In this subject we’ll work with literary texts, chiefly poems. We’ll read theories of translation (is linguistic translation even possible? It is necessary-but-undesirable? Is it even ethical? Is it imperialistic or politically-charged? Is it more like paraphrase or transformation or musical-performance? ), will do comparisons of texts-in-their-original-languages and texts-in-translation, and will try some translations and “versions” ourselves. We’ll consider whether transferring from one medium or genre (e.g., a poem or a novel) to another (e.g., film, opera) is a mode of “translation”—and also what to do when a text is considered sacred (what happens when we translate the Bible?) or when a machine does the work? Or a language is historically compromised (how does a Jewish writer use the German language immediately after the Shoah?).

No competence in any other language except in English is required (we can discuss the processes and theories of “translating” texts from languages one doesn’t know); students who do know other languages, however, are welcome.

Theorists and practitioners include Walter Benjamin, Benjamin Whorf, Nancy Chodorow, George Steiner, Jon Felstiner, William Gass. Artists whose work we’ll read include Basho, Li Bai, Ezra Pound, Xu Zhimo, Lam Thi My Da, Ngo Tu Lap, Cesar Vallejo, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Dante Alighieri, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Aimé Césaire, Samuel Beckett, Constantine Cavafy, Robert Lowell, Charlie Chaplin…. and probably others.

Assignments and readings: Essays / theories of translation, comparisons of translated texts, working out our own versions, workshopping our own work, a final project.