Eng472: Modernism and Translation

This course started out as a narrowly focused reading of the role that translation as a concept and as a practice played in the literary period circumscribed most strictly by the word “modernism”— roughly the period from the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II in the UK, Ireland, and the United States. Partly because such a narrow focus seemed inappropriate for an undergraduate class, and partly because I knew that we would spend at least six weeks of the course simply reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, the course began to take on another shape. Right now it’s more of a course on translation in general—translation both metaphorical and literal—and the manner in which it has been both a literary and epistemological practice. The authors whose fictional texts we will read—Ezra Pound, James Joyce, H.D., Jorge Luis Borges, Gloria Naylor, and Araki Yasusada—all wrote during the twentieth century, and the first three were major figures of Anglo-American modernism. Naylor and Yasusada are both post-modern and postmodern, in ways that may become clear as we move through the material. As for Borges, he occupies an intermediary space.

We will accompany our readings of these literary texts with a sustained engagement with the discipline of “translation studies,” reading essays of varying degrees of philosophic complexity alongside the so-called “primary” texts. These essays will establish a set of questions, a vocabulary, or even a philosophical foundation from which we might make forays into the literary. As this is my first time teaching this course, I do not know where it will end up; in some sense this is a course without a destination. It will be your task to work together to get somewhere, and, once you’re there, to name and describe that somewhere in such a way as to make it the measure of our common intellectual progress.

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