Neelam Srivastava and Emily Sibley organized the seminar, “Propaganda and Plagiarism: Postcolonial Print Cultures and Practices of Translation” for the 2019 American Comparative Literature Association Conference at Georgetown University.

Seminar Abstract:

Translation practices in the colonial/postcolonial contexts prompt us to rethink received notions of the power dynamics between ‘metropolitan’ and ‘peripheral’ languages and literatures. In the contact zones of culture created by colonialism, the flow of translation is not always or necessarily equal and symmetrical in the two directions. It is significantly weighted on the side of metropolitan texts—educational, informational, or creative—being translated into the colonial ‘vernaculars’ as a result of the cultural capital associated with them. When sponsored by the source authority, such translations are covertly or overtly propagandistic in nature. For example, the Soviet Union flooded India with translations of Russian literature, folklore, and Communist literature through the 1950s and 60s, into both English and Indian languages. From the other side, the translation of texts from the metropolis is often initiated by ‘local’ publishers who capitalize on the perceived needs and interests of in situ readers. More often than not these are unauthorized translations performed in ad hoc, improvised and informal modes, such as the re-creations of Shakespeare in South Asian literature and performance. ‘Propaganda’ and ‘plagiarism’ are terms that name and dismiss these diverse but related practices in pejorative ways. We would like to call attention however to the creative implications of these translation modes, in terms of their potential for subversion and cultural influence. To return to our example, while the Soviet project in India appeared to be a typical Cold War attempt at cultural colonization, in practice this brought about the renovation of Malayalam literature in unexpected ways, and arguably led to the disruption of Eurocommunist ideological tenets for a more grounded and local political praxis. In other words, the social life of a translated text is often unexpected and unpredictable. The 1964 translation of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into Spanish in revolutionary Cuba (Caneda 2013), for instance, reveals the politically motivated approach of the translator in re-imagining Joyce’s evocation of Irish nationalism for a diversely located struggle.

Papers and Participants:

  • Tanya Agathacleous (Hunter College, CUNY), “Colonial Mimicry as War Propaganda: The Case of Rudyard Kipling”
  • Joseph Slaughter (Columbia University), “Taking Liberties: Plagiarism, Slavery, and the Making of Black Literary Property”
  • Christi Merrill (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor), “Glossing Untouchability: The Figure of the Chaandaala in the Footnotes of History”
  • Neelam Srivastava (Newcastle University), “When Theory was Activism: Translating Frantz Fanon in the 1960s”
  • Masha Salazkina (Concordia University), “Translation and Reception of Soviet Film and Cultural Theory in Cuba: 1960s-1970s”
  • Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (New York University), “Gandhi and the Uses of Translation”
  • Emily Sibley (New York University), “The Ties That (Don’t) Bind: Decolonization, Theater, and the Egyptian Avant-Garde”
  • Sarah Niazi (University of Westminster), “From Adab to Film: Urdu Film Journals in India (1930-1940)”

For individual paper abstracts, click here.