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Comparative Literature Studies 41.1 (2004) 101-115



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Translatability of Memory in an Age of Globalization

Stephanos Stephanides
University of Cyprus


In the growing debate around globalization, the notion of world literature has taken on new conjectures. Pascale Casanova, in his recent La république mondiale des lettres, explores the relationship between national and international literature with Paris, and later, London and New York as the Greenwich of the world literary republic. 1 Franco Moretti has recently stated in "Conjectures on World Literature" that literature around us is now unmistakably a planetary system and proposes a return to the ambition of Weltliteratur,arguing for the need to find a new critical method. 2 World literature in a global age is still Janus-faced—it is critiqued as the global cannibal consuming minor and peripheral literatures and at the same time hailed for its cosmopolitan possibilities. While Moretti gathers on the momentum of the millennium to make his case, the question goes back a long way. For example, the Brazilian translator Haroldo de Campos reclaims for translation the cannibalistic metaphor (antropofagia) used by the Brazilian modernismo in the 1920s. One of the most significant documents of the movement was the "Manifesto Antropofagista," published by Oswald de Andrade in the Revista de Antropofagia. Andrade endeavours to transform the taboo into a totem. In the same spirit, Campos' cannibalistic translation suggests a creative mutual cannibalism in literary exchange through translation and a post-colonial critique of the peripheral viewing the center. 3

Both Moretti and Casanova begin with the premise that the world republic of letters is profoundly unequal and there is no symmetry in literary [End Page 101] interference. While this idea is the basis of polysystems theory of the Tel Aviv school of translation, 4 Casanova (unlike Moretti) only mentions the theory once throughout his lengthy book, though he emphasizes the importance of translators as mediators and as actors in the creation of literariness drawing on Antoine Berman, V. Larbaud, Valerie Ganne and Marc Minon among others. The periphery is linked to the center through translation, and literariness is measured not by the number of writers and readers, but by the literary capital earned through the mediation of polyglots and translators involved in extraduction and intraduction, that is, the export and import of literary texts. 5 While Moretti does not develop an argument about translation practice as such, he borrows concepts from the polysystems theory to discuss literary exchange and interference with reference to the novel. Moretti points out that: "in cultures that belong to the periphery of the literary system (which means: almost all cultures, inside and outside Europe), the modern novel arises not as an autonomous development but as a compromise between a Western formal influence and local materials." 6 The compromise between the formal and the local is the rule rather than the exception in the rise of the novel (the center is the exception). The compromise Moretti ascertains takes many different forms. If world literature is a system, it is a system of variations, in which the least stable variant is the local narrative voice. 7 His model suggests that historical conditions create a crack in the form of a fault line between story and discourse, i.e. between formal model and local variation. He suggests that the foreign debt seems to be a complex feature in the text, and the question becomes one of how symbolic powers are unequally articulated. We might well construe Moretti's fault lines as the thresholds of translatability in the inter-systemic transfer and consider how the fault lines might challenge this target-oriented polysystems theory, which argues that interference comes from a source culture, and that the destiny of a culture (usually a culture of the periphery) is intersected by another culture from the core that completely ignores it.

The notion of the fault line is useful for raising questions on the diversions and moments of doubts in the source/target flow; if the fault lines are between local narrative voices and global forms, then in the crisis of the untranslatable...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 101-115
Launched on MUSE
2004-03-04
Open Access
No
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