A Report by Thato Magano, Paulina Barrios, Shawn Gonzalez, Rafael Vizcaíno, Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and Penny Yeung
On March 2nd and 3rd, 2018, the graduate students of the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature organized their biennial conference on “Love in Translation.” The co-chairs, Rudrani Gangopadhyay and Penny Yeung, hoped that the conference theme would foster conversations about how love figures in and is transfigured by translation by way of thinking about how love disrupts and transforms the ways in which literary imagination functions across languages, time, space, borders. Some of the questions the conference hoped to (and did) address were the following: How is love translated? Can love be a methodology in translation? Is it a hindrance or is it generative? Is love a theme or a product of translation?
The first panel of Friday, on the “Poetics of Translation,” commenced after introductory remarks by the conference co-chairs, by the Program Chair Prof. Andrew Parker, and the Graduate Director, Prof. Anjali Nerlekar. The first paper was by Paul Franz, a doctoral candidate at the Department of English at Yale University. His paper, “To leave my love – alone: Alliances and Realignments in Geoffrey Hill’s versions of Anne Hébert,” examined the complex history of the English poet Geoffrey Hill’s translation of a poem by the French-Canadian poet Anne Hébert, by studying the affiliations between Hill and Hébert as an effort to create an international counterpublic resistant to American hegemony. Paul explored the fact that Hill typically performed Hébert’s poem alongside Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, which employed a similar litany structure, yet which introduced the key term—“love”—absent from Hébert’s account of popular resistance to Fascist authority. The other two papers were presented by Rutgers Comparative Literature’s own doctoral students, Josué Rodriguez and Penny Yeung. Josué’s paper, ‘The Ethics of Translation in Vicente Huidobro’s “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game”’, examined Vicente Huidobro’s microficción, or micro-fiction, “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game,” (1940) as an example of how Huidobro’s movement, Creacionismo, is able to performatively render Surrealism’s aesthetic, cultural, and political codes in its playful appropriation of automatic writing. Huidobro’s familiarity with the stylistic and cultural codes of the French movement allowed him to playfully build what Gayatri Spivak called an inhabitable textual world for the other in her 1992 essay “The Politics of Translation.” This ultimately embodies a shift from the ideals of revolutionary love towards an ethical relationship to the other, one that foregrounds a text’s access to all through its universalized translatability.The last paper of the panel, presented by Penny, was titled “Partial Translation and World Building,” and argued in favor of “partial translation” through theoretical and creative engagement, by way of her own translations of several poems lifted from French academician Dany Laferrière’s book, L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire (The Nearly Lost Art of Doing Nothing), an untranslated work. By considering Dennis Tedlock’s proposition of a poetics of translatability in his eludication of Mayan poetics, and KE Bishop’s argument that a relationship of metonymy and contiguity, and not metaphor and comparability, underlies a written text and its invisible, unwritten text, she argued that rather than destroying networks of signification, a partial translation can partake in a more hopeful endeavor of world-building.
The second panel of the conference, titled “Queerness” saw two presentations from Duncan McKinnon, a Rutgers University senior in the Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies programs, and Lubna Abdul-Hadi, a PhD student in the Translation Instruction and Research Program at Binghamton University. The panel kicked off with Duncan’s paper “Feeling the Erotics of Queer Diaspora: Translating the Sensorial in Zami by Audre Lorde and The Book of Salt by Monique Truong.” Duncan’s paper explored how the sensorial, as a medium that exceeds the discursive, can be translated to understand the meanings and experiences between bodies and subjectivities in relation to love and lovemaking in the texts. For Duncan, because the protagonists are often failed by the discursive as a result of the social and economic conditions that impact their lives, they see translating the sensorial facilitating an escape of the limitations in their experiences across linguistic, national and racial difference. Lubna’s paper “Love, Hatred, to Love Again – Translating Female Same-Sex Relationships in Medieval Arabic Literature” explored how the translation of Western hegemonic categories of identification presented limitations of language for non-normative sexualities in the Arab-Islamic community. Exploring the limitations of the western norms of sexuality identification as they have come to be understood under the banner of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- gender, Questioning/Queer, + (LGBTQ+), Lubna turned to Medieval texts exploring female same-sex sexuality to show the expansive vocabulary that existed to think through and identify same-sex sexuality. Her work then, propositions how a turn to the past might be productive to contemporary conversations in the Arabic world in relation to same-sex sexuality. Prof Preetha Mani was the discussant for the panel and spoke to the interconnecting themes of both papers as it relates to translation. In one sense, there is an investment in translating what cannot be easily translated as it demands bringing the inexpressible to the fore, while in the other, there is a recognition of the limitations of bringing to the fore that which is translated. Prof Mani further inquired on what queering translation might look like and how scholars might relate to the practice of translation approached from a queered perspective. The panel engaged in a lively debate around temporality and periodization, translation in the Arab world and how translation might enable a return to the self.
The third, and final, panel for Friday focused on the “Ethics and Politics of Translation.” The panel included presentations from three different graduate students: Coco Xu from Rutgers University presented ‘On the Ethics of Translation’; Ali Almajnooni from Binghamton University presented on ‘Empire, Drones, and the End(s) of Translation’; and Tuhin Bhattacharjee from New York University presented on ‘The Tragic in Translation: Planetarity and a New Ethics of Reading’. The three presenters shared thought provoking works that questioned the role of translator, how they build bridges, but also constitute threats; translation as an inter-cultural interaction, part of a ‘politics of love’; as well as reflections on temporality and translation. Ali began with his presentation, which focused on an analysis of the drones the United States has been using in the Middle East and how this may be a reflection of a transition from using translation as a form of conquest of ‘the other’ towards a complete rejection of comprehension, an annihilation of ‘the other’. Coco’s presentation followed, which sought to respond to the pessimism and frustration that oftentimes accompany translation studies with a refocus on curiosity. She focused on the idea of translation as hospitality, world construction, and productive curiosity. Thus, considering translation as the moment of reaching a new world and inhabiting ‘in-betweenness’. Tuhin closed the table suggesting a move towards a format of comparative literature that would be planetary instead of global. Through this focus connections with ‘the other’ would be through love and tragedy, with translation as part of this risk and tragedy surrounding the ethical and political connection with others. After the presentations, Prof. Janet Walker congratulated the presenters on their papers and followed with some comments on the panel as a whole, as well as specific observations for each of the presenters. She began by reflecting on how ethics surrounds translation, translators, and the praxis itself. Related to Ali’s reflection on empires, US imperialism, and language, Prof. Walker stated that his link to drones as well as the hierarchy and distancing from the other they establish was particularly interesting. She added also how critical languages are constantly being defined by the State Department and how U.S. citizens are incited to learn them, thus emphasizing the politics behind language. Regarding Coco’s work she linked the element of curiosity to subversiveness and how it was viewed as dangerous by empires throughout the world, connecting this text to the first presentation. Finally, she ended with comments on Tuhin’s use of Spivak, bringing in the tragedy of knowledge, the pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will. The questions and discussion that ensued were a testament to the quality of the presentations, focusing on broad topics such as machines/drones, mediation and distance in translation, the specificity of translation, audience and translation, bilingualism and self-translation, ethics surrounding translation, linguistic choice and the politics behind this, among many others.
The first day of the conference concluded with a keynote lecture by Sandra Bermann entitled “Love in Translation: Let Me Count the Ways.” Professor Bermann’s lecture centered on tracing several trajectories for considering the relationship between love and translation. She began by introducing a poetic perspective on this issue through readings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, W.H. Auden, and Adrienne Rich. Then, she introduced a translation studies perspective, considering the role of love and gender in the work of various translation theorists. Next, she approached this question from the perspective of recent changes in the field of comparative literature. This portion of the lecture challenged the audience to question how translation has been marginalized by the field’s commitment to reading in the original and to reconsider the role of translation in future directions of the discipline. After establishing these different trajectories, Professor Bermann proposed migration both as a way of theorizing translation and of imagining how translation can contribute to the future of comparative literature. This case study drew on the previous trajectories to consider the role of love as a hopeful response to the contemporary linguistic landscape. Professor Bermann’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion that considered how these ideas related to the day’s other presentations. These questions continually returned to the role of translation in graduate students’ teaching, research, and plans for their careers.
The first panel of the conference’s second day was titled “Transgressions.” Amritha Mohan from the University of Hyderabad (India) presented a paper titled ‘Love in the Call of God: A Translation of Sithara S’s Daivavili’ where she analyzed the task of translation as a “manifestation of the creator’s madness” and sought “to emphasise on the importance of translating non-mainstream love narratives, putting into context the resistance they face from the mainstream Malayalee society, thereby making them as an act of protest in itself.” Karen Jallatyan from the University of California Irvine presented a paper titled ‘Diasporic Love: Writing the Impossibility of Translation in Krikor Beledian’s The Palimpsest Man’, where he illustrated the “the impossibility of fully encountering, thus translating, the other.” For Jallatyan, “Beledian’s work suggests that in the face of catastrophe, love, as enchantment with, faith in and dependence on the other, consists in liberating the alterity of the other in one’s self and in others.” At last, our very own Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltrán presented a paper titled ‘Decolonial love in the US Virgin Islands’, where she asked, “what happens when incest becomes a symbol of liberation from colonial powers and opens the possibility for decolonial love?” For Rodriguez Beltrán, Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning “makes use of several Biblical figures and transforms them by feminizing and reversing them as a way of decolonizing western religion.” The subsequent discussion, moderated by 4th year PhD Candidate Rafael Vizcaíno and started by the sharp commentaries of Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres, centered on the issues of love in the time-space of catastrophe, diasporic subjectivity, and secularism.
The last panel of the conference’s second day was titled ‘Task of the Translator’. Kiawna Brewster from the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a paper titled ‘Censoring Love in Translation: In Defense of the Translator’s Preface’, where she illustrated the importance of the Translator’s Preface by considering its role in rewriting the course of literary history and promoting cultural understanding. She examined the Prefaces to Lara Gochin Raffaeli’s translation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s decadent Italian novel Il Piacere in order to illustrate the morality of translations. Raffaeli tries to introduce the 19th century text for the first time without sanitizing or purging it in any way, thereby undoing the problematic liberties taken by translators. Mariam Rahmani from the University of California Los Angeles presented a paper titled ‘What to do when sexuality doesn’t translate? The Pitfalls of Pronouns and Other Questions’. Ther paper presented an excerpt from a work in progress —an authorized translation of Mahsa Mohebali’s award-winning novel, Don’t Worry (originally in Persian: Negaran nabash, 2008) —and reflected on the difficulties of translating with attention to the politics of gender and sexuality. Some of the questions she explored through her reading include: how English gendered pronouns limit narrative possibilities and unwittingly force an identity-based framework on texts that do not adopt such a conceptualization of gender and sexuality in the original? How does a translator negotiate questions of distance and familiarity? The final paper was presented by Jan Steyn from Cornell, whose paper was titled ‘The Conjugal Translator’. Steyn’s paper explored the Maryse Condé-Richard Philcox author-translator marriage, and reflected on how Philcox’s textual philandering shows how he justifies his infidelity through his conjugality. The subsequent discussion, moderated by 2nd year PhD student Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and was started by the sharp commentaries of Prof. Anjali Nerlekar, centered around the questions of the presence of translator as well the translator’s gender. Questions that came include: can the notion of conjugality in translation degendered? How can slangs and curses be translated? What is the role of paratexts in translation?
The conference concluded with a translation workshop led by Professor Susan Bernofsky. Professor Bernofsky led the group through a series of activities that engaged participants in thinking about translation from various angles. In one activity, sets of two texts—one original and one its translation—were placed side by side but unidentified, and participants were tasked to determine which text was which. More often than not the group was divided in opinion, and having access to both the source and target languages did not necessarily make the evaluation easier. This sparked lively discussion on what marks a translation, while also providing ample examples that counter the notion of translations as inferior texts. Another activity simulated the operations of an editorial board. The group was given different translations of the same text to look at and had to decide which was the preferred version as well as what editorial changes might be made to improve upon them. It was later revealed that all the versions were drawn from published translations of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The group compared the strategies employed by different translators and reflected upon the varying aesthetics these decisions created. Professor Bernofsky also shared learning moments from her own wealth of experience as a translator, such as how to deal with rhythm, wordplay and repetition, and the glossing of untranslatables with no direct equivalent in the target language. The three-hour workshop provided a forum for conference attendees to reflect on translation theory through its praxis, and for those who are practicing and aspiring translators, it was an occasion to brainstorm strategies to deal with the many practical challenges of the craft.