South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Spring 2011 South Asia Seminar Series

"Universal Translation: Or, The Importance of Getting it Wrong"

Thu, March 24, 2011 | WCH 4.118

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

R. Radhakrishnan, University of California-Irvine
R. Radhakrishnan, University of California-Irvine

About the presentation

Humanistic studies are obliged to study humanity both as if it were one and as though it were endlessly different. The "universally human" has to be honored both as an a priori even as the human condition is interpreted and constructed multi-linguistically without any axiomatic reference to universality: a relational universality in process in a world historical stage that is structured in dominance. The comparatist, in the very act of instituting comparison both as an existential and epistemological category, asserts difference hoping that such an assertion will not automatically entail hierarchic classification.  And this is where, translation, the translator, and the translator theorist have a major role to play.  Here are a few questions and issues.  In what space does a translation reside and perform? Is such a place normative, "correct," proper, or forever "in between?"  How should the translator express and embody a single (monogamous shall we say?) love and solicitude for the "one world" even as she experiences jouissance with multiple partners?   If translation, is a mode, as Walter Benjamin would have it, is such a modality neutral, merely procedural, or deeply and ineluctably anchored in ideology and an ideological awareness of the unequal relations among the many languages of the world?  In the name of what partisanship, solidarity, or treason is an act of translation to bevalorized and "normativized," and how is distributive justice to be rendered to languages, within, and between languages in the name of the worldly accent that both invites and derails the very notion of rectitude?  If understanding is a relational universal possibility, and if indeed a multilaterally produced universality can be the onlymeasure of correctness, then, is it not obligatory that the translated and translating path towards such a universality be a story not of getting it right in the name of any participating language, but rather, a narrative of generating profound, symptomatic, and diagnostic errors and ways of getting it wrong in the name of every participant language?  In thinking through these questions with you all, I will be speaking both as translator (from Tamil to English) and as translation theorist in the hope that a document of relational universality cannot but be a translation.  But of what: that is a question I am looking forward to thinking through with you all.

Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan is a Chancellor's Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, and is considered one of the leading postcolonial theorists and literary critics in the United States. He was born on October 28, 1949, in Sirkali, a village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Radhakrishnan is also noted as a translator and poet of Tamil as well as a master of English and English literary criticism. He was initially educated in Madras and earned his PhD from SUNY Binghamton.

About the Series

At the end of the twentieth century, debates about South Asian literature still circulated around two main themes: the problematic "authenticity" of globally marketed Anglophone writing and the putative "provinciality" of writing in the bhasha (or vernacular) languages. But in the last decade, there have been a number of new trends which add new textures to this simplified problematic: the rise of an Anglophone reading public specific to the subcontinent with its own popularly recognized figures, the marketing of bhasha styles in popular western cultural forms, the growing popularity of south Asian writing from outside of India (especially Pakistan and Bangladesh), new opportunities for collaboration between artists in various languages in the subcontinent, the growth of vernacular literary traditions in electronic media, and the new global crisis in publishing which has also contracted certain reading publics. This seminar series will explore the changing social contexts in south Asia and the world that affected reading publics and their relationship to new trends in South Asian writing in many languages. Regular seminars occur on Thursdays at 3:30 pm, preceded by a reception at 3:00 pm, in the Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118).

Sponsored by: South Asia Institute

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