Travelling Texts and Translated Men: Migration and Postcolonialism across Disciplines
The American University of Paris, Combes 104, October 15, 2016
This event is part of “The Politics of Translation” seminar organised by the Center for Writers and Translators (Comparative and English Literature Department) of the American University of Paris.
The keynote lecture will be presented jointly by postcolonial scholars Gaurav Desai and Supriya Nair. Drawing from literature, history, philosophy, and politics, their talk will focus on the poetics and politics of migration, both textual and personal, in the Caribbean and African contexts.
Call for Papers:
The iconic image of the migrating Trojan refugee-prince Aeneas—leading his little son by the hand and bearing on his back his father, who in turn is entrusted with the Trojan household gods—is perhaps classical antiquity’s most striking illustration of how travelling subjects carry their past and future with them. The statues of the family gods are both material objects and symbols of less tangible practices, reminding us of the rituals, religion, social mores, law, and culture that are being “borne across”—the Latin etymological root of translation—by Aeneas. Aeneas’s wanderings and ultimate foundation of Rome remind us that the Aeneid is too is a travelled text, produced through the transplantation of the Greek language and literary practices onto the Roman context. Contemplating the painting The Enigma of Arrival, V.S. Naipaul imagines a very different experience of translation awaiting a traveller from an “antique ship” who is received by a “native” in a “dangerous classical city.” His experience is one of spatial disorientation, socio-cultural incomprehension, and existential dislocation, mediated by Italian and French surrealism. Migrations of the material and non-material across space and time thus appear as fundamentally interpretative or hermeneutic undertakings. With this premise as its starting-point, this seminar asks: what happens when “texts,” taken in the broadest sense of the term, travel and migrants are translated?
Elleke Boehmer has persuasively demonstrated that networks of empire can be conceived of as interconnected intertextual milieus governed by “travelling metaphors” that were transferred across societies. Pre-existing transferable frames of reference such as the colonial odyssey, the wilderness motif or the undifferentiated savage “translated other lands and peoples […] into conventions of seeing and reading.” The articulation of the bearing across of material artefacts and non-material inheritances—in terms of travelling metaphors as well as other frameworks—will therefore be a significant avenue of investigation. For instance, two sacred texts—the Bible carried by colonial missionaries and the Indian epic the Ramayana borne by Indian indentured labourers to Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad, and elsewhere—reflect contrasting cases in intention, reception, and adaptation of travelling texts. Shalja Patel’s performative work Migritude spanning Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and America features a revolutionary feminist moment in which a trousseau of saris, traditionally given to brides, is bequeathed to an unmarried daughter in a migrant family. Its fusion of dance and photography also points to the “de-materialisation” of the material and the role of multimedia in diasporic representations. In addition to texts, objects, and images, the world has also been influenced by the travelling politics of Marx, Gandhi, Fanon and other revolutionary thinkers. Science too was shaped by colonial travel (through access to plant and animal specimens from far-flung empires) and in turn shaped the colonies’ encounters with “modernity.” Today’s globalised world would seem to be marked by a paradoxical co-existence of the permeability of culture in an era of digital capitalism and an impermeability to travelling cultures, reflected in contemporary crises of migration. The concept of the “travelling metaphor” would thus appear equally instructive when seen in tandem with, or extended to, other forms or moments of migration, which appear as variants, parallel narratives, counter-metaphors or ambivalent amalgams enmeshed in dense economic, political, and socio-cultural networks of travelling texts and translated men and women.
This seminar therefore invites papers on the migration of the material and non-material from transdisciplinary perspectives including:
– archival retracing of migration complied by historians
– work on migration by philosophers, linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, legal experts, political scientists, and economists, among others
– narratives of travel expressed through art, literature, drama as well as performative and multimedia texts
Deadline: Abstracts of 200-300 words and a one-paragraph biodata may be sent to Sneharika Roy (firstname.lastname@example.org) before 10 September 2016. Requests for clarifications may be sent to the same address.
Gaurav Desai and Supriya Nair are both Professors of English at the University of Michigan. They have co-edited Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism (Rutgers University Press, 2005), a standard reference for teachers and scholars.
Gaurav Desai is the author of Subject to Colonialism: African Self-fashioning and the Colonial Library (Duke University Press, 2001) and editor of Teaching the African Novel (MLA, 2009). He has guest edited a volume of essays on “Culture and the Law” (South Atlantic Quarterly, 100.4, 2001) and on “Actually Existing Colonialisms” (Journal of Contemporary Thought, 24, 2006). He has also co-edited a volume of essays on “Multi-Ethnic Literatures and the Idea of Social Justice” (MELUS, 28.1, Spring 2003). His latest book on narratives of Indian Ocean connections between Africa and India, Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India and the Afrasian Imagination (Columbia University Press, 2013) received the 2014 Rene Wellek Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association.
Supriya Nair is the author of Caliban’s Curse: George Lamming and the Revisioning of History (Michigan, 1996). Her recent book, Pathologies of Paradise: Caribbean Detours (University of Virginia Press, 2013), won the Nicolás Guillén award for Outstanding Book in Philosophical Literature from the Caribbean Philosophical Association. She is the editor of Teaching Anglophone Caribbean Literature (MLA Options for Teaching, 2012).