At the University of Michigan, I have had the chance to design and teach three of my own classes:
English 125: Intro to Academic Inquiry through Translation
In her seminal essay “The Politics of Translation,” Gayatri Spivak famously writes, “[N]o amount of tough talk can get around the fact that translation is the most intimate act of reading.” Similarly, esteemed critic George Steiner posits, “All acts of communication are acts of translation.” From these two statements we can gauge one very tangible thing: the processes of reading and writing as communicative strategies are never fully divorced from one another, and we must constantly investigate this middle ground in order to enrich our own interpretive practices.
This course is an introduction to college writing, and, as such, it will focus on the politics going on in the very languages, dialects, discipline-specific vocabularies, etc. that we use to create, communicate, and circulate our academic work. Following Spivak, the core problem upon which we will focus is precisely that seductive—and somewhat deceptive—notion that we truly “know” a language (that we simply “use” it and make it bend to our will, as opposed to the other way around). Drawing on the concept of translation as a broader method for reading and writing, we will investigate these points of “knowing” and “unknowing” between English and the many languages that populate our academic world(s). For us, this means that although not every reading will treat translation directly, or perhaps not at all, we will always attempt to understand words as the material of our craft. As writers, we will begin to focus on the very quirks of a language that never ceases to evolve, using close reading strategies to work our way through a variety of texts that prove just how diverse “argumentation” can be. Accordingly, we will hone our skills as readers and investigate new ways to bring critical thinking into decisive writing practice.
Comparative Literature 122: “Message in a Bottle: Materializing World Literature”
Where in the world is “world literature”? Is it on our bookshelves? Or our computers? In the language(s) we speak? Or is it in another language not readily accessible to us? Just how does a text come to be world literature? More importantly, can the genre of world literature ever represent anything other than the world we already know?
This seminar proposes to introduce students to the thorny—but ever provocative—concept of world literature through the dual lens of translation and media studies. As a small group, we will read widely across the lines of time and space, moving, for example, from twentieth-century science fiction from Brazil and Poland to contemporary chronicles from Japan and Palestine. At the same time, we will engage in discussions about the processes of mediation at work in rendering a “text” legible, whether they be the material presentations (book, magazine, digital document) or the acts of translation that facilitate such interlingual exchange. Like reading a message in a bottle sent from seas afar, we will decode texts not only for their words, but for their medial messages as well.
Throughout the semester we will ask:
- Who produces world literature? How do writers, editors, translators, and readers all share in the process of creating world literature?
- How do different medial interfaces (the book, the online magazine) influence our modes of reading?
- Is world literature intrinsically plural? If so, how can we negotiate the singularity of our own cultural reading habits to engage with this plurality?
Although our seminar will focus primarily on short fiction, we will combine literary and critical readings with other media forms to help us answer these questions.
Comparative Literature 322: Translation Workshop
The conventional distinction between originals and copies has posed a challenge to translation for about as long as translation has attracted theoretical investigation. In this undergraduate seminar we will explore how this distinction has been drawn and redrawn across centuries, and we will test the theoretical perspectives we encounter against our own translation practices. We will supplement our readings in history and theory with examples of translations that have extended, redefined, or simply replaced their originals.
To fulfil the Upper Level Writing Requirement, the critical and creative writing assignments are designed to build on each other, enabling students to become more attentive to readers, and to produce increasingly articulate responses to the translated texts, which in turn inform their own translation strategies. The course leads up to a final translation project, for which students will translate into English 13-15 pages of a literary text of their choosing from the language of their expertise, prefaced by a 10-12 page introduction that reflects critically on their practice as translators. Students will work on this project in several stages to receive feedback from the instructor and from other students through in-class workshops.
All participants are expected to have at least basic reading knowledge of a foreign language. Course evaluation will be based on active participation, completion of regular writing exercises (detailed at the end of the syllabus), and production of a high-quality literary translation with critical commentary.
**During this spring iteration of CL 322, we will be experimenting with analogue printing (block printing, typewriting, artists’ books). It is my hope that we will create small editions of our translations as a way of understanding how diverse media influence our reading/writing practices.