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Module 1: The Translation Practice and The Postmodern Narrative

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The Idea of National Literature

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(Refer Slide Time: 24:47) As a corollary, the idea of national literature also undergoes a radical change. When Kathleen Shields is drawing our attention to the various challenges that world literature is facing in the contemporary especially in the context of translations practice, she is not entirely underscoring a very pessimistic view of about translation. She is drawing our attention to how one needs to be attentive to the changes which are also being organically built into this process and her take on the changing idea of national literature also needs to be seen in that context. In Shields’ words, “It is certainly not national literature but literature that is composed to be translated, most frequently to be translated into English” and here the idea of the local becomes very problematic, there is local literature which is produced, there is regional literature which is a produced but that literature in the first place the function of that it has to be translated into English so that it gets a wider audience. She gives the example of a Chinese government project to translate the five classics which included five important works, important foundational works of Chinese literary culture and the project was to translate the five classics into eight different world languages but this decision also made that an English translation mind you, not the original Chinese work but the English translation of the Chinese work will serve as a base text for all of these translations. So we find that this is certainly a way in which hierarchy, power and privilege operates in within the certain literary systems. The original Chinese works as Shields has been trying to point out it fades into insignificance the particular, the peculiar becomes less significant and less important once the act of translation is complete. This what she meant when she spoke about the one-way bridge, the one-way bridge is a translation that happens from the Chinese language to English language and after this process the Chinese language the work which is written in the original Chinese language that becomes irrelevant. Now the new base becomes the work which is now translated into the English language which then also means that English then becomes the original from which the work gets translated into different other languages and she underscores and reiterates this point that translations are now always towards English and it is never in the opposite direction. She quotes Owen’s words: “as in any cross-cultural exchange that goes in only one direction, the culture that receives influence will always find itself in the secondary position, it will always appear slightly behind the times”, that incidentally is the current fate of national literature. (Refer to Slide Time: 48) It is now slightly behind the times the implications of this is that appearing behind the times is the fate of the national and regional literature when they are viewed from the perspective of rising world literature that aims to be translated into English. What the beauty about Kathleen Shields’ essay is that she is not trying to be judgmental about this fact, she is only trying to make us attentive towards these different challenges and how these challenges could be incorporated towards newer possibilities as far as world literature is concerned. (Refer Slide Time: 28:20) So here she is talking about this cluster of the regional, the national, and the global coming together and here again, an inevitable thing happens where “the local artist becomes a synonym for an insignificant artist and the ‘national’ damn with faint praise. International is now a selling point itself”, she is introducing to us different clusters which need to be seen together to understand this complicated affair that world literature is about the regional, the national and the global and how here the significance of an artist, the significance of the work is also seen in the way in which the work sells, the work generates revenue and here she is also placing the regional, the national and the global within a more commercialized globalized context. (Refer Slide Time: 29:10) The advent of the internet, of course, brings in a lot of other challenges as well as possibilities at the same time to quote Kathleen Shields, “Buying books on the internet” which was unthinkable in the previous era, “reading them on screen and not as pages on the book and downloading samples and fragments of books are all activities which change the way texts are produced, translated and received.” So the argument here was also that one needs to move beyond the ways in world literature was conceived in the early 19th century from the late 18th to the early 19th century. We need to move beyond how it was seen as well weltliteratur by Goethe and look at the different changing ways in which texts are now being produced, translated and received. “The advent of the internet coincides with the transformation of comparative literature into world literature while the invisibility of translation and linguistic and cultural specificity also fits this new model seamlessly”. Again as I pointed out, Shields’ essay is a clarion call to be attentive to the new changes which are coming about and also to evaluate or rather reevaluate translation and world literature in the context of these changing scenes. (Refer Slide Time: 30:27) And when she is talking about the possibilities ahead, she finds Even-Zohar’s poly systems theory extremely useful and this is how she asks this question at the outset of the essay. “Could poly systems theory help to reexamine the filters and asymmetric relations that exist between producers and consumer of literary texts?” Here she is urging us to reevaluate the relation between producers and consumers of text because a lot of things have changed since Goethe is the coin the term weltliteratur in the late 18th or the early 19th century. So who is Even-Zohar, he is Israeli culture researcher he has been working on developing theoretical tools and research methodology for dealing with complexity and interdependency of socio-cultural systems. And poly systems theory, now there are various theories following Zohar’s pioneering work, this can be seen as a framework for explaining the complexity of culture within a single community and between communities, now you also begin to see how this all fits in well, what Even-Zohar and his poly systems theory did was to analyze sets of relations in literature and languages and he also in this process as he progressed began to shift towards a more complex analysis of socio-cultural systems and again here there is a way in which one could look at this as single clusters as a literary language and the social-cultural systems within which they are embedded and this kind of work poly systems theory it was originally more relevant in Spain and China but how Kathleen Shields is placing the significance of poly systems theory or the different theories which are now emerging. She says that this could be used analyzed any kind of translation process which is happening within cultures or across different cultures and traditions and Even-Zohar’s poly systems theory from the time that he conceived and from the time it became more accessible, it said that it transformed translation studies from a marginal philological speciality to a focus of inter-culture research. The main argument and the underscoring point of this essay is also this shift -the need to be attentive, the need to see this shift which is already happening, the shift from seeing translation as a marginal philological speciality towards a focus of inter-culture research, the making of translation, the function of transle political act that translation performs will become more visible and more accessible only when we look at this. (Refer Slide Time: 33:11) Even-Zohar had published one significant essay, titled “The Position of Translated Literature Within the Literary Polysystem”, you could perhaps take look at it to get a more significant and more detailed understanding of how poly systems theory works. In the essay, the position of translated literature within the literary polyester, Even-Zohar attempts to clarify his position in various ways and this work has also been accessed by a lot of practitioners of translation from across the world and here he is also making a significant argument that “Translated literature is not only an integral system within any literary polyester but a most active system within it” and he plays continuously on this term active, how translation is seen as an active process and he also says that translated literature participates actively in shaping the centre of the poly-system. And Even-Zohar’s work also challenges the hypothesis that translated literature may be either a central or peripheral system, on the contrary Even-Zohar brings in this new argument that this does not imply that it is always wholly one or the other, there is no way in which a binary can be brought in when one talks about translated literature, one cannot say that the translated literature in all systems will either be at the centre or be at the margins or the periphery. There is no formula which works like that it depends on the system within which the translation act takes place, which is why he thinks it is an important look at the poly-system, the multiple systems within which literature and translation happen because it is only when you see it as a cluster you begin to see how translation affects the centre and how this centre also affects the process. Even-Zohar’s work was largely on Hebrew literary polyester, He gives this example of Hebrew literary polyester between the two world wars and he gives this example that during this period the literature translated from Russian language, it assumed an unmistakably central position while the works translated from English, German, Polish, and other languages assumed a peripheral one. So this is how this poly-system works. Only when one is attentive to this integral system and the multiple modalities within which this works and the multiple realities within which this is embedded only then perhaps a more holistic analysis is possible. (Refer Slide Time: 36:02) So what is Kathleen Shields trying to argue out? she says that what is required at this point is a study of translation which moves away significantly from the earlier dated practices and conceptions and she says that this can be achieved by looking at translation, looking at the study of translation as a way of mapping out asymmetries between literature to arrive at not only an aesthetics of translation but also geopolitics of literature, this is an extremely important point that shields are trying to make that when you are looking at translation when you are looking at practices of translation, it is important to move beyond the aesthetics beyond the ethics but what becomes important in perhaps reshaping the whole idea, in reshaping the idea of a world literature canon is also in looking at the geopolitics of literature. Again a set of different clusters that she continues to encourage us to take a look at upon globalization and literature how they continue to shape and define and redefine their roles, how they intimated connection is now already there and also to be attentive this link between transmission, representation and transculturation and translation needs to be seen as this one thing which can perhaps take a look at all of these clusters from a single vantage point. And the translation, of course, gives us this perfect vantage point from which you can access these different concepts which are now embedded within different systems, different literary systems, different socio-cultural systems, different historical systems and even different political systems, so translation then we are coming back to the original point that was being made that it should be about connecting inside to outside, regardless of the hierarchy of languages which are at place, regardless of the politics which is at work where again a certain kind of hierarchy is operating. It is important to continue to see translation as an act that connects the inside to the outside only then the asymmetries which are now prevalent between literature can be mapped out and even be perhaps levelled out to a certain extent. (Refer Slide Time: 38:21) Kathleen Shields as she begins to wrap this essay, she also gives some interesting examples thorough which she talks about the challenges and the prospects, I read this excerpt from Shields’ essay. “How does this map of world literature look? Prose fiction and to a lesser extent try written in English or translated and written to be translated into English are the current dominant forms, prize-winning bestselling novels in their English translations tend to exemplify a formal blandness, a flattening out, a homogeneity. The tropes of this narrative fiction resemble ethnocentric translation strategies for example ethnographic explanations, lengthy descriptions, local colour and explanatory notes. Imagism predominates in poetry translated into English at the expense of the auditory qualities of language and I include with this poetry, the literature of spirituality in translation. Literature composed in English itself starts to read like literature in translation.” These are some of the nuances that Shields wants us to be attentive to if we undertake a serious reading of the translation practices in the context of world literature and she leaves us with this very interesting example, “For example, Adhaf Soueif in the Map of Love has a protagonist who is a cultural intermediary learning Arabic and reflecting on its grammar while a glossary is provided at the back of the novel, in the novel Isabel reads out a list of vocabulary from a grammar notebook, umm: mother also the top of the head, ummah: nation, hence am mama: to nationalize, so how can they say Arabic is a patriarchal language?” So this is a way in which Shields has very interestingly brought together challenges and the prospects, she gives us this example to tell us how perhaps there is still a hierarchy at work but at the same time a close analysis, a closer reading will also tell us that there is kind of a level playing ground which also gets generated through this process. Of course, there is homogeneity which is at work, there is a hierarchy which is at work, there is the local flavour, there is the particularity which is getting erased all together but at the same time this world, this new emerging world is not without prospects. (Refer Slide Time: 40:43) As Shields wraps up this work, she leaves us with some interesting possibilities, she, of course, agrees that there is an imposed uniformity as it was shown in this example of the Arabic language, there is, of course, an imposed uniformity and this also serves to undermine all the individual traditions whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is something that we need to debate at a different point of time. So what Shields leaves us with at the end of this essay that translation studies need to be seen now from a different paradigm to see how specific traditions engage with overarching ones. And also how bilateral translation encounters take place between literary subsystems. The key is perhaps to look at the systems and look at the clusters within which these practices and these acts and these literary works themselves are embedded and it is in this that shields argue that lies the possibility of discovering new knowledge which she also thinks is the need of the current need of the hour as far as world literature and its many discussion are concerned and one can’t entirely disagree with shields. With this I also wrap up this lecture, I encourage you to take a look at Kathleen Shields’ essay and look through the main arguments that she is trying to posit before us. I am sure that this will be an enriching experience for you which will also hold how you look at world text, world canon and world literature itself. I thank you for listening and look forward to seeing in the next session.