Synopses & Reviews
The book engages in a polemical critique of recent efforts to revive World Literature models of literary studies (Moretti, Casanova, etc) on the grounds that they construct their curricula on an assumption of translatability. As a result, incommensurability and what Apter calls the “untranslatable” are insufficiently built into the literary heuristic. Drawing on philosophies of translation developed by de Man, Derrida, Sam Weber, Barbara Johnson, Abdelfattah Kilito and Édouard Glissant, as well as on the way in which “the untranslatable” is given substance in the context of Barbara Cassin’s Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles, the aim is to activate Untranslatability as a theoretical fulcrum of Comparative Literature with bearing on approaches to world literature, literary world systems and literary history, the politics of periodization, the translation of philosophy and theory, the bounds of non-secular proscription and cultural sanction, free versus privatized authorial property, and the poetics of translational difference.
What is so unusual is the impressive breadth and range of Apter's reading in literatures across the globe." Robert J.C. Young, Oxford University, author of 'Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction'
On the problems of translation in literary study.
Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability
argues for a rethinking of comparative literature focusing on the problems that emerge when large-scale paradigms of literary studies ignore the politics of the “Untranslatable”—the realm of those words that are continually retranslated, mistranslated, transferred from language to language, or especially resistant to substitution.
In the place of “World Literature”—a dominant paradigm in the humanities, one grounded in market-driven notions of readability and universal appeal—Apter proposes a plurality of “world literatures” oriented around philosophical concepts and geopolitical pressure points. The history and theory of the language that constructs World Literature is critically examined with a special focus on Weltliteratur, literary world systems, narrative ecosystems, language borders and checkpoints, theologies of translation, and planetary devolution in a book set to revolutionize the discipline of comparative literature.
About the Author
Emily Apter is Professor of Comparative Literature and French at New York University. Her published works include The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature and Continental Drift: From National Characters to Subjects.