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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

2016 George Steiner Lecture: "Untranslatability and the World Literature Debates"

17 March 2016

Time: 6:30pm
Venue: Arts Two Lecture Theatre, Mile End Campus

The George Steiner Lecture in Comparative Literature 

"Untranslatability and the World Literature Debates"

delivered by Professor Emily Apter of NYU

March 17 at 6:30pm

Arts Two Lecture Theatre

Mile End Campus

Queen Mary University of London


Following the publication of my book Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability in 2013, diverse responses emerged to the book's critique of the political stakes of institutionalized World Literature or Weltliteratur refurbished for a globalized literary studies.  Many agreed that World Literature bolsters a neoliberal pluralism in the humanities curriculum (as well as international publishing), and questioned World Lit's endorsement of translatability as a sign of global currency. But some were skeptical towards the idea that untranslatability or "non-translation studies" could provide a political counter-force. In this talk I will clarify how I define untranslatability and argue that untranslatables can do political work: 1) addressing the ambitions, limitations, and compromise-formations of World Literature; 2) activating terms through a kind of political philology; 3) taking stock of the heteronomy and non-belongingness of language within languages;  4) situating non-translation, non-equivalence, and incommensurability against economies of general equivalence; 5) generating new principles of a cosmopolitan right to untranslatability in situations of checkpointing and mass migration.


Emily Apter is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University.  She is the author, most recently, of Against World Literature: On The Politics of Untranslatability (2013) and The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2006), and has co-edited, with Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood, the English edition of the Vocabulaire europĂ©en des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles [Dictionary of Untranslatables:  A Philosophical Lexicon] (2014). Since 1998 she has edited the book series Translation/Transnation for Princeton University Press.


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