s term ‘cultural synchronicity’ (3-4) as the methodological underpinnings of his project, but this framework does not account for the coexistence of very different artistic movements at the same time. Ziolkowski implicitly acknowledges this in the ‘digression’ which he includes in the second part of his study and which is devoted to the first part of Goethe’s Faust. But it seems that rather than being a true digression, the section on Faust captures the messy reality of culture—the fact that very different texts can happily coexist alongside each other. One is left wondering if including more such ‘digressions’ would have made Ziolkowski’s approach to cultural production examined at arbitrary intervals more illuminating.

            Despite the emphasis on various branches of the arts in its title, the book predominantly discusses literature: 21 sections deal with literary texts, and only six each with music and visual art. Similarly, the focus is firmly on German Romanticism: out of 33 works of art discussed, 17 were created in the German-speaking lands. According to the author, this focus ‘stems not so much from [his] own special area of linguistic and cultural competence as from the conviction that Romanticism enjoyed a longer, stronger, fuller and more productive life in Germany than in most other lands’ (6). But it is hard to resist the impression that Ziolkowski’s areas of competence played a large role in his selection. The other texts he discusses come mostly from English- and French-speaking Europe (seven and five, respectively), with the remaining four ‘works that appear to fit’ (xii) coming from Italian, Spanish and Polish cultures. The end result is that, as happens so often in comparative studies of literature, the works supposedly representing ‘European Romanticism’ come almost exclusively from German, French and British cultures.

            Ziolkowski’s decision to discuss an important Polish text – Konrad Wallenrod, a narrative poem written in 1828 by Adam Mickiewicz, a poet whose stature in Poland is comparable to that of Goethe in Germany, who was an avid reader of Byron, personally knew Pushkin, and spent twenty years of his life in Paris, where his lectures at the Collège de France where attended by the likes of George Sand – is certainly warranted. (Incidentally, Ziolkowski does not have any chapters on Byron, Pushkin, or Sand.) But his discussion of Mickiewicz is based predominantly on a study by Wiktor Weintraub from 1954, which creates the impression that his research on this work was cursory. Among the few other sources that Ziolkowski quotes in this section is the hugely influential History of Polish Literature written by the most famous Polish poet of the twentieth century, Czesław Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. But when Ziolkowski quotes Miłosz, he refers to him as ‘a later critic’ (later than Weintraub, that is), which implies that the author is not aware of Miłosz’s central position in the canon of Polish literature (139). This might seem like a petty point, but unfortunately it seems to be symptomatic of Ziolkowski’s general unfamiliarity with Polish history and culture. For instance, he inexplicably translates the title of the work he discusses into English as Konradas Valenrodas, which is the Lithuanian version of this name (139); he calls Gdańsk by its German name ‘Danzig’, while simultaneously confirming that he is talking of the city ‘in today’s Poland’ (140); and refers to what is known as the November Uprising of 1830 with the name of ‘the Warsaw uprising’, much more readily associated with the uprising that took place in Warsaw in 1944 (145). All these inaccuracies undermine Ziolkowski’s attempt to engage with works of European Romanticism beyond the German, French and British canon.

            Returning to my point about Mickiewicz’s trans-European connections with other important poets of his time, though, Ziolkowski’s study is very effective at bringing out these sorts of networks. For example, his emphasis on Walter Scott’s deep familiarity with German literature (59) and Achim von Arnim’s and Clemens Brentano’s explicit reference to Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders as a source of inspiration for their collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (66) reminds us that Britain was far from insular in the Romantic era. Knowledge of foreign languages and enthusiastic practice of translation were fundamental to European culture for centuries, and the early nineteenth century was no exception. Other than examples of such direct links between European artists of the age, Ziolkowski also traces various indirect parallels between the 33 works of art he discusses in the book. Some of these are more persuasive than others. A comparison between several works from 1798, including Beethoven’s ‘Grande Sonate Pathétique’ and Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, organised around the notion that in all of them a new style is created out of the resources of earlier tradition, is tenuous, since it could equally well describe much of cultural production at other historical junctures. Similarly, the fact that both Beethoven and Wordsworth liked walking in nature, thinking deeply and extemporizing (17) seems too general to constitute the grounds for a meaningful comparison. But the parallel between the collaborative work of Wordsworth and Coleridge on the one hand, and the brothers Schlegel on the other (26) is much more specific and illuminating. The most original comparison drawn in the book is the use of frame narratives to relativize the importance of Romantic sensibilities in realist narratives and vice versa in various works of 1848, ranging from Alexandre Dumas’ La dame aux camélias to Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although Ziolkowski does not explicitly make this connection, this comparison could be fruitfully extended to the composition of Carl Spitzweg’s lesser-known but fascinating painting ‘Gnom, Eisenbahn betrachtend’, which itself frames Ziolkowski’s entire narrative, since it is featured on the front cover of the book and is the last artwork discussed in it.

            Stages of European Romanticism is written in a clear, engaging style, and a considerable amount of space is taken up by detailed summaries of the plots of the 33 works selected by Ziolkowski. These two features could make it an accessible introduction to a wide range of Romantic texts of different genres and other Romantic artworks, a role in which this book would be more convincing than as a monograph aimed at experts.

February 2019

Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation, and Culture, edited by Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. £110. ISBN: 9781138120532.

Reviewed by Georgia Nasseh, University of Oxford


Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation, and Culture

Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation, and Culture, edited by Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz (Routledge, 2018)

Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation, and Culture (2018), edited by Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz, is criticism that aspires to be what criticism should be. Assuming a strong stance against what is termed the ‘ever-increasing market-driven tendency towards translation and translatability, commensurability and legibility’—notably embodied in the recent work of Rebecca Walkowitz—which demands the use of ‘language that aspires to be any language: the language equivalent of the empty, placeless space–time of late-modernity’, the volume stands firmly on the side of difference (3). By aligning themselves with the ‘critical’, and more importantly, ‘politicized approaches’ to multilingualism and translation (put forward by Brian Lennon and Emily Apter) in an attempt to resist accepted ‘neoliberal models of commensurability and equivalence’, Gilmour and Steinitz recognise that they are operating within a profoundly contested field—and act accordingly (4).

            Yet, this recognition extends itself beyond the current academic debates in and around the field of World Literature. ‘The present moment,’ note the editors in their introduction to Multilingual Currents, ‘is marked by seismic shifts in the world order: the battle lines in political and military conflicts, for example in the Middle East, are not drawn along national borders; the current wave of migration, largely propelled by such crises puts the post-war project of the European Union under extreme stress; this, in turn, may prove as foreshadowing mass migrations to come, as a result of economic instability and climate change.’ (10) Grounded also in the current political climate—one defined, in Paul Bandia’s poignant conclusion to his afterword, by ‘the extreme-right and nationalist wave sweeping across the West’—the volume and the nine essays featured therein acquire a particular sense of urgency (214). Editorial decisions become also political decisions. To invite transnational, interdisciplinary dialogue on the ‘multilingual currents running through a globalized world’ is, ultimately, to posit a much-needed ‘challenge to ideologies of linguistic and cultural purism’ that have gained traction in recent years (10, 214).

            Steven G. Kellman opens the volume with ‘Writer Speaks with Forked Tongue: Interlingual Predicaments’, a thorough survey of the many spatial metaphors that are frequently employed in descriptions of what he terms the ‘translingual situation’—that is, the situation of those ‘writers who write in more than one language or in a language other than their primary one’ (16). Configurations of language—or of the experience of language—as home or as homeland (or, indeed, as homelessness), as a state of in-betweenness or hyphenation, as a militarised or demilitarised no-man’s-land, as a borderland, all feature in Kellman’s nuanced assessment of translingual writers’ relationship with language, particularly in an ‘age of nation-states that confounds language and nationality’ (19). These spatial metaphors are, moreover, recurrent throughout the volume’s subsequent chapters: Christopher Larkosh, in his meditation on Québécois literature, describes Jacques Poulin’s novel Volkswagen Blues (1984) as moving ‘continually between French-language narration and English-language dialogue to explore a particularly North American way of being in/between languages, in the way that French-English border crossers continually blur the boundary between Francophone Québec and the rest of North America’. The protagonist of Suhayl Saadi’s novel Psychoraag (2004), which Rachael Gilmour uses as a case-study in her chapter on ‘Multilingual Scottishness and Its Limits’ is born in Glasgow to Pakistani parents, and is understood as the ‘living antithesis of the supposedly linguistically unified […] fully “at home” neither in English nor in Punjabi’. In Fiona Doloughan’s chapter on ‘Translation as a Motor of Critique and Invention in Contemporary Literature: The Case of Xiaolu Guo’, the Chinese-born writer and film-maker is seen to belong with those ‘who move across cultures, whether voluntarily or out of necessity’ and for whom ‘notions of mobility and displacement, of being subjects in translation, are part of the texture of their lives as well as aspects of the spaces of imagination’ (40, 91, 153). In this sense, Steven G. Kellman’s chapter functions as a keynote for the rest of the volume.

            Rita Wilson, in her chapter on ‘Narrating the Polyphonic City: Translation and Identity in Translingual/Transcultural Writing’, acknowledges the pervasiveness of ‘the spatial rhetoric of ‘in-betweenness’ as a discursive strategy’ for migrant writers in Italy—writers such as Indian-born Laila Wadia and Gabriella Kuruvilla, whose respective novels Amiche per la pelle (2007) and Milano, fin qui tutto benne (2012) she analyses (55). Translation is, here, mobilised as a means by which translingual subjects (embodied in the image of the migrant, who ‘live[s] both inside and outside Italian society’) might negotiate the ‘polyphonic cityscape’ and build, insofar as ‘the goal of learning a shared vernacular is not conformity but community’, networks of solidarity (61, 55, 64).

            On the other hand, ideas of untranslatability are also contemplated in light of community formation by both Carli Coetzee, in relation to the ‘unheard of things’ in NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel We Need New Names (2013), and Polo Belina Moji, in terms of the ‘unsayability’ of the black diasporic experience in Francophone Afropea, as represented in the work of Léonora Miano. Interestingly, both Moji’s and (to a considerable extent) Coetzee’s arguments pivot on the integration of music into the texts of Miano as well as that of Bulawayo: as glossed and unglossed intertextual references to black diasporic or traditional African musical acts in the former’s, and as ‘an untranslated song […] in isiNdebele without English translation’ in the latter’s (132). Indeed, in these two undeniably stand-out chapters, the intersection between the recently-popularised notion of the Untranslatable and music, particularly in diasporic contexts, helps us to think through conceptualisations of untranslatability not merely as provocative exclusion, but also as ‘homeopathic’—to use Emily Apter’s term—and community-forming inclusion.

            Of the untranslated song in NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel, Coetzee powerfully asserts:

The pleasure, which includes the memory of the painful and resistant contexts of the song, draws together those who do know, and do understand. When the song then narrates the loss of family and place, it is crucial that this is done through the African language script, the memory is not for the uninformed reader. She is not included in the memory; and the other readers who do and can remember are—that is precisely the point. […] Those who read the novel as an ‘American’ novel, or a novel written for the pleasure of the imagined ‘American’ reader, miss the crucial point. (143)

This question of intended readership is also taken up by Moradewun Adejunmobi, in her chapter on the uses of mono- and multilingual address in the Nigerian film industry. Through a critical engagement with Walkowitz’s work, and sharing in the awareness of the market’s (whether literary or cinematic) preference for monolingualism, Adejunmobi successfully demonstrates that it is only through the act of subtitling—that is, through the translation of potentially multilingual addresses into monolingual ones, in singular global languages—that films produced in the Global South might participate in circuits of distribution beyond the local (199).

            For all its qualities, Multilingual Currents nevertheless falls victim to a certain terminological inflation, typical of ambitious projects, which may have a detrimental effect on the volume’s accessibility. To illustrate: the terms ‘bilingual’/‘bilingualism’, ‘post-bilingualism’, ‘radical bilingualism’, ‘multilingual’/‘multilingualism’, ‘polylingual’/‘polylingualism’, ‘interlingual’/‘interlingualism’, ‘translingual’/‘translingualism’, ‘panlingual’/‘panlingualism’, and—a personal favourite— ‘anarchic plurilingualism’ are all employed throughout the essays contained in Multilingual Currents with slightly distinct connotations. One wonders to what extent such inflation is the result of (necessary) interdisciplinary dialogues between fields—such as ‘comparative literature, world literature, postcolonial studies, literary theory and criticism, and translation studies’, as indexes the blurb—that are often deaf to one another.

January 2019

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture, edited by Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell Cortés. New York: Routledge, 2018. £175.00. ISBN: 9781138946309.

Reviewed by Anisha Netto, University of Southampton


The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture, edited by Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell (Routledge, 2018)

Today, the intertwining of translation and cultural studies is taken for granted. Susan Bassnet and André Lefevere’s seminal 1990 work Translation, History and Culture (amongst other works) called for a ‘cultural turn’ in translational studies, away from the linguistic discourse dominant at that time. Since then cultural and translation studies have developed in tandem. In the same vein, extending the scope of study to encompass the last four decades, the editors Sue-Ann Harding and Ovidi Carbonell Cortés acknowledge the ‘great revolution’ translation studies has undergone as a ‘cultural shift’ (1), which has contributed to a definitive ‘coming of age of the discipline’ (1).

            The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Culture compiles a wide-ranging overview of the recent developments and paths traversed by translation studies with respect to cultural studies into a single volume, divided into thirty-two standalone chapters. These are further grouped into five broad sections, the first of which discusses ‘Core issues and topics,’ followed by ‘Translation and cultural narratives,’ ‘Translation and social contexts,’ ‘Translation and cultural creativity’ and finally ‘Translation and culture in professional settings.’  

            Part I is composed of five chapters that aim at establishing a ‘working definition’ (3) of both culture and translation, beginning with David Katan’s ‘Defining culture, defining translation,’ which  attempts to update the very twentieth-century idea of equivalence (that translation is mostly a subordinate action) to the new idea of ‘transcreation’ (4), wherein the translator is a co-creator. Katan’s survey of definitions of translation and culture is extensive, and sets the framework for the subsequent chapters. This can be particularly noted in Bielsa’s chapter on ‘Identity’ and Muñoz Martin and Lopez’s on ‘Meaning’, which both offer a reassessment of some of the most fundamental questions of translation theory over the years, including the problems of (un)translatability and the more recent cognitive-centred approaches.

            The second part of the volume focuses on the domain that has been frequently encountered in literary scholarship in recent years—‘Translation and cultural narratives.’ In this section, Schäfer’s chapter is noteworthy in that it takes the concept of translation as an agent of literary mediation and its role in canon formation and applies it to the concept of nation building. Using the example of China, this chapter opens up new strands of research inquiry into a canon that is not adequately written about. Benmessaoud and Buzelin’s chapter on ‘Publishing houses and translation projects’ positions publishing houses as key players in the process of translation and offers fresh perspective on the post-globalisation scenario in terms of the role of multi-lingual demand and of translation. As opposed to the emphasis on the literary canon, the final chapter of this section, Blumczynski and Israel’s ‘Translation and religious encounters’, brings into focus the dialectics of interreligious dialogue and proposes translation as a form of encountering the Other in such texts, in an approach that underlines the interdisciplinary nature of translation and cultural studies today.

            Part III, ‘Translation and social contexts’ offers a myriad of angles from which to view the intersection between translation and culture in pertinent currents of (post)-modern thought through the use of diverse examples in the chapters. For instance, Gilbert’s opening chapter ‘Social contexts, ideology and translation’ makes use of the case of Granada post-Spanish conquest in 1492 to explore translation in (post-)colonial contexts. Baldo and Inghilleri’s chapter ‘Cultural resistance, female voices: translating subversive and contested sexualities,’ deserves special mention for the unique manner in which the role of translation in feminism has been explored – the first part of the chapter is situated in Italy and looks at how translation functions as a tool of resistance against the currents of patriarchy, trans- and homophobia for ‘emerging queer transfeminist collectives’ (8) while the second half of the chapter is situated halfway across the globe in south-east Asia, focusing on how sex workers and domestic workers ‘re-narrate themselves and self-translate’ (8) against the normative notions of femininity and sexuality. Using translation as the common thread, this chapter exemplifies the globalised nature of cultural issues that are central to translational studies.

            Nana Sato-Rossberg’s chapter on ‘Translation in oral societies and cultures’ sheds light on the role played by translation in making oral histories accessible to research, and presents a thorough framework of scientific study that also addresses the ethical issues of authorship as regards oral tradition. One of the highlights of this volume is the fact that chapters across sections act as complementary reading, thereby opening up the possibility of interdisciplinary perspective: as with publishing houses in the earlier part, Neather’s closing chapter focuses on museums as a space of cultural representation, and these in turn, can be read in conjunction with the chapter on space in Part I.

            The fourth section ‘Translation and cultural creativity’ focuses on ‘the creative dimensions of translation and culture’ (9), and is by far one of the most powerful sections which acknowledges and debates the creative agency of translation in the production of a second work. Rossi’s opening chapter on ‘Translation as creative force’ sums up the arguments in this regard succinctly and the final chapter by Federico Zanettin on translation of comics and graphic novels is a very welcome addition to the volume, as it navigates not only the specificities of linguistic translation but also the nuances of translating a medium that is visual-textual.

            The fifth final section of this volume ‘Translation and culture in professional settings’ provides a snapshot of the role of translation in mediating professional scenarios, specifically that of law, medicine and science, diplomacy, business, media and finally education. This mélange sets this particular volume apart from other translation-cultural studies handbooks, and lends a certain fluidity to the concept of culture, and thereby to our understanding of translation, complementing the consistent attempt across the chapters to stretch and challenge the definition of culture and cultural translation. The globalised, interdependent and interdisciplinary link between these essays comes out very clearly, and is also the specific highlight of Cifuentes-Goodbody’s closing chapter ‘Culture and translation in the rise of globalised education.’  

            As with any academic undertaking attempting to work with two terms such as ‘translation’ and ‘culture,’ there always exists the risk of either oversimplifying the task at hand to just ‘cultural translation.’ However, given the expansive spectrum of issues covered, this collection averts that risk and instead presents a balanced and nuanced reading of the core ideas around translation and culture, drawing on more recent discourses in the area as well as their intersections in domains as diverse as the literary canon and professional settings. The chapters in this volume are thoughtfully laid out, and as mentioned earlier, lend themselves to be read in conjunction with those in different sections. The ensuing multi-layered, interdisciplinary approach helps open up scholarly discussion on novel avenues of research, and renders this volume an extremely beneficial tool for both students and scholars across the spectrum of translation and cultural studies.

December 2018

The Translator on Stage, Geraldine Brodie. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. £23.99. ISBN: 9781501322105.

Reviewed by Byron Spring, University of Oxford


The Translator on Stage

The Translator on Stage by Geraldine Brodie (Bloomsbury, 2017)

‘Theatre is translation. The director translates it to a space, his ideas are translated by the actors, the audience experiences the translation. It is even more radical when there is change of language’ (149). This statement from Geraldine Brodie’s interview with the Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga in her new book The Translator on Stage acknowledges the various interventions involved in realising theatrical works on stage. Programmes will usually list the writers, directors, managers, actors, engineers and other individuals all playing a part in the finished production. For foreign-language plays translated into English, the name of a well-known Anglophone author or theatre specialist will often feature prominently, marketing the work to domestic audiences. But the linguistic expert who transposed the source text into English rarely receives such exposure. The work may not even be called a ‘translation’: terms such as ‘adaptation’ and ‘version’ tend to be used more widely. If theatre is translation, linguistic translators remain curiously invisible.

            Brodie’s monograph puts the translator centre stage. Her research into eight English productions of foreign-language works investigates the roles of translators within the teams staging foreign works in mainstream London theatres. Some of the plays under discussion involve both a well-known writer and a ‘literal translator’, a linguistic expert who renders the source text into English for further adaptation by the writer and director. Others are examples of ‘direct translation’, translations created without the additional help of a literal translator. Brodie examines these practices alongside a forensic analysis of the institutional and financial drivers that inform decision-making in London theatres, as well as interviews conducted with various individuals involved in the plays under discussion. The resulting study situates the translator within the parties and hierarchies that determine the range of foreign works available to the London theatregoer.

            The corpus Brodie selects is a sample of eight translated works staged in mainstream London theatres between April and June 2005, ranging from Tony Harrison’s ‘version’ of Hecuba for the Royal Shakespeare Company to David Eldridge’s ‘adaptation’ of the 1998 Danish film Festen for the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. All of these plays, Brodie states, were therefore ‘likely to be attended by large and varied audiences’ (9); yet there is little reference to the experiences of large and varied theatre audiences outside of London. Furthermore, as an insight into how London theatre relates to other cultures and languages, the range of languages on show—Ancient Greek, Spanish, German, Russian, Norwegian and Danish—is quite limited. Brodie’s cultural snapshot, taken before the 7/7 bombings, the global financial crisis and the Brexit referendum, left me wondering whether the panorama of world theatre available in London’s mainstream is as narrow today. Another trend of her sample, that it is almost entirely made up of men (five of the eight translators are named David), still rings depressingly true.

            In order to map the London theatres under discussion, Brodie’s analysis first draws on a wide range of contextual information. She situates these institutions in relation to overarching entities such as the Society of London Theatre and funding data from Arts Council England to expose the ideological and financial factors influencing the experience of the theatregoer. This background enables her to provide interesting insights into both commercial and subsidised theatres. Brodie links the National Theatre’s preferred practice of commissioning a literal translator in addition to a named writer to the institution’s aims to maximise accessibility and audience engagement (24). This contrasts with the direct translation approach used for the staging of Juan Mayorga’s Himmelweg at the Royal Court, a ‘writer’s theatre’ that even funded the Spanish playwright to participate in the English stage adaptation (25). There are times when Brodie’s rigour as an auditor goes a little too far: at one point, Brodie digresses into effusive praise of how financial statements are filed away at the Almeida (37). However, this approach builds a detailed overview of the commercial and practical concerns conditioning cultural transference on the London stage.

            As Brodie then analyses the translation processes in each of the eight works in her sample, the invisibility of the translator becomes a common theme. Across several examples of productions where a literal translator was used, including David Hare’s production of The House of Bernarda Alba by Frederico García Lorca, David Farr’s free translation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Olivier Theatre and Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Hedda Gabler at the Almeida, the translators were rarely acknowledged with any prominence. Brodie instead notes the ‘purposefully English face’ on each production and the involvement of ‘high-profile writers/directors steeped in the conventional English theatre tradition’ ensuring domestic marketability (67-8). In the case of David Tushingham’s direct translation of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Woman Before for the Royal Court Downstairs, the work instead ‘approached its English audience by way of non-cultural specificity’, staged alongside new British writers such as Richard Bean and Jez Butterworth (99-100). Except for cases where the name of a celebrity writer highlighted that that text had been translated, the linguists’ interventions often received little attention (103).

            This is in spite of the considerable added value that theatrical translators provide. Brodie’s interviews with theatre directors, literary managers, producers, actors, translators, playwrights and various other practitioners connected with London theatre in the following section highlight the importance of the linguist’s role. Brodie explains how the work of a literal translator can often go beyond a linguistic transposition to include cultural and theatrical guidance notes for the writer. Such specialist knowhow is vital to mainstream theatre teams in all but rare cases when a writer is sufficiently comfortable in the source language. David Johnston, who collaborated with Juan Mayorga for the Royal Court production of Himmelweg, asserts that the translator is often ‘the only representative of the process of writing if the author isn’t there’ (136). Yet Johnston acknowledges that it is ultimately the director’s show. Moreover, it is ultimately the theatre’s marketing department that puts audiences in theatres. This can often mean that the considerable efforts of literal translators go unacknowledged.

            Brodie therefore calls in her conclusion for improved standards of acknowledging theatre translators. The appearance of the translator Charlotte Pyke’s portrait next to that of David Hare in the programme for a 2006 production of Maxim Gorky’s Enemies at the Almeida is highlighted as an example of successful signposting. This should, in Brodie’s view, be common practice. Instead of avoiding the term ‘translation’, Brodie also sees opportunities for theatres to raise societal awareness of translation, its implications and the skill required of translators. Brodie’s study is a significant contribution to such awareness. It offers a practical insight into the roles of linguistic experts within the myriad interventions in the passage of a playtext from page to stage, and its detailed study of successful productions makes it a valuable resource for practitioners, critics and theatregoers alike. If theatre is translation, Brodie goes some way to translating what happens behind the scenes.

November 2018

Exorcising Translation: Towards an Intercivilizational Turn, Douglas Robinson. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. £15.39. ISBN: 9781501326042.

Reviewed by Jane Qian Liu, Beijing Normal University


Exorcising Translation: Towards an Intercivilizational Turn

Exorcising Translation: Towards an Intercivilizational Turn by Douglas Robinson (Bloomsbury, 2017)

The title of Douglas Robinson’s new tour-de-force monograph is as intriguing as it is ambitious. What has translation to do with witchcraft? The pragmatic Translation Studies (TS) scholar would ask. Then the subtitle ‘towards an intercivilizational turn’ defines the book’s ambition to signpost a new turn in TS, following the Cultural Turn a few decades ago. When the last page of the book is turned, the reader finally realizes that Robinson has delved into a number of complex and multi-faceted problematics in translation studies and has set forth in rational theoretical language some of the most subtle, mystified, and overlooked issues of the field.

            One of the most important issues that Robinson addresses in this book, and he borrows the term from the Japanese scholar Sakai Naoki, is the ‘civilizational spell’. Civilizational spells are irrational, subconscious reflexes that we have when dealing with aspects of other cultures. They ‘curse and haunt us with ethnocentric misunderstandings of other cultures and other civilizations.’ (xii) Here, Robinson quotes Sakai at length to present the example of the apparent oddity of the collocation ‘Asian theorist’, suggesting that the pairing of the term ‘Asia’ and ‘theory’ strikes many readers as odd because ‘theory is something we do not normally expect of Asia’ (vii). Such assumptions and accusations are of course both ungrounded and unfair. It is against these civilizational spells that Robinson proposes the conception of ‘cofigurative regime of translation’, a term proposed again by Sakai Naoki, but granted new significance by Robinson.

            The idea of ‘cofigurative regime of translation’ is hailed by Robinson as a useful theoretical framework to manage difference between distant civilizations. It is used as counterevidence to the East-is-East-and-West-is-West dogma, which is most clearly manifested in Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Eurocentrism. Thinking in these traditional mindsets, people tend to draw a clear divide between East and West. Even though most of the time we struggle to overcome such mindsets, they haunt us like spells. Robinson posits that scholars are drawn to binarization because boundaries have explanatory power, which is an incisive finding. Similarly, categorical thinking helps us understand ourselves and others, though often it results in further misunderstanding only. So in this book Robinson proposes to rethink Eurocentrism ‘in terms of the grand multicentury intercivilizational projects of Orientalism and Occidentalism, specifically as 'cofigurative regimes of translation' (xx).

            So what is the ‘cofigurative regime of translation’? Robinson takes care (presumably?) to delay giving its definition until almost the end of the book, when readers will have already gained an understanding of the term by looking into the examples he offers, or from previous experience of reading Sakai’s work. In the last chapter, Robinson recounts Sakai's terminology of ‘cofiguration’, stating that it is ‘the interactive process by which source and target cultures create each other as separate and coherent cultures, through translation, and construct ‘translation’ as that ‘symmetrical exchange between two languages’ (109). Then on the following page, the statement of ‘this is the critical shift engineered by Sakai’s keyword ‘cofiguration': Orientalism is cocreated, in relationship’, the meaning of ‘cofiguration’ finally becomes clear (110). Orientalism is not created by Westerners alone, but is also created by ‘the Orient’. Robinson argues that the framework of ‘cofigurative regime of translation’ allows us to rid ethnocentric appropriation, to rethink questions of boundaries and their leakages, and to see the fuller picture with the middle ground which best suits TS scholars.

            The book is composed of a preface and three chapters. The first chapter introduces the translation theories of Sakai Naoki. The chapter begins by bringing the readers’ attention to a group of scholars who have been publishing studies of translation for twenty years but have been disavowing any connection with TS. These include Sakai Naoki and Lydia Liu He, the latter of whom is more familiar to Chinese academics, particularly over the recent years. Robinson refers to their studies as Critical Translation Studies (CTS), and he has written a book about it, Critical Translation Studies (Routledge, 2017). Although he very modestly states that he has never heard anyone else using this term, I believe it will be used more frequently in the very near future.

            Chapter 2 offers a lengthy illustration of the way civilizational spells work by examining the influence of Nietzsche on Harold Bloom. Robinson draws freely from the works and ideas of Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and Bloom, focusing on Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals. He argues that while Nietzsche offers a signal theorization of the etiology of Sakai’s civilizational spells, Bloom offers a revealing instantiation of those spells. Although Bloom may not be manifestly clear about his indebtedness to Nietzsche, in his seminal work The Western Canon, his evaluative criteria of the canon is based on a mystified standard of literary talent. Such an idea echoes Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the strong man’ or ‘blond beast’, who is above any slave morality, which Nietzsche condemns. However, as Robinson notices, in The Western Canon, Bloom fails to acknowledge the role of translators, discussing canonical works as if they were originally written in English, presenting the original works and their translations as commensurate. The same happens when he discusses critical works by theorists such as Shklovsky. As a result, Bloom can be considered a representative of ‘homolingual address’, which, according to Sakai, is ‘to address speakers/readers of one's own national language, homolinguially; translation, then, is a deviant act of rewriting that homolingual text in another unified homolingual sign system’ (4). This act of deforeignizing translation is just a counteract to the foreignization technique which Bloom highly appreciates.

            Chapter 3 provides an analysis of an American scholar’s attack on an American translation of the Chinese classics Laozi. Compared with the previous chapter, this chapter moves closer to more traditional, text-based Translation Studies, and it at the same time perfectly links the previous two chapters and melts the whole book into an organic unity. The American scholar Kirkland attacks existing American translations of Laozi as Occidentalist, arguing that we should delve into the true, original, Chinese meaning of the work, without any contamination from Western thoughts. In this way, he defies cofiguration, and seeks ‘purified myth of origins’. Robinson finds this argument problematic and posits that it is necessary for translators to resist the temptation to mystify Oriental classical works like Laozi, even if mystifying them proved an easier way to translate. Here Robinson hails the translation done by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall and offers a parallel comparison of their translation with that of Ron Hogan. He argues that Ames and Hall finally overcome the pop-mystical way of translating Laozi by channeling into their translation Emersonian/Peircean/Whiteheadian process thinking. Robinson thus convincingly proves his argument positioned at the beginning of the book, that cofigurative regimes of translation can serve as a most useful approach to overcoming East-West binarization and can open new horizons for TS scholars.

            This book, although at times overwhelming with excursions into disciplines of psychology, somatic theories, and philosophy, is nonetheless extremely thought-provoking and inspiring. It points out new directions for the future endeavour of TS scholars, encouraging them to expand their purview to larger, historical, and political implications, while not undermining the value of textual-based, more traditional translation research. The author's humour also adds to the glow of incisive observations and articulate explanations, allowing readers to smile with comprehension, and therefore to enjoy enormously the reading process.

October 2018

Literary Translation and the Making of Originals, Karen Emmerich. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2017. £23.99. ISBN: 9781501329906.

Reviewed by Elliot Koubis, University of Oxford


Literary Translation and the Making of Originals

Literary Translation and the Making of Originals by Karen Emmerich (Bloomsbury, 2017)

The influence of post-structuralism has questioned many assumptions in Translation Studies over the years, yet one glaring omission which Karen Emmerich, leading translator from Greek into English, confronts in her new book is that of the stable, ‘original’ source text. In Translation Studies we distinguish between the Source Text (ST), the supposed ‘original’ text that we are translating, and the Target Text (TT), the rendering of that text in another language. Despite the fact translation theory since the 1970s has increasingly borrowed from post-structural thought, its concern with instability has yet to properly destabilise the notion of the ST which translators mostly understand as a fixed entity, or whose instability is glossed over in translation theory, Emmerich claims (11).

            Emmerich’s book opens by asserting that literary ‘translation doesn’t just edit or manipulate some pre-existing, stable ‘“source”’ (10) because ST ‘originals,’ like all texts, are subject to the ‘textual condition’ of ‘variance, not stability’ (2). We see this most obviously in ancient texts that are constructed from varying fragmented or incomplete sources by editors over a long period of time. But Emmerich stresses modern works exhibit this variance too, despite the ostensible fixity offered by modern print. Published poems or short stories often appear in different versions, and editors often renegotiate what counts as the ‘original’ work by incorporating hidden or lost manuscript variations. Recalling an astonishing example of her own translation of the Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos, Emmerich highlights that writers often exploit translation as an opportunity to substantially revise their ‘original’ work for a foreign audience. Overall, Emmerich compellingly argues that what determines an ‘original’ work is provisional at best. Indeed, what we understand as the ‘original’ work is created by translators, whose translations establish a fixed source (148). Chapter 1 shows how modern translators of The Epic of Gilgamesh tried to construct an ‘original’ text from varying sources spanning Gilgamesh’s textual history (39), and Chapter 2 narrates how translators and editors around the turn of the century crafted ‘originals’ of Modern Greek folk songs they collected in anthologies that even influenced how Greek folk cultures remembered and performed these oral works (95).

            The arch-concept Emmerich refutes here through the novel lens of ST mutability is that of ‘equivalence’, which she defines as a nebulous theorisation of the synonymy of two utterances on the level of word, function, form, sentence or text (54). It is meaningless to talk about ‘equivalence’ between an ST and its translation if its actual textual source, often left undisclosed in publications, had variations or was different altogether (3). In fact, quoting Naoki Sakai, Emmerich argues that translation bolsters the illusion of equivalence by establishing continuity between discontinuous languages (4). This point is well illustrated by the example of Gilgamesh, where lexicographers and translators did not so much discover the meanings of cuneiform texts in English but rather constructed word-level equivalence through consensus (40). However, despite being central to her critique and to translation theory in general, Emmerich defines equivalence too late and too briefly: an overview of its many iterations in Translation Studies would have solidified her use of the term for readers unfamiliar with the concept.

            So, if literary translation can no longer be understood as a transfer of meaning, yet is still a term useful enough to retain, how else are we to comprehend it? Emmerich persuasively argues that literary translation 'continues the iterative growth of a work in another language whose otherness and self-sameness are always provisional' (4). In other words, translation generates different versions of ‘the work’ and embodies interpretations of it in texts. Emmerich structures this argument around Peter Shillingsburg’s binary of ‘work’ and ‘text’: The ‘work’ is considered to be the 'product of the imagination' that takes many textual forms over its life; the ‘text’, on the other hand, is the typographic manifestation of that work in any physical form (16). Emmerich’s innovatively expands Shillingsburg’s concept of ‘work’ to encompass versions across different languages, freeing the translator from seeking equivalence to instead embody within the text of their translations their own interpretations as to what and how the work means.

            The strongest offering Emmerich makes to literary translators is the way she encourages them to assume the role of editors and accommodate the textual history of the works we are translating, using strategies to evoke their incompleteness and textual variation. Translators, like editors, choose which text(s) they work from. They select particular elements in the work, textual or non-textual, thereby determining how it expresses meaning (24). Without realising it, translators already make editorial decisions by silently endorsing those that formed their working STs (25). Emmerich refrains from prescriptively outlining a general methodology for how translators should negotiate textual variance, but one compelling example she offers in her discussion of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy exploits digital media to present a version of a poem on a screen that cycles through its manuscript variants every few seconds (157). Emmerich also holds up the recent online archive and facsimile editions of the poems of Emily Dickinson as paradigms in Chapter 3, whilst making sure not to fetishise them as ‘originals’.  Fundamentally she encourages translators to be lucid, ‘ disclos[ing] to readers which editorial hybrid or hybrids [they have] chosen as the basis’ of their translations (120).

            Emmerich acknowledges that her project’s main hindrance is that translators, not to mention literary critics, are rarely trained to deal with textual variants, accustomed as they are to working with definitive ‘reading’ texts (100). To this end, she suggests that translators focus more intently on the ‘editorial history of the works we translate,’ and consider the ‘potential significance’ of non-lexical aspects of our source texts (103). Recent developments in textual and archival digitisation could bring Translation Studies and practice into contact with current critical discussions of visual and material form (101). The book’s last chapter serves as an impassioned polemic to change how we view translation within the academic sphere. Emmerich makes a strong case for translation to be taken more seriously as a legitimate academic pursuit as a form of embodied textual  criticism, and because translated texts enable international academic study to function. We should make students aware when they read translated texts that both translations and so-called ‘original’ texts constitute iterations of a work that embody interpretations, which as a pedagogy avoids fetishising original works. Likewise, we should teach textual variation whilst emphasising that translation is still a valid task in order to avoid engendering a “distrust” of translation  (196). 

            Emmerich’s book is magisterial in scope: it takes into account a broad corpus of texts across both time and cultures. To some extent this large bibliography, coupled with Emmerich’s fastidious approach to textual history, occasionally throws the reader off the book’s main thesis, albeit via interesting avenues of discussion. Furthermore, Emmerich does not fully explore the ramifications of the term ‘correspondence’ in Chapter 5, which explores the highly ‘citational’ work of the contemporary poet Jack Spicer. Here, ‘correspondence’ denotes a type of translation that, like creative writing, draws from multiple, often invisible sources, prioritising textual proliferation over word-level equivalence. Unfortunately, Emmerich does not formulate this concept further as an innovative theoretical alternative to equivalence.

            Crucially, this book only sets out to deal with literary translation. While this is not a problem in and of itself, Emmerich’s chapters focus mostly on poetry, where semantic play is most apparent, to the detriment of fiction and non-fiction where her arguments could be argued with equal validity. These criticisms notwithstanding, Literary Translation and the Making of Originals  is punctuated throughout with rigorous criticisms of oft-overlooked concepts in translation theory, offering working translators productive ways to rethink their practice and the question of textual variation, inviting them to find their own solutions. Translation scholars may find Emmerich’s arguments familiar, but her introduction of ‘work’ and ‘text’ into the field’s vocabulary, the value of her textual criticism, her fierce defence of translation’s academic legitimacy, and her novel and convincing argument against the stability of the ‘original’, constitute fascinating and timely reformulations of perennial questions in translation theory. Her book pioneers a modern approach to textual instability in translation practice that speaks urgently to our moment of digital media and textual fluidity. 

September 2018

A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, edited by Eric Hayot and Rebecca L. Walkowitz. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. £24.00. ISBN: 9780231165211.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University College London


A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism

A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, edited by Eric Hayot and Rebecca L. Walkowitz (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Calls to globalise and ‘de-colonise’ the curriculum can be heard from across the spectrum of Western education in recent years. For some it is a moral injunction, for others a point of debate. However, according to Hayot and Walkowitz in their recent Introduction, it may be a redundant demand: the global is the modern, and modernity inescapably global. If we recognise their synonymy, they ask, ‘Why, then, do we need the phrase “global modernism” at all?’ (7) Thus, this brilliant collection not only contributes to such contemporary debates, but views this recognition as its end-point. Modernism and the global are here collapsed through a series of terms, each occupying its own chapter, some canonical (‘Style’; ‘Tradition’; ‘Antiquity’) and others less so (‘Puppets’; ‘Pantomime’; ‘Slum’). Each author approaches their term in varying, exhilarating and original strategies. Every term in the collection’s ‘vocabulary’ is interrogated, subverted and redirected in fascinating and novel ways, while a rigorous, articulate sense of purpose remains consistent throughout. 

           However, the chapters do not so much reject all previous scholarship on their topics, as recognise where prior associations have fallen short. Christopher Reed’s first chapter, ‘Alienation,’ acknowledges the Marxist, Brechtian and Existentialist connotations this term usually acquires, but casts them aside to redefine the alienation of many modernists as wilful and deliberate. Those who ventured to 1920s Paris realised ‘foreignness can serve as an alibi for many forms of deviance’ (13); and we too, as critics, are blind-sighted if we see Orientalism as a one-way street. If we ‘overlook the cross-cutting trajectories of alienation, so too do we overlook historiographies of Orientalism and primitivism conceived in binary terms.’ (22) He concludes that alienation is not just a political definition, but an aesthetics in both Western and Eastern modernist art. 

           Efthymia Rentzou’s ambitious entry, ‘Animal’, seeks to re-evaluate a modernity we often equate with the binary between humans and machines. Accommodating Darwin and Rousseau in its sweep, her chapter argues that Freud’s work suggests the ‘conscious/unconscious reproduces, to some degree, the human/animal dichotomy, with language again as the dividing line.’ (31) It is little wonder, she goes on to say, that Oswald de Andrade urged his Brazilian contemporaries to reject European culture through ‘the trope of animality.’ (38) To ‘make it new,’ in a culturally-specific sense, Brazilian modernism tapped ‘into a source that is as universal as the human but that uproots the fundamental assumptions of Western thought about the human.’ (38-9)

           David Damrosch, whose influence on world and comparative literature is extensive, next argues that ‘Antiquity’ is a fallacy to begin with: ‘No one ever lived in antiquity. People live only in the present, and in that sense every culture has always been modern at any given time.’ (43) Through a survey of Egyptian, Hebraic and Hellenic texts, he insists that the very notion of ‘antique’ and ‘modern’ is open to challenge. Future research of ‘global modernisms,’ in the plural sense, ‘will need to bring together studies of early modernities and their different antiquities in many parts of the world.’ (56) Such conclusions are typical of a collection that turns definitions upside down, proving how restrictive our present terminologies have become.

       Calling ‘Context’ into question, Christopher Bush searches for correlation between José Rizal and Oscar Wilde’s 1887 output, to demonstrate that while ‘Modernism was global,’ (89) historicising will only take us so far. ‘We need theoretical, even speculative models of what modern was, is, or might still become’ (89) In such fashion, Jacob Edmond’s ‘Copy’ deviates from the well-worn paths of Walter Benjamin and Marxist critique, to instead explore how telegrams and advertising filtered their way into Ezra Pound, Dimitri Prigov and Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry. Next, Johan Ramazani invests ‘Form’ with a national rather than stylistic purchase. Engaging largely in Franco Moretti and Frederic Jameson’s arguments, Ramazani claims that works outside the Western canon often ‘passively replicate the formal codes and conventions’ (120) of more lauded texts. Rather than any Bloomian anxiety of influence, we here see ‘form’ reinterpreted as a point of infiltration in cultures peripheral to the Euro-American centre.

           Similarly, Venkat Mani sees ‘Libraries’ as a focal point for the ‘translocationalization of modernism’ (131), accommodating colonial artefacts, democratic information, and a catalogue of past traditions modernists often sought to challenge. Most interesting is his negotiation of Kemal Kurt’s novel, Ja, sagt Molly (1998), in which Molly Bloom wakes up with Gregor Samsa, before characters from Hesse, Conrad, Passos and countless others appear and circulate, coagulating into a work where ‘global modernism’ is rendered not only an academic enterprise but an artistic opportunity.

            By marking ‘Obsolescence’ as a key modernist trait (via an incisive detour into Heidegger’s view of objects and utility), Mark Noble presents art and photography in which the vintage is depicted as canonical and the contemporary archaic, culminating in Maico Akiba’s images of iPhones as ancient artefacts. Where, then, he asks, do terms like ‘modernism’ secure their value? While brilliant, this chapter may well have benefited some thematic sequencing with Damrosch’s, providing a more contemporary vantage on similar inquiries. 

           Monica L. Miller and Martin Puchner’s chapters, on ‘Pantomime’ and ‘Puppets’ respectively, suggest a more eccentric detour; instead they unfold two paradigms through which Eastern and African influences seeped into Western modernism without much previous acknowledgement. What estranges them, claims Puchner, is that they ‘don’t belong to the world of the living,’ but ‘keep bobbing up, bringing something into our midst we can never fully assimilate.’ (196) David L. Pike’s ‘Slum’ continues this exploration of fresh territory. If the etymology of ‘slum’ reflects a peripheral slang that demarcates the peripheries of the metropolis, then ‘slum’ is ‘a vehicle and consequence of modernity,’ writes Pike, but ‘also a sign of its failure’ of ‘its resistance to ostensible progress.’ (200) We can hereby demarcate for ourselves the line between Modernity and the Enlightenment. Modernism, by such digressions, can be broadened into questions that are uncomfortable but revelatory.

           Perhaps the best chapter is Judith Brown’s meditation on ‘Style’. Rather than a pedestrian hallmark of literary analysis, it ‘seems to lift itself away from representation, from the real, or from history itself.’ (215) Via Deleuze and Rancière, she posits style as an Other within language, transcending linguistic difference and forming new boundaries of reference in the process. As ‘a methodological entry point,’ she concludes, style ‘offers an unlimited horizon not tied, at least in determining ways, to a historical moment, nation, or political framework… If modernism continues to be defined as a primarily formal movement pushing against the limits of representation and aesthetic tradition, its transnational re-conception brings new vocabularies to bear, new particularities, and new demands.’ (229-30)

           Interrogating ‘Tradition’, Rachel Adams suggests its rejection in modernism was geographically-dependent. Mexican artists of the modernist era, by contrast, juggled political revolution with a view of tradition that demanded equality, literacy and collective welfare. In her chapter on ‘Translation’, Gayle Rogers ‘proposes thinking of the English language as an unstable medium, a fluctuating currency whose value was relative to translational collaborations.’ (249) Rather than simply listing more artists under the rubric of Modernism, says Rogers, translation studies and attention to ‘its mechanisms instead reveal both the connections and the fissures, gaps, ambivalences, and breaks’ (249) in this complex and contrary field.

           Finally, Mariano Siskind’s last chapter provides another watermark in this innovative collection. While his previous work has already contributed to Latin American and comparative discourse impressively, he here moves seamlessly through Blaise Cendrars, Lucio V. Mansilla and F. T. Marinetti in a historical narrative impeccably formulated. No longer, claims Siskind, should we assume in British, French, German and American modernism ‘an objective proximity to the corpses spread across the battlefield,’ (265) and confer on it a privileged account of the event. Instead, global conflict, should be read as the key point of reference upon which what we deem modernist—whatever and wherever its origin—should converge.

           The chapter finishes a tremendously successful publication, which achieves what all collections should: while Hayot and Walkowitz’s editorial guidance is evident, in the consistency through which the authors address their respective terms, it has not come at the cost of thematic scope or individual originality. By the same token, one can equally imagine any of its contributions stimulating plenty of debate in their own right: whether discussed in an article, a conference or a seminar, each contribution would subtly, through varying and diverse strategies, stimulate debate on the overall recognition hereby achieved. Knowledge of the global, and the strides to modernity, are, indeed, inseparable: by the end of the collection, it feels difficult to imagine a time when this point did not feel obvious. As Christopher Bush puts it, as critics, we may not be able to do everything: ‘Certainly not, but must we therefore keep doing the same things?’ (89) Varied, but without contradiction, unusual, but not without peerless rigour, A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism provides an energetic and original slant on its field, that all further research in modernism, world and comparative debate would be foolish—indeed ‘traditional,’ ‘antiquated’ even—to ignore. 

August 2018

Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, edited by Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. £101.00. ISBN: 9781107105980.

Reviewed by Dennis Duncan, University of Cambridge


Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach

Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, edited by Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Of the works that have come down to us from classical antiquity, none survives in its original authorial manuscript. The period of time between Virgil’s death and the earliest surviving manuscript containing a substantial portion of his poetry is roughly five centuries. For most other classical writers, where our oldest copies were made in the monasteries of the Middle Ages, the gap is twice as long. As Robert Kaster puts it in this collection, the classics as we have them today, are ‘all […] products of uncountable acts of copying’ (111). But copying is a fraught practice, almost impossible to do at any length without errors creeping in. Editors are then left with the job of comparing multiple versions of a text in order to establish a genealogy, working backwards to reconstruct the earliest version they can. Which came first? At which stage did each change arise? Even here, however, we are likely to be confronted with moments of clear nonsense, the result of errors that can’t be methodically unwound, committed at stages that are unknowable, irretrievably lost to us. Here, the editor’s job is to propose, to provide a commentary on how modern readers might interpret a text that is obscure.

            Thus, copying, collation, and commentary are among the primary textual practices by which the ancient is preserved. To these we might add cataloguing, producing a structured record of the texts in within a particular location or field; and canonization, the conferring of authority on some subset of the whole - the ‘reliable books’, as Guy Burak calls them here (15). Under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, a working group—Learned Practices of Scholarly Texts—was set up to investigate these activities in a global context. Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices represents the first fruits of that group’s labour.

             The cover of the collection shows a piece of Chinese pottery, recovered from a tomb in the Hunan province where it was placed during the Western Jin Dynasty at the turn of the fourth century. The statuette depicts two kneeling clerks checking the accuracy of a manuscript. They are collating. Both are holding books, but one has a pen to make corrections in his. They are talking: this is an oral as well as a scribal activity, and requires two people. But collation, as the editors point out, can also be a solitary practice. In the Western tradition, we likely think of ‘the premodern scholar with two manuscripts on his desk, […] looking alternately at the one and then at the other’ (1). It is the contention of Grafton and Most’s collection, then, that the same suite of scholarly practices, with minor variations, can be found across millennia and among disparate cultures with little or no scholarly intercourse with each other.

            One of the standout chapters is Kaster’s which considers the temptation, when faced with a corrupted text, to discreetly ‘correct’ it, inserting one’s hypothetical repairs and not preserving the supposedly ‘bad’ parts of the original. Kaster gives an account of a radically interventionist twelfth-century copyist of Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, someone whose distrust of, and disregard for, the source manuscript he is working from is by turns brilliant and willful. We are able to identify these interventions because earlier versions of the same text have survived, but Kaster offers a warning:

First: where would we be if an earlier reader had wrought the same kinds of changes—often very intelligent and learned, yet far more often entirely irresponsible from a modern point of view—and thereby shaped, not a third-generation descendant of the archetype, but the archetype itself? Second: how do we know that one did not? (130)

That gap between the irrecoverable authorial text and our earliest witness will always remain obscure.

            Ronnie Vollandt’s chapter pictures a scene not unlike the one depicted in the Chinese sculpture, yet a thousand years later and half the world away. It describes a piece of cross-cultural collation from thirteenth-century Cairo, where a Coptic scholar and his Jewish collaborator compare their respective copies of the same work. At a time when ‘the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Coptic alike, had become no more than a scholastic medium that had to be acquired through instruction even by the learned elite’ (183), both communities were accustomed to using an Arabic translation of the Pentateuch—the Tafsīr—prepared some three hundred years earlier. But the text was originally produced (in Arabic) with Hebrew letters before being transliterated to Arabic script. Vollandt’s engaging essay focuses on a Coptic attempt to identify corruptions that centuries of divergent textual traditions might have introduced.

            Ineke Sluiter considers the justifications made for the act of commentary. Commentary, Sluiter wryly points out, is a somewhat paradoxical practice, since canonical texts ‘command a positive a priori attitude in their readers, a presumption that the text will be important, truthful and good. However, the very act of writing a commentary or engaging in other textual practices implicitly acknowledges that the text is not clear, or it would not be in need of exegetical effort’ (34). Working with a corpus of Western classical exegetes, she presents a typology of textual obscurity—intentional vs unintentional; ‘good’ vs ‘bad’—as commentators defend their base texts for needing commentary in the first place.

            Two memorable chapters deal with extracting. In András Németh’s essay it is the vast tenth-century Byzantine history, Excerpta Constantiniana, composed by cutting up pre-existing historical narratives and regrouping the pieces by topic under a series of headings that reflected the emperor’s concerns: ‘On Conspiracies Against Rulers’, ‘On Imperial Inaugurations’, ‘On Leading of the Army’, ‘On Transformation of Defeat into Victory’. Meanwhile, Grafton and Joanna Weinberg focus on the doggedly one-eyed notetaking of the scholar of Hebrew Johann Buxtorf (1564-1629), whose Jüden Schul was published in 1603. Buxtorf’s mastery of Jewish learning—as the authors put it, ‘no-one did more to lay out the contents of this canon, or to make them accessible to Christians’ (275)—was matched only by his relentless anti-Semitism. By comparing his notebooks and his published output, Grafton and Weinberg show how Buxtorf would decontextualize quotations to make them anti-Christian, and how he would transcribe but then omit to publish folktales that had a tolerant or conciliatory message.

            There are further chapters on collation and commentary in the Neo-Confucian tradition in twelfth-century China; on cataloguing in the European national libraries of the late sixteenth century; on the emergence of mathematical diagrams in the texts of classical geometry; and on policing the limits of interpretation in the Vedānta tradition in sixteenth century India (a controversy that produces some wonderfully titled polemics: Mashing the Face of Madhva’s MethodSlapping Appayya’s Cheeks). Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices is comparative in the sense that the collection ranges across Western classical literature, the Rigveda of the Indian subcontinent and the Confuscian canon in China. But it ranges too across the spectrum of scholarly textual practices. So when Paolo Visigalli opens his chapter with the assertion that ‘scholars working on the Rigveda […] take for granted what philologists working on other ancient texts generally can only dream of: the reassurance of textual certainty’ (78), we may anticipate a useful contrast between this perfect transmission and the unreliable copying practices outlined in Kaster’s chapter. But Visigalli moves in a different direction—the chapter is more about hermeneutics than transmission—so we don’t get to draw this comparison. The fault is not with Visigalli’s essay, which, in itself, is detailed and coherent. The problem, rather, is that the collection ranges in two directions, both geographically and across a variety of textual practices. While full of strong and fascinating chapters, as a collection it is either not long enough or not focused enough to be more than fleetingly comparative. Instead, it is a starting point, a work that only begins to fill in the map of the new field it proposes: the global history of scribal practices.

July 2018

Goliarda Sapienza in Context: Intertextual Relationships with Italian and European Culture, edited by Alberica Bazzoni, Emma Bond, and Katrin Wehling-Giorgi. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016. £60.00. ISBN: 9781611479164.

Reviewed by Hannah McIntyre, University of Oxford


Goliarda Sapienza in Context: Intertextual Relationships with Italian and European Culture

Goliarda Sapienza in Context: Intertextual Relationships with Italian and European Culture, edited by Alberica Bazzoni et. al. (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016)

Some forty years after the completion of her most ambitious and well-known novel, L’arte della gioia, academia is beginning to catch up with Goliarda Sapienza. Emerging from a conference of the same title at the University of London in 2013, this critical edition takes on the monumental task of contextualising a diverse body of work within an even more diverse array of 20th century Italian and European literature, in addition to engaging with multiple strands of theory. Overall, the collection balances this range of sources with dexterity and poise, avoiding an overly dogmatic use of theoretical framework in a manner befitting Sapienza’s own mistrust of external doctrine.

            Often overshadowed by the extraordinary life of their author, Sapienza’s literary works are no less extraordinary in their own right. A brief reiteration of that life is, however, useful: raised in Fascist-ruled Sicily by prominent Socialist parents, Sapienza went on to train as an actress in Rome, where she was forced to take refuge in a convent during the Nazi occupation. In adulthood she underwent a breakdown and suicide attempt. Suffering from memory loss as a result of electro-shock therapy, she began to write about her childhood. Much later, a theft resulted in a short period of incarceration.

            This volume interrogates many of the recurring themes of Sapienza’s work whose roots can be found in her experiences, namely: ‘the centrality of autobiography, the nonconformist representation of gender identity, motherhood and sexuality, a conflictual relationship with psychoanalysis, and an original depiction of life in a female prison.’ (4). In addition to expanding on these primary areas which have formed the basis of the limited scholarship on Sapienza to date, this volume also makes space to explore hitherto unchartered territory. This includes an analysis of Sapienza’s work as an uncredited screenwriter (Gobbato, Chapter 5), and an investigation into the possible correlations between Sapienza’s embodied experience of Sicily and the history of racialised discrimination against the island by mainland Italy (Polizzi, Chapter 11).

            Given the fledgling position of critical studies of Sapienza, this edition’s sections are necessarily broad: ‘Life, Writing, and the Ethics of Subjectivity’; ‘Goliarda Sapienza: International Intertextuality’; ‘The Italian Context'; and 'Spaces of Recollection’. Although only one of these sections is entirely concerned with international intertextuality, an ethos of comparison is carried across the entire collection. Several essays seek to present Sapienza as an illuminating figure in the development of feminist and gender theory and to establish her intersections with and divergences from other female writers of the 20th century. The long and often arduous route of Sapienza’s works to publication becomes a source of study in itself, raising questions of canonicity and her position within an international ‘alternative’ canon of women’s writing. This transnationality is of course of particular interest to this review, and it is heightened by the relative success of Sapienza’s work in translation, with the French translation of L’arte della gioia (2006) prompting the publication of the 2008 Italian language Einaudi edition.

            In this volume one of the most recurrent sources of comparative analysis is Virginia Woolf. Her influence is explored at length in Maria Belén Hernández González’s chapter on Woolf’s protagonist Orlando and Sapienza’s Modesta (115-130). This comparison is driven not only by Sapienza’s professed admiration of Woolf’s power as a writer, but also ‘by the common aspiration of both authors to express themselves with freedom’ (115). Other contributors note Woolf’s importance, with Monica Farnetti (71-72), and Charlotte Ross (94-95), both referencing Sapienza’s deep appreciation of Woolf as a model of female expression in its most true and free realisation.

            Other essays draw upon more oppositional comparisons to explore the ways in which Sapienza was unique in her mode of writing. Emma Bond provides an insightful study of Sapienza’s prison writings in dialogue with the English writer Joan Henry (Chapter 7), while Maria Morelli examines the same texts alongside the work of Italian writer Dacia Maraini (Chapter 13). The latter chapter is notable for its compelling theorisation of the function of prison space in Sapienza’s writing, drawing upon Foucault’s notion of heterotopias. Foucault also features prominently in Andrée Bella’s chapter, which employs his use of the Greek term ‘parrhesia’ to explore the compulsion towards joy, freedom and truth in Sapienza’s work, and the crucial role of writing in achieving those goals (Chapter 3).

            In Sapienza, the editors of this volume identify a marginalised and controversial writer, whose lack of success to date has in part been due to how radically out of context her work often appears to be. This ‘difficultness’ comes to light particularly well in Alberica Bazzoni’s chapter comparing L’arte della gioia with Elsa Morante’s La Storia (Chapter 10). Although both are historical novels, centred upon female protagonists and epic in scope, they could hardly be more different, both in tone and reception. Morante’s text has notably become a rare example of a critical and commercial success amongst Italian women writers of the 20th century. Bazzoni’s original analysis approaches the depictions of female agency in these two texts through the lens of historical time.

            The final chapter points to a contemporary Italian context that may be more attuned to the overarching themes of Sapienza’s works. Katrin Wehling-Giorgi considers Sapienza in comparison with the enormously successful contemporary writer Elena Ferrante (Chapter 14). Departing from the two writers’ treatment of motherhood and language, Wehling-Giorgi identifies a common interest in ‘corporeality, violence, space, and native language’ (227).  

            As the very first critical edition to appear in English to appear on Sapienza, this volume represents an important step forward in scholarship on her work. It is closely followed by co-editor Alberica Bazzoni’s monograph Writing for Freedom: Body, Identity and Power in Goliarda Sapienza’s Narrative (Peter Lang, 2017). Placing Goliarda Sapienza ‘in context’ is an enormous task, and this is by no means an exhaustive volume. The contributors instead seek to open multiple pathways for future scholars to pursue, with a commitment and dedication to their project that verges on the evangelical. Farnetti writes:

We are far from appreciating the true nature of her mysterious and contagious power to desire: each step of the way, a new intuition, a light, the fragment of a thought brings us closer to her center and heart (63)

Although Farnetti is in fact writing about Modesta, the explosive protagonist of L’arte della gioia, the sentiment holds true to critical assessment of Sapienza on a wider scale. As a collection of intuitions, lights and fragments, Goliarda Sapienza in Context offers a rich seam of material for current scholars of Sapienza, modern Italian literature, life-writing, and canonicity.

June 2018

The Post-Columbus Syndrome: Identities, Cultural Nationalism and Commemorations in the Caribbean, Fabienne Viala. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. £59.99. ISBN: 9781137443748.

Reviewed by Jorge Sarasola, University of Sheffield & Università di Bergamo


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The Post-Columbus Syndrome: Identities, Cultural Nationalism and Commemorations in the Caribbean by Fabienne Viala (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

In The Post-Columbus Syndrome, Fabienne Viala takes the reader on a tour de force of the Caribbean’s history, politics and art, using the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas as its focal point of analysis. The celebrations in 1992 and their reverberations in the cultural realm are springboards from which to launch a multidirectional, interdisciplinary and translinguistic study of the variations within the collective memory of seven Caribbean countries: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Jamaica. While numerous publications discuss the appropriateness of the term ‘discovery’ to describe Columbus’s arrival, the proposed research merit of the book is to go beyond this debate and examine the overlooked commemorations of the 500th anniversary in the Caribbean. Viala fills this gap in the scholarship by examining the strategies behind the incorporation of Columbus into different national discourses, and the subsequent reinterpretation of this past by cultural actors. She argues that the Post-Columbus Syndrome, arising in the 1990s, is a phenomenon which captures how ‘the collective Caribbean imaginations of today are based on dysfunctional national memories’ (3) and that these various nations share the need to remember through the ‘repeated recycling of heritage with a view to engaging and coping with the present’ (3).

           The book’s eights chapters are divided into two different sections. The first and more theoretical strand deals with major Pan-Caribbean theorists of cultural memory: Fernando Ortiz (Chapter 1), Edward Brathwaite (Chapter 2), Edouard Glissant (Chapter 3) and Antonio Benítez-Rojo (Chapter 4). Ortiz develops the notion of transculturation to overcome the limitations of the English term,  ‘acculturation’, in an attempt to transform a history of racial tension into one of ‘ positive translations’ (22). Whilst he sees Columbus as the initial agent of Caribbean-European interaction in the shape of a ‘Cuban Odysseus” (24), Brathwaite comments upon Columbus’s arrival from a first-person perspective which could be that of the indigenous Taínos, thus speaking for ‘his insular people’ (54).  Nevertheless, Brathwaite is also critical of the anti-Columbus discourse growing in Jamaica’s reggae and dub poetry scenes, which he sees as  ‘too nationalistic and limiting’ (59). Focusing on Martinique, Columbus becomes a ‘shifter in the discourse of memory’ (79) in Glissant’s view, given that he works as a catalyst for the forgotten collective memory that France attempted to erase in its département d'outre-mer (DOM). Benítez-Rojo’s ‘Feedback Machine of Caribbeaness’ is a useful concept with which to comprehend the recycling of past traumas through ritualistic practices in order to syncretise heterogeneous racial and cultural memories with modified European culture. This first part provides a robust theoretical foundation to collective memory in the Caribbean, while avoiding the common pitfalls of locating Caribbean Studies at the periphery of Latin American, Postcolonial or French Studies; theory is not superimposed from abroad, rather, it erupts from within the Caribbean. Its merit also lies in providing a faithful location of the authors in their specific context, thus explaining some of their motivations and omissions, from the influence that the background of Anglo-Caribbean independences had on Brathwaite, to Glissant’s oversight of the subaltern relation between Martinique and Guadeloupe.

           The second and more stimulating strand engages with the commemorations and protests unleased by the 500th anniversary, as well as with the representations of Columbus in cultural productions from each country. Chapter 5 traces the variations within Hispanic countries: Cuba commemorated the date by funding Antonio Nunez Jimenez’s canoe expedition through the continent which recreated the European ‘discovery’; Puerto Rico celebrated pompously as the political establishment wished to use the occasion to valorise its Hispanic—rather than Anglophone—heritage; and the Dominican Republic glorified Columbus ostentatiously in an act of ‘hyperbolic monumentalizing’ (131) by building ‘Columbus Lighthouse.’ In Jamaica (Chapter 6), the Universal Negro Improvement Association renamed this day as ‘African day Holocaust’ (155). In the French DOMs, Martinique and Guadeloupe (Chapter 7), the anniversary went almost unnoticed in mainstream cultural politics, though it sparked potent cultural debates in other circles, such as the trial of Columbus organized by the Cercle Franz Fanon in 1993. Similarly, Haiti (Chapter 8) did not celebrate at all, yet a statue of Columbus was toppled in 1986 when president Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country. Uniting these disparate strategies is the fact that, according to Viala, in all cases the countries approach remembrance “according to their national myths’ (2).

           The book’s seamless flow through several art forms and genres constitutes one of its greatest merits: the reader engages with Haitian novels, theatre in Martinique, Jamaican dub poetry and performative arts in Puerto Rico, amongst others. Mainstream and counter-hegemonic, canonical and popular cultural expressions illuminate the crucial role played by the figure of Columbus in Caribbean collective memory. For example, whilst Mutabaruka puts him on trial in Jamaica: ‘i also give you 1000 years/ for each year that black people/ have been sufferin since columbus came here’, the Haitian playwright, Jean Métellus, presents him as a visionary adventurer.

           Another success of the study is to transcend the simplified binary that floods the media every 12th of October: ‘Columbus: hero or villain? ’ The author is far less interested in giving a verdict on Columbus than in developing a robust conceptual apparatus that allows the reader to understand the forces behind the manipulation and expression of memory in these countries. By paying meticulous attention to  the historical and socio-political context in which each nation celebrated the anniversary, the study persuasively reveals the sheer strength of cultural nationalisms in moulding collective memory. This is a compelling argument, since as the author point outs, the resurgence of this ‘polytraumatic past’ (8) coincides with the end of the Cold War, when a number of supra-national entities threatened the sovereignty of these nation-states. Nevertheless, the study does not fall prey to the common attack levelled at post-colonial scholars where political considerations supervene over all others, such as aesthetic ones. Viala merges a detailed socio-political analysis with specific close readings of artworks—where her analysis of Jamaican dub poetry certainly stands out. Indeed, it is through the power of fictive art that some cultural actors ‘question the dysfunctions of national memory in the country’ (17). Whereas Gert Oostindie criticized the study for relying too much on an artistic analysis rather than on anthropological evidence, I would contend that this book makes an indirect yet convincing plea for the value of the arts to be taken seriously when engaging with history, politics and memory, unfashionable as this may sound to some social scientists.

            In the introduction to the book, the author suggests that responses amongst other South and Central American countries to the 500th anniversary were rather uniform in using this date as a chance to advocate for greater recognition of indigenous visibility and rights. She argues that the Caribbean, on the contrary, ‘demonstrated a more complex response’ (2). I am hesitant to accept this homogenization in the responses of such varied countries without some qualification. In fairness, Viala does specify that she is referring to nations with significant indigenous influence, such as Mexico, Paraguay and Guatemala. Yet even amongst these various countries the motives and reactions may differ significantly. Indeed, most South American nations remember this event under different names, from Chile’s ‘Encuentro de dos Mundos’ to Uruguay’s  ‘Día de las Américas’, thus revealing diverse approaches to collective memory. In other words, I would suggest that Viala’s meticulous methodology when analysing the Caribbean could also yield fascinating discoveries if applied to the rest of the Americas. That said, the book’s focus is on the Caribbean and not South America. Ultimately, this piece of scholarship is a landmark interdisciplinary and transnational study of how the Caribbean negotiates its colonial past with its post- and neo-colonial present. 

May 2018

Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell, Toril Moi. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. £ 22.50. ISBN: 9780226464442.

Reviewed by Robert Britten, University of Oxford


revolutionoftheordinary

Revolution of the Ordinary. Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell by Toril Moi (The University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Toril Moi’s latest book offers a scrupulous yet accessible account of Wittgensteinian ordinary language philosophy and poses a challenge to what she identifies as a ‘disdain’ (5) for ordinary life and language in literary studies and theory. Moi has written extensively on Feminist literary criticism, authoring a survey of Anglo-American and French feminism in Sexual/Textual Politics (1986) as well as monographs on both Simone de Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva. It is clear from the outset that, in Revolution of the Ordinary, there is no less at stake than in her writing on feminist and socialist matters—she takes the reader ‘on foot’ (30), as she writes, through the landscape of the Wittgensteinian vision of meaning as use; then sets out to show her the transformative power of this vision using the example of feminist discourses. But the example is neither random, nor does it present a mere add-on to Moi’s argument: Thinking through examples is at the core of her project of urging theory towards the particulars of ordinary life.

            Dividing the book into three parts, Moi first takes her reader through her reading of Wittgenstein. In keeping with the spirit of the whole enterprise, this is not some kind of overarching comprehensive account of Wittgensteinian thought, but focuses on certain ordinary language readings of the Philosophical Investigations. The first two chapters are devoted to a run-down of key terms: Meaning and Use, Language Games, Grammar, and Forms-of-life. Like the Philosophical Investigations, which Wittgenstein begins with the account of language learning in Augustine’s Confessions, Moi sets out discussing Wittgenstein’s response to the Augustinian picture of language, reading his story of buying five red apples from the supposedly naïve and definitely refreshing perspective of Wittgenstein’s imagined interlocutor; ‘a child, who can’t stop asking “why?”’ (26). Patiently anticipating a range of criticisms of ordinary language philosophy as it has been (mis-)understood in different contexts, she insists that the scope of her (or Wittgenstein’s) argument does not require an account of meaning: instead ‘to learn a language is to be trained in a practice, to be initiated into a form of life’ (43). In themselves, the first two chapters are a brilliantly lucid introduction to Wittgenstein’s vision of language. On their basis, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 set out his critique of ‘theory’. Comparing Derrida’s notion of concepts, and the implied extreme demand for univocal meaning from which deconstructive arguments take off, with Wittgenstein’s approach, Moi pits what she identifies as theory’s ‘craving for generality’ (99) of theory against the intellectual power of examples. On the particular case of feminist intersectionality theory, she argues that theory’s attempt to make concepts overarching and fully inclusionary risks generating highly complicated and inaccessible theoretical models that leave little room for attention to particular and ordinary female realities.

            Having set out these key terms and indicated ways in which the Wittgensteinian vision of language might revolutionize the way we ‘do theory’, the second part of the book turns to the ‘Differences’ between ordinary language philosophy and various strands of post-Saussurean thought. Differences are important to Moi because she wants her reader to realize, along with Wittgenstein, that the ‘picture that holds us captive’ is so pervasive because no other options occur to us. As with Wittgenstein previously, Moi in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 sets out the key terms of Saussurean thought and presents different takes on them in literary studies. Her account of these is enlightening, because her examples demonstrate how a thinker generally thought of as outdated continues to influence the theoretical landscape, even if as the representative of a constraining picture of language that becomes a taking-off point for poststructuralism. Sourcing examples from Knapp and Michaels, Fish, and de Man, the argument now turns from Wittgenstein’s five red apples, builders at work and children playing ring-a-ring-a-roses to what Moi calls a ‘disdain for the ordinary’ in the ways these thinkers have approached questions about language and meaning. In Chapter 7, her discussion of Herbert Marcuse responds to the claims that ordinary language philosophy is inherently reactionary and commonsensical, and that to describe ordinary linguistic practices rather than to critique them, is fundamentally hostile to the idea of change. Drawing on the earlier chapters on Wittgenstein, Moi defends him against such allegations, saying that while he acknowledged changes in languages and, correspondingly, in forms-of-life, he would have denied that ‘philosophers have any special power over the evolution of language’ (157). Ordinary language, she stresses, is not some kind of positivism, nor specifically ‘restricted to “the common usage of words”’ (161): ‘It is simply “what we say”. […] It is, simply, language that works, language that helps us to draw useful distinctions, language as the medium in which we live our lives […]’ (161).

            In the third part, titled ‘Reading’, Moi begins to set out her account of how ordinary language philosophy offers a toolkit for new strategies and approaches in literary theory and criticism. Drawing in Chapter 8 on Rita Felski’s discussion of the hermeneutics of suspicion as a pervasive mood, Moi now brings to bear what she has been stressing throughout the book; that the approach to language that Wittgenstein puts forward is not another theory, or even methodology, but as a different kind of attitude, or mood, or spirit. Reiterating the Wittgensteinian notion of ‘utterances as actions, as something we do’ (180), she suggests that precisely this notion might work as a remedy against the belief that texts have surfaces and depths, and that a good, critical reading must always pursue the latter: ‘Action aren’t objects, and they don’t have surfaces and depths’ (180). Chapter 9 develops this with a view to controversies about authorial intention: ‘To say that texts are actions and expressions is to remind us of the obvious: […] that they are spoken or written by someone at a particular time, in a particular place’ (197). For Moi, as with the question of surface or depth reading, the disputes around whether reading should try to get into the author’s mind or not, are due to a wrongheaded picture of an inside and outside of mind and exterior world. Arguing for reading as a practice of acknowledging both the concerns and circumstances that the text reveals and what we bring to it as readers, she suggests that ordinary language approaches to reading escape the critical or skeptical spirit pervasive in theory as the only good response to linguistic positivism. Turning, in her final chapter, to the example of the right-extremist terrorist attack committed by Anders Behring Breivik in 2011, Moi strikingly demonstrates the relevance of this argument in the particulars of life: ‘One doesn’t have to be a Norwegian in the aftermath of Utøya to yearn for language to be in touch with reality’ (222). Having set out to argue against the deep philosopher, who is concerned with the relation between world and language and seeks deep meaning beyond the ordinary and banal uses of language, Moi now demonstrates the nuance in her critique by appealing to cases of contemporary life—Breivik’s cut-and pasted ‘manifesto’, ‘truthiness’ in politics and other cases where language seems alienated from the world. ‘In such a situation we need a philosophically serious alternative to theories promoting the idea that language is in some fundamental way disconnected from reality, just as we need an alternative to linguistic positivism and / or scientism’ (223). Previously in the book, Moi has attempted to share some of the elation she says she has felt reading Wittgenstein and understanding the potential inherent in his vision for language, and manages to do so by the clarity and accessibility of her argument and the diversity of her examples. In the final chapters she has also demonstrated the urgency for theory to become permeable by uses of language outside a strictly literary or theoretical context.

April 2018

Samuel Butler Against the Professionals: Rethinking Lamarckism 1860–1900, David Gillott. London: Legenda (Studies in Comparative Literature 32), Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2015. £55.00. ISBN: 9781909662254.

Reviewed by Madeleine Chalmers, University of Oxford


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Samuel Butler Against the Professionals: Rethinking Lamarckism 1860–1900 by David Gillott (Legenda, Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2015)

The twenty-first century may just be Samuel Butler’s moment. He has long been a marginal figure, but in an age characterised by technological development, public suspicion of ‘experts’, and burgeoning research into epigenetics, the maverick Victorian sheep farmer behind the satirical machinic evolutions of Erewhon (1872) is perhaps ripe for re-evaluation. David Gillott’s rich monograph—the first on Butler for two decades—makes a valuable contribution to such a revival. It seeks to provide an encyclopaedic synthesis of the biographical, literary, theological, scientific, and aesthetic elements of Butler’s seemingly eclectic oeuvre. As his title suggests, Gillott posits Butler as an ‘anti-professional’, prone to polemic against the emerging professional scientists and self-professed authorities of the mid- to late nineteenth century, who Butler lambasts as hypocritical and self-serving. Gillott then suggests that it is Butler’s understanding of the pre-Darwinian and largely discredited French evolutionary biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck which—consciously or unconsciously—shapes this attitude.

            A dense introduction presents the framework for Gillott’s study, with a particular focus on Lamarck’s theory of inherited memory: the notion that we can inherit the abilities developed by our genetic ancestors, such that their conscious actions become our unconscious, instinctive ones. Gillott argues that  Butler extends this notion from physical processes such as digestion all the way to artistic production, placing human will at the heart of evolution, rather than random, Darwinian mutations. Within this framework, Butler emerges as a non-binary thinker of continuity, instinct, and practical self-development. His version of the human individual is embedded in a network of inherited capabilities, including the technological prostheses by which we intervene in the world. For Butler, our knowledge (both inherited and acquired) constitutes our identity. It shapes what we produce and how we act in the world. Gillott argues that it is this Lamarckian-inflected   ‘harmonicism’ which leads to Butler’s distinctive anti-professionalism. In the chapters which follow, Gillot ranges with consummate familiarity across the full breadth of Butler’s writing, from fiction to polemic to critical editions.

            In his first chapter, Gillott tackles Butler’s best-known text—the  ‘Book of the Machines’ episode of Erewhon—through an in-depth contextualisation of Butler’s evolutionary ideas. At the heart of his dissection are the ‘logical absurdities’ which, for Butler, result in the use and abuse of analogies for scientific purposes. Gillott digs back to early texts by Butler to uncover the underlying structures of his thought and his sources of inspiration, from William Paley’ s clockmaker to the doctrinal wranglings of the Church of England over infant baptism.  

            He pursues his evolutionary theme in a second chapter which traces Butler’s changing responses to Darwin’s  Origin of Species and the emergence of his suspicion of professional scientists. Gillott demonstrates how Butler began to dissolve the distinction between author and work: a writer’s character was inextricably intertwined with his output. He argues that Butler’s critiques of Darwin are fuelled as much by ambivalence towards Darwin’s character and professional status, as by objections  to his method or conclusions. Gillott carefully hints at how Butler’s strong personal investment might also be a paradoxical intellectual liberation, in a comparison between Butler and the Darwinist Thomas  Huxley. 

            Expanding his scope beyond Butler’s well-known entanglements with Darwin, Gillott’s third chapter explores how this epistemological perspective affects Butler’s theological writings, particularly with regard to the status of ‘Gospel truth’.  With considerable nuance, Gillott finds a middle ground which draws on his leitmotif of Lamarckian inherited memory, arguing that ‘ Butler moved from rationalism to a belief that faith was the ultimate basis of all knowledge, but that faith resulted from the accretion of the conscious use of reason over countless generations’ (18).

            Chapter 4 broadens out to consider how these considerations affect Butler’s aesthetic writings. Butler is portrayed as striking a blow against professionalisation and academic painting, reclaiming the value of instinct and practice over theory. His championing of lesser known painters of the Italian Renaissance and critique of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood anticipates the experimental and non-academic forms of art which emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. 

            Having moved outwards from Butler’s more familiar texts to show the ramifications of Butler’s Lamarckian understanding, Gillott’s final chapter returns to the very centre of the web: to Butler himself, and to the notions of genealogy which lie at the heart of nineteenth-century evolutionary thinking. He turns to Butler’s late projects—on his grandfather, Ancient Greece and Shakespeare—to uncover the consistent presence of Butler throughout—and uses this to speculate about Butler’s homosexuality. 

            In a finely-balanced conclusion, Gillott traces Butler’s afterlife: how he has flickered in and out of fashion, falling from favour as Lamarck’s fortunes waned and Darwinism entered the mainstream. He argues poignantly that Butler can continue to turn his critical eye on our present institutions, raising epistemological questions about ‘how and what we are able to know, how this knowledge comes to be culturally authorized, and how this authority is appropriated by or conferred upon certain carefully self-fashioned individuals’  (176), questions which have lost none of their pertinence today. As academic readers—and writers—in our own right, we are not exempt from Butler’s anti-professionalism. As Gillott asks, provocatively: ‘is the academic neglect of Butler because most of his ideas have proved to be wrong, or because the author behind these ideas appears to be so objectionable and antagonistic towards his professional academic reader? ’ (177).

            Indeed, while Gillott in some sense provides Butler with what he most desired—validation and an afterlife—this remains a book for the professional Butlerian. While its thoroughness is to be commended, it requires an extensive pre-existing knowledge of Butler and familiarity with the period. Dense and at times a little dry, the text might have benefited from an even more extensive exploration of what Butler has to offer us today, as twenty-first-century readers. Its title is perhaps a little misleading: Gillott rethinks Butler using one aspect of Lamarckian thinking about memory and inheritance; he does not really rethink Lamarck. This unidirectional approach does not yield the truly comparative literary study one might expect—it is very much a book on Butler, which deploys a Lamarckian idea to support this exploration. Nevertheless, Gillott’s monograph represents an invaluable contribution, revealing Butler as a thinker concerned with identity, continuity, and relationships, and building up a picture of the diffusion and persistence of Lamarckian ideas in nineteenth-century Britain.

March 2018

Bombay Modern: Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Literary Culture, Anjali Nerlekar. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2016. $34.95. ISBN: 9780810132733.

Reviewed by Daniela Cappello, University of Heidelberg


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Bombay Modern: Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Literary Culture by Anjali Nerlekar (Northwestern University Press, 2016)

It has no future./ It is pinned down to no past./ It's a pun on the present.

(From ‘The Butterfly’).

In these verses from Kolatkar’s Jejuri, the butterfly represents the transience and self-referentiality of language, the distinguishing mark of the literary underground scene of Bombay during the Sixties. Born in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, in undivided India, the avant-garde poet, editor, publisher, graphic artist and translator Arun Kolatkar (1931-2004) has become an icon of the ‘roaring Sixties’ of the city of Bombay, deeply rooted in the local Marathi culture and yet transnationally located at the crossroad of global modernisms across the world. 

            With Bombay Modern: Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Literary Culture, Anjali Nerlekar provides a close reading of his bilingual poetry in English and Marathi and an analysis of the editorial activity of the small presses in Bombay. Set on the background of the emergence of the Shiv Sena and the creation of a monolingual Maharashtra, the bilingual poetry and the anti-commercial projects of the small presses Clearing House and Pras Prakashan, run by poets such as Kolatkar, Mehrotra, Patel, Shahane and Jussawalla, tried to shatter the monolithic projection of Bombay’s cultural world. Nerlekar brings to life the stark contrasts of post-independence Bombay, at the juncture of regionalism and national politics, through the prism of bilingual experimental poetry and the alternative literary practices of the small presses and little magazine publications. Engaging with ‘bilingual and material readings of literature’ (3), the author reveals a new methodology for multilingual literary spheres and for the interpretation of Indian modernisms. She explores the textual, visual and physical features of the literary sources through her skilfull engagement with the poetry collections, little magazines, diaries and correspondence in English and Marathi.

           A scholar of postcolonial and diaspora literature, Nerlekar departs from the traditional approach of this field to attempt a ‘material’ reading of Arun’s poetry and little magazines to show the interaction among texts, actors and institutions in the Bombay underground circle. Addressing the lack of interest for the genre of poetry in post-colonial studies, Nerlekar proposes a multi-layered analysis of the poem as  ‘a site that stages the inexpressible contemporaneity of Bombay’ (15). Her approach to primary and secondary literature is addressed in the introduction in which she critically engages with some problematic terminology such as ‘sathottari’ and cultural toponyms like ‘Bombay’.  While the adjective sathottari (lit. ‘post-1960s”) came to be associated with the more conservative Marathi avant-garde, she revitalizes the term emphasizing the interplay between the local and the global in the bilingual literary sphere of post-independence Bombay (7–12). The city, turned into a centre of modernism and avant-garde experimentation, becomes essential in the unfolding of Nerlekar’s reformulation of literary modernism: she proposes in fact an extended idea of the city of Bombay that connects to other places of modernism, such as Latin-America, the United States, West Bengal and the Hindi heartland (58–67). The multiplicity of the literary worlds and of the linguistic environments that inform Kolatkar’s poetry is also a mark of Nerlekar’s theoretical approach that aims at highlighting the volatility and fluidity of critical concepts, such as ‘modernism’.

            The book is structured in two sections: ‘The Context’  and ‘The Texts’.   In Part One Nerlekar investigates the activities of the small presses Clearing House and Pras Prakashan and explores their role in providing a global platform of experimental writings that helped shaping a multilingual community of literary exchange. According to the author, the little magazine is a crucial material for showing the links between global and local for the sathottari writers. As Eric Bulson points out in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (2013), the little magazine is a ‘world-form’, yet it is infused with the ‘locus-specific practices’ that bring to the bilingual literary world of Bombay to the surface. In Chapter 3, Nerlekar historicizes the process of translation and its relevance for Bombay modernism. The practice of translation mostly took place within the little magazine which functioned as a space of negotiation between languages, canons and traditions. Through translations from Western (i.e. English, American, French, Latin American), South Asian literatures (i.e. Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil) and from Marathi bhakti poets, the Bombay poets fashioned a ‘unique sense of the local’ that combines the international and the transregional, thus replacing traditional definitions of modernism (107).

            In Part Two, the author deals with a close reading of Arun’s poetry collections in English (JejuriSarpa SatraKala Ghoda Poems) and the Marathi Bhijaki Vahi. The interplay between word and image, the attention to the visual and the para-textual elements of the publications, and the ‘material constructs of the book and the page’ (170) are some of the main features characterizing the ‘material modernism’ involved in these collections of poems. In his collection Bhijaki Vahi (Chapter 4), a poetic narrative of the weeping woman around the world and across the ages, Kolatkar uses a mixture of traditional forms of Marathi poetry, such as the metre pasaydan, to represent the modern theme of women’s abuse throughout history. The book of poems seems to grow out of the structure of the little magazine with its unlimited possibilities of combination, both in terms of form and content of the poems, and ‘expands the semantic content of the work’ (143).

            The English collections, JejuriKala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Satra (Chapter 5) are examined as exemplars of Kolatkar’s poetics: they force the reader to retrace the connections between word and image, sign and real life. In her analysis of Jejuri, the most studied of the poet’s collection, Nerlekar again suggests exploring the book in its material relevance as an ‘aggregate of paper and ink’ (170) that continues and enhances the semantic sphere of the poem. Moving through the different layers of the text, from the content to the visual, Nerlekar argues that the poem represents the ambiguous space of precariousness and marginality of existence, as shown in selected extracts from Kala Ghoda Poems (182–3).

            In the last chapter of the book, she proposes a close reading of selected poems from the English and the Marathi Jejuri to question the efficacy of the concept of translation and to show the slippery nature of translational practices (196). The collection of poems Jejuri was originally written in English in the seventies and was published in the Marathi version only in 2011. Comparing both versions, she shows the equivalences, the differences and the departures that Kolatkar has followed in order to ‘show respect for the literary and linguistic traditions of both languages’ (200), when in some cases the translation revealed an impossible task, as shown in the poems ‘The Butterfly’ and ‘Pulapakharu’ (203-6). She argues that Kolatkar’s bilingual ‘way of writing and living’, which expresses itself in his self-translations and simultaneous bilingual transcreations, interrogates issues of authority, authenticity and originality (209).

            Backing up the previous study on Kolatkar by Laetitia Zecchini (Arun Kolatkar and Literary Modernism in India: Moving Lines. Bloomsbury, 2014), which included only the English writings of the poet, Bombay Modern expands the scholarship on global avant-garde and modernisms in South Asia providing valuable heuristic tools of analysis for multiple literary and historical contexts. Although Nerlekar tends to repeat some of the main arguments that are foregrounded in Zecchini’s book (i.e. multiple modernisms; cosmopolitanism; multilingualism vs. monolingualism of the nation-state), Bombay Modern has the merit of enriching it with sources in Marathi, from the poetry collection Bhijaki Vahi to the little magazines like AsoAtta and Vacha, and of bringing a fresh insight into the cultural underworld of ‘little’ editing and publishing practices in both English and Marathi. This accurate monograph can be recommended not only as a complementary study to the reading of Kolatkar’s poetry in English, but also as an independent work per se that explores the intricate web of material practices of literature, poetic experimentation, protest and resistance in the decades following the independence of India.

February 2018

Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature, Heekyoung Cho. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2016. ISBN: 9780674660045.

Reviewed by Sawnie Smith, University of Oxford


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Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature by Heekyoung Cho (Harvard University Asia Center, 2016)

Heekyoung Cho’s Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature (2016) urges its readers to entertain the not-so-farfetched argument that modern conceptions of national literature are the ironic products of translation. ‘Translation was not a supplement to national literature but the kernel of it,’ (ix) she writes succinctly. But given the smear campaign that the practice of translation has endured in many regions of the globe in the past several decades (if not centuries), Cho claims that the translational foundations of most national canons have been deliberately erased from the equally nebulous realm of national consciousness, ‘…national canons are often founded on amnesia regarding their process of formation…’ (x). In other words, the multi-directional, multi-lingual, and multi-textural origins of many national canons were and are willfully forgotten by their own purveyors (an additional notion whose ironies do not go un-interrogated by the author) in a bid for national(istic) autonomy, for defined borders. It is from this place of ideologically inspired forgetting that Cho begins her exploration in the book’s introduction, ‘Translation and the Formation of Modern Literature’.

            The three chapters of Translation’s Forgotten History, situated between the book’s introduction and epilogue, are specifically concerned with the emergence of modern Korean literature at the turn of the twentieth century through the 1920s, a precarious chapter in the peninsula’s history. Cho undertakes the exploration of what is perhaps an under examined component in this emergence: Korean translation/adaptation/appropriation of nineteenth-century realist Russian literature (namely the works of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Turgenev) via Japanese relay translations. It is worth mentioning that Cho demonstrates within the fabric of her argument that all three of these ‘-tion’ words could apply to the work produced by Korean writers during this era, as categorization of written work is a historiographical concern.

            Returning to the precariousness of this time period, that Korea was a colony of the Empire of Japan during the emergence of its modern literature is central to the various arguments Cho articulates throughout the book. She deftly grounds the literary consequences of Korea’s ‘colonial psyche’, with all of its attendant anxieties, ironies, frustrations, and limitations, in landmark works of translation studies (Venuti’s The Translation Studies Reader, Bassnett’s Translation Studies, Liu’s Translingual Practice, etc.). In addition to her use of these works—no doubt familiar to her intended readership at least in name—Cho’s study is solidly and meticulously structured around an enormous body of Korean, Japanese, and Russian-language texts. The depth of her research and lingual dexterity is consistently evident.

            Chapter 1, ‘Manipulation of Fame and Anxiety: Construction of a Model Intellectual and a Theory of Literature’, explores the process by which two prominent Korean intellectuals, Yi Kwang-su and Ch’oe Nam-sŏn, constructed an image of Leo Tolstoy ‘as a towering moral authority in order to promote and legitimate their own ideas about modern intellectuals and a new literature’ (43), a process which relied on the selective translation of preexisting Japanese translations of Tolstoy’s work into Korean. As was typical of middleclass Korean men of the early-twentieth century, Yi and Ch’oe received several years of secondary education in Japan. This chapter successfully illustrates the political and cultural cachet of Russian realist literature for these newly colonized Korean intellectuals and the mobilization of these texts on the Korean peninsula via Japanese relay translations.

            Chapter 2, ‘Rewriting Literature and Reality: Translation, Journalism, and Modern Literature’, focuses on the activity of another foundational figure in the formation of modern Korean literature, Hyŏn Chin-gŏn, a writer of fiction and journalist. Cho argues that Hyŏn translated/adapted/appropriated the style and motifs of Anton Chekov’s short stories in several of his own works, including his 1925 short story, ‘Pul’ (Fire), the protagonist of which is a child bride who resorts to arson in order to escape further sexual abuse at the hands of her much older husband. The political relevance of this theme (early marriage was still a common and heavily debated practice in 1920s Korea), as well as Hyŏn’s joint literary and journalistic pursuits, allow Cho to explore the mutable boundaries between truth and fiction within Korean textual output of the early twentieth century. That is to say, by examining the increasingly more common practice of serializing Korean appropriations of these Russian literary forms in the peninsula’s newspapers, Cho suggests that the theoretical boundaries of literature, zealously demarcated by Korean intellectuals of the 1900s and 1910s, were poised to be redrawn in the following decades.  

            Finally, it is in Chapter 3, ‘Aspirations for a New Literature: Constructing Proletarian Literature from Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature’, that Cho advances what is likely the book’s principle argument. She claims that Korean proletarian literature of the 1920s and 30s was modeled off of late nineteenth-century (i.e. prerevolutionary) Russian realist literature versus the seemingly more politically congruent literature of the newly formed Soviet Union. ‘They [Korean intellectuals] explained that Chekhov’s Russia—around the 1880s and 1890s—was the era of disillusionment and argued that Korea had arrived at the same situation as Chekov’s Russia…They thus referred to prerevolutionary nineteenth-century Russia to explain the situation of Korean society’ (153). Soviet literature was not yet applicable to the Korean situation. It was the literature of these aforementioned Russian realists that became the object of Korean intellectuals’ burgeoning interest in politically committed literary appropriations (45).

            Translation’s Forgotten History makes good on its statement of intent, found in the preface, ‘…this book thus aims to go beyond the paradigm of national literature yet still find a place for agency and the importance of local meaning through a focus on the constructive process that translation entails’ (xii). In addition to the rigor of her research, Cho demonstrates tremendous empathy towards the frustrated and often thwarted activity of these Korean writer-intellectuals. She situates these various Korean literary figures within a dynamic and detailed world, a world of both secretive and explicit exchange. The book’s texture, forged from this sense of empathy, is consistently translated to the reader. And Cho’s careful study will no doubt prove useful to students engaged in a wide range of topics: modern Korean literature, colonial Korea, translation studies, historiography, Russian-Korean relations, etc. But perhaps the most memorable and thus the most lasting effect of Cho’s study is her willingness to explore, with this characteristic sense of empathy, the murky intersection between translation and the politics of forgetting.

January 2018

Transcultural Lyricism: Translation, Intertextuality, and the Rise of Emotion in Modern Chinese Love Fiction, 1899-1925, Jane Qian Liu. Leiden: Brill, 2017. €121,00. ISBN: 9789004301313.

Reviewed by Stefano Gandolfo, University of Oxford


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Transcultural Lyricism: Translation, Intertextuality, and the Rise of Emotion in Modern Chinese Love Fiction, 1899-1925 by Jane Qian Liu (Brill, 2017)

Transcultural Lyricism is an ambitious book. On the one hand, it makes a meaningful contribution to the field by bringing together translation and intertextuality studies and on the other it illuminates aspects of modern Chinese literature that have remained relatively understudied. Jane Qian Liu’s analytical framework not only constitutes a significant input in literary criticism but its application onto Chinese literature further illustrates its methodological significance. Transcultural Lyricism is a strong, well-thought, and rigorously argued book tying together issues of comparative and cross-cultural literary criticism with modern Chinese literature.

            The book can be conceptually divided in two parts: theory (Introduction and Chapter 1) and application of the theory (Chapters 2–4). The Introduction presents the case for the merging of translation and intertextuality studies by recognizing that ‘it is not enough simply to assert that modern Chinese literature was influenced by foreign literatures’ and that ‘a more articulate conceptual framework is needed’ (3). The marriage of translation and intertextuality studies provides a more fecund and informative framework. Instead of seeing intertextuality—the interpenetration of texts within the same language—and translation—the transposition of texts across languages—Liu proposes to view translation as intertextuality and intertextuality as translation, putting the two on a single continuum of literary production. Translation as a case of intertextuality recognizes the translator as an interpreter and interrogator of the foreign text and creates a new ‘translated text … in a web of intertextual relationships among other texts and contexts in the target-language’ (19). Conversely, the ‘interpretative nature of translation studies’ can assist in exploring further ‘the relationship between two texts, which is the fundamental concern of intertextuality studies’ (19). Therefore, translation and intertextuality are not seen as two distinct modes of literary activity but rather as the polar nodes on the continuum of literary production. The interpenetrative nature of the relationship between translation and intertextuality is especially highlighted in inter-cultural and inter-lingual contexts, like early 20th century China.

            Translation and intertextuality, as modes of literary production, are manifested in a plurality of ways. Translations vary according to principles espoused and intertextuality can range from direct quotations to subtle resonances. The terms are broad and fluid. Liu zooms in on the problematic nature of the terms pseudo-translation (the claim that a text is a translation of another text but it is in fact an original work) and pseudo-creation (the claim that a text is an original work but it is in fact a translation) to argue for the use the coupled-concept of creative translation and translated creation. The author proposes the term creative translation ‘not only to cover pseudo-creation, but also to include other texts which were adapted by the translators but did not present themselves as created works’ (58). Conversely, the author puts forth the term translated creation ‘to refer to … [the] works … not only [of] pseudo-translation in the narrow sense, but also works that are a combination of translation/borrowing and creation’ (69). Of course, the boundaries between the two terms are not clearly delineable but rather fluid and porous. Nonetheless, they constitute a methodological improvement since they can contain ‘texts which do not overtly claim to be either a translation or a creation’ (77). It is in this sense that the vast majority of early modern Chinese literature can be placed on the same spectrum of literary production.

            Having established a solid theoretical groundwork, Transcultural Lyricism proceeds to explore the specific ways in which Chinese authors and translators responded to the introduction of Western literature. Specifically, Chapter 2 examines Zhou Shoujuan’s creative translations which took on an ‘indigenously informed imagination to rework Western melodramatic short stories’ (118). Zhou Shoujuan is presented as a paradigmatic example of a creative translator whose additions and omissions from the source text aimed to shape and adjust foreign texts to local sense and sensibility. The creative license that translators like Zhou Shoujuan took did not limit itself to alterations in names, locations, habits, and behaviors but included significant changes to the plot and character development as well. In this way, not only did the stories become more relatable and believable in the eyes of the target audience but they also came to embody literary practices inherited from the long indigenous tradition as well as conform to established ethical norms. The result of this creative intermixing of elements is a kind of ‘sentimental melodrama reminiscent of both the indigenous tradition and the Western melodrama’ (118).

            Chapter 3 brings to center stage the idea of transcultural lyricism by discussing the work of monk-writer and ardent revolutionary Su Manshu. Due to his multiple identities, Su’s work exhibits a strong tension between romantic love and religious asceticism. Su held that there are ‘universal sentiments’ which can cross the boundaries of language and culture. He endeavored to capture the emotional climax of Western poetry by connecting it to its Chinese counterpart and vice versa. In this sense, Su was a proponent of the idea that it is only when emotions are felt universally that they carry real force and that therefore lyricism not only can but also should be understood in cross-cultural and inter-linguistic terms. Su Manshu’s work exhibits a unique hybrid quality which draw with the same ease and appreciation from foreign works as it did from indigenous traditional literatures. Therefore, is not a case of unidirectional influence but rather an example of a multivariate and dynamic interplay between texts of different literary backgrounds. It is in his work, that Liu identifies the strongest expression of the idea of transcultural lyricism.

            The last chapter examines Yu Dafu’s quest to find apposite new vocabularies to express emotions by reviewing his predicament with issues of intertextuality and translation: when, how, and in what language to quote or allude to texts? At this point, Liu brings to stage attitudes towards literary production expressed in traditional Chinese texts of literary criticism. This is done partly in tribute to the enormous literary tradition in China and partly in recognition of the fact that the writers and translators of early modern China still operated (at least partially) within the traditional paradigm. The discussion on traditional Chinese literary theories is not only necessary but indeed welcomed as point of methodological reflection for Liu herself. Perhaps, however, Transcultural Lyricism would have been enriched by placing the ideas of traditional Chinese literary theory—continuity and mutation, and fertilization and birth for example—at the heart of the methodological re-orientation that the book aspires to. Liu states that Yu ‘was faced with this problem of language [i.e. of translation] which never existed before the entry of foreign literatures into Chinese literature’ (197). While the claim about the novelty of the problem is almost definitely true for fictional literature, Chinese thinkers, authors, and translators had already grappled with the issue of translation when encountered with the vast and rich tradition of Buddhist texts. By incorporating the attitudes and points of reflection of traditional ‘intertextuality and translation studies’, Transcultural Lyricism could not only come closer to its hybrid object of study but also enrich its methodological innovation.

            At any rate, Transcultural Lyricism succeeds in meeting all of the goals it sets out to do in a convincing, clear, and crisp way. It not only sheds light into an underexplored facet of modern Chinese literature—the rise of emotion—but also manages to offer genuine insights into the field at large. Liu has skillfully interwoven the broader theoretical contribution with its direct application onto Chinese literature making Transcultural Lyricism a prized addition to the field. 

December 2017

The Invention of Monolingualism, David Gramling. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. £23.99. ISBN: 9781501318047.

Reviewed by Lyndsay Miller, University of Glasgow


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The Invention of Monolingualism by David Gramling (Bloomsbury, 2016)

David Gramling’s The Invention of Monolingualism does not, as its title suggests, take a singular focus, but rather a multidisciplinary approach. It examines monolingualisms in the context of four fields which, despite ‘the perennial unwantedness of monolingualism […] ought, by rights, to have as much to say about monolingualism as they do about multilingualism, translation and transnationalism’ (18). Gramling argues that each of these four fields—applied linguistics, literary studies, comparative world literature and citizenship studies—produce their own distinct invention of monolingualism. Respectively, these are the monolingual individual, the literary text, the world literature canon and pan-ethnic citizenship models—all of which are experiencing a resurgence in the early twenty-first century due to interactions between complex patterns of population diversity and an increasingly monetised global world.

            Gramling begins his study by examining the field of applied linguistics, which he posits invents monolingual individuals who perform their monolingualism ‘in the broader micro-political economies’ (46) of ‘verbal hygiene’, a term Deborah Cameron uses to describe language conformity and standardisation, which has strong social, moral and political undercurrents. Here, Gramling sets out his conception of monolingualism, which goes beyond common ideas of singular language knowledge and use. He expands this understanding to include the majority of speakers of second or other languages, who retain one dominant language which marks their use of all others. In this way, monolingualism becomes an ‘unearned structural privilege’ (52), which regulates meaning-making. As a result, monolingualism is a concept that is not decentered or displaced by the acquisition of additional languages. Instead, the monolingual individual transfers their monolingualism, developed via their dominant language, to their use of second or other languages. Gramling refers to an example taken from the Canadian parliament, which describes the winces of Francophone colleagues when their Anglophone counterparts use poorly accented French. In using this example, Gramling expands the reader’s thinking on monolingualism beyond knowledge of one, and only one, language. While this example, as with many in the volume, is anecdotal, it provides a contextual underpinning to the author’s conception of monolingualism and allows him to advance an argument that suggests monolingualism could be considered in terms of its practical application and efficacy. This pragmatic focus highlights the difficulties of critiquing monolingualism from within academic disciplines, using approaches that are predominantly conceptual as well as, of course, monolingual.   

            Gramling goes on to examine the monolingual literary text, primarily focussing on Kafka and his ‘artistry of monolingualism’ (96). While Kafka was proficient in several languages, he wrote entirely in German, producing works which display both a mastery of the German language and literary tradition. Gramling proposes that Kafka’s works ‘abstained from […] play across languages, preferring instead to deepen what might be called monolingualism’s vow of poverty (98). Focusing on The Missing Person, he puts forward the argument that Kafka wrote in one language alone, fully aware of the lure and preference for multilingual writing, in order to challenge it. Gramling posits that, while there has been movement from the mid-twentieth century onwards towards writing that transcends literary languages, traditions and histories, Kafka’s decision stems from the fact that ‘the flexibility of literary genres and the readiness of publishing norms to accommodate the multilingual, semi-diverse world’ (129) have been often overestimated. This is a result of ‘a systemic rather than nationalistic’ (130) approach to language, which has tended to prioritise texts that are, according to the author’s definition, monolingual.

            Gramling continues with an examination of comparative world literatures, which, while taking component parts from multiple source languages, have, on the whole, produced a monolingual literary canon. He asserts that, while markets have prioritised translational monolingualism over ethnonationalism in ‘world-literary traffic’ (133), there is a need for a phenomenology rather than an ontology of world literature. He examines the ways in which certain novels ‘manifest’ in the world and considers how they are ‘made to manifest’ in ‘travel ready’ ways that are conducive to canonisation (132). Rather than constructing a canon from texts identified as embodying a certain set of traits, which makes them world-ready, translatable and relatable, Gramling suggests that a temporal rather than spatial approach is required. This perspective sheds light on current problems encountered when creating a monolingual literary canon, such as defining the characteristics of a language or a national literary identity. While Gramling’s approach cannot ultimately solve these problems, it takes a more sensitive and accountable approach to them.

            A similar approach is suggested in the last part of Gramling’s volume, in which he explores the forms that monolingualism takes in social and political realms. Specifically he examines the relationship between multilingualism and the ‘getting’ (in the way one might ‘get’ a can of soda from a vending machine) rather than the ‘receiving’ of passports or citizenship (176). He argues that the central demand of the citizenship test, (the applicant’s ability to handle ‘all aspects of everyday life without assistance from a third party’) is not a simple bar to pass. This is a compelling point, as some bureaucratic situations could potentially be challenging, even for native speakers (monolingual or not). A ritual of citizenship is created, in which non-citizens become a ‘mythic testing ground’ (176), with their value systems in addition to their linguistic abilities being subjected to a rigorous testing process unheard of for those who gain their citizenship by birth right alone. This ultimately leads to ‘the invention of discrete, transposable, pan-functional languages’, which Gramling terms the plural ‘monolingualisms’ (190) of his central thesis. Thus, the author challenges the singular myth(s) of monolingualism, while contemporaneously acknowledging its role in the invention of institutions and notions central to Western society, from publishing to foreign policy. Therefore, while the relevance of a singular monolingualism is waning, its effects are still fully felt.

            While The Invention of Monoligualism’s greatest strength is in its rejection of the singular conception that one language is preferable to all others, the idea ‘that anything, absolutely anything, can be reasonably done, said, or meant in any one particular language, given the proper circumstances’ (195) is still implicit to the Western, Anglophone-centric cultures that produced this book. However, Gramling’s presentation of a subtle and nuanced approach to understanding monolingual modes and mediums of communication constitutes a significant contribution to the fields of linguistic and literary studies, and has a particular interest for scholars of comparative literature, who tend to work in monolingual terms with translated texts. That said, translation and translatability do not feature in this study, which focuses instead on ‘the grid upon which translatability is ensured, tempered, perfected, and performed’ (208). Ultimately, as Gramling himself notes, this is a relevant departure for future works in the field, as current renationalisation strategies, whether social or political, or literary or linguistic, make relevant the notion of translational monolingualisms and their impact on twenty-first century culture and society.

November 2017

Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility, Arianna Dagnino. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2015. $45.00. Online ISBN: 9781557537065.

Reviewed by Maria Roemer, University of Heidelberg


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Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility by Arianna Dagnino (Purdue University Press, 2015)

In Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility, Arianna Dagnino argues that literature in the 21st century challenges us to re-think what we understand by it. Dagnino posits that the neonomadic patterns of global mobility produce a new species of transcultural writers by means of creative transpatriation, a transcultural and translingual identity formation. Through fictionalized narrative accounts of her own actual encounters with the authors Ilija Trojanow, Brian Castro, Inez Baranay and Alberto Manguel, the first half of Dagnino’s monograph introduces four paradigmatic examples of such transcultural writers, while a fifth interview with Tim Parks is fragmentarily dispersed over the whole study. In its second half, the analysis discusses its epistemology by exploring the five self-coined concepts neonomadism, transculture/ality, transcultural literature, creative transpatriation, transcultural writers and transcultural novels. As a result, one gets a meticulous introduction into the background discussions of Dagnino’s conceptual derivations.

            The proposed research merit of the inquiry is to reread the current debate on World Literature(s) from the notional angle of the transcultural. The transcultural has an implied emphasis on the confluent nature of cultures. Therefore, it represents a conceptual overcoming of the limits pertaining to previous discourses of postcolonial and multicultural literatures. Due to their ideological adherence to notions of difference, those were not able to transcend essential binaries. By contrast, the transcultural offers a ‘set of critical tools and vocabularies’ with which to paraphrase a dialogic encounter with the Other in which difference is replaced with the notion of interference (8). Accordingly, Dagnino considers transcultural literature the conceptually ‘youngest representative of the literatures of mobility’, precisely those literatures ‘which are affected and shaped by migratory flows’ in general (145). Dagnino seconds the criticism that world literature in scholarship oftentimes is ‘presented as a juxtaposition of national literatures’ (8). Instead, she argues for what she calls a transcultural comparativism (8).

            Dagnino’s study is an attempt at rethinking cultural critique in the 21st century. In that, it is comparable to Emily Apter’s The Translation Zone (2006). However, whilst Apter emphasizes the significance of translation when calling for a New Comparative Literature, Dagnino singles out neonomadism as a conceptual prism through which to analyze present literary production. She uses neonomadism as an extrapolation from the original nomadism after Deleuze/Guattari applied on the potentialities of physical and virtual mobility characteristic for the neonomadic turn in the 21st century, as observed by D’Andrea. According to Dagnino, the nomad in and of her/himself is an individual representation of a societal elite with the necessary capital and ‘slow time’ to indulge in personally transformative travels. In her book, Dagnino singles out the primacy of literary writers. In order to accommodate this specification, she creates the neologism transculture/ality: it enables a distinct understanding of the transcultural as both a ‘new conceptualization of culture’ and ‘a mode of identity building’, as it notionally encloses transculturality (Welsch) and transculture (Epstein) (127).

            With this emphasis on authors, Dagnino intends to fill a gap in World Literature(s) research, which she considers to be narrowly focused on literary texts and their circulations (Damrosch) (149–150). Dagnino argues that analyzing the ‘cultural attitudes and dispositions of transcultural authors while writing their imaginative texts’, allows for a definite study of transcultural fiction, while ‘specific stylistic solutions can obviously belong to a range of different literary genres, subgenres, and approaches’ (5). In doing so, she resurrects the author as a preliminary presence to the text: whereas the legacy of poststructuralism complicates ‘aiming to capture and convey any absolute truth of another person—or even of ourselves’, she suggests, ‘at least we can show how even “facts” are being created, that is, through what kind of psychological and imaginary processes’ (94). Accordingly, she locates her analysis in a visceral discourse on the author being, quasi literally, alive. As a result, creative transpatriation not only is a ‘psychological threshold’ to acquiring a ‘transcultural sensibility’ (156). It also requires a ‘physical, effective immersion in cultures, languages and geographies of the Other’ (158). In general, creative transpatriation is foregrounded as a self-induced diasporic or exilic state by conscious choice, resulting in a creative gain: ‘We might even expect that other writers could become interested in experimenting with the transcultural by consciously transpatriating themselves in order to use this form of cultural depaisement as a potentially creative tool’ (157).

            Through its choice of a new materialist discourse, Dagnino’s monograph doubtlessly stands out. However, it may have been consistent then, to go for the authors at all: one single chapter is conceded to the analysis of transcultural novels; paradoxically to the overall refute of postmodernist discourse, their textual analysis largely resorts to notions such as ‘narrative unreliability’ and ‘fuzziness’. By contrast, the method which Dagnino proposes for paraphrasing the authors’ transcultural identity formations is so invigorating that it could have deserved an exclusive emphasis: as creative non-fictions, the interviews are set in an imaginary Istanbul as a site of cultural confluence. While their content mostly is rendered truthfully, individual details of the meetings between first-person narrator ‘Arianna Dagnino’ and the authors’ literary selves are fictionalized. By interspersing the narratives with excerpts from her own travel diaries, they further reflect on her positionality, both as the narrator within the semi-fictions and as the scholar behind the overall study. Accordingly, the creative part of her analysis destabilizes socio-anthropological methodologies of qualitative data collection and participatory observation.

            Two questions were left open: firstly, while race and class are amply referred to in this analysis of transcultural writers as a travel elite, gender curiously is left out of the conceptual equation. This surprises, especially if one considers that the study outspokenly works with visceral metaphors in constructing its argument. Can an analysis relying in discourse on the materiality of bodies entirely overlook their gender? While female corporeality is invoked as an image, when ‘Dagnino’ meets with ‘Inez Baranay’ in a Turkish bath, a potential complication of gender finishes with the evocation of a homosocial intimacy (62). Gender does play a conspicuous role in postcolonial representations of female experiences of (im)migration. Does it have no relevance at all, when it comes to the creative transpatriation of neonomadic writers and their fiction?

            The second question concerns the study’s positive reduction of transpatriation. Dagnino seconds that ‘forced displacement is too serious to be metaphorized as a new ideal’ (112). However, as an inquiry on the social reality behind literature production explicitely focused on the 21st century, does this limitation need revision in 2017? After the so-called refugee crisis since 2015 and the parallel rise of populism in Europe and North-America, we may have to ask ourselves in how far, in defining transcultural literature in the future, we necessarily have to accommodate the difference between (im)migrant writers who were dislocated either by choice or by force? Having to face this question obviously is not the problem of the inquiry: who would have expected that a study, as carefully thought-out as to choose an Istanbul ‘driven towards a roughly European future’ (89) as the foil on which to unfold an investigation on transculturality in 2015, would need to differentiate this choice only two years later? Quite on the contrary, one may conclude that because of recent history, Dagnino’s suggestion that ‘transculturality can offer a profound and responsible approach to cultural encounters and their inevitable tensions’ (147), makes the monograph indeed a pertinent intervention now. Overall, it is to be hoped that this multiply enriching study stimulates further discussion on how to read and research World Literature taking into account the political issues raised by global mobility. As such, it should call for the attention of any scholar interested in advancing cultural critique in the second decade of the 21st century.

October 2017

Publishing Africa in French: Literary Institutions and Decolonisation 1945–1967, Ruth Bush. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016. £80.00. ISBN: 9781781381953.

Reviewed by Khalid Lyamlahy, University of Oxford


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Publishing Africa in French: Literary Institutions and Decolonisation 1945-1967 by Ruth Bush (Liverpool University Press, 2016)

What was the nature of African publishing in the post-war decades of decolonisation in France? Ruth Bush’s volume provides a thorough answer to this question by examining the literary structures which promoted and mediated Francophone African literature between the years 1945–1967. In her introduction, the author notes a series of issues related to authorial authenticity, literary value, and autonomy, and while investigating their impact on the publication of African literature in France, Bush suggests that the history of this process helps elucidate wider shifts in the French literary imaginary. The originality of Bush’s volume lies in its attempt to bridge the gap between African literature in French and the material history of its publication. Bush notes her book is both ‘a contribution to the cultural history of France in the post-war period’ and ‘a critical analysis of the global dynamics of French and African literary history’ (4). This two-fold aim situates the volume in a third-space—often neglected by critical writing—in which African texts are read in relation to the context of their publication, a process that is marked by the emergence of anticolonial movements and the institutionalisation of the notion of ‘francophonie’ in post-war France.

            In her introduction, Bush also explains that her book takes an archival approach to the study of Francophone African literature and, to this end, she brings together a wide range of primary sources, including bibliographies, library catalogues, readers’ reports, translations, and correspondence from the publishing field. Working against the ‘disciplinary reluctance to engage intellectually with the material aspects of physical books’ (14), Bush uses the theory of book history to pinpoint how notions of opposition and resistance are grounded in, and shaped by, the structures of publishing, and the relationships between writers, publishers, and readers.

            The book investigates two distinct areas of African literature in French: ‘Institutions’ and ‘Mediations’. It begins by examining the anthologies and collections of the 1940s which served as ‘proto-manifestos for literature in French from beyond metropolitan borders’ (31). Bush shows that these publications, shaped by connections and struggles in the literary field, delivered ambivalent and often paradoxical calls for (trans)national responsibility within the Union Française and wider African autonomy. By looking at prefaces, editorial exchange and correspondence, Bush reveals the tension between transnational connections of African literature emerging from distant territories and racial particularism associated with the Négritude movement. This tension eventually entails an ambivalence regarding the way African literature is perceived and understood at this time by metropolitan readership. Bush then considers the creation of Présence Africaine, a journal and publishing house founded by Senegalese writer and editor Alioune Diop in 1947. Her reading of Présence Africaine’s publishing catalogue in the 1950s reveals a blend of political and cultural aims, and highlights the ability of the publishing house to adapt to the changing context within the field. This is fruitfully contrasted with the experience of similar éditeurs engagés (including Minuit, Maspero, and the Heinemann African Writers Series), which allows the reader to grasp the specificity of the publisher as a unique yet connected hub for critical reflection on issues pertaining to the African continent. A subsequent examination of the main literary prizes specific to post-war African writing in French awarded by the ANEMOM (Association Nationale des Ecrivains de la Mer et de l’Outre-Mer) argues that this institution ‘sought to preserve certain aspects of France’s colonial imaginary’ (93). Bush notes that the association maintained overseas writing at a distance from the metropole and displayed ‘an incipient colonial nostalgia’ (110) among its metropolitan readership. The ambivalence of ANEMOM, however, lies in its dual role as a vehicle that strengthened the cultural hegemony of the centre, and promoted new voices and transnational contacts in Africa. 

            Bush then examines notions of authenticity and authorship in the volume’s second part. She argues that, in the early post-war period, publishers played a fundamental role in shaping literary representations and understandings of ‘African authorial subjectivity’ (118). By focusing on the case of two novels—Christine Garnier’s Va-t’en avec les tiens! (1951) and Abdoulaye Sadji’s Maïmouna (1952/1958)—Bush shows how African authorship was the object of unstable and contrasting constructions, which were denounced in Mongo Beti’s 1955 essay ‘Afrique noire, littérature rose’. The publication process of both novels suggests that authorial authenticity was shaped by the political and ideological position of readers, which uncovers a quest for institutional legitimacy. This is followed by an investigation into the post-1960 publishing history of Francophone African fiction. Bush focuses on the way African novels challenged generic and linguistic norms but were ‘only gradually and unevenly accepted by metropolitan publishers’ (149). Drawing on readers’ reports and editorial correspondence from publishers’ archives, she discusses the mediation of style and content with the aim of resituating fiction in the wider context of publishing. Here again, the chapter focuses on the trajectory of two novels—Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s L’Aventure ambigüe (1961) and Malick Fall’s forgotten work La Plaie (1967)—showing how editors at Le Seuil, driven by preconceived narrative and stylistic expectations of African novels, sought to revise both manuscripts and redirect the writers towards what constitute ‘normative definitions of literary value and legitimacy” (151). In her reading of Fall’s novel, Bush admits however that ‘without manuscripts, it is difficult to assess how far the editors’ comments altered the published text’ (172). This lack of complete and fully reliable archival sources does not hinder the overall project but rather points to the necessity of shifting the perspective by combining material investigation and historical account with close-reading and textual analysis, which Bush does intermittently throughout the volume. Bush finally explores the role of translation in mediating African literature during the period of decolonisation. Following on from previous sections, the author’s argument hinges on the idea that translation also depends ‘on material conditions, shaped by the prestige of the translated author and, at times, the translator’ (182). By discussing the trajectories of three novels published in the 1950s and translated from English into French—Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Abrahams’ A Wreath for Udomo—Bush shows how the translator (respectively Raymond Queneau, Michel Ligny, Pierre Singer) works as a literary and cultural mediator whose name and visibility affects the text’s reception. It could be argued in these two final sections that notions of literary value, authorial subjectivity, and authenticity need to be corroborated by, and foregrounded in, the works themselves, with the risk of the historical and material approach obfuscating the  ‘literariness’ of the texts. In this respect, the understandable choice to focus on few texts presents the impossibility of extrapolating any specific conclusions to frame a generalised view on African publishing. A case in point is that North African literature is completely dismissed in a volume entitled Publishing Africa in French, although more specific references to ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’  are used irregularly throughout the volume.

           Overall, Bush’s book is a valuable contribution to the history of publishing African literature in France and beyond,  a field that has received little attention. The author’s active engagement with often-neglected editorial material, and her efforts to uncover the hidden relationships between publishers, writers, and other mediators, eventually help ‘restore an informed historical awareness of the material conditions’ (26) faced by African writers in France. Bush not only sheds light on a crucial period in the publication of African writings in France, but also invites readers to consider the complex historical context and material conditions faced by African writers in the era of decolonisation. Moreover, Bush revives a sense of socio-historical investigation and invites readings of some less-known or forgotten texts. In doing so, Publishing Africa in French provides new perspectives for the study of African literature beyond the Francophone context, and paves the way for scholarship to engage with other lines of research, such as the history of literary reception and the material conditions of educational publishing. More importantly, the volume provides a valuable toolkit for scholars working on Francophone African literature who seek to enlarge, nuance, or counterbalance their understandings of literary texts.

September 2017

Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: Something Rich and Strange, Tobias Döring & Ewan Fernie (eds.). New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. £28.99. ISBN: 9781628922103.

Reviewed by Karolina Watroba, University of Oxford


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Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: Something Rich and Strange, edited by Tobias Döring and Ewan Fernie (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Writing literary history from a strictly national perspective can produce remarkable blindness and distort the ways in which literature is encountered and appreciated by readers all over the world. The connection between Thomas Mann and Shakespeare is a case in point. While hundreds of studies have been devoted to the influence that Goethe’s works had had on Mann, very few scholars have commented on Shakespeare’s legacy within Mann’s oeuvre, despite the explicit evocation of one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the heart of Doktor Faustus, Mann’s iconic novel about the Second World War. In Mann’s time, Shakespeare’s works had become such an inseparable element of German culture that every educated German knew their Shakespeare just as well as their Goethe and Schiller, albeit in translation. Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: Something Rich and Strange, a volume edited by Tobias Döring and Ewan Fernie after a conference held in 2013 at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, aims to fill in the remarkable gap in the criticism on the two authors. Twelve contributors from the UK, the US, Germany and Switzerland argue that Shakespeare’s oeuvre should be seen as a largely unexplored subtext to most of Mann’s works, and, moreover, that Mann’s novels and stories shed new light on Shakespeare’s texts and open up new avenues of meaning in his plays and sonnets.

            Ambitious statements of purpose of that kind have become something of a cliché in the contemporary comparative study of literary texts. The days of the so-called ‘French School’ of Comparative Literature are long gone, of course: we are no longer content with positivist studies whose sole purpose is to demonstrate on the basis of thorough archival research that author X had indeed read author Y. Comparaison n’est pas raison: in the late 1950s, René Étiemble used this French proverb as a title of his polemic against the narrowly historicist approach to the comparative study of literature, suggesting that the mere existence of some kind of connection between two texts is not a good enough reason to undertake an academic comparison. In other words, the goal of Comparative Literature should be to teach us something new and exciting about both parts of a literary comparison, to produce a kind of knowledge about literary texts that wouldn’t be possible to attain otherwise. But since the 1950s, when the likes of René Étiemble and René Wellek announced that the discipline is in crisis, and urged for new models of comparative enquiry in the field of literary studies, scholars still grapple with the question of how to make literary comparisons work.

            The contributions to Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: Something Rich and Strange represent a range of approaches to the task of comparison, and perhaps the volume as a whole is the most interesting when analysed from a methodological point of view. The title of the volume uses a famous phrase from The Tempest to posit that the pairing of Mann and Shakespeare yields some rich—important—and strange—unexpected—conclusions. All contributors suggest that their specific pairings of Mann’s and Shakespeare’s texts reveal something crucial and surprising about both writers. Tobias Döring, for instance, describes his essay as an exploration of the processes of ‘mutual ghosting’ of The Tempest and the séance chapter in Der Zauberberg (96). John Hamilton uses the language of commerce associated with The Merchant of Venice to talk about Mann’s most famous novella, Der Tod in Venedig, as well as to describe the very act of comparison: ‘the meagre evidence of a relation between William Shakespeare’s play and Thomas Mann’s story is adduced as a deposit, which contracts the reading to pay off the loan and even to generate interest’ (134). In the afterword to the volume, Elisabeth Bronfen describes the preceding contributions as a ‘crossmapping’ of Shakespeare and Mann (246). She says:

On the one hand, one can claim that Mann maps certain constellations he finds in Shakespeare onto contemporary cultural and philosophical concerns in his novellas and novels. On the other hand, one can also claim that […] it is equally fruitful and perhaps more revelatory to map onto a set of Shakespeare’s plays the ways in which Mann’s novels responded to their own contemporary cultural crises. (246)

            Perhaps most interestingly, Ewan Fernie suggests in the introduction to the volume that when faced with such literary giants as Shakespeare and Mann, a reader ‘needs to approach them from an odd angle in order to rediscover the inimitable power on which their elevated reputations depend, and which alone can justify them’ (13). But this ambitious postulate seems to be only realised in Fernie’s own contribution to the volume, where he reads As You Like It alongside Joseph und seine Brüder—perhaps Mann’s most ambitious novelistic enterprise, a four-volume retelling of the biblical story of Jacob and Joseph—eloquently arguing that both texts present a similar life-affirming ideology as a potential response to the deep nihilism that Fernie detects in both Shakespeare and Mann.

            In many other essays in the volume, however, the contributors discuss some general feature of great literature—like self-reflexivity in Tobias Döring’s essay, or the subversive portrayal of sexual desire in a number of contributions—using Shakespeare and Mann merely as illustrative examples. In many cases, it seems likely that other pairings—Shakespeare and Proust, for example, or Mann and Virginia Woolf—would have been equally revealing, and there is little to suggest that a given stylistic or thematic motif is uniquely specific to Mann and Shakespeare. This means that, often, nothing in particular seems to be gained from the comparison. Some of the connections between Mann and Shakespeare posited in the volume seem to be deeply personal in nature: Mann and Shakespeare emerge as two canonical writers who clearly heavily impacted the contributors’ thinking, but in ways that do not amount to a generalised argument. For instance, David Fuller shows that the music chapter in Der Zauberberg suggests ‘a model for [a] kind of literary-critical thinking’ which is ‘professionally amateur’ (207), and then describes how that model helped him approach performances of Shakespeare’s plays afresh. But no intrinsic connection between Mann and Shakespeare seems to be presented in his essay, other than Fuller’s personal experience of those two authors.

            The introduction and the afterword to the volume, as well as the first three contributions (by Jonathan Dollimore, Richard Wilson and Alexander Honold) all focus on the significance of Love’s Labour’s Lost within Doktor Faustus. None of those contributions, however, surpasses Ewan Fernie’s—one of the volume’s editors—earlier treatment of the topic in his 2013 book The Demonic: Literature and Experience. Fernie’s starting point in The Demonic is the startling observation that Adrian Leverkühn, as much a genius as a demonic composer, who is the protagonist of Mann’s novel—his ‘Faustus’—‘makes a pact with the Devil in return for nothing less than the dark powers needed to inaugurate aesthetic modernity while writing an operatic version of Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (119). Fernie’s great discussion in The Demonic is echoed in his contribution to Thomas Mann and Shakespeare, where he offers a detailed and persuasive analysis of ‘gravity’s revolt to wantonness’ (172)—a phrase from Love’s Labour’s Lost which becomes the central concept in Adrian’s treatment of Shakespeare’s play.

            It is great to see a concerted effort to uncover the connections between Mann and Shakespeare, which for the most part had so far remained unexplored. The courage to go beyond one’s specialism in early modern English theatre or German modernism in order to explore the kinds of links that go beyond the boundaries of time, place and genre is highly commendable. Of course, not all the comparisons undertaken in Thomas Mann and Shakespeare are equally persuasive. But  at least in some cases, like Ewan Fernie’s essay about As You Like It and Joseph und seine Brüder, one can see the exciting promise of Comparative Literature: an opportunity to use literature as an instrument of thought, where each great book provides us a with a new strong voice, and some combinations of those voices turn into truly meaningful conversations. 

August 2017

The Literature of Pity, David Punter. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. £70.00, ISBN: 9780748639496.

Reviewed by Brad Baumgartner, Penn State University


David Punter’s cogent and erudite book makes a much needed contribution to contemporary scholarly discourse centering on the study of affect and negativity, which too often relegates negative emotions to the margins. Punter, the author of over twenty monographs and edited collections on the Gothic, modern writing, and literary theory, offers a timely collection of short essays, chronologically ordered, around the theme of pity. Our current cultural and economic epoch, he suggests, renders pity as a “matter of public urgency” (v), opening up the possibility of releasing pity from the stigmas that negative emotions often carry for contemporary readers. In the Preface, Punter counsels that this book is best read in relation to three of his previous works: The Literature of TerrorWriting the Passions, and Rapture. The book’s brevity mirrors its simplicity, and yet while Punter has tried to “pare this book to the bone” (vi), not weighing it down with theoretical jargon, it remains a critically rigorous and insightful text. What emerges is a nuanced and historically pertinent study which unveils and indexes the enigmatic nature of pity’s weakening force.

            This critical approach is especially evident in the first chapter, “Distinguishing Pity,” where Punter delineates pity’s deployment in philosophy—is it a genuine feeling or a sign of contempt?—and its use in literary writing, asserting that the way we think about certain emotions always changes over time. Punter distinguishes a number of different dichotomies, such as hero and monster, pity and self-pity, and the problematic proximity of pity to love. Moreover, citing Nietzsche, he notes that “under conditions of pity ‘suffering itself becomes contagious’” (10). As such, pity is something that should be avoided at all costs, but the writers he invokes ask: at what cost?

            To create an affective framework for discussing pity, in the second chapter, “Pity and Terror: The Aristotelian Framework,” Punter traces pity back to Aristotle’s Poetics and the force of tragedy by examining how drama produces effects by representing the turmoil of emotions in real life. By prohibiting the crossing of the border from feeling to action, pity “does nothing; it achieves nothing” (16). Through his analysis of the strange relation between pity and the uncanny, Punter is able to identify how pity, following Aristotle, “melts the soul” and, as such, we cease to be individuated subjects. Thus pity is inextricably tied to fear, specifically the “fear of dissolution” (21), which, if pity is fully experienced, is capable of engulfing us all.

            Chapter 3 explores the aesthetic parameters of the Pietà, where the relationship between mourning and suffering is ever-present. For Punter, the Pietà makes two simultaneous claims: that all there is in life is mourning and death, but also that “such suffering is beyond our own perception, our limited perspective” (25). In this way, Mary herself is the true emblem of suffering. Artists such as Roger van der Weyden, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, and Angus Fairhurst are central to this section’s inquiry, in which Punter tries to ascertain the location of pity, a site that cannot be pinned down, but only continues. Chapter 4 examines Shakespeare’s engagement with pity, which generally occurs in the contexts of choice, decision, and desperation. In a variety of close readings of King Lear and Macbeth and other texts, Punter shows that while pity may initially appear to be a weak emotion, its strength is that it persists in spite of itself.

            Much of Punter’s interpretation of pity hinges on the social location of the reader. In Chapter 4, “The Eighteenth Century,” he picks three representative texts from mid-century—“Ode to Pity,” Roderick Random, and Tom Jones—in order to ask a central question: Are we to imagine that we have the capacity to feel pity for people, or are we to imagine what it would feel like to be pitied ourselves? This leads Punter to a fascinating discussion of what he calls “inverse pity,” that is, pity of the weaker for the stronger, which, for me, is a very important critical moment in the book. Punter’s consideration of inverse pity paradoxically allows us to reframe it as a kind of weak emotional limit experience wherein pity’s frail uselessness becomes its true strength. Chapter 6, “Blake: Pity would be no more…,” focuses on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Book of Urizen and their resonances with divinity and the soul. “The ‘field’ of pity asserts consanguinity between God and man,” writes Punter, “much like the Pietà, where human suffering is an expression of divine grief” (66). The many faces of pity in Blake are mobilized via a series of dialectics: pity and terror, pity and memory, pity and mourning, ultimately indexing the complex nexus of emotions pity is asked to signify.

            Chapter 7 explores aspects of Victoriana, situating pity within a structuralist perspective. For Punter, in the study of emotion there is a continuing excess, an enduring instability or “veering,” to follow Nicholas Royle (72). Chapter 8 examines Chekhov and Brecht’s engagements with pity and self-pity, attempting to think through, for instance, the “not-quite-human” status of some of Brecht’s characters. Chapters 9-13 trace a multitude of topics and issues, including: the pity of war, Algernon Blackwood’s Gothic, pity’s cold extremities in Jean Rhys and Stevie Smith, contemporary Scottish Gothic, and pity in relation to diaspora and colonialism. Chapter 14 concludes the book with analysis of the music of Bob Dylan, putting pity in relation to the “flooding” nature of Dylan’s works, about which, Punter argues, there is something surreal.

            By weaving together the Western traditions of literature, art, and music throughout the book, Punter provides readers with an interdisciplinary compendium that paradoxically attempts, through the very act of studying pity’s weakening force, to set it free.

            In “After Thought: Under the Dome,” Punter reflects upon Stephen King’s novel of the same name and gives his own parting words on the subject. Ultimately, Punter concludes, “pity, which may seem the most human of emotions, is in the end strangely, uncannily not-human, or transhuman” (169). There is surely something in pity that reminds us of our humbleness, yet it always stops somewhat short of transforming into love. But, he asks, whether this is not true of all the emotions. Just like the passions, emotions play through us—even play us (170). The question of the relation between word and feeling is not something that can be pinned down, and yet perhaps that is the book’s most haunting lesson. Pity, he suspects, is endless.

July 2017

Monolingualism and Linguistic Exhibitionism in Fiction, Anjali PandeyLondon: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. $100.00. ISBN: 9781137340351.

Reviewed by Anastasia Kozak, Independent Scholar


At the heart of Anjali Pandey’s examination of linguistic multilingualism in contemporary fiction lies a simple question: ‘Why are books so important in the 21st century?’ (52). Specifically, Pandey focuses on a corpus of prize-winning fiction written between 2003 and 2014 that features what she calls ‘linguistic exhibitionism’, the usage of various multilingual strategies intended for ‘cosmetic effect’. Grounding her inquiry in the work of four Anglo-Indian authors, Pandey contextualizes multilingualism in a world of the post-global turn characterized by ‘the inherent tension between the push and pull of, on the one hand, monolingualism, and on the other, multilingualism. (10) In this world, Pandey argues, examination of fiction reveals that in spite of the ‘seeming’ presence of linguistic diversity, monolingual forces of English and other dominant European languages continue to shape readers’ tastes and influence literary canon formation.

            In many ways, Pandey’s interdisciplinary methodology makes her a trail blazer in linguistics. She aims to fill a gap in the current studies of multilingualism that are skewed in favor of spoken rather than written language. As Mark Sebba states in his introduction to the edited collection Language Mixing and Code-Switching in Writing (2012), since 1970s studies of multilingualism were primarily focused on spoken data, the ‘conversational code-switching’ (1). Pandey’s project is both a manifesto and a proposal for an independent theoretical framework in addressing the understudied phenomenon of written literary multilingualism, and she follows Sebba’s recommendations for establishing such a framework. Pandey situates her study within a broader field of post-global studies in the 21st century; she approaches written code-switching in ‘the context of literacy practices of which they are a part’, the prize-winning novels themselves; and, finally, she looks at the visual and spatial characteristics of written text, examining the use of font, italicization, and other markers (Sebba 2).

            The first half of the book contextualizes Pandey’s project within a ‘post-global’ world, introduces the prize-winning industry of transnational writing, and provides a definition of linguistic exhibitionism. In the first chapter, Pandey sketches the remit of her project, situating it in a world characterized by a semblance of an ‘increasing presence of multiculturalism in the domain of English fiction’ (2). ‘Seeming’ is an often repeated descriptor in Pandey’s discussion, since the motivating force in her investigation is to uncover how, far from fostering true visibility of multilingualism, publishing houses and prize selection committees deliberately use token multilingualism as a successful marketing ploy to privilege English. The second chapter sets up the tension between the macro-operations of book commerce and micro-forces of multilingual appropriation within global literatures. Pandey is careful to point out that prize-winning literature by ‘avant-garde artists’, which forms the focus of her study, does not necessarily mean bestsellers (54). Although the two are not exclusive, prize-winning literature, via its visibility promoted by the big publishing houses in the West, is especially influential in shaping readers’ tastes and academically-endorsed canons (71). The third chapter establishes the project’s interdisciplinarity, which combines linguistic and literary perspectives and aims for a ‘scalar’ (as opposed to the binary) framework. The chapter presents Pandey’s taxonomy of multilingual use that is ‘dynamic rather than static; data-derived rather than atheoretically listed; continuum-based rather than category-oriented; and explanatory rather than descriptive’ (84). The gist of this taxonomy is also presented graphically as a tree diagram (97), a handy reference map to the many linguistic strategies discussed in the book. Overall, the interdisciplinary novelty of Pandey’s work justifies the space she dedicates to introducing her methodology and prepares the readers for a more in-depth, ‘micro-linguistic’ account of specific literary works and authors in the following chapters.

            Pandey begins this detailed examination with Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008 winner of the Man Booker Prize), arguing that Adiga’s contrived use of ‘shallow’ multilingual strategies in his treatment of Hindi contribute towards ‘thematic privileging of English’ instead of highlighting non-English linguistic diversity (126). By employing first-person narration, Adiga uses his protagonist, Balram Halwai, to deploy linguistic tagging and semantic re-looping (explanation of Hindi terms for the benefit of non-Indian readers) in order to ‘English’ the entire work and promote ‘linguistic non-worth of India’s multilingualism in light of its access to English’ (128). Pandey clearly establishes Adiga, and not Balram, as the main agent in such Englishing, and urges for a more ‘overtly complicit role of the author in his portrayal of 21st century linguistic currency values’ (126).

            The following chapter, on Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize) continues to set up the author as the primary agent in establishing English’s visibility, this time at the expense of ‘invisibilized’ Bengali. Pandey writes that ‘the power of linguistic exhibitionism is most apparent’ in Ali’s work (166), which successfully transliterates the experience of Nazneen, a Bengali-speaking woman transplanted into cosmopolitan London. Most effectively, Ali experiments with vernacularization, the uses of ‘unorthodox English’ of her Bengali-speaking characters to illustrate the ‘aesthetic capital’ of ‘correct English’ (194). Thus, the novel sets up English as a language of ‘comprehension’ amidst the multilingual ‘cacophony’ of London (173), a desirable language of power. As a result, the actual use of Bengali is minimized and readers ‘encounter minimal linguistic hardships’, reading on with a comforting illusion of multilingual ‘knowingness’ (168).

            The analysis of Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri and her short story collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008) is of particular interest, since it highlights the asymmetries in tokenized usage of Bengali with that of Italian (as well as French and Latin) instead of English. Pandey questions Lahiri’s ‘unquestioning appropriation of cosmopolitan hegemonic monolingualism’ (204) and depicting European languages as the languages of high desirability. Thus, Lahiri’s strategy of translating Bengali into English and leaving Italian non-translated suggests that the former is exotic, unknowable, while the latter’s familiarity does not require further elucidation. Pandey’s is a nuanced and well-organized analysis of Lahiri’s short fiction (not an easy task, considering the variety of settings and characters in the collection). However, by this point in her work, the criticism of prize-winning authors as contributing (if not primary) agents responsible for the popularity and dissemination of linguistic exhibitionism begins to conflict with her stated goal of primarily investigating ‘multicultural rendition’ in the novels and starts to sound precisely like the aesthetic criticism she is trying to avoid (ix). Moreover, the influence of publishing practices described in the beginning of Pandey’s book recedes the more she represents the examined authors as qualified, albeit unwilling, agents of change in combating cosmetic use of multilingualism. Undeniably, the elevation of a European language at the expense of a more exotic tongue in fiction is a problematic practice in the 21st publishing; however, it also reflects the writer’s personal preferences on which she bases her craft. In the case of Lahiri, the 2016 publication of her memoir, written in Italian and translated into English by Ann Goldstein, was meant as an open love letter to Italian and a significant departure from the stories of Bengali immigrants to the West in the Pulitzer-prize winning Interpreter of Maladies (2000). The bilingual Italian-English edition came out too recently to be included in Pandey’s discussion and readers familiar with the memoir are left to guess as to how Pandey would have responded to this addition in Lahiri’s oeuvre. My intuition is that Pandey would have viewed it as an opportunity to affirm her point about the need for a literary representations of cosmopolitanism that are ‘situated outside of a western-paradigm’ (205).

            Pandey continues the discussion of cosmopolitanism in her chapter on Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008), a novel that features ‘copious italicized multilingual inclusions’, from nine different languages. Rushdie is perhaps one of the most famous contemporary representatives of transnational fiction – a triple shortlisted and Man Booker Prize-winning author (for Midnight’s Children, 1981) known for incorporating multilingualism into his work. At this point in Pandey’s book, the manifestations of linguistic exhibitionism are well familiar to the readers, and reinforced by Rushdie’s packaging of his polyglossia: the asymmetries between the ‘erotically appealing’ Romance languages and the ostensibly ‘less attractive’, oriental ones (244); the erroneous identification of polylingualism with the West (249); the externalization of Eastern languages in characters’ speech, and not in thought (248); and the tendency (also found in Lahiri) to translate the exotic tongues and leave Italian untranslated (255). It is surprising that Pandey does not dedicate more time to the discussion of the controversies that Rushdie’s novels generate (she only mentions The Satanic Verses controversy briefly in the concluding chapter), since his high media profile lends even more visibility to the ‘shallow’ multilingualism and facile version of universalism in The Enchantress

            To return to the question of the importance of books in post-global world, Pandey’s work convinces that they matter precisely because of their power to either reinforce or challenge readers’ worldviews about the extent of actual multilingualism and linguistic diversity. In her conclusion, she acknowledges that this project only marks the beginning of a structured linguistic inquiry into this important dimension of 21st century fiction and that future work may benefit from adopting a less qualitative approach and include other linguistic regions. Her rationale for limiting her present inquiry to writers originating from the Indian subcontinent, that all of them address the post-global themes of 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, deserves perhaps an earlier placement and more space in the book. Overall, Pandey’s work is an eloquent and meticulously researched call to interdisciplinary action, to ‘implicat[e] literatures in the habitus towards linguistic worth’ (270). And, even though it is not entirely clear what the object of such inquiries should be – the spotlighted authors, publishing industry practices, or academic ‘faddism’ that responds to the pressures of the market – Pandey’s work should interest any scholar concerned with the future of multilingualism in the post-global world.

June 2017

Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept, Timothy Clark. London, New York: Bloomsbury 2015. £21.99. ISBN: 9781472505736

Reviewed by Nicola Thomas, University of Oxford


Timothy Clark’s argument for reading the Anthropocene as a threshold concept will resonate with those readers who, in 2017, are more convinced than ever that we stand on the edge of a new era in the history of anthropogenic climate change. This timely –  even prescient – book  touches on the complex ethics of critical and literary responses to this ever-changing crisis, asking what role literary ecocriticism has to play in making the Anthropocene in all its terrifying unknowability ‘intellectually liberating’ rather than a source of paralysis or despair (xi). The answer will be an uncomfortable one for many already working in the field, but is likely to be welcomed by those who are not convinced of the value of existing approaches.

            Ecocriticism on the Edge argues that the key, and urgent, role of ecocriticism is not to foster vague ‘awareness-raising’, promote self-congratulatory nature writing or reframe canonical texts. Instead, it suggests, ecocritics must address the imaginative failure involved in denying anthropogenic climate change, grasp ‘the irreversible break in consciousness and understanding’ (62) which the Anthropocene represents, and seize the opportunity to rethink and reframe the scale of human experience. Using various vivid examples – the uncanny experience of seeing the ‘whole Earth image’ in photographs, the impossibility of comprehending the global network of commerce and exchange which underpins even one’s breakfast – Clark illustrates the inadequacy of normal human modes of thinking for comprehending highly complex systems such as those which produce and respond to changes in the climate. He examines existing definitions of the Anthropocene and underlines the need to understand it as a ‘threshold concept’ which entails a deep shift in thinking, emphasising that the emergence of mankind as an ecological force necessitates more than a mere development of existing approaches, which he characterises as unhelpfully simplistic and prone to exaggerating the importance of cultural representations as a form of activism

            That Clark’s book is evidently intended, at least in part, as a provocation to further research and a statement of intent goes some way towards neutralising what might be seen as its weaknesses. The range of literary texts analysed is somewhat disappointing: analyses are focused mainly on works of Anglo-American works of ‘Anthropocene art’ – including Raymond Carver, Ben Okri, Gary Snyder, Henry Lawson and John Keats – which engage more or less explicitly with questions of nature and environment, rather than asking what works not typically read through the prism of ecocriticism might look like when read on a radically different scale. By way of conclusion, Ecocriticism on the Edge reflexively examines engagements with the Anthropocene not only in criticism but also in recent literary works, asking ominously whether the newly established need to read (and write) at a scale which exceeds the human poses a challenge to the limits of imagination and representation. However, Clark does not acknowledge the important role of comparative readings for reframing and rethinking questions of scale in the context of what is undoubtedly an important critical threshold. He highlights the need to engage with a broader range of texts (63), but in practice only does so on very few occasions. Readers convinced of the value of the new ecocriticism Clark proposes will hope to see more detailed and extended works in this vein which offer a wider perspective on what constitutes ‘Anthropocene Art’.

            Perhaps more troubling is Clark’s assessment of the relationship between the new mode of reading he proposes and other, more familiar, politically radical approaches. He is strident in condemning ‘received or mainstream modes of reading and criticism, even when socially “progressive” in some respects’ as ‘effectively implicit forms of denial’ (xi), and suggests that ‘to critique capital may remain supremely important, but is also insufficient’ (3). This argument is predicated on two rather superficial observations: firstly, that ‘socialist systems of government have also had appalling environmental records’ and that ‘processes culminating in the Anthropocene predate the advent of capitalism’ (3). Elsewhere, he takes to task those who naïvely assume that the numerous forms of struggle which are sometimes seen as part of a broad movement for global social justice never come into conflict with one another, or are even by their very nature mutually supportive and compatible (110-1). An environmentally destructive action such as road-building may provide tangible benefits to socially marginalised communities; an improvement in gender equality, such as giving women control over their reproductive health, may lead to (arguably) damaging environmental consequences such as population growth. This line of thinking also informs his discussions of postcolonial criticism and politics. His position is understandable in the context of arguments about the irreducible complexity of planetary systems, but not all readers will be convinced, and one can easily imagine a persuasive counter-argument to Clark’s position which draws more systematically on political theory.

            However, its willingness to critique established modes of thinking is one of this book’s great strengths. Even such venerable figures as Judith Butler are not safe: she is censured for espousing a vague notion of ‘what makes us human’ which Clark dismisses ‘species narcissism’ (152). Other reviewers (Bracke, 2016) have taken the view that Clark fails to deliver an alternative to the numerous approaches he rejects, a view which may be justified by the relative superficiality and narrow focus of his close readings, but to do so overlooks the important point that Clark leaves ample room for pessimism throughout. It is not clear whether he believes that an alternative, either in terms of critical approaches or literary representations, is really viable. Instead, where this book really excels is as a diagnosis of various problems which is at once precise, resonant and often uncannily vivid. The chapter on Anthropocene disorder is a case in point: anyone with even a passing interest in this topic will be familiar with the dizzying complexity of decisions about whether ‘to turn a light on, to buy a particular kind of pineapple, to fly to a conference’ (141).

            Overall, this is forceful, provocative and important book which does not shy away from identifying some of the undeniable failings of contemporary ecocritical approaches. Comparatists may be disappointed by the relatively narrow focus of its close readings; feminist and postcolonial scholars will undoubtedly take exception to some of its arguments; and the mainstream of contemporary ecocriticism is unlikely to abandon its core practices and modes of thinking overnight; but all are likely to acknowledge that Clark’s book makes a powerful case for a new ecocriticism which is alert to the complexity of the Anthropocene and realistic about the role cultural representations and critical approaches can play within it.

May 2017

Challenging the Myth of Monolingualism, Liesbeth Minnaard and Till Dembeck (eds.). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014. €58.00. Online ISBN: 9789401210980.

Reviewed by Visnja Krstic, University of Belgrade


The enduring myth of monolingualism – the idea that one’s expression is limited to a single language – stems from the ideology of nineteenth-century Romanticism, which adopted ‘nation’ as the principal criterion in the processes of language standardisation and consequent formation of literary canons. The establishment of such norms has had a profound impact on linguistic policies of today’s West-European societies. To this effect, the interrogation of the validity of concepts such as ‘mother tongue’ and ‘nativity’ emerges as one of the major concerns of Challenging the Myth of Monolingualism. While acknowledging that the stigma surrounding multilingualism is a wider social issue, Liesbeth Minnaard and Till Dembeck, editors of the reviewed volume, decide to address primarily its cultural aspects, particularly those involving its artistic forms.

            On the whole, the editors approach the subject from a modern perspective, underpinning it with sidelong glances to earlier practices, with a view to demonstrating that multilingualism – rather than monolingualism – is ‘the sign of our present time’ (9). Of particular interest in this respect is Till Dembeck and Georg Mein’s article ‘Philology’s Jargon: How Can We Write Post-Monolingually?’, which tackles the issues emanating from the so-called ‘post-monolingual condition’. The article’s theoretically informed assessment of the alternatives available to the monolingual paradigm suggests that the impossibility of reversing the current trend is due to the complexities of the newly formulated hybrid forms that escape the existing categorisations of languages.

            What sets this volume apart from previous scholarship is that academic investigations of the topic are interspersed with chapters by creative writers. The volume is structured to link each of four texts by creative authors with a corresponding academic text that focuses on a complementary facet of the phenomenon under study. Ramsey Nasr’s poem ‘mi have een droom’ along with Chika Unigwe’s short story ‘Eèchtenteèchtig’, both printed in full here, masterfully combine the elements of two – or more – traditions with a view to destabilising the supposedly fixed interlingual relations. Furthermore, Fouad Laroui’s and Yoko Tawada’s self-reflective accounts of composing art in more than one language add a new – often neglected – dimension to the discussed matter. Finally, the six remaining chapters are either purely theoretical in nature or explore writers other than the ones represented here.

            Chapters oriented towards specific cases deal, in broad terms, either with multilingualism resulting from a territorially intricate situation, or with that springing from writer-specific circumstances. Under scrutiny are a number of contemporary localities, including Morocco, various cities in Belgium, the European Union, as well as some historical ones such as early 20th-century Prague. Fouad Laroui’s examination of the literary choices arising from the linguistic discrepancy between Classical Arabic and its regional varieties in Morocco is a challenge to the understanding that presupposes an inextricable interrelation between one ‘national language’ and one ‘national literature’. In outlining viable patterns that contemporary Moroccan authors take outside their immediate context, Laroui points towards the increasing prominence of works published not only in French, ‘the language of the ex-colonizer’ but ‘even [in] languages with no local ties’, as is the case with English (43). In response to Laroui’s fairly pessimistic approach that overlooks the creative potential of a polyglot society, Madeleine Kasten puts forward the idea of a transnational literature where multilingualism would become ‘a strength rather than a curse’ (51).

            If we go a step further and juxtapose the present linguistic situation of Morocco with that of the early 20th-century Prague, the linguistic dualism of which is neatly outlined in David Gramling’s article, many similarities can arise. There is nothing unusual about the fact that many writers caught in the ‘double monolingualism’ of the city experimented with code switching between Bohemian and German. What stands out, however, is Gramling’s idea that in a multilingual context, the persistent use of one language can function as ‘an aesthetic medium’ (18). To Gramling, the choice of German in Kafka’s oeuvre is actually a denunciation of the imposed hierarchy, aimed at revealing the weaknesses of literature restricted to a single language.

            While it is difficult to draw a clear-cut distinction between experiments resulting from statal specificities and those inspired by a mixed personal background, a range of chapters place emphasis on the latter factor. Esther Kilchmann looks into the works of three contemporary German authors brought up bi- or multilingually: Herta Müller, José Oliver, and Yoko Tawada. Kilchmann suggests that, despite these writers’ proficiency in their respective languages, heterolingual texts of theirs are artificial – or literary – constructs, intended to defamiliarise the content for a presumably monolingual reader. In another chapter, one of these writers Yoko Tawada reflects on the intimate process of her own literary production, shedding light on the unique experience provoked by the interaction with disparate writing systems (the German and the Japanese one, in her case). In lieu of translating individual words, Tawada attempts to render images, as she is of the opinion that the meaning inscribed in the very shape of a letter cannot be preserved in transliteration. Tawada’s essay brings up the question of the role of translation in her own fiction, which is adequately addressed in the ensuing chapter. Written by Tawada’s translator Bettina Brandt, this chapter provides a stylistic study of translation techniques, such as literal translation, computer translation, non-translation, and self-translation, which Tawada employs in her translingual fiction, therefore supporting Kilchmann’s assertion that multilingual experimentation is a creative construct rather than a spontaneous byproduct of exposure to different tongues.

            It should be noted that the book’s attempt to counterbalance ‘the dominance of Anglophone contexts in academic research’ (11) by drawing examples from a variety of cultures different from the Anglophone ones is somewhat subverted by the fact that the authors use no other language but English (with the exception of primary texts) to reach a wider audience in their discussion of linguistic complexities induced by the growth of multiculturalism, thereby confirming rather than undermining English’s dominance. Apart from this slight contradiction, the volume, indeed, encompasses a remarkable array of examples. Such an outcome is achieved through a careful selection on two levels: firstly, of artists – not just writers in the classic sense – as epitomised by Guillermo Gòmez-Peña’s multimedial performance; and, secondly, of works that shift between cultures with little or no geohistorical ties, for instance Japanese and German, Nigerian and Flemish, Palestinian and Dutch, to name but a few. What connects the most wide-ranging of chapters is a well-structured argumentation, based on the discrepancy between the perception and institutionalisation of multilingualism, on the one hand, and its real distribution, on the other hand, which gives the volume solid internal consistency.

            Although the discussion on multilingualism has already gained some prominence – thanks to the scholarship of Reine Meylaerts, Rainier Grutman, Dirk Delabastita, and others – research into the artistic manifestations of multilingualism, as exemplified here, is still peripheral in comparison to that directed towards the cognitive or institutional grasp of the topic. To that end, Minnaard and Dembeck’s Challenging the Myth of Monolingualism is a valuable addition to the field. More importantly, the contribution of this joint endeavour lies in the attempt to refute the powerful myth of presumed equivalency between nation and its national language, the implications of which exceed the immediate scope of literature. The warning that the increasingly complex linguistic landscapes of today can no longer be reduced to fit the existing models is also a call for a more sophisticated methodological framework. Hopes remain that the intriguing cases of multilingual interventions examined in this volume will stimulate further discussion, ultimately deepening our understanding of linguistic plurality and heterogeneity.

April 2017

The Palestinian Novel: From 1948 to the Present, Bashir Abu-MannehCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. £64.99. ISBN: 9781107136526.

Reviewed by Eleni Philippou, University of Oxford


Bashir Abu-Manneh's The Palestinian Novel is a fascinating study that follows the trajectory of the Palestinian novel from the nakba (the Arabic term meaning "Catastrophe" that refers to the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland) all the way through to the Oslo Accords, a set of agreements in the 1990s between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The book looks at novels by important Palestinian authors based in various sites across the Middle East: Baghdad, Beirut, Nablus, Haifa. These novels – Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s The Ship (1970) and In Search of Walid Masoud (1978), Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun (1963), and Emily Habiby’s The Secret Life of Saeed, the Ill-fated Pessoptimist (1974) – are considered keystones to the concept of the Palestinian novel. There are also forays into other works – Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love (1986) and Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun (1998) – and the final chapter (the highlight of this study) centres on the jointly written text, Jabra and Abdelrahman Munif’s World without Maps (1982).

            The value of Abu-Manneh’s study is manifold. Firstly, it is the first text to present Palestinian novels (some of which have not been translated into English) to the Anglophone world. Moreover, it does so in a way that distances itself from the traditional postcolonial mode of literary analysis that fixates on the nation. Abu-Manneh notes that to read the Palestinian novel through “the prism of statehood is in fact to repress the history of revolution, modernisation, and cultural renaissance” (31), to ultimately flatten its dialectical complexity. But the true brilliance of Abu-Manneh’s study lies in his ability to read the Palestinian novel in a way that amalgamates history and an interest in aesthetic form. Postcolonial studies is all too often accused of being exclusively concerned with politics, seeing literature, in the words of Fredric Jameson, simply as “national allegory”, at the expense of a serious engagement with aesthetics and stylistics. In this study history and form are placed on an equal footing.

            Abu-Manneh notes a shift in the tone and style of the Palestinian novel after the Six-Day War of 1967, which was considered a major defeat for Palestinians. He argues that in the days preceding 1967, realism was the dominant aesthetic because there was still a sense of revolutionary potential – the possibility of some sort of political or social change or resolution for the Palestinian people. However, 1967 ushers in feelings of anxiety, disillusionment, and uncertainty (to compound the earlier feelings of dispossession) in the Palestinian novel. These feelings are expressed and registered through a modernist aesthetic that “brackets off the referent or real historical world, thickens its textures and deranges its forms to forestall instant consumability”(27). (However, Abu-Manneh is quick to conclude that we should not assume that realism suddenly disappeared after 1967 – that is clearly not the case.) Underpinning these observations about the movement from realism to modernism are the theories of Georg Lukács and Theodor Adorno. Lukács notes that in spaces marked by a revolutionary spirit – in times leading towards huge historical, sociological, or political changes – realism is dominant. The novel functions as a repository of praxis, of social and political change. In fact, Lukács is deeply sceptical of modernism because it is highly subjective and therefore cannot lock into the objective reality of social and material conditions in the way that realism does. Adorno takes the opposite view that it is modernism that offers a mode of representation that captures social and emotional fragmentation, the “liquidation of individual and collective agency” (24). Therefore it is only logical that in the relatively hopeful period before 1967, realism should reign supreme, whereas modernist techniques and attitudes becomes a feature of the post-1967 landscape. For Abu-Manneh, Adorno and Lukács function on a theoretical continuum, more aligned than disparate in outlook: both theorists think in terms of the revolutionary potential of the text, the manner in which it registers and expresses history.

            For postcolonial studies, it is the use of Adorno in relation to the jointly written text – Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Abdelrahman Munif’s untranslated World without Maps (1982) – that is particularly appealing. As a discipline postcolonialism has largely ignored or dismissed Adorno as being too Eurocentric and elitist to be of any theoretical use. In spite of this however, there is a small (but noble) band – Asha Varadharajan; Keya Ganguly; Robert Spencer; Deepika Bahri; Neil Lazarus – who have attempted to counter this view, and Abu-Manneh belongs to this cohort, acknowledging that to relegate Adorno to the "periphery" of the discipline is not only unhelpful but intellectually disingenuous. Not only does Adorno offer a solid materialist framework to read postcolonial texts, but his faith in modernism as an appropriate or natural response to “surrounding conditions of repression and catastrophe” (137) makes him ideal in a reading of Palestinian modernism. Abu-Manneh is correct in evoking Adorno, for “In a world where a reified society has degenerated into total administration and manipulation, and where forms of solidarity and collective action have been crushed, modernist art negates and resists” (136). Adorno acknowledges the revolutionary potential of modernism – modernism as form as praxis.

            In short this book is a brave and fascinating endeavour to engage with the Palestinian novel through a materialist framework while giving equal weight to history and aesthetic form.

March 2017

Censorship and the Limits of the Literary: A Global View, Nicole Moore (ed.). London: Bloomsbury, 2015. £24.99. ISBN 9781628920109.

Reviewed by Byron Taylor, University of Cambridge


From the Churches of revolutionary Europe to the librarians of Quebec, Moore’s ambitious project travels the globe in its attempt to provide a sprawling overview of censorship and its productive (dis)engagements with the literary work over time. Whether all the contributions can articulate her ambitions or match her ability, is debatable; however, all of them provide a unique and carefully-orchestrated insight into the critical directions they emulate and the historical periods they discuss, from the 18th century Royal intrigues to the 2011 Arab Spring.

Nicole Moore reads censorship as the key obstacle to any ‘unitary culture’ in a globalised world; yet confusingly, censorship also manages to act as ‘an instrument against differentiated dissent,’ whether it be national, political or otherwise: for our own time, as before, the availability of literature in the hands of the public reflects ‘the tension between the historical legal limits of the nation and the new planetary reach of the communicative sphere.’ (1) Whether it can contribute to global discourses, but also to the very production of literature itself, is another assumption she intends to re-evaluate here:

Censorship defines the literary only in the negative, as necessarily that which is not its primary object, but it is worth questioning whether such a definition of literature is inevitably a ‘failed’ definition. Censorship’s legal proscriptions actively produce [literature] … and cannot in that sense always be set aside as historically ‘wrong’. (107)

Acknowledging the five directions of censorship scholarship (and using them to divide the sections of this volume), Moore views the first as ‘the new censorship,’ which rose in Foucault’s shadow, using his hypothesis of power and resistance; the second direction came from Beate Müller’s search through the tragedies and banalities of the Soviet archives, and her systematic modelling therein; the third, the genetic criticism of publication histories; the fourth led back to Foucault, this time with more emphasis on the sexual politics of his later writings; the fifth is the transnational comparatist scholarship of today, in which the circle of cultures has been widened to include the peripheries (or ‘para-peripheries,’ as Moore refers to them) beyond the Western world.

            Sadly, the early chapters seem more preoccupied with legal historicism than literary criticism, an approach that does disservice to the periods in question and the pace of the collection as a whole. Finally, Karen Crawley trades historicism for a more nuanced analysis of censorship, tracing the genealogy of ‘obscenity,’ and artfully linking such regulation with the demographic surges of 19th century Europe: ‘obscenity thus turned on questions of access,’ she explains; a literary work was only deemed ‘corrupt’ insofar as it was ‘available to a large number’ of ‘corruptible people.’ (66)

            Moore’s article, juggling the French Modernists with Rita Felski’s notions of ‘shock’ as a harbinger of social development, is by far the best of the collection, and goes the furthest in convincing the reader that censorship can be a positive and productive force for the literary. Her management of Maurice Blanchot’s difficult, cryptic texts is smoothly handled, and the way in which she traces Lautréamont’s writings through Australian customs offers a cross-national perspective that allows her a persuasive flexibility. As the critical directions continue to approach our global contemporaneity, the volume improves astonishingly.

            Ilona Urquhart’s study of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is impressive in its application of Levi-Strauss, and his belief that the persecuted are privileged in their ability to ‘write between the lines.’ Moreover, it breaks with the criticisms above, managing a narrative of authorship and creativity as vivid as it is informative.

            Similarly, Christina Spittel’s chapter chimes with Moore’s quote above, destabilising any easy binary between the written word and the censorship that forbids it: as the newly-reunited Germany piled, burned and pulped the novels of the GDR, German actor Peter Sodann told a journalist, ‘Nobody wanted them anymore. But I won’t let people take my past away from me!’ The moral ambiguities here are what Spittel leaves in suspense, describing East Germany ‘as mutually constitutive as well as repressive.’ In a sober and balanced conclusion, she reminds us that, for all its faults, its industries were not driven by ‘bestseller hysteria’; or ‘the manipulation of taste’ for ‘the striving for profit.’ (158)

            In Loren Glass’s lucid piece, we follow Barney Rosset, a ‘bereft’ and lovesick student at Swarthmore College, who found ‘solace’ in the pirated copies of Henry Miller’s explicit novels, and went on to fight for decades to have them printed. (177) Here, publication is presented more as a dogged, personal battle than as a broad process of social liberalism and historical progress - and reads all the better for it. Heading South East, Jeremy Fisher charts the acceptance of gay literature in Australian publication houses, before ending hopefully that such tales ‘could never have been told without the perseverance and tenacity of those who fought for such freedoms.’ (203)

            Sanaz Fotouhi, in a melancholy, personal account, reminds us that while she is ‘erased from the public scene and privatised, the Iranian woman has for long been without autobiographical possibilities.’ (207) For such instants, she says, literature is a source of vitality and expression, not just aesthetic pleasure. Meanwhile, Jumana Bayeh argues that ‘the role of digital media’ in the Arab Spring (Egypt in particular) has led many to overlook the role of literature in this uprising, despite the fact that – from President Nasser in the 1950s to President Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011 – ‘literature was the space where resistance to the regime could be maintained’; and, perhaps rather uniquely, ‘the work of writers and artists remained largely free of state censorship, interference and monitoring.’ (219)

            Lynda Ng ends the collection at the gates of the Hermit Kingdom, arguing that ‘strict and overt censorship laws in a country such as China implicitly attest to literature’s capacity to challenge and destabilise.’ (233) Paradoxically, she states, every successive move by the Chinese Communist Party to clamp down on articulations of anger, dissatisfaction and dissent, can only persuade us that we still live ‘in a world where the power of literature to shock, threaten and provoke is alive and well.’ (233) Ending the chapter with a haunting quote from Gloria Davies, the stakes of Chinese censorship are laid bare: ‘it is self-censorship that the government seeks to encourage’ – which is, in many ways, far worse than those already covered in this volume - ‘as it fosters deceptive ways of speaking and writing’ that aim to, and are capable of corrupting ‘the art of human expression itself.’ (235)

            Moore’s decision to structure the volume according to the previous scholarly directions seems at first a smart one; but overall, this design only confirms why the ‘new censorship’ that formed its first direction was so wilfully abandoned, as the criticism seems to fly far above (or rather around) discussing literature altogether. Incidentally, Mary Spongberg characterises this predicament in her chapter on 19th century English royalty, as she admits that ‘while it is impossible to write a history of censorship around what has not been written,’ such a process ‘can provide an important counter-narrative in this period.’ (51) While scholars preoccupied with the socio-historical intersections of law and literature will find the early chapters invaluable, for many, I sense, the ‘counter-narratives’ employed (speculative, biographical, sometimes vague) offer little satisfaction to the critic who rather seeks to understand the texts themselves, their global import, their aesthetic immediacy and the very representation of their content.

            However, the Foucauldian frameworks give way to more energetic readings, and the volume improves greatly as we come closer to contemporary and transnational perspectives, where the topic regains a sense of urgency, as well as insight. It is a thesis rearticulated carefully by each contribution, and in its very range engages with (and retaliates against) the ‘planetary reach’ that Moore began by inquiring. The traditional dialectic of literature and censorship is unearthed as a rich and varied critical terrain, and assumption in need of reformulating, and one that – in the sweep of its national contexts – refuses any easy answers.

February 2017

Travels and Translations: Anglo-Italian Cultural Transactions, Alison Yarrington, Stefano Villani, and Julia Kelly (eds). Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013. €110.00. ISBN: 9789042037670.

Reviewed by Valeria Taddei, University of Oxford


From the third international conference of the cycle In Medias Res: British-Italian Cultural Transactions, held at the University of Pisa in 2008, comes this substantial collection of essays addressing travel writing and translation as a key part of the cultural interaction between England and Italy from the Middle Ages to the present. The core interest of the book lies indeed in exploring travel writing and translation as ‘contact zones’ between cultures, where cultural prestige and power relations are often in interplay.

The variety of backgrounds of editors and authors, spanning history, art, and social sciences, ensures that the essays in the collection take a highly interdisciplinary, often comparative approach. Throughout the collection, gathered ‘in an exploratory spirit’ (5), the focus is very much on the history of culture. Literary texts are interrogated less as artworks than as documents of the historical and social circumstances in which they were generated, allowing for more-or-less new, sometimes amusing, sometimes disquieting discoveries about intercultural encounters and national myths.

Franco Marenco’s essay, ‘Some New Bearings in Travel Literature’ provides the theoretical grounding for the whole collection by recalling the eternal dialectics between factual experience and narrative fiction that lies at the very core of travel writing. The travelogue’s fundamental purpose is in fact ‘to interrogate the other, and to devise a code capable of rendering the other’s alterity in comprehensible terms for the “folks at home” […]. In other words, travelogues are exercises in translation’ (19). This particular act of translation poses specific cultural challenges, for, Marenco adds, to travel means to move from a comfortable centre to an unknown periphery, with all the dangers of alienation and the opportunities for self-discovery that this implies.

Through its five thematic sections, ‘Travellers and Travelogues’, ‘Italian Geographies’, ‘Appropriating Italy’, ‘Textual Translation’, and ‘Using Translation’ the book explores the constitutive elements of facts, fiction and translation in different combinations and functions. Within each section, the essays are arranged according to the chronological order of their subject matter; the sections themselves seems to follow a certain chronology, the first opening with Renaissance travelogues and the last concluding with a review of two Shakespeare productions in Rome in 2006. This compromise between subject grouping and chronological arrangement makes apparent the extent to which thematic boundaries are blurred: the section on Travelogues includes indeed the study of translated texts, while the two parts on Translation address issues of appropriation and otherness that could very well belong in other groupings. In addition, some constant aspects of the cultural encounters between England and Italy recur across sections, suggesting a sense of continuity that would have been made clearer, in my view, by a fully chronological presentation.

When read in historical order, indeed, keeping travelogues and translations together, the variously themed essays lose their miscellaneous appearance and convey a coherent sense of the evolution of Anglo-Italian cultural relations through time. An important clarification, however, is required in this sense: possibly because the majority of the contributors come from English Studies, throughout the book the gaze is univocally directed from England to Italy. We read about the reception, translation and use of Italian material in England, and of English accounts of travel to Italy. The only exception, Nick Pearce’s study of the opera L’Oracolo by Franco Leoni, adapted from an American source, does not show any Italian view of Englishness, but rather focuses on the stereotypical perception of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1930s. Thus, in this collection of historical explorations, Italian culture is invariably positioned on the ‘other’ side.

If we experimentally rearrange the essay topics along a historical continuum to get an account of the evolution of the English consideration of Italy through time, from the very beginning an interesting detail emerges: the most ancient texts considered in this study, which ideally characterise the seminal stage of modern Anglo-Italian cultural interaction, are mainly translations. This testifies of a phase of high receptivity on the part of England, which had much to gain from the then more developed Italian culture. Chaucer’s interpretive translation of Boccaccio’s Filostrato as Troilus and Cryseide (1382), is a case in point: in William Rossiter’s view, in fact, it ‘provides the very bedrock of the English literary tradition, thereby confirming polysystem theory’s assertion of translation’s centrality within the development of a given culture’ (237).

Where more modern material is considered, instead, the focus shifts from translations to travelogues, through which English writers recount their more or less fantastic journeys in Italy as part of the Grand Tour or in different contexts. From these examples, under the age-specific nuances evolving from Enlightenment rationalism to Romantic sensibility and Imperialistic condescendence, a mixed feeling of expectation and prejudice emerges as an enduring aspect of the travellers’ approach. An ambivalent veneration of Italy’s great beauty and glorious past, entwined with contempt for its contemporary political and moral corruption, comes across as a constant of the English view through the centuries, so that, taken as a whole, this gallery of travel writings also traces a genealogy of some of the longest-lived stereotypes about Italy which we can still find familiar in the present.

The interest and quality of each of the single contributions in this volume will appear different to any reader according to their own backgrounds and areas of research. I particularly appreciated Barbara Schaff’s amusing presentation of the Handbooks of Travel-Talk, Selene Scarsi’s account of Tofte’s translation of Ariosto, and Luigi Cazzato’s analysis of the contrast between North and South in the poetry of W.H. Auden. Interesting and enjoyable was also Stephen Ogel’s review of the 2006 Roman productions of Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, although we could reasonably wonder whether the element of freshness and freedom that the author so appreciated in those interpretations was really linked to the company being specifically Italian or, rather, simply non-English.

Overall, Travels and Translations maintains its promises, presenting for our consideration, through the example of Anglo-Italian interactions, the complexities of cultural exchange, where power relations are inescapably involved. By doing so, it also reminds us of the constitutive bewilderment and anxiety produced by the traveller’s encounter with otherness, which sometimes poses, in Marenco’s words, ‘an insuperable limit to his understanding’ (22). In the face of this limit, it is useful to bear in mind that ‘there is no need to find a conclusive, circular meaning shared by lands, cultures, and mentalities so different and so far apart. Meaning lies in the […] ever-elusive, ever-inadequate description – carried by words always subject to misunderstanding and hybridisation’ (22-23). The book makes for smooth and enjoyable reading, which will particularly benefit scholars of literature, history and cultural studies, proposing interesting perspectives on the cultural value of translation and travel writing, and offering stimulating food for thought on the centuries-long evolution of the English view of Italy.

January 2017

Intercultural Masquerades: New Orientalism, New Occidentalism, Old Exoticism, Regis Machart, Fred Dervin, Minghui Gao (eds.). Springer-Verlag: Berlin Heidelberg, 2016. £80.00. ISBN 9783662470558.

Reviewed by Xiaofan Amy Li, University of Kent


It is now a truism that although Said's critique of Orientalism is flawed, generalising, and does not consider in any depth the cultures lying beyond the middle-East and North-Africa, it brought due attention to problems in the colonialist discourse and stereotypical representation of the 'Other' which Western cultures have constructed. This edited volume argues that these problems of ideological construction of the Other are still ongoing, and considers them in the context of the Asian cultures ignored by Said – mainly, East-Asian and Southeast-Asian cultures such as China, Japan, and Singapore. The thematic concerns of the book also propose that new forms of Orientalism as well as Occidentalism have emerged, especially in sites where intercultural encounters are located. These sites of interculturality – whether it is the case of mainland Chinese students studying in Singaporean universities, or representations of the Japanese diaspora in Brazil boosting Japanese nationalist sentiment back 'home' in Japan – can be both concrete and abstract. But more often than not, they reveal or even intensify cultural conflicts rather than construct communicative dialogues. This is a worrying concern that the authors of the book attempt to voice, proposing that although the categories of East and West cannot be simply done away with, critical thinking should move 'beyond [...] ''intercultural masquerades''', and beyond the dichotomist division of East and West that essentialises 'populations and [gives] very little voice to individuals' (xi). In extension, we should also be critical towards both 'Orientophilia' and 'Westophobia' (xi), which are reactions to the perpetuation of Eurocentrism that have gone awry.

The aims and views the book so far sound reasonable, though the criticism of Said's critique of Orientalism and the East-West dichotomy is not new. The introduction also leaves the reader wondering what precisely are the new forms of Orientalism and Occidentalism that the book purports to treat, and how they differ substantially from the 'old' forms of stereotypical cultural representation of the non-white, non-Western Other. We do find some more clarification in the case-studies that the book chapters present, though unfortunately, the first impression the essays give is that they are somewhat of a mixed-bag of disparate topics loosely linked by the broad theme of representations of the Other. Nevertheless, upon close reading, we may generally divide the essays into two categories. Firstly, sociological and anthropological studies of cultural stereotypes and the construction of the Asian Other in Higher Education, focusing on the experience of international students from East-Asia (especially China) in westernised higher educational institutions abroad. For example, Song and McCarthy's 'Reconceptualising the ''Other'' in Australian Universities' and Yang's 'The PRC ''Foreign Talent'' Scholars and their Singaporean ''Other''' fall into this category. Secondly, cultural representations of the imagined Other in music, film, and literature, e.g. Aaltonen's essay on exoticism in world music vinyl collections, and Guillerez's 'Writing Ambivalence: Visions of the West in Republican and Post-Maoist Chinese Literature'. The disadvantage of grouping these two types of essays together is that the interdisciplinarity of this collection seems superficial and does not cohere in a deeper, interactive way. For instance, one obvious question is what the essays on cultural imaginings of the Other in literature and media have to say on those that examine the living experience of being an Other, and vice versa? Despite this drawback in the organisation of the volume, the essays raise two important concerns that can be summarised as below.

Firstly, the problem of Occidentalism. As the editors state in the introduction, Occidentalism is the 'exact opposite trap [of Orientalism]' that some scholars and Asian peoples fall into, resulting in 'systematically blam[ing] ''the West'' to re-empower ''the East''' (xi). This has led to a 'Westophobia', particularly manifested in the rise of radical Islam and discourses against modernisation and globalisation in Asian countries (especially China). The West is demonised and held accountable for moral decay, loss of tradition, and many other ills in contemporary society. This has partly contributed to the reinforcement of nationalism and religious radicalism in some Asian countries. For instance, some Chinese students come back to China with increased nationalist sentiments due to their negative experiences abroad in Westernised/Western cultures and institutions, as Jackson's essay demonstrates; or, in Kawai's study of the Japanese TV series Haru to Natsu (2005), where Japanese Brazilians are contrasted with the Japanese in Japan, the former are shown as more 'authentically' Japanese than the latter because the Japanese diaspora cling to their tradition whereas the Japanese back 'home' are increasingly Westernised and lose their identity. Through this kind of Orientalisation, or Othering of the Japanese diaspora in Brazil, an Occidentalism that expresses nostalgia for a Japan before modernisation and contact with the West emerges, and is used for nationalist propoganda. This way in which the Oriental Other gazes back at the West is in fact 'auto-Orientalising' (111), because it is often used manipulatively by Asian peoples themselves to justify power relations and political ideologies by re-affirming stereotypes of Asians as obedient to their parents, faithful to their native traditions, more collective-minded than individualist. Occidentalism is not, therefore, a critical resistance to Orientalism but a continuation of it that often deepens the chasm of understanding between 'East' and 'West'.

Secondly, interculturality is used to problematise the notion of culture. One argument in the book is that taking an intercultural perspective means accepting an understanding of culture as highly liquid, i.e. culture being always in the process of change, re-formation, and hybridity. This is in direct contrast to the static view of culture, which argues that 'in order to make sense of the world', there is a need 'to maintain some kind of comfortable stability rather than to face a challenging ongoing fluidity' (67). Intercultural sites where different identities and cultures mingle and clash – e.g. universities with many international students, diasporic communities, or the global circulation of local music and literature – are therefore highlighted as the foci of the criticism of neo-Orientalism and rigid cultural categories. For instance, the tension between perceptions of 'East' and 'West' also exists between cultures that share one ethnic group, such as the mainland Chinese and Singaporeans. Commonly-shared ethnicity and aspects of cultural tradition are not guarantors of any shared cultural experience or sense of identity, as Yang's study of the failed interaction between Chinese students and local Singaporean students in Singapore shows. The process of Othering is more often than not accentuated rather than diminished between cultures and peoples who are very similar and geographically close, because, according to Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, 'difference is asserted against what is closest' (1984: 479). These issues remind us that Asian peoples occidentalise and orientalise each other: the 'non-Western Other' cannot fit them into one category. There is still a vast amount of work to do on examining and comparing the discourses of power between different Asian cultures.

In sum, despite raising some interesting questions as mentioned above, the drawbacks of this volume are: 1) lacking focus and connection in the organisation of essays; 2) disappointingly offering less than what it purports to do, namely, to make a substantially new critique of Orientalism and demonstrate new modes of exoticism. Overall, the book also leaves the reader wishing for a stronger theorisation and definition of its key notions such as interculturality, new Orientalism, and masquerade. For one, the book title begs the question of what intercultural masquerade is. What is being masqueraded as what? Are the editors and authors suggesting that cultural representations of the Other – both the non-Western Other and the non-Eastern Other – are masqueraded to hide the real ideologies and power struggles at play? Or that cultural stereotypes are masqueraded as cultural authenticity? If these questions were addressed more explicitly and considered in more detail, the arguments about interculturality and post-Saidean Orientalism could be much stronger. On the other hand, to end on a positive note, the concerns in this book about conflicts in intercultural experience, the rise of Occidentalist discourse, and the need for inter-Asian comparisons to challenge the East-West dichotomy raise the bigger and extremely important question of whether the critique of Orientalism that focuses on resisting Eurocentrism is still pertinent. If we understand the nature of Orientalism as a discourse of power that flows from the more powerful to the less powerful, that stereotypes the Other to keep it under control and makes claims about (Western) cultural superiority, then in a world where the balance of global power has radically shifted and countries like China and India are already more powerful than many Western cultures, is not the assumption that Orientalist discourse is an appropriation by the more powerful West of the less powerful non-Western Other a Eurocentric delusion itself? Is Eurocentrism itself really a global problem, or a self-critical exercise of (mostly) European and North American scholars reflecting on their own identity and the atrocities of Western imperialism? How to go beyond the Eurocentric criticism of Eurocentrism and Orientalism is perhaps the more urgent task of post-colonial criticism today.

November 2016

Michael Allan, In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016. £70.95. ISBN: 9780691167824.

Reviewed by Lijing Peng, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Co. Kildare


intheshadowofworldliterature

In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt by Michael Allan (Princeton University Press, 2016)

With In the Shadow of World Literature Michael Allan bridges political theory, religious studies, and anthropology, with the aim of producing an enriched understanding of the contours and limits of a literary world. Situating this research in the frontline of socio-political studies of Islam, Allan thoroughly explores the process of indigenous Egyptian secularism (or modernization) before and during the colonial period. Based on abundant historical documents and anthropological materials, as well as on comprehensive responses to dominant secular criticism, Allan successfully challenges the polarization of secular humanism and religious instruction that informs modernization discourses.

            Deeply inspired by Zheng Cheah’s recent formulation of world literature as a world-making activity that ‘allows us to imagine the world’ (122), Allan continues the work of his edited volume Reading Secularism (2013) which treats religion and secularism as mutually determining categories in the literary world. Allan aims to ‘focus on world literature less as an accumulation of texts from across different literary traditions than as the globalization of literary hermeneutics’ (41). He also examines the thought of the Egyptian intellectual Taha Hussein (1889–1973) in its historicisation of both the cosmopolitan heritage of the Arabic language and Islam's role as a cultural receptor for Judaism and Christianity (3, 121–2). Accordingly, he emphasizes literature’s communication function at pivotal historical moments in the Egyptian literary world.

            In the Shadow of World Literature structures itself around a series of questions. What, for example, does secularism do in redefining religion as part of modern life? In answering this, Allan firstly confirms the role of literature: ‘literature becomes a rich site not only as a pedagogical matter for cultivating a modern aesthetic sensibility, but also for the renegotiation of the terms through which reading, response, and representation play out’ (10). In the first chapter, entitled ‘World’, Allan gives the example of how the Syrian writer Haydar Haydar’s work A Banquet for Seaweed, which describes a world torn by the secular left and the rise of religion, was boycotted by students at the Islamic Al-Azhar University. Allan points out that in this case literature is not judged by its form and configuration, but by the way it confronts the reading of a different literary tradition and a different reading public. Another question that arises is, Who holds the right to freedom of speech: the novel’s supporters, drawn from the intellectual and socio-political elite, or those out in the street demonstrating against it? The fact that the latter were deemed inappropriate readers indicates that ‘Literature does not inhere in the intrinsic attributes of the text, but relies upon the world that gives the text its contingent meaning’ (25).

            The key question in the second chapter, ‘Translation’, is: What do we do when the world in which we situate a text is not the world within which the text is understood? Here, the story of the Rosetta Stone is accompanied by a solid historical account of the emergence of Egyptology during colonial period. The entextualisation of the Rosetta Stone transforms it from an object of the colonial past into a literary text belonging to the ‘World Republic of Letters’. Allan argues that once it was deciphered and lithographic copies widely circulated throughout Europe, the Rosetta Stone was no longer a sacred stele within a religious cult as it had been for thousands of years; rather, it became a text to be read and scrutinized in cultural exchanges. A similar transformation also took place with the innovative reading of the Qur’an in the first issue of La Décade égyptienne, a journal focusing on the economic and political conditions of Egypt during Napoleon's campaign there (1798–1801). Allan’s analyses so far have attracted attention to the ‘transformations that both create the modern literary disciplines and define the contours of a reading public’ (4), which are integral to most of his strongest arguments.

            The third chapter, ‘Education’, explores the role of political institutions in the Egyptian literary world. Allan lists a series of pivotal moments in Egyptian education: a) the emergence of Egyptian Studies as a discipline during the period of the French Campaign; b) the reign of Muhammad Ali (1805–48) which coincided with a push for educational reform; c) the modernization of the Arabic language and its teaching in the latter 19th century; d) the emergence of a national consciousness during late 19th and early 20th century. Crucial here is the fact that the reform that differentiated an education system marked by Qur’anic instruction from one aimed at bringing up specialists in civic administration predated the British Occupation. And in post-colonial Egypt the kuttab system of Qur’anic instruction was made free to students, so that it became the foundation of a national education system at a point when nationalist ideology was rising. The implication here is that the takeover of the kuttab system broke the balance of the two sorts of education systems that had existed before the massive French and British influences. Instead of recognizing the assumption of British scholars in late 19th century that a sound economy must be the basis of a modern, self-governing Egypt, postcolonial Egypt set out to self-define what it means to be well-educated for self-government (56, 73). This self-definition forecloses many possible conversations between two different ideologies that had co-existed in Ottoman Egypt.

            The fourth chapter, ‘Literature’, asks: What are the implications of institutional histories for the reading of texts? Although it traces the emergence of modern literary study in Egypt and credits the key Arabic-language scholars (80), this transition chapter shifts the historical positivist mode in the above discussions to a more theoretical study of world literature. In order to do this, Allan revives debates on formalism versus more socio-historical based approaches to literature. Also at this point Allan mentions two scholarly works which deal with similar themes and which have influenced him: Aamir Mufti’s article ‘Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures’ (2010) and Sheldon Pollock’s monograph Language of the Gods in the World of Men (2006). Pollock’s groundbreaking elaboration of the Sanskrit cosmopolis, spanning immense territories anda vast timeframe, seems especially illuminating given that Allan’s aim is to broaden the terms through which world literature comes to be understood beyond national and political boundaries. In light of these preceding studies, Allan sets out to reachhis goal by exploring the meaning of adab (roughly the Arabic counterpart to ‘literature’). The case studies in the following sections well support his understanding of ‘literature as learning, pedagogical, institutional dealing with text’ (76), and profoundly demonstrate that the literary world is shaped by the transformations of print culture, libraries, schools, discourses on literacy, and the emergence of a literary public.

            What is world literature without the logic of cultural or national particularity? The fifth chapter, ‘Critique’, presents some intriguing parallel case studies extracted from the Egyptian literary world duringthe late colonial and postcolonial periods. In 1882, a scholar named Edwin Lewis made a speech to the Syrian Protestant College that supported liberal conceptions of knowledge by citing Darwin’s works. He also noted ‘the difference between science (al-’ilm) and wisdom (al-hikmah)’ (98). This speech led to a huge debate and a division between academic communities which greatly impaired the maintenance of the school itself, with the role that a missionary literateur should have in the country at that time coming under scrutiny. Allan also argues that Lewis and his supporters were addressing an abstract scholarly public, while their opponents held that their responsibility should have been to a general audience more in need of their advisory role than their critical minds. The ground of this reprimand is worth noting, in order to understand how this literary world was shaped by texts, intellectuals, and the reading public.

            In the same chapter, Allan describes another argument, in a much later literary scene, but which also centers on Darwin. The Cairo Trilogy (1956–7) by Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006), the Nobel laureate, offers a representative intellectual history of Egypt spanning a century. In one chapter, a young character publishes a supportive review of Darwinian theory. Characters from the older generation consider this publication most inappropriate, because it demonstrates the youth’s ‘ignorance’ of Qur’anic instruction. Although both sides hold totally opposite opinions of human origins, they share the view that the traditional religious intellectual is the model that all scholars should follow. This issue of scholarly model is raised by the youth’s ‘illiterate’ mother, who forms a strong opinion without reading any of the relevant materials. The father, who actually reads all materials in interest, takes a much softer stance and argues critically. In this, however—and unlike the mother—he fails to grasp the bigger picture.

            The shining point in Allan’s above two analyses is the examination of how religion is constructed as a category negotiated between characters. This is an idea further developed in the last chapter, entitled ‘Intellectuals’. This chapter contains a moving account of the intellectual exchange between two renowned literary figures from different literary traditions, Taha Hussein and André Gide. Allan describes Hussein’s autobiographical writings, which tell of his experiences in two different education systems, and which influence the reading public, moderating the ideological polarization of the two systems. This influence came to a climax when the translation of Gide’s La porte étroite (1909) was published with a letter from Hussein as a preface. In this letter Hussein provides a historicizing account of Islam,emphasizing the cultural exchanges between Islam and other religions in which it arose. Hussein's letter eliminated a certain doubt for Gide. Until then, he had been concerned that the uncertainties about humanlife that his novel expressed could not be properly received by a reading public constituted mainly of firm believers in a strict religion. As Allan concludes, ‘Translation, figured here as much religiously as linguistically, provides the occasion to consider the limits of audience within the context of world literature’ (120).

            In the Shadow of World Literature touches onsuch fundamental issues as the emergence of categories and the confrontations that arise between different literary traditions, especially powerful in the context of colonialism and secularism studies. It also provides us with a looking glass through which we may glimpse a vivid literary world made possible by reading of many different sorts.

October 2016

Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, Rebecca L. Walkowitz. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. £32.95. ISBN: 9780231539456.

Reviewed by Karolina Watroba, University of Oxford


borntranslated

Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature by Rebecca L. Walkowitz (Columbia University Press, 2015)

In the introduction to his influential book What is World Literature? (2003), David Damrosch discusses an unfavourable answer to his title question. He quotes and paraphrases various critics who have defined ‘world literature’ as ‘new globally directed works all too easy to understand’ (18), ‘works produced primarily for foreign consumption’ (18), and a testament to the ‘McDonaldization of the globe’ (25). What all these descriptions have in common, is the emphasis on the complicity of ‘world literature’ with capitalistic modes of production and consumption in the globalized world. On this account, the new global novel is a depressing testimony to the crushing power of American cultural hegemony. Under the thin veneer of superficial diversity—the nationality of the authors that critics usually have in mind in this context ranges from Japanese (Haruki Murakami) to Turkish (Orhan Pamuk)—the new global novel in fact serves to solidify the existing inequalities in the cultural field.

            Rebecca Walkowitz’s recent monograph Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature is a powerful voice against this reductive understanding of contemporary fiction. She subverts the critique of ‘globally directed works’ that are ‘produced for foreign consumption’ by focusing on the category of translation, and offering an illuminating account of works to which ‘translation is not secondary or incidental’, but rather ‘is a condition of their production’ (4). Walkowitz seeks to revaluate the category of ‘translatese’—understood as ‘unidiomatic writing that seems […] like no language in particular’ (175)—and recast it as an aesthetic strategy, which is reflected in her provocative choice to concentrate on contemporary writers working in English, rather than those whose works are translated into this language of cultural and economic prestige. She analyses a broad range of authors, from J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell to Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, Caryl Phillips and Amy Waldman, to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Adam Thirlwell. In their works, which she calls ‘born-translated’, ‘translation functions as a thematic, structural, conceptual, and sometimes even typographical device’, and is presented ‘as a spur to literary innovation’ (4). These books feature multilingual characters and narrators who are native speakers of languages other than English, present themselves as works already translated from other languages, dialects or stylistic registers, or include explicit references to the fact of linguistic and cultural circulation in the globalized world.

            One of my favourite parts of the book is Walkowitz’s reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go as a challenge to the concept of the original and, read on a meta-fictional level, as a challenge to the value we tend to attach to originality in literary and cultural production. Walkowitz’s attention to details, her persuasive argumentation and the masterly coupling of close textual analysis and the emphasis on the processes of production, translation, circulation and consumption of Never Let Me Go make for an irresistible and highly memorable interpretation. In hindsight, Walkowitz’s argument that ‘by seeing the likeness between human originality and the novel’s unoriginal objects—[the clone] Kathy H., the cassette, the song, the television program, the narration—[…] we recognize the large networks of approximation and comparison in which individuality functions’ (107) seems so obvious and indispensable that I can barely imagine how I could have ever read Ishiguro’s novel without thinking about it. Walkowitz’s analysis of Never Let Me Go novel generates a powerful critical tool (the critique of originality), productively combining close reading and theoretical insight.

            Another brilliant and highly stimulating part of Walkowitz’s study is her discussion of ‘reading in translation’, which she develops in the chapter on Jamaica Kinkaid and Mohsin Hamid. She starts with an incisive diagnosis of the academic aversion to translated literature:

Serious readers are anxious about reading in translation, which seems to lack rigor of several sorts. It lacks scholarly rigor because we are blocked from analysing the metaphors and idioms that have seemed crucial to any substantial investigation of literature. It lacks educational rigor because we have failed to learn the languages that would allow more direct access. And it lacks ethical rigor because the failure to learn a sufficient number of languages bespeaks a failure of interest in and engagement with the imaginative life of strangers. Of course, it is not only the reader of the translated object, but also the object itself that is implicated. For after all, what kind of literary work could be read—read in any way that would count—in some language other than its own? (171)

But then Walkowitz goes on to subtly dismantle this scholarly attitude by destabilizing the notion of ‘the native reader’ and ‘the original work’, urging us to read originals ‘the way we read translations’, that is, ‘treating every text as if its location were not simultaneous with our own’ (177). Although all of Walkowitz’s examples would be traditionally classified as written in English, her point is to destabilize the notion of writing in English, and show the myriad ways in which the authors she discusses make the reader imagine herself as a non-native reader, by experiencing ‘what it would be like to read English as a foreign language or, for that matter, as a language at all. English becomes a material rather than simply a medium. It begins to have substance’ (141). This statement would be a commonplace if applied to poetry, or highly experimental writing, like Ulysses: but the intensity of Walkowitz’s argument comes from the fact that her chosen texts are not elitist, canonical masterpieces of European modernism, but contemporary bestsellers, often close to genre fiction, and they manage to ‘foreignize’ English not by stylistic inaccessibility, but by using the common currency of the globalized world—the fact of linguistic translation and the global domination of English.

            One arguably problematic aspect of Walkowitz’s book is that she does not sufficiently engage with the concept and methodology of national literary history. This category is curiously absent from her book, which is all the more conspicuous given that one of Walkowitz’s chief aims in Born Translated is to dismantle the conviction that works of literature (or books, as she—with her emphasis on the materiality of the medium—would probably put it) ‘belong’ to nations. In Franco Moretti’s famous dictum, the goal of comparative literature is ‘to be a thorn in the side, a permanent intellectual challenge to national literatures’; yet Walkowitz does not persuasively engage with the framework of national literature histories. In one of the few places in the book where she refers to this category at all, she states that ‘in literary studies, we generally distinguish between the disciplines of national literature, which typically refer to what books are, who wrote them, or where they were produced, and the discipline of comparative literature, which typically refers to what we do with books’ (101). This baffling remark, which comes somewhat surprisingly halfway through the Ishiguro chapter, requires more elaboration and contextualization.

            Born Translated is an engagingly written, highly readable, in many ways path-breaking, and undoubtedly important book. It is refreshing to see male and female, white and non-white, Western and non-Western, more and less established authors represented genuinely on a par with each other. Another reviewer of this book, Rose Casey, suggested in Journal of Postcolonial Writing that Walkowitz’s approach works better ‘when applied to novels by prominent male authors from relatively comfortable backgrounds […] rather than more expressly postcolonial works addressing race, gender and power’. To me it seems, in contrast, that Born Translated achieves in practice what many other critics have called for in theory: it manages to develop a persuasive methodological framework that can account for a wide variety of writing, remaining highly sensitive to political dimensions of that writing, but without relegating some of it to the role of mere ‘tokens’. This is possible because Walkowitz considers the ways in which ‘instead of articulating distinctive cultures’, writers ‘are articulating geopolitical systems, including the systems in which their novels are produced’ (201). This is a welcome antidote to the impasse in the critiques of World Literature, with its obsession on the fundamental ‘untranslatability’ of foreign cultures, which, while certainly well-intentioned, can lead to further marginalization of non-Western literary voices. Rebecca Walkowitz shows one powerful way of getting out of this impasse.

June 2016

Modernist Fiction and Vagueness: Philosophy, Form, and Language, Megan Quigley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. £62.00. ISBN: 9781107089594

Reviewed by Martin Glick, University of Göttingen


Vagueness as a field of study relies on an understanding of Logic and Philosophy of Language to expose the indefiniteness of the words we use. While Megan Quigley’s book doesn’t incorporate contemporary discussion of vagueness such as those from David Barnett and B. J. Copeland, this absence can be attributed to the fact that Modernist Fiction and Vagueness: Philosophy, Form, and Language (2015) is mostly a work of literary criticism, and would make little use of the symbolic logic found in recent developments in the field. There is a substantial amount of discussion regarding Pragmatism, and she relies on the writings and personal notes of Bertrand Russell, William James, Charles S. Pierce, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the critical writing of T.S. Eliot, to provide a background for her project on the use of vague language in Modernist fiction. What follows is an enlightening survey that “joins a philosopher with a novelist” (10) in each of her four chapters to demonstrate how the imprecise boundaries of our language doesn’t mean it “cannot connect to our experience of the world” (11). Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce compose the Modernist authors represented in the book with particular attention paid to their later, more experimental words.

 

The essential question and thesis of her book is to identify, “why did literary realism, like a transparent language of logic, prove insufficient at the beginning of the twentieth century for capturing the vagaries of consciousness or modern life?” (19). Vague language took its place as the dominant mode of writing: one of “puzzlement and indecision” (7). Quigley proposes that the three Modernist writers had twin goals: “to revise the conventions of the realist novel and the revolt against positivism in the philosophy of language” (5). The relation between literature and philosophy is explicitly spelled out in her book, often with helpful summaries for those without a background in literary studies, such as the one found at the beginning of chapter one: “In The Ambassadors, in syntax as vague as the relations in which Stretcher finds himself embroiled, Henry James dramatizes the difficulty of making moral choices in a vague new world.” (26). In terms of the Modernists’ opposition to the previous Realist movement, of which Flaubert was emblematic, Quigley offers the same concise evaluations. References to T.S. Eliot, whose early “interest in eradicating literary vagueness” (148), open and close Quigley’s book in an elegant demonstration of the development of literary thought influenced by philosophy.

 

The thesis of her book has been set out in her paper “Modern Novels and Vagueness” (2008) from which the Introduction and second chapter borrow heavily. The first chapter resumes and expands upon the discussion in “Beastly Vagueness in Charles Sanders Pierce and Henry James” (2007). Those who are familiar with Quigley’s scholarly work will generally not need to re-read these initial sections of her book, though they can serve as excellent introductions to the topics at hand. The remainder of her book delves into territory only briefly discussed in her papers and fleshes out more minor points.

 

Each chapter is structured around a philosophical background and literary response to it. In most cases, the philosopher and writer discussed in the chapter had close personal ties which gives the tension between them the air of a drama. Chapter one reviews the introduction of The Metaphysical Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Charles S. Pierce “published papers that William James later called ‘the birth certificates’ of pragmatism” (26). Between James and Pierce there was a conflict in terms of how Pragmatism should be understood. Pierce was committed to clearing out vagueness in language because he believed on focusing on sensible effects of ideas which are “clear and recognizable” (27). James celebrated language’s capacity for vagueness, though when it came to literary works, he had unkind things to say about his brother Henry whose novels Watch and WardThe Sacred Fount, and The Ambassadors are discussed in the remainder of the chapter. Quigley demonstrates the pragmatic philosophers’ influence on Henry James using biographical information along with a keen eye for influence. Frequently in this chapter, biography proves to be the most assured means when talking about influence and Quigley mines the sibling relationship to venture conclusions like this: “I propose that Henry James’s narrator is a pragmatist, using the pragmatic method William James had propounded in his lectures in 1898. The narrator, however, is a pragmatist gone wrong, entrapped by the beauty of his own theory” (50). Continuing her discussion of The Sacred Fount, she writes that Henry James has created a narrator who isolates himself from others due to the seductive quality of his personal theory. Quigley also includes a brief note on the critical response these novels received by Henry James’s contemporaries. The vagueness of the content repelled readers, who claimed they were ambiguous in their intended messages, Quigley identifies in The Ambassadors the kind of character that critics deplored, but summarizes Henry James’s main character from the novel as acting as “a strong ambassador even with vague beliefs” (62), which is a reunification of ambiguity and determination.

 

Chapter two is set in Bloomsbury where Virginia Woolf is ready to acknowledge in her novels that “modern literature must present ‘Life’ the way it really is - blurred and distorted” (66) but Bertrand Russell “insists that ‘discrimination’ and careful ‘analysis’ are the best means to knowledge” (70). Night and DayJacob’s RoomTo The Lighthouse, and The Waves of Woolf’s “novels of vision” are represented in this chapter as is a discussion of Russell’s lectures which Woolf attended. Russell is to a degree sympathetic to the cause of vagueness and notes “[o]n the contrary, a vague belief has a much better chance of being true than a precise one” (73) when referencing the accuracy a smudged photograph might have when one guesses that there is a man in the picture instead of a specific man like “asserting it is Brown or Jones or Robinson” (73). The “many-sided” (74) truth of words Woolf takes up as her defining aesthetic is in strict rebellion against Russell’s “special language” which he proposed would have the accuracy of mathematics. The way in which Woolf presents vagueness as gendered sets her apart from the other writers in Quigley’s study. Female characters are “associated with ‘vagueness’ “ (78) with a regularity not associated with male figures. As a way of responding to the lectures of Russell, Woolf has her characters speak directly to the nature of his philosophy by aligning themselves with the separateness of language and mathematics. Quigley charts the evolution of Woolf’s vagueness with direct reference to her work providing helpful examples of the kind of style associated with vague writing: “combining free indirect discourse, multiple perspectives, and interspersed passages of tragedy” (88). The chapters concludes with a discussion of The Waves which Quigley claims is Woolf’s masterpiece and deals directly with Russell’s claim that the “possible end result of ontological vagueness is solipsism” (100), in a fantastic demonstration of literary criticism.

 

Chapter three focuses on James Joyce and Ludwig Wittgenstein in a manner similar to the previous chapters. Quigley's work seeks to fill in a gap where there is “startlingly little written comparing these two important twentieth-century figures, one who theorized the language game and one who created perhaps the most famously rebarbative example of one in Finnegans Wake.” (110).  Both authors are intent on redeeming aspects of Pragmatism. Wittgenstein and Joyce were familiar with the writings of F. C. S. Schiller, a contemporary of Russell, and it was Joyce who adopted certain aspects of the new ideas in his writing,:“Pragmatism’s lure for Joyce is crystallized in its ability to abolish the ‘Absolute once and for all,’ just as Stephen is ‘fond of saying that the Absolute is dead’" (115). More here than in Quigley's other chapters there is an intense agreement between the philosopher and author about how language ought to be approached. Quigley excellently summarizes this point in a discussion about the later work of each writer: “In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein shows how even when words are recognizable, our cultural and social estrangement can make us feel utterly at a loss” (129), She goes on to discuss Ulysses and the confusion that arises when reading it by saying: “the multiplicity of styles creates a novel game with constantly changing rules, where readers struggle to find footing” (130).  Wittgenstein’s 'picture theory' of meaning and C. K. Ogden's translation of Joyce into Basic English are also mentioned in this chapter further tightening the connection between the two.

 

The final chapter reviews T.S. Eliot’s opinions about Henry James, Woolf, and Joyce. Because of his personal connection with Bertrand Russell and status as both an author and a critic it makes for a seamless way to wrap up the theme of vagueness. In his early writing he criticizes philosophy by pointing out that the “‘verbalism’ of contemporary philosophy is due to those philosophers who believe they deal ‘with objects’ that are ‘of the same exactness as the mathematician’s’” (156). He was also skeptical of his fellow authors, worried that they were creating “tentative sketches and rough experiments” (164). The chapter ends with an overview of New Criticism and a brief word on recent investigations into “fuzziness”, a concept embodied in the humanities by neo-pragmatists, most famously Richard Rorty (170).

 

Megan Quigley has succeeded in two ways. Her book is not only a wholly succinct review of the element of vagueness in Modernist writing, but a work which inspires readers to discover for themselves new connections between philosophy and literature. For the philosopher there are new intersections between thought and fiction to be found in these pages. For the literary critic, this book might make solid parts of philosophy which have previously seemed abstract. It would have been interesting to include a counter-point - if one exists - of a Modernist writer detached from philosophic study and suspicious of the usefulness of vague language, but this is minor quibble in an otherwise entertaining and substantial book.

February 2016

Doing Philosophy Comparatively, Tim Connolly. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. £21.99. ISBN: 9781780936321.

Reviewed by Jesse Ciccotti, Hong Kong Baptist University


Comparative philosophy has been a growing sub-field in philosophy since the mid-70s. In Doing Philosophy Comparatively Tim Connolly has provided an up-to-date and very informative book for anyone wishing to engage in philosophy that crosses cultural, linguistic, and tradition boundaries. The book’s primary audience is undergraduate students who have some philosophical training and are exploring sub-disciplines within the larger philosophical rubric. This is not to say, however, that only philosophy students would understand its contents. Connolly writing is accessible and simple (but not oversimplified), putting students in direct contact with the major questions and texts of this sub-discipline. Each chapter ends with a brief list of suggested readings of books and articles, and a section that raises two to four discussion questions, indicating a clear design for classroom use and making the move from text to pedagogy easier.

 

The book is divided into three parts, composed of 11 chapters. Part I is titled “The Nature of Comparative Philosophy,” and its three chapters explore the foundational questions of What is comparative philosophy?, What is its purpose?, and What is its scope? Part II looks at four problems that one encounters when doing philosophy comparatively. Chapter 4 addresses the question of linguistic incommensurability (incommensurability meaning “incapable of being measured together” (67)). Connolly raises the essential question: “How much of a barrier is language difference in comparative philosophy?” (67). Chapter 5 looks at two other forms of supposed incommensurability: foundational and evaluative. Foundational incommensurability being the role presuppositions play in philosophizing. If there is no common point of reference or shared presuppositional foundation between two philosophical traditions, how can we compare them? (89) Evaluative incommensurability relates primarily to cross-cultural ethics. When cultures do not have a shared set of values, how do we adjudicate between the different views? Who is right and who is wrong, and on what grounds do we make the evaluation?

 

A third problem, taken up in Chapter 6, addresses a serious allegation against comparative philosophers, that of one-sidedness. A form of one-sidedness more common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is projection. This error assumes that questions, terms, concepts and even forms of argumentation will be the same or similar to one’s own. This is innocent enough and usually easily corrected. More serious is the issue of asymmetry: “when we look at the discipline as a whole, Western philosophical categories dominate much of the discourse, to the exclusion of other cultural traditions” (107). On this “meta” level, the great majority of comparisons are conducted from Anglo-European perspectives. In the last decade or so there has been a trend towards more comparisons being done from non-Anglo-European perspectives, but it is not yet near to being a representative balance.

 

The final chapter of Part II looks at the problem of generalization. As Connolly concludes, “making sweeping generalizations is often more attractive than engaging in close readings of a text. The generalizations give us something quick and easy, and of apparently unlimited application, to hold on to.” It’s worth emphasizing that the bulk of comparative philosophy consists in making detailed comparisons of particular passages or issues from different traditions. For those comparativists who do engage in generalizations, it is usually as the result of exhaustively detailed study” (143).

 

Part III considers four approaches to doing philosophy comparatively. Universalism has several meanings, but generally it indicates that the comparativist wishes to transcend particularities of culture, language and tradition and arrive at or uncover universal philosophical principles. We can only know if they are universal by looking for correspondences between traditions. Pluralism meanwhile attempts “not merely to identify cultural differences, but to show how these differences are both justified and irreducible to one another” (165). The Consensus approach aims to “establish a set of norms shared by multiple traditions while at the same time allowing for diversity of acceptable philosophical foundations for these norms” (178). One well-known proponent of this view is John Rawls, and an important example of the result of consensus is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (although, like anything in philosophy, its claim to universality is debated). Finally, Connolly addresses what he calls “Global Philosophy”. This means “engaging in philosophy in a way that is open […] to the insights and approaches from philosophers and philosophical traditions around the globe” (193, quoting Steven Angle, “Chinese Philosophers and Global Philosophy,” 3-4). This approach often takes the form of criticism, of one tradition to another, done (hopefully) with a spirit of openness to learn from a position or person who holds, at times, a radically different position than oneself.

 

Doing Philosophy Comparatively is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the field of comparative philosophy. It seems clear that Connolly has intentionally kept notes to a minimum, lending to the book’s readability. He avoids overuse of philosophical jargon, without losing clarity and eruditeness. Every chapter deals with a host of arguments and texts that could lead to numerous rabbit-trails of fascinating debate, but Connolly manages to keep each section and chapter focused on its particular goal. He also does well at presenting issues in as neutral a manner as possible, allowing the reader to make his or her own judgment on the issue, perhaps tipping his hand only ever-so-slightly in the final chapter. The text is supplemented with a rich bibliography and an adequate index.

 

It would be easy to fill many more pages with praise for each section of the book, but I will leave them for the reader to discover. Here I will close with two critical remarks for consideration. First, and not so much a critique as an observation, the intended audience of the book is quite clearly American undergraduate students. Connolly regularly assumes that his readers will be coming from a Greco-centric, Anglo-European philosophical background, who need to expand their horizons “globally southward” (i.e. towards non-Greco-centric traditions—African, Chinese, and so on). I count this is a slight fault because it seems to leave the book open to the accusation of assymetry outlined in chapter 6. How might the book have been written if the author had come from New Delhi, Shanghai, or Nairobi? In regards to the positions on various methodological issues and debates in comparative philosophy Connolly has achieved a high degree of neutrality. I would suggest an improvement to a second edition (which I hope comes in due time!) that achieves a higher degree of neutrality in regards to an assumed audience for the book. I will cite just one example: “When we dislike certain features of our own culture—its rampant individualism, its antagonism toward the natural world, its lack of spirituality—we are prone to see other cultures’ worldviews as happy inversions of our own.” Certainly this could apply to cultures other than Connolly’s own American context, but I would contend that there are enough comments similar to this one throughout the book that give it a very strong “localized” (American) flavor that impedes the book’s influence beyond its native borders.

 

Secondly, again, although Connolly skillfully and neutrally presents various positions on a given debate, I feel he tips his hand more heavily when it comes to certain generalizations. He regularly refers to “Western philosophers,” and often draws the comparative line between “Western” philosophy or philosophers and (fill-in-the-blank from the non-“West”). While this debate is directly taken up neutrally between pages 130 and 135, throughout the book Connolly implicitly accepts the generalization by its use. An improvement would be to select a more neutral term for the “West,” like “Anglo-European,” such as has been used in this review.

 

These criticisms aside, I highly recommend Doing Philosophy Comparatively for any undergraduate course, or even graduate course, on comparative philosophy, or for the uninitiated curiosity-seeker who wishes to develop “the right sorts of skills and abilities…” so that he or she “can learn to flourish as philosopher-citizens of the world” (212). Tim Connolly has established a benchmark for the study of comparative philosophy that I believe has the potential for long-lasting impact in philosophy, by offering a clear summary of the key issues and by providing a platform for nurturing future philosophers to think beyond their localized perspectives.

January 2016

The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future, Prasenjit Duara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. £22.99. ISBN: 9781107442856.

Reviewed by Feng-yi Chu, University of Oxford


There is much to be excited about in Prasenjit Duara's latest book, for the work has great potential for tackling three core problems that modern societies are facing today. Firstly, when encountering a series of setbacks in the late 1980s as communist regimes collapsed one by one and the capitalist model triumphed, what discourses, counter-ideologies, and strategies can contemporary left-wing intellectuals and activists offer to solve class inequality and the mass-scale exploitation of natural resources around the world? Secondly, when the concept of modernity has long been diagnosed as overly biased and Western-centric, how should the non-Western world respond to the problems brought by modernity, particularly the temptation of rapid economic development and the environmental destruction that inevitably follows, along with the demise of native cultures, social structures, political systems and local lifestyles? Similarly, when nationalism has been seen to be an imagined and socially-constructed ideology, one that has often been manipulated in ethnic and international conflicts, in what ways can people reimagine and redesign the global political system? All these questions point to a common theme: since competition and exploitation are the main goals of capitalism and nationalism, the two major products of modernity, they are leading us to a future of barrenness and conflict. In his new work, Duara is searching for and developing philosophies and strategies of sustainability to act as alternatives to Western modernity.

 

How does he approach such problems? Duara uses two concepts to lay the theoretical foundation for reconceptualising modernity: "traffic of transcendence" and circulation. Unlike past scholarly studies that usually see modernity as a socio-political rupture from transcendent religious power to secularized, “disenchanted” human authorities or sovereignties, Duara argues that the concept of contemporary sovereignty is still founded on the primitive imagination of (and need for) transcendence. Transcendence refers to “transcending the here and now of the world” (4). The concept thus implies a conventional structure of dualism between existing conditions (“here and now”) and a projected, imagined desirable status. As Duara notes, transcendence involves “a critique of existing conditions” and proposes “a non-worldly power and vision to morally authorize an alternative to the existing arrangements and structure of power” (ibid.). He argues that such qualities and attributes associated with religion in earlier periods can be redistributed in the creation of the secular—a process which he calls “traffic of transcendence.” Therefore, for Duara, “modernity” is another way of comprehending and explaining how humans master the world. The assertive rupture between pre-modern religious societies and modern secular societies is a false construct proposed by modern historians and researchers because they have accepted “the terms of methodological nationalism” too quickly.

 

If modernity is a particular conceptualization of linear history in which humans (and nation-states, their collective agents) are entitled to explore and to extract worldly resources, it is rational to search for substituted philosophies and alternative perspectives in order to resolve the crisis of modernity. Duara suggests that candidates for alternative cosmologies of sustainability and circulatory history can more easily be found in cultures or societies of “dialogical transcendence” (polytheist societies), especially in Asia, than those of “radical transcendence” (monotheist societies). The key themes—and the major contribution of the book—lie in this search and the theoretical discussion of historical sociology.

 

In Chapter 1, Duara shares his analyses and observations on some traditions and approaches of sustainability in Asia in order to respond to global crises of our time. He further offers detailed theoretical discussions on his concepts of circulatory history (Chapter 2), on the logic of global modernity in historical, economic, political and cultural terms (Chapter 3), as well as on transcendence, including the differences between what he calls “radical” and “dialogical” transcendence (Chapter 4). In Chapter 5, with a particular focus on East Asia, Duara applies his concept of transcendence and construes how religions (both faith-based ones, like Buddhism and Daoism, and redemptive societies, such as local folk religions) have been interacting deeply with politics. For example, this involves how regimes used religions to legitimate their authority and how they governed religious groups to control local politics. His comparative study of Japan and China sheds further light on the question of why “China was able to escape the confessional-communalism that deeply affected most other societies in Asia and perhaps the world” (193); the study is of significance for it adequately explains the diversity of strategies in the way different political communities in Asia reacted to Western modernity in the late nineteenth century. Chapter 6 demonstrates the idea of “traffic of transcendence,” illustrating how religious resources are channelled to build the ideal citizen for the nation-state in the cases of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, India, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. In Chapter 7, Duara views regionalism “in terms of the circulatory forces and networks that have created and often recreated interdependence” among societies in Asia and the world. Although, as he argues, “modern nationalisms sought precisely to create hard boundaries between communities by privileging a defining characteristic of community (say, language),” it is crucial to recognize the significant influence of the non-congruence created by various regional nexuses. The models of cultural circulation without state domination of identity, which can be seen in the maritime Asian networks and in contemporary Asian regional interdependence, offer invaluable intellectual resources to explore new possibilities for transnational and trans-local interactions.

 

In his conclusion, Duara introduces another attribute of transcendence, “hope”, asking whether hope can be seen to be “the kernel of the sacred?” (285). He finds the concept sharing a similarity with transcendence, particular dialogical ones: “Hope by itself is based on reasonable expectations and efforts made to realize them. In its pragmatic character, it is more open to reason than faith and belief” (285).

 

I believe that first exploring the essence of hope is able to facilitate our apprehension of the role of hope in transcendence: What is the essence of hope? What is "hope"? What do people have hope for? An intuitive answer could be: people hope for better conditions. It is the unbearable nature of the present condition that drives people to create transcendence. From this point of view, one of the basic facets of the sacred (transcendence) is dissatisfaction, discontent, and disappointment. And when encountering this disappointment and dissatisfaction, people usually react in two ways: One is reacting pessimistically, believing the miserable condition will remain the same and nothing can be done about it. The other is reacting hopefully and optimistically, expecting the miserable condition will be amended. Transcendence, i.e., a better future, more desirable conditions, and a view of projected utopia, emerges in the latter mentality.

 

Therefore, the process of transcendence, or the competition between different transcendence, is a perpetual movement. With hope, the movement continues, until we reach a state in which we are entirely enjoying our existence. Hence, I believe what Duara proposes is not to “overcome” transcendence, because, after all, it is a key element in human society that cannot be eradicated. Rather, he is suggesting, as he puts in the description at the beginning of his book, that the physical salvation “must become the transcendent goal of our times” to deal with the global crises we are facing nowadays.

 

However, a problem remains: although circulatory histories and sustainable traditions—which can be found in the cultures and the societies of Asia, as Duara illustrates—can become the means by which we may overcome modernity, it is also a matter of fact that in terms of the development of history, these societies have now been arguably dominated by capitalist logic, an ideology of linear history, and nationalisms. Perhaps the ultimate predicament is more material—the tremendous economic and political power held by those who are eager to accumulate their own wealth and to satiate their greed by exploiting resources of the world. If so, then the question will be: how could we gain enough power, particularly in economic and political terms, to stop them?

 

The conventional approach is suggested by the intellectuals and theorists of late nineteenth century Asia (and most of the Third World countries)—establishing a competitive powerful nation state to fight against the encroachment of imperialism and colonialism of Western nations. The Chinese revolutionary Dr Sun Yet-sen, for instance, stated that one of the most important functions of nation states is to counter balance the adverse effects of capital. (Sun Wen xuanji, 2006) Yet, this approach (i.e., methodological nationalism) is one of the marks that Duara endeavors to criticise. In many cases, political leaders of nation states in fact share vested interests with capitalists, bankers, and entrepreneurs of multinational corporations. By provoking and manipulating nationalism, they aim to mobilize the masses to attack (false) enemies for political gains. (e.g. Slavoj Zizek on the 2015 Paris attacks)

 

The lesson of Duara’s analysis is this: if we keep framing ourselves methodologically in nationalism, we can no longer obtain the power we need, nor can we formulate feasible strategies. He suggests that the establishment of cooperation within transnational and trans-local nexuses of organisations and societies can act as possible solutions. With resources gathered from individuals who share common values, goals, as well as care for the future sustainable development of the Earth, these communities and societies may possess competitive momentum not only to resist the exploitation by capitalists but also to demand assistance from nation states. Duara’s work offers us the theoretical foundation to avoid the hegemonic narratives of modernity, linear history, and nationalism. When starting to realise that the ways we used to think, to comprehend, and to live are not the only viable options, we will be able to think of new strategies to direct the world to a sustainable future.

October 2015

Of Prisms and Processes – The OCCT Prismatic Translation conference, 1-3 October 2015

Reviewed by Viktoria Herold, University of Oxford


As Matthew Reynolds remarked during the roundtable discussion, the aim of this year‘s OCCT conference had been to abandon ideas of textual fidelity and to explore translations that make their difference visible, thereby asserting their status as versions or adaptations of the original. In order to explore the structural metaphor of the prism, many of the speakers developed models of translation that focused on the process of producing and reading translated media. The image of refraction was applied to various stages of the translation process, resulting in a programme that, befitting the conference title, was properly prismatic.

The multiplicity of the original itself underpinned talks such as Ellen Jones’s presentation on Isabel del Rio’s bilingual narrative Cero Negativo/Zero Negative and Jean Anderson’s close reading of Rai Chaze’s short story ‘La Vielle Dame’. As Ellen Jones pointed out, Del Rio’s text dissolves the boundary between self-translation and re-writing, undermining the hierarchical sequence of original and translation: the original already contains its own prismatic variants. Using the example of a short story that centres on the objects and food found in a Tahitian home, Jean Anderson argued that French Polynesian writing converges multicultural, multilingual influences that have to be refracted by readers and translators. In Régis Closel’s philologically-informed talk, refraction was located in the different manuscript versions of Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, complicating the process of translation into Brazilian Portuguese. Hany Rashwan explained how non-phonetic determinatives in hieroglyphical script add ambiguity and playfulness to the text on display, calling for translations that are just as multifaceted as the ancient Egyptian original.

Others situated the prism in the systems in which translations originate. In her keynote on audiovisual translation (AVT), Rocío Baños Piñero introduced the translational constraints of subtitling and revoicing. More specifically, she showed how the differences between those two modes relate to the collaborative processes of AVT, which are in turn shaped by the conventions of (inter)national translation industries. Shuangyi Li examined how shifts in sexological discourse and changing attitudes towards Western bourgeois culture become apparent in recent Chinese translations of Proust’s A La Recherche volumes. In his analysis of the orthographic evolution of the proper names used in translations of the first line of Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan”, Patrick Hersant looked at variants that produce drastically different semantic and rhythmic effects. The “Prism of Theology: Bible Translation in Germany” panel, with talks by Howard Jones, Henrike Lähnemann and Daniel Lloyd, emphasised that translation variants of the Bible reflect linguistic and political change throughout the centuries. John Cayley’s keynote served as a theoretical reflection on the prism of history: translation draws attention to the fact that ‘literal art’ exists in time and space, and reminds us that the transitory original is always already irretrievably lost. In this context, Cayley’s digital language art (such as overboard and translation) provided the illustration of code generating translations that only ever emerge temporarily and that are subject to continuous transformation.

Transience was one of the central themes of the conference, and Cecilia Rossi’s talk highlighted translators’ continued fascination with the elusive ‘moment of creation’. Rossi’s translation of the Argentinian writer Alejandra Pizarnik’s poetry is informed by archival work: tracing Pizarnik’s reading and writing process by studying her papers, Rossi tried to reconstruct the poems’ prismatic origin. Another talk that focused on the work of the individual translator was Audrey Coussy’s presentation on translating English nonsense alphabets into French: Coussy showed how the constraints of the genre necessitate creative translations that deviate from the source text. Chantal Wright spoke of the prismatic process of adding her own voice to the many (translated) voices that already populate Antoine Berman’s seminal L’Âge de la Traduction, telling us about the complexities of translating the French translation of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers’ into English.

The issue of translating translation also figured in Dennis Duncan’s talk on the title piece of Harry Mathews’s Armenian Papers. Here, (pseudo-)translation variants revolve around the metaphor of the Absent Father; prismatic translation happens when the imagined origin(al) is lost. In a similar vein, Alexandra Lukes figured Louis Wolfson’s Translation System in the autobiographical Le Schizo et les Langues as both the symptom and the cure of the pain inflicted by a dominant source language. The schizophrenic writer, Lukes argued, feels compelled to translate English words into several languages at the same time, never choosing one translation over the other, instead de- and recomposing words to create a lens through which English no longer poses the threat of totalisation. Her talk pointed towards another theme running through many of the conference’s panels: that of the political and ethical dimensions of prismatic translation.

With special reference to the Chinese scriptworld, Sowon Park’s presentation on transnational scriptworlds served as a reminder that discussions of translation are often unnecessarily phonocentric, thereby preventing us from considering how all linguistic systems call for refraction. Setting up an artificial binary between speech- and idea-writing obscures the fact that reading always involves the translation of script into sound before a translation of ‘meaning’ can even take place. The two presentations by Pari Azarm Motamedi and Silvie Kilgallon further served as an antidote to logocentrism more generally. Motamedi outlined how the medium of watercolour gives her the freedom to create iconographic variations of Shafii Kadkani’s poetry, variations that co-exist with her more ‘faithful’ linguistic translations into English. For Kilgallon, translating Homer’s Iliad into the medium of embroidery is motivated by a desire to make a canonic text accessible to a wider audience. Translation is understood as a distinctively anti-elitist enterprise eradicating the differences between intellectual and non-intellectual appreciation of art. 

Anti-elitism also figured in Kasia Szymanska presentation on literary metatranslations. As she pointed out, the genre of metatranslation has the ability to reveal the totalising impetus of ‘authorised’ translations and to sensitise the reader to the democratic potential of translation variants displayed alongside each other. Tom Cheesman’s presentation, in which he introduced the translation array prototype, is an example of how such a democratic, cross-cultural bird’s-eye view of translation can be realised with the help of digital tools. Similarly, Emily Rose introduced her project Translating Herculine in order to think through the capacity of hypertext to create an English translation of the ‘hermaphrodite’ Herculine Barbin’s memoirs that captures the ‘messiness’ of intersexuality. In considering the function of machine translation in Hsia Yü’s Pink Noise Cosima Bruno, too, noticed how the vocabulary of sexuality and intimacy could be applied to the process of translating ‘Weblish’ love poems into Chinese using the translation channel of the (now discontinued) Mac web application Sherlock. Technology, then, provided the conceptual framework for translations that capture the multiplicity of human experience. Nevertheless, Eran Hadas's presentation, in which he discussed some of his creative work, ended on a note that demonstrated the limits of digital translation. When he attempted to translate the 1960s chatbot ELIZA into Hebrew he was quickly confronted with the problem that while he could (with some difficulties) translate the textual patterns that the chatbot generated, he could not translate the programming language itself. Hence Hadas’s talk posed the question whether translation will inevitably have a myopic quality if it takes place in an environment dominated by global English.   

In his writer’s talk, Philip Terry reflected on the influence of Oulipian techniques on his own, decidedly anti-myopic translation practice. However, reading from his translation of Dante’s Inferno, Terry’s use of the ‘allusive referential method’ took centre stage: in the translated/transplanted version of hell, Terry’s memories of the University of Essex serve as a frame of reference. More recent, unpublished poems contrast the management speak that Terry encounters in this realm of higher education with a direct, sometimes vulgar language. They proved to be a point of connection to the conference’s final keynote. Emily Apter argued that despite the promises of the Digital Humanities to capture translation in its dazzling variety, one should be careful not to turn the ‘prism-house of language’ into a tool that enables the totalising structures it seeks to criticise. By approaching prismatic translation like Big Data, we run the risk of falling foul to corporate monolingualism, to using the language of ‘data mining’, ‘pruning’ and ‘clear-cutting’. As Apter put it, we must confront the invisible translation hiding in plain sight: the translation of academic practices into the violent language of materialist ecology. In this sense, Apter’s keynote expressed the need for a paradigm shift that can accommodate the rapidly changing structures of global academia – a need which the conference sought to address through collective and cumulative effort.

To see abstracts, presentations, and photos from the conference, please see: https://prismatictranslation.wordpress.com/

October 2015

Exile and Nomadism in French and Hispanic Women’s WritingKate Averis. Oxford: Legenda, 2014. £75.00. ISBN: 9781907975943.

Reviewed by Marianna Deganutti, University of Oxford


By investigating six key contemporary Francophone and Hispanophone women writers, Kate Averis’s book combines the expanding field of exile – which puts under pressure the notion of identity, home, and the sense of belonging – and the question of the (literary) elaboration of the feminine. Her study overturns the idea that exile should be primarily associated with a male figure, or “an androcentric model of exiled consciousness that would universally account for the experiences of exile” (24), by arguing that the exilic experience corresponds to a privileged place for the elaboration of women’s identity. In particular, the overturning of the traditional social role attributed to women leads Averis to redefine the identity of women in exile. In this sense, exile tends to lose its negative attributions – it is often linked with a melancholic, dismal status, in which the individual regrets the loss of their home country – and becomes a creative space, in which women have the chance to free themselves from household restrictions. As the author suggests: “Exiled women writers have been seen to reject the partial sense of belonging extended by the birth country where this has failed to offer them a full sense of belonging in favour of a space where the potential for subjective development is more readily available” (163). It follows that this acquired nomad state drives them towards a more fluid formulation of identity, which may be articulated within the narrative space of writing.

 

Averis’s work is divided into two parts: “Nomadic Consciousness, Nomadic Narratives” and “Overstepping the Boundaries: Women’s Narratives of Exile”. The first is theory based, outlining the methodological approaches used and offering a lexical clarification of key words. There is also an examination of the role played by language and writing in the six authors selected: Nancy Huston, Linda Lê, Malika Mokeddem, Cristina Peri Rossi, Laura Restrepo and Cristina Siscar. The second part corresponds to the analysis of the negotiation of women’s identity in exile through a comparison of two parallel writers and novels in each of the three chapters. The criteria adopted to explore these texts concerns the way in which exile is faced by these writers. In Huston and Siscar’s works, exile is openly expressed and treated as an overwhelming experience; Mokeddem and Restrepo focus on the lost country of origin; while Lê and Peri Rossi’s novels lead Averis to delve into the analysis of the influence played by gender on exilic dynamics.

 

The clarification of the notions of exile, identity, displacement, home, nation and nomadism outlined in the first chapter begins from the need to shed light on key words that, despite being employed on a massive scale over the last few decades, may present ambiguity. For instance, Averis problematizes the false dichotomy that exists between “enforced” and “voluntary” exile, which risks simplifying the complex condition and the layered concept of exile. The author, who takes into account the most sophisticated aspects of this phenomenon, is supported by the theoretical contributions of Deleuze and Guattari, Kaplan, Todorov, Braidotti, Baumeister, to mention a few, who suggest a more thoughtful definition of exile, which should be conceived as “an ongoing process of becoming rather than a static state of being” (3). The discussion also includes considerations of the role played by “will” and “choice” in the exilic decision; the distinction between a solitary or collective experience; the relevance of the body in women’s identity; the configuration of a nomadic identity, etc.

 

Apart from providing biographical information on the writers considered, Averis’s second chapter points out the nomadism which characterizes their narratives. Here the linguistic shift which often typifies removal from one’s homeland determines a series of troubled matters, such as the choice of idiom used for writing and its consequences and effects. The role of writing for women who experienced exile and the (auto)biographical component are also taken into account, in order to set the premises of the following analysis. Although it is more theoretical, Part I touches upon key points which introduce the topic of female exilic writers widely. Leaving aside the six authors selected, this part constitutes an excellent investigation into concepts that are sometimes misused and often taken for granted without adequate background.

 

The third chapter examines the works of Huston and Siscar, who both moved to Paris and adopted the French language to write. The novels analysed deal with the puzzlement experienced by protagonists at the initial stage of exile, when they arrive in a new country. Once the familiar dimension is lost, characters face a new reality, which in turn drives them to redefine spatial and linguistic parameters. This fact inevitably weighs upon the narrative, which is shaped by remarkable forms of fragmentation, varied perspective and chronologies. In particular, Averis investigates the complex issue of the acquisition of a language in exile in relation to the definition of the self, which is far from being a natural process. By employing Mary Besemeres’s claim, that “migration into a new language requires the person to recreate themselves in that language,” Averis explores the performative function of language(s) within the expression of identity. (Translating One’s Self: Language and Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography, 2002, p. 11)

 

Chapter 4 outlines the chance for exilic writers to cope with the country left behind, once return becomes possible. In these cases, the political component plays a relevant role within the narrative, driving authors to assume a critical point of view in relation to the home country from which they were exiled. Averis considers this new perspective, demonstrating their privileged but also marginal viewpoint and the impact and level of critical engagement offered by their denunciatory works. In other words, the interference of political aspects influences texts, which turn into a “hybrid vehicle through which such displaced writers both denounce the birth country that exiled them and attempt to redefine their relationship with it” (102). Despite being a hybrid narrative – which often incorporates history, politics and journalism – it gives room to a remarkable authorial presence, which exposes first-hand exilic experiences.

 

A more gendered perspective is offered by Chapter 5 where the negotiation of women’s identity in exile disrupts the traditional ideals attributed by society to womanhood. By putting under pressure the domestic role played by women, Lê and Peri Rossi offer an alternative idea of femininity. Taking advantage of the “freedom” offered by exile, the two writers exploit the dimension of displacement and alienation to reject fixed historical categories. Exilic writing offers them “a productive site for the expression of a marginal identity, parallel to the way in which the liminal space of exile provides an environment for the exploration and reconfiguration of personal identity where familiar social and cultural constraints are distanced and thus less binding” (132). The new homeland built on paper lets a nomadic identity emerge, contributing to the reformulation of a new (and more assertive) sense of belonging. Averis’s conclusion emphasizes the relevance that should be attributed to the act of writing for exilic female authors. Given that writing “constitutes a way of relocating and redefining the self in the space of displacement” (164), it becomes a favourable location to rebuild the site of home.

 

This book draws a new and original path within the analysis of contemporary women’s exilic writing and the nomadic configuration of identity. Not only does it develop key notions of exile and women’s writing, applying them to illustrative cases, it also articulates connections that overturn preconceived arguments, such as the exilic stereotyped figures still in use in Euro-American theorizations, or the negative connotations of exile, which are replaced by the idea of exile as a productive and creative site in which more fluid identities are rebuilt. In its simultaneous examination of French and Spanish works, this book's methodological framework and concerns are resolutely comparative. Moreover, by examining the issue of exile in terms of its multiple meanings and uses in different but related terminologies and concepts, Averis's study has provided us with a work which may constitute a reference in the fields of exilic criticism, translingualism, and female writing.

September 2015

On the Universal: The Uniform, the Common and Dialogue between Cultures, François Jullien. Translated by Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijalkowski. Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2014. $29.95. ISBN 9780745646237.

Reviewed by Patricia Harris Stäblein Gillies, University of Essex


Translations into English of the philosopher/sinologist François Jullien’s important, wide-ranging and extensive publications are still rather few. Although already no longer representative of Jullien’s most recent works, this translation brings key points of his radical re-orientation of thinking about cultural difference to the awareness of English readers. Deeply rooted in Chinese and Greek thought, Jullien deploys a Cartesian approach – “Je pense donc je suis”/ “I think therefore I am” – to save the discussion of culture from the endless marking of differences and oppositions, and to position it in the activity of thinking that distinguishes “the openly exploratory concept” of the human (169, cf. ‘mankind', 39, 168-70). To demonstrate the intercultural range of this Cartesian position, Jullien cites, among other Classical thinkers, Heraclitus – “Thinking is common to all” (25) – and he develops the links between Cicero’s extensive universal (74-75) and the Confucian emphasis on opening the mind, “emptying it out”, “concentrating it” (76).

 

The book opens with a Foreword challenging the reader to go beyond the comfort zone of “sloppy humanism” and to discover a rich territory of resistance, silence and divergence. An Itinerary provides a useful orientation by dividing the thirteen chapters of the book into four sections: Critique of Notions, European Genealogy, Enquiry and Problematization, and Stakes and Positions. The first of these focuses on the static dangers of cliché concepts like the Uniform, which cloaks the Universal in the counterfeit of the similar, and the Common, which is distorted into an exclusive “communitarianism”. The political force of the Common demands extensive and open participation, just as the Universal demands active enquiry into its legitimacy. In his second section, Jullien evades a facile de-legitimation of the European component of the concept of the Universal to argue the importance of its development via Roman thinkers like Cicero and then Christians such as Paul. For such thinkers, the Universal is not exclusive but extends through an unlimited diversity that is nonetheless integrated by a legal or religious Common. Once these foundations are established, Jullien considers the issue of the Universal in cultures long in contact with the European world such as Indian and Islamic societies. Finding both of these primarily “communitarian” and thus prescriptive on religious, moral, social and political grounds, Jullien posits that Chinese civilization – developed in relative isolation from Europe – is free from the limitations of a prescriptive universality. In the ancient Chinese poems of the Shijingbo and later pu are translated here as “universal” to express that which is extensive, spreading without limits through diverse peoples and customs and without “claiming an imperative [devoir-être]” (73) or point of view. The tao or way “crosses and links internally the multiplicity of things and situations” but there is no form to represent the Universal (76). The world exists in terms of quan or “circumstance” (80, 109) but also power (108), including political power. That term implies the operation of balance and “weighing up”. This emphasis on functionality indicates the equivalence of being and non-being in Taoism (84-85). A key example of the practicality of this kind of thinking is the importance given to the void. It is the void which becomes the space that makes function possible – the space in which the wheel turns, the emptiness of the container, and the opening of doors and windows in a room (84). That functionalist orientation manifests itself in a drive to arrive at knowledge of extensive space and time by opening the mind to reflection on what may become the realities of existence. Classical Chinese does not posit Being in terms of type in the way that the Aristotelian tradition does. Instead, it privileges dang or the “circumstantial” where the true can be zhen or “authentic” rather than an abstract ideal. In this way Classical Chinese valorises the harmonious rather than the oppositional and conflictual. A clear idea of Jullien’s project then emerges when one works through to what Jullien argues as uniquely Chinese concepts. These form the basis of his concept of the dynamics of universalizing. From this position he challenges the rigidity of European concepts of the Universal and the Common in the high stakes politics of Human Rights (72-92; 118-34). In the closing section, Jullien cashes out his promotion of the “intelligibility of cultures” into his advocacy of comprehension over the futility of negotiation and compromise (144-50). Dialogue is only possible through the interplay of tensions driven by divergence and resistance. The importance of negativity is in its witness to our capacity to think in diverse ways. For Jullien, divergence frees cultural dialogue from the norms and limits (152-54) that undermine Human Rights negotiations and declarations. By admitting the pertinence of the Taoist warning about “speaking without speaking” and admitting the potentiality of “not speaking, not having not spoken” (128), it becomes possible to achieve the “common sense”, the space where cultures can meet (98-9).

 

For Jullien, the dynamic features of cultural opening are located in the fluidity of universalizing rather than what can be an oppressive and Euro-centric Universal. The Uniform does not reflect the Universal but is rather a pernicious opposite too often conflated it (pp. 10-15). When the Universal as an abstract concept is destabilised into the diverse tensions of the “universalizing”, the “common” escapes reductive social and biological limits. What is shared in a static communality is itself charged with the energy demanded by the process of sharing. Such activity makes it possible to “comprehend the world […] and bring people together in co-habitation“ (25-27). Jullien suggests that such an approach valorising the shifts and adjustments that characterise “intelligibility”, “comprehension”, “extension” and “coherence” can arrive at the point where cultures meet in “the common sense of the human” which is an undetermined ideal or possible validity (97-99). The implications for the language of Human Rights are evident in Jullien’s turn on Kant’s thinking about the beautiful, but also bear on the development of studies in comparative culture, literature and translation projects. Jullien’s is an oeuvre and this is a book worthy of the demands which his complex and multivalent, even lambent, thought demands. He positions the reader in the interpretative flux that he is promoting but his philosophical references and concepts are well grounded and clear.

 

At times, however, he falls into the oversimplified marking of differences that he so eloquently argues against – especially in the rather summary treatment of Islamic culture and the aesthetically underpowered discussion of Van Eyck’s “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. For example, taking advice from “Islamicist friends” (64), Jullien sees the Universal in Islam as strongly grounded in the communitarian, and thus more about limitations and exclusions than openness (62-66). It could be useful, however, to link this discussion more closely with the preceding consideration of Van Eyck’s painting since the mystical plays a key role in the aesthetics of both religions. While Jullien is uneasy before the fixed hierarchy of the divine that he reads in the composition of “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, the dynamic modality of the Universal that he privileges is strongly present in the extraordinary light effects of the painting, to which he refers, but which he does not identify as a defining feature of the painting’s aesthetics. Similarly in Islamic art and architecture, it is abstract design, often expressed as the interplay of light and dark, that projects the viewer beyond the material into an abstract universal divine. Oleg Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, 1987)

 

But even at its weaker moments, this remains an intellectually rigorous and thought-provoking book. Jullien’s exposure of the rickety structure of assumptions and essentialising that underlies much Human Rights discourse is particularly useful (100-20), since he urges a turn towards strategies that acknowledge difference, resistance, silence and tension in terms of intelligibility rather than judgement and conflict. His emphasis on opening and extension, as opposed to closure and limitation, is also particularly useful in analysing large-scale literary works such as epics and tragedies where universalizing dynamics are often at play. While Jullien’s insistence on the flexibility of Chinese Confucian and Taoist concepts may not sufficiently acknowledge the degree to which that position may serve the interests of earlier centuries of Chinese imperial society or contemporary Asian imperialist impulses, his focus on how deceptive English translation of Chinese concepts and poetry can be is extremely pertinent for those who currently work on Chinese-English translation (e.g. 72-76, 78-85, 144-56).

 

In conjunction with his discussion of these issues, Jullien might have raised the shift in the relationship of French and Chinese poetry which occurred in late nineteenth-century France with the highly influential publication of the first translation of Classical Chinese poetry into French, the Livre de Jade by Judith Gautier (1867), the daughter of leading intellectual and author Théophile Gautier. Since Jullien does convene the relevance to Chinese thought of the fullness communicated by the “void” (or rather the “emptying out”) of the “there is not” in Chinese painting, he might well have remarked on Gautier’s communication of this intellectual and visual reality in her translations. It is exactly this empty plenitude that the great visionary poet Mallarmé picks up on in his subsequent (c.1868) poem. “Las de l’amer repos” (“Weary of bitter rest”), where the exquisite fullness of the voids painted by a Chinese porcelain painter rescues the poet from his otherwise fatal ennui. (Pauline Yu, “’Your Alabaster in this Porcelain’: Judith Gautier’s Le Livre de Jade ”, PMLA 122.2 (2007), p. 467) Jullien may well have addressed this material elsewhere in his extensive bibliography but his discussion of the nature of the universal relative to Chinese language and translation with regard to European and Chinese painting renews the pertinence of this material. Where Jullien emphasizes the value of Chinese references to promote the value of negativity in aesthetic and linguistic expression, there is a well-known tendency towards negative location in French thought and artistry – as witness Montaigne, Duchamp, and Lacan among many others in diverse fields. There is more than an echo of Lacanian psychology in Jullien’s insistence that it is not “universal human rights” but the “lack” of human rights that creates the circumstances in which the “genuinely intense universal of humanity “ declares itself (116).

 

There is then much worthy of close attention for literary scholars in this book. But its principal address is to those concerned with the language of political thought and to all concerned with finding an effective address to the increasing tempo fragmentation and violence in our world. The notes are useful if rather summary, but the bibliography serves as a good guide to further exploring ideas and thinkers to which Jullien refers, and the index is a valuable aid to track and review concepts and key discussions, although it does not track key Chinese terms like quan and ren. The book should, however, include a full and updated list of Jullien’s publications and interviews instead of a brief list of his books that appeared between 1998 and 2007. The translators Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijalkowski demonstrate meticulous devotion to the nuances of Jullien’s expression, and Jullien’s participation in the translation is acknowledged. At times sentence structures could have been shortened to avoid the long strings of clauses more hospitable to French habits of thought than to English preferences for more concise formulations. Nevertheless, if On the Universal demonstrated a prescient relevance to the dynamics of world politics when it was first published in French in 2008, the re-thinking it urges of well-intentioned but ill-founded Human Rights declarations and projects is of crucial relevance to an ever more dispersed and agonized world.

September 2016

Introducing Comparative Literature: New Trends and Applications, César Domínguez, Haun Saussy, and Darío Villanueva. New York: Routledge, 2015. £24.99. ISBN: 9780415702683.

Reviewed by Naomi Charlotte Fukuzawa, University College London & Christian Howard, University of Virginia


The first English-language critical introduction to the field of comparative literature since the 1990s, César Domínguez, Haun Saussy, and Darío Villanueva’s Introducing Comparative Literature: New Trends and Applications provides a much-needed outline of the extent and approaches of comparative literature while simultaneously tracing developing movements within the discipline. Indeed, although the authors primarily approach comparative literature through the US model, they are nonetheless attuned to the contours of the discipline’s history as it developed in Europe, from Goethe’s concept of Weltliteratur to the French school, and to more recent developments in the Chinese “third phase theory” (51). Yet even as they outline its historical progress, the authors address contemporary challenges to the field, responding to claims made by figures such as Susan Bassnett and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak that “comparative literature is dead” by positing new methods and approaches being employed by comparativists (10). The result is a concise book that addresses different aspects of comparative literature, ranging from literary theory and comparative methodology to translation studies, decolonization, East-West studies, literary history, and trans-literary thematic comparisons. In short, Domínguez, Saussy, and Villanueva offer a general introduction that is both engaging and historically informed, but which is ultimately forward-facing with regard to the continued and dynamic developments in comparative literature.

The book is divided into nine chapters, the first of which outlines the history of comparative literature by focusing upon key movements and figures who have shaped its growth. The authors situate comparative literature in relation to three other elements of literary study – poetics or literary theory, literary criticism, and literary history – defining it as the fourth of these primary disciplines. By addressing challenges to the field from a historical perspective, the authors acknowledge the shortcomings – such as Eurocentrism – that have beset comparative literary studies. Nonetheless, they use such historical background skillfully to resituate the debate within larger questions of methodology and approach. As such, the authors primarily draw upon Charles Bernheimer’s definition, outlined in his 1993 Bernheimer Report, as the basis of their critique, arguing that “comparative literature has risen to the challenge, showing itself to have enough resources to grow out of its contradictions, integrate new perspectives, and progress along the path of interdisciplinarity” (17). The remaining chapters expand upon the resources available to and progress accomplished by comparative literary studies today.

One method for rethinking the domain and methodologies employed by comparativists is outlined in the second chapter, which sketches the Slovak scholar Dionyz Durišin’s concept of interliterary theory. Adapted to comparative literary studies, interliterary theory “aims to explain how relationships are established between individual works and, as a result of these relationships, how literary groups are created – from smaller to larger – and hence how they determine some dominant directions of (world) literature” (22). Interliterary theory provides for two types of literary relationships, those based on genetic contact and those on typological affinities. These models are in turn applied to comparative literary studies, a move that enables Domínguez, Saussy, and Villanueva to reorganize comparative literature according to a re-consideration of “world literature” (a topic taken up in more detail in chapter 4).

Dominguez’s chapter on decoloniality clearly distinguishes this area of study from Postcolonial Studies. While Postcolonial Studies has “similar aims to those of comparative literature,” (41) the latter places stronger emphasis on the independence of once colonised cultures, on the one hand, and the multi-layered character of all human culture on the other. As such, the decoloniality of comparative literary studies calls for a stronger inclusion of Latin American cultures in the field of Comparative Literature and of Comparative Literature’s standing in Latin America. The description of this field’s challenges leads to the explanation of ‘comparative philosophy’ in distinction to comparative literature and to the so-called ‘East-West studies’ that emerged out of comparativism. One is reminded of Spivak’s call to overcome Eurocentrism by including non-European literatures ordinarily seen as peripheral to the canon. Dominguez says that “an imperative comparative literature will not stop at deconstructing and overcoming Eurocentrism, but will address all kinds of ethnocentrism all over the world, as well as non-European imperialisms” (53, 54). By highlighting the potential gaps in the application of decolonial studies or “world literary knowledges” within the field of comparative literature, Dominguez sets up the three following chapters written by Haun Saussy that circle around the inclusion of Chinese literature and thought into the discussion of world literature.

Saussy’s first chapter, “World Literature as a Comparative Practice,” classically traces the origin of world literature to the 19th century starting with Goethe’s conversation with Eckermann, regarding the similarities between a Chinese and a European novel. Goethe’s concept of world literature calls for an inclusion of Oriental literature, culture and wisdom into the European canon, and represents a parallel to Marx and Engels’s critique of nation-states as epistemological entities within the global network spread by capitalism. Saussy quotes the Danish critic Georg Brandes’s note to a German newspaper’s inquiry into world literature in 1899. The paper had published an inquiry into world literature about the hierarchy of literary languages prioritising literatures in French, English and German. Brandes posits Andersen’s fame and Kierkegaard’s obscurity as examples of unequal power structures in the canon of world literature. This idea is taken up in contemporary discourse by David Damrosch who notes the shrinking number of studied authors. In this line of thought, Saussy traces the shift of the concept of world literature, paradigmatic for comparative literature overall, towards themes of globalization and transnationalism: the China-West comparison is presented as a key topic for future comparative literature studies, particularly the way Western literary themes and genres are included, adapted and partly subverted by Oriental writers. He raises the example of Madame Butterfly, showing how Long’s version – the groundwork of Puccini’s opera – was completely transformed in a late 20th century re-adaptation. World literature is thus seen more as a process of global interconnection, dealing with national images based on Self and Other, rather than as a fixed canon encompassing a certain number of titles.

Chapter Five, ‘Comparing Themes and Images,’ opens with quotation by George Steiner that introduces themes and Self-Other constructions as the basis for intercultural interaction. Haun Saussy gives examples of this sort of transformation in ‘Stoffgeschichte’ 'history of themes' from Virgil and Curtis to Petrarch and John Donne and also integrates modern Chinese literature. Saussy concludes: “Thematization, then, is an operation on meanings dormant in language, in society, in culture, performed by authors and also by readers. The alert reader detects patterns of association or exclusion that give the themes of a work their active role in generating new meaning. With this aim, thematic reading cannot be put aside as mere positivistic Stoffgeschichte” (77).

The sixth chapter, ‘Comparative Literature and Translation,’ emphasizes the role of translation in intercultural literary crossings, a concept that draws on René Wellek’s definition that “comparative Literature is an account of the ‘foreign trade of literatures’” (78). In this sense, the main concern of comparative literature is identified as “the relations among literatures of different languages.” Therefore, translation as a literary process remains central to Comparative Literature: “Perhaps between any two languages there is a zone of mutual borrowing, a zone where translation is superfluous or always erroneous. Perhaps ‘pure’ Arabic, Chinese, and the like exist somewhere, but as regions notably poor in semiotic exchange. We must, if this view of macaronic has any basis, be willing to discard our mental maps of languages occupying, without differentiation, a bounded territory.” (87). The notion of translation unites the constant movement of languages, the acquisition and adaptation of themes to different cultural contexts, and the change in forms of human imagination, and narration throughout the history of civilization remains at the heart of the comparative investigation. Still, it is made clear that the existence of translations should never be an excuse for maintaining monolingualism nor that the study of the original can be neglected, as illustrated by Emily Apter’s theorisation of ‘untranslatability’. Saussy states: “On the map of Comparative Literature, monolingualism is a blank. Through attention to multilingualism, code-mixing, and creolity, comparatists can make translation something other than a connector between two blank zones” (ibid.). Comparative Literature therefore is a thinking that overcomes national, linguistic, and formal boundaries between national territories, languages, and literatures upon which different philologies have been drawn.

Chapter Seven defines comparative literary history as a subset of comparative literature, and the authors outline the study of comparative histo