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Colonial Mimicry as War Propaganda: The Case of Rudyard Kipling

Tanya Agathacleous (Hunter College, CUNY)

This paper analyzes Rudyard Kipling’s writings on behalf of British intelligence during WWI. Concerned about the radicalization of Indian immigrants in the US and of Indian soldiers in France, British intelligence recruited Kipling to fake letters by Indian soldiers that declared their loyalty to the empire and admiration for Britain; these were published in American journals, where they circulated widely. I read these fake letters in the context of colonial censorship law, which criminalized Indian writing that expressed “disaffection” with British rule. This law—Section 124a—is an important context for the phenomenon that Homi Bhabha influentially called “colonial mimicry,” since Indian writers deliberately mimicked the forms and conventions of British periodicals to fly under the radar of government censors and often professed loyalty in their articles because the law allowed for “criticism in the context of loyalty.” Kipling’s propagandistic “Indian” letters during the war, on the other hand, mimicked Indian writing performing mimicry—ie. professing loyal subjecthood. At a point where censorship in India could not contain anti-colonial writings as they spread around in the world, appearing in U.S.-based newspapers and in the trenches in France, Kipling was forced to invent the loyal Indian wholesale and to become his own mimic subject: the shape-shifting Kim, who passes as an Indian while performing espionage for the British government.

Glossing Untouchability: The Figure of the Chaandaala in the Footnotes of History

Christi Merrill (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor)

In their effort to include the work of women activists in the history of the Dalit movement, Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon scoured journals and interviewed living activists to write a two-part history in Marathi with extensive, well-researched endnotes; this volume was then translated into English by Wandana Sonalkar as We Also Made History; Sonalkar likewise took pains to translate the endnotes, in addition to providing stealth glossing within the text. In this paper I will focus on one such gloss: the speech they report Miss Rajabai Gaikwad giving, in which she reminds her audience of the relevance of the words of Dr. Ambedkar to women: “He has fought day and night to get us our true political rights. The untouchable who does not follow his call and convert is a chaandaal, a traitor and despicable.” (181 English, 109 Marathi.) How to read this charged Sanskrit term in conversation with the early and exceedingly controversial English translation of the Laws of Manu by William Jones, or the French by Louis Jacolliot that German scholars contend inspired Nietzsche’s under-studied use of the term? I will examine the politics of footnotes and other glosses, including Sonalkar’s “traitor and despicable” in the singular and Jacolliot’s “gens des classes mêlées et leurs descendants” in the plural, to propose a theory of reading the complicated genealogies of these glosses in ways that do not continue “relegating caste,” in the words of Ania Loomba, “to a small footnote…” (2009: 509)

Taking Liberties: Plagiarism, Slavery, and the Making of Black Literary Property

Joseph Slaughter (Columbia University)

This paper considers the role of plagiarism and translation in the making of “black” literary property within the overlapping contexts of colonialism, slavery and the slave trade, and the emergent legal logic of copyright. For more than 50 years, the empire-writes-back model of postcolonial reading and textual production has, wittingly and unwittingly, dominated the metropolitan disciplinary study of texts from Pascale Casanova’s “literarily deprived territories”; at their most facile, such readings cast authors from the global periphery as intellectually immature and culturally dependent—as simply derivative of European “originals.” Notions of dependence and derivation are embedded in our dominant models of world literary systems, and even charges of cultural appropriation aimed at defending the integrity of subordinated literatures repeat the identitarianist property logic at the bottom of such systems. Looking at early examples of explicit and illicit acts of plagiarism and translation in 18thand 19thcentury Anglophone and Francophone writing, by both ex-slaves and pro-slavery propagandists, I am interested in how the logic(s) of personal property, which subtend both our neoliberal economic order and our neoliberal ideas about identity (among many other things), were entangled together in the realms of literature and law, were being “worked out” simultaneously in languages of literary originality and civil liberty around the issue of slavery.

Translation and Reception of Soviet Film and Cultural Theory in Cuba: 1960s-1970s

Masha Salazkina (Concordia University)

Drawing on published materials, archival sources, and interviews, this presentation reconstructs the history of translation and reception of Soviet film and cultural theory and criticism in Cuba in the 1960s–70s, focusing on the ways that the discourse on the theory and practice of socialist realism associated with Soviet cinema shaped cultural polemics in Cuba. The legacy of Soviet film and theory on the island in this decade was considerably more conflicted than elsewhere in Latin America—paradoxically because of Cuba’s closer ties to the Soviet Union. I will place the translation and textual transmission histories of Soviet cultural theory in Cuba within a larger comparative context, vis-à-vis other Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as in two distinct historical moments in Cuba (in the early 1960s vs. the mid-1970s), demonstrating how the choice of source materials as well as the discoursive and broader political context of these translations radically changed their reception. The way that Cuban film institutions (ICAIC in particular) strategically employed highly self-conscious polemics on socialist realism and Soviet theory as a way to navigate (geo)political pressures demonstrates the complex dynamics of the intersection of Post Colonial/Thirdwordist and Cold War media ecologies as sites for the negotiation of multiple and often contradictory ideologies and motivations, often leading to unexpected outcomes.

When Theory was Activism: Translating Frantz Fanon in the 1960s

Neelam Srivastava (Newcastle University)

Canonical texts of postcolonial theory, such as Frantz Fanon’s books, do not tend to be read as products of a translation. Even less attention is paid to the translators of such texts (though see Harding and Batchelor’s recent volume on the translations of Fanon in various world languages). This paper explores the choices made by a translator when they are politically sympathetic to the ideas of the source text. What did it mean to translate Fanon in the 1960s for a European audience passionately interested in the decolonizing moment, at a time when a language of anti-colonialism and anti-racism was still being forged? In his works, Fanon creates “neologisms” out of words that already existed in French (such as culture), by adding and amplifying their meaning in order to give them a subversive valence. He produces new words such as déculturation, part of a postcolonial lexicon that he was excavating out of the metropolitan language. One (now forgotten) Italian translator of Fanon, Laura Gonsalez, who was both Communist and Third-Worldist, displays an activist sensibility in her approach to Fanon, as well as a deep knowledge of the Algerian revolution. Gonsalez’s translation choices and her writings on Fanon offer an understanding of the ways in which the spread of Fanon’s ideas in the 1960s played a role in the “decolonization” of European theory and helped to develop an idiom for speaking critically about imperialism and racism.

Gandhi and the Uses of Translation

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (NYU)

Like everything else he published as writer and editor, Gandhi’s translation of the writings of Tolstoy, Ruskin and Plato for his paper Indian Opinion was put to the service of educating his readers and persuading them to follow the path of satyagraha.  While Gandhi felt compelled to share the inspiration he derived from these writers, he also took liberties with the texts by freely adapting them for his purposes. He inserted his own voice and views by framing them with commentary in the form of prefaces and introductions, or by paraphrasing them in the idiom of the Indian vernaculars. By no means can these practices be considered plagiarism or piracy– on the contrary. In the case of the contemporary, living Tolstoy he wrote with scrupulous courtesy to seek the great writer’s permission to translate and print ‘Letter to a Hindoo’ in his paper. These like-minded figures would in any case be unlikely to object to the uses to which he put their work. But there is a free and easy way in which Gandhi translated, appropriated and circulated the work of the writers he admired that requires us to rethink the proprietorship of ideas. In this paper I suggest that Gandhi’s practice must be read as constituting at once an act of homage, a bridging of languages and cultures, and a forging of a shared moral universe. 

The Ties That (Don’t) Bind: Decolonization, Theater, and the Egyptian Avant-Garde

Emily Sibley (NYU)

The history of modern Arab theater is one of translation practice. Theater stood a marker of modernity in the construction of its venues and the forms of entertainment and socialization it promoted. Early playwrights freely adapted European plays, leading to the sense that Arab theater has been burdened by a debt of influence. With decolonization, playwrights called for the birth of a new theater that freed itself from the shackles of translation. However, they remained engaged with their European counterparts, and it has been suggested that the use of similar techniques—return to folk traditions, breaking the fourth wall, type characters, absurdist scenarios—draws heavily on Brecht, Pirandello, and Beckett. This paper examines the claims of Egyptian authors from the mid-20th century who acknowledge interest in such authors and the importance of a worldly reading practice, yet insist upon the lack of European influence. I draw on theories of premodern Arab authorship, namely the practice of sariqat, the “stealing” of another’s ideas, motifs, or style. Dissociation from the European avant-garde acts as a form of resistance, a practice of cultural decolonization reasserting links to local traditions and modes of authorship. By attending to these authors’ creative processes, we move past a binary of original/imitation and attend to the political priorities it makes visible, along with attempts to re-negotiate the relationship to “world” literature.

From Adab to Film: Urdu Film Journals in India (1930- 1940)

Sarah Niazi (University of Westminster)

The printing press, which arrived in India in the sixteenth century, added novelty to the literary public sphere. By expanding the sphere of public debate, the printing press democratised existing modes of information and knowledge production. The place of film journalism in the matrix of cinema and its networks of distribution, circulation and consumption cannot be overstated. By the 1930s, film journals had become part and parcel of the complex of cinema consumption and a vital source of information. The paper throws light on the issue of cinema’s complex relationship to language through the Urdu film journal. It explores how literary public spheres impinged on the cinematic and reflected the tensions and anxieties that had arisen over the question of the Hindi-Urdu language divide during the 1930s in India. The intersection between – and transformations of – literary and cinematic culture effected by commercial printing produced a series of complex negotiations. Through the specific cases of the Urdu film journals FilmShamaFilm Stage, I look at the structure of these journals, and ask: How were they similar or different to contemporary Urdu literary journals and to film periodicals in other languages? Can we think of the Urdu film journal as an extension of the literary (adab)? Thus, reflecting on questions of form, translation and transliteration of literary and cinematic concepts.