Literary translation at Northwestern bridges disciplines and cultures

Literary translation at Northwestern bridges disciplines and cultures


Translation is so deeply fundamental to the
way in which cultures encounter each other. Bridging cultural divides, having cultures
meet. I don’t know when that ever hasn’t been important. Subconsciously, we’re all translating each
other’s ideas and each other’s words and each other’s perspectives to fit with, and to mesh
in some ways, with our own. It’s a fundamental part of the ways in which
human beings communicate with one another. Unclaimed Terrain is a collection of short
stories by a Dalit writer in Hindi named Ajay Navaria. I selected a number of Ajay’s stories, and
I spent the last two-and-a-half years translating them and it was a really great experience. The impact of translation from English in
other countries is absolutely enormous. Literary translation is kind of the mother
lode. Everybody says poetry can’t be translated;
well, tell that to Homer; tell that to the various writers of the Hebrew Bible. We here at Northwestern, the Global Humanities
Initiative, founded something called the Global Humanities Translation Salon. We pair a visiting scholar visiting translator
with a Northwestern faculty member who also engages in literary translation. At the Salon, each translator offers some
opening comments about translation, how they chose the text they did, and then they’ll
read a passage from the text. The Gila monster was lying there just as still
as ever. Except that now it had brown skin covered
all-over with bumps, and its two hands had grown hooves which were cloven. Then, there was a horn between its eyes and
it had no tail at all. In a day in which our national borders are
becoming ever more closed, it is the story of human experience that can travel across
borders. It’s something I really love about Northwestern
that makes this place kind of a livewire as far as literature and poetry and translation
go. To take a piece of literature, to translate,
and to bring it and make it available to readers all over the world and readers across borders
is important for creating a more just and tolerant and compassionate world.

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