Interlinear translations from Arabic into Malay and Javanese have been produced in Southeast Asia since at least the sixteenth century. Such translations included an Arabic original with its lines spaced out on the page and a word for word translation appearing between the lines, attempting to replicate the Arabic down to the smallest detail. This essay engages with the theme of World Literature and translation by (1) considering the interlinear text as microcosm: a world of intent and priorities, of a transfer of meaning, of grammar and syntax in translation, of choices and debates, and (2) by thinking of Arabic writing during an earlier period as a world literature sought after in many regions, whose translation in diverse forms and tongues had a vast impact on languages and literary cultures.
A World of Interlinear Translation
Translators usually pay little or no heed to the script embodying the meaning of a text, yet at times the script itself makes a significant contribution to a text’s meaning, aesthetics or ideology, for instance. In such cases translators need to consider the writer’s orthographical choices, as well as if and how these can or should be reflected in the target text. This presents particular challenges when the two languages use different scripts. With its four scripts, Japanese offers an emblematic instance of the role of script in writing and translation. Focusing on this striking case can raise awareness of instances where script plays a role even in alphabetic languages, although to a lesser degree, and it also suggests some techniques that can be used for handling script issues in translation.
When writing systems spread beyond their language of origin, they bring literacy to formerly oral cultures or intrude on or displace an existing system. The process of learning a new script often entails learning a good deal about the source culture and its literature, sometimes overwriting earlier local traditions, other times creatively stimulating them. This essay looks first at some of the literary consequences of the spread of cuneiform writing in relation to its hieroglyphic and alphabetic rivals in the ancient Near East, and then discusses the advance and later loss of Chinese script in Vietnam and Korea, in the examples of the foundational work of modern Vietnamese literature, Nguyen Du’s The Tale of Kieu, and poems by the modern Korean poet Pak Tujin.
Translating Modernity in the Arabian Nights
Taking its cue from the “cultural turn” move in Translation Studies, this essay argues that modern reimaginings of The Arabian Nights can be seen as attempts at making this classical work relevant to modern sensibilities and aesthetic forms. It will juxtapose the normative versions of the Nights to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade (1845) in light of scientism, Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days (1979) from the perspective of political agency, as well as Hanan Al-Shaykh’s One Thousand and One Nights (2011) by way of feminism and human rights. This essay posits that the malleability of the Nights to modernist ideas and forms entrenches its stature as an exemplary work of world literature. Lastly and relatedly, this essay will also revisit Lefevere and Bassnett’s “rewriting” theory to explore its potential contribution to the nascent discipline of world literature in light of Zhang Longxi’s arguments on cross-cultural translatability.
Romanian Perspectives on World Literature
In 2008, the Romanian publishing house Polirom issued the first books in the newly established “Vladimir Nabokov author series.” During the next seven years, seventeen more titles have been added to the series, thus turning it into one of the most daring, costly and time-consuming local projects in the field of foreign literature in translation. Written from the perspective of a scholar, an editor and a translator, this article aims at retracing the history of the project against the background of earlier translations. Special emphasis will be placed on the changes in Nabokov’s reception due to the receiving culture’s specific circumstances at different moments in time, as well as on what those changes reveal about the Romanian engagement with world literature.
Barbara Marković’s Izlaženje
The article analyses the process of translation and adaptation as a movement between Gehen, Izlaženje and Ausgehen and as a means for their circulation in the field of World Literature. Barbi Marković published Izlaženje, her “remix” of Thomas Bernhard’s Gehen, in 2006 in the Serbian language and it was translated back to the German language as Ausgehen in 2009. In Izlaženje Bernhard’s marked style is translated into Serbian, Vienna is transformed into Belgrade, older men become younger women, and walking changes to clubbing. Contemporary theory on the relationship between translation and writing (Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida) and issues of translation and circulation in the field of World Literature (David Damrosch, João Ferreira Duarte and Lawrence Venuti) are discussed on the basis of this example.
In the midst of an influential career writing on Brazilian cultural production, the sociologist-turned-political marketer Antonio Risério publishes Oriki Orixá, a book of Portuguese re-translations of Yoruba oriki poetry (1996, reprinted 2013). Understanding translation as a partial and ideologically-motivated act of representation, the current article situates Oriki Orixá within an ideology of race in Brazil. I take into account textual and paratextual materials including the book’s introduction by Augusto de Campos; the editorial promotion of the work; its circulation within a literary network; and the highly mediated histories of the source poems. Oriki Orixá simultaneously promises a universal poetic “invention” and an ethnographic “recuperation” of a foreign text. Ultimately, the white author frames his translation as an affective encounter with an African literary tradition. This encounter participates in—and reinforces—a discourse of racial exceptionalism in which an abstract celebration of African-European contact occludes continuing histories of domination and inequality.
John Duong Phan
This article examines David Damrosch’s notion of “scriptworlds”—spheres of cultural and intellectual transfusion, defined by a shared script—as it pertains to early modern Vietnam’s abandonment of sinographic writing in favor of a latinized alphabet. The Vietnamese case demonstrates a surprisingly rapid readjustment of deeply held attitudes concerning the nature of writing, in the wake of the alphabet’s meteoric successes. The fluidity of “language ethics” in early modern Vietnam (a society that had long since developed vernacular writing out of an earlier experience of diglossic literacy) suggests that the durability of a “scriptworld” depends on the nature and history of literacy in the societies under question.
Challenges and Opportunities for the Twenty-First Century
Karen L. Thornber
Increasing attention to the enduring processes of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and transnationalism, together with growing frustration with the geographic, linguistic, and conceptual limitations of many fields of literature, has led in the past two decades to burgeoning interest in the discipline of world literature. Institutes, conferences, articles, volumes, and journals on various aspects of world literature are proliferating around the world as never before. But the challenges facing world literature remain significant. One of the largest is the field’s continuing biases, and in particular its tendency—despite its name—to privilege literature that not only has been embraced by Western readers but also conforms to the expectations of Western scholars. Just as important is the failure of world literature to integrate the study of literature more comprehensively with urgent matters of global significance. The pages below elaborate on the first challenge and address the second, identifying several opportunities going forward.