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3 Introduction Self-Translation in the Age of World Literature Global Translation In April 2007, the New York Review of Books featured a full-page spread with suggestive data about the global publication of books in translation. Of the approximately 1.5 million new books published worldwide in 2006, roughly 30 percent were in English. This statistic, the article implies, should give us pause when only 6 percent of the total population speaks English as a first language and when 6,912 languages are currently in use. The article cites other vast imbalances in the global translation market: whereas translations constituted about 2 percent of publications in the United States in 2004, they made up 20–30 percent of books published in countries like the Czech Republic , South Korea, Spain, and Italy. While French publishers bought the rights to 153 American novels in 2005, American publishers that same year bought 42 French novels. That disparity was even sharper with China, whose publishers purchased 3,912 American novels to American publishers’ acquisition of 16 novels in Chinese.1 The thesis governing the article’s selection of data is clear: the more culturally prestigious a country’s national literature, the less reliant its publishing market will be on translation. America’s central position in the current global configuration thus explains its lack of reliance on translations from other languages. The New York Review of Books piece was certainly not the first to make such a claim: polysystems translation scholars such as Itamar Even-Zohar and Bourdieuinspired researchers like Pascale Casanova and Gisèle Sapiro have Introduction 4 argued related points as early as the late 1970s and into the twentyfirst century.2 Yet what is deceptive about the data presented, and what translation scholars have not yet addressed, is the extent to which the figures obscure the increasing number of cases of writers who translate their own works between two languages. The forty-two French novels acquired by American publishers for translation that the article cites does not, to all appearances, include self-translated texts.3 Yet 2005 was the year in which Raymond Federman, as one example, sold the English-language version of My Body in Nine Parts to Starcherone Books after it had already been published in France. As both the author and the translator, Federman could retain the rights to both the French and English versions of his text and sell them both as “originals.”4 This can explain why his book is not included among the acquired translations of 2005. But its absence also raises critical questions about the ways we conceive of books as belonging to a particular culture of origin. To take a different example from another self-translating author, should a book like Nancy Huston’s 2007 Fault Lines count as an Anglophone “Canadian novel,” because Huston composed the English version first, or as a “French novel” because it was published in France in 2006, under the title Lignes de faille, well before it was even acquired by a Canadian press and published in English?5 These cases, like those of self-translators broadly, speak to the difficulty of ascribing a singular nationality to a text that an author composes in multiple languages. While data like those printed in the New York Review of Books implicitly understand translation as an index of the national identity of a text—the fact of translation, in other words, locates a text in a particular origin language and culture—they fail to account adequately for the complex publishing dynamics currently in play as national boundaries and literary identities become ever more fluid. In this book, I argue that self-translation can help us reformulate some of our assumptions about belonging to a literary community. A significant reality of the global literary market of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, self-translation—defined by translation theorists as “the translation of an original work into another language by the author himself”—is by no means an exclusively modern phenomenon.6 Early modern European poets and essayists—Rémy Belleau, Jean Calvin, Étienne Dolet, John Donne, Joachim Du Bellay , Thomas More, among many others—frequently translated their own texts between Latin and their “vulgar” tongue. As Latin lost its Introduction 5 literary prestige and countries cohered around national languages, self-translation became less common. There were nonetheless a number of self-translators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who made names for themselves writing in two languages: Carlo Goldoni wrote...


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