Magazine article World Literature Today

Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature

Magazine article World Literature Today

Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature

Article excerpt

Rebecca L. Walkowitz. Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. New York. Columbia University Press. 2015. 322 pages.

Constantly aware of her semantically loaded and ambitious title, Rebecca L. Walkowitz rightly focuses her epilogue on the mutability of "translated," having taken her readers on a decisive journey through a state-of-the-art critical and theoretical minefield. Her five chapters, each truly novel in terms of revising extant scholarship, weave a double helix: (1) world literature and its theory, presently understood, as a limit to heterogeneity; and (2) the avatars of belonging, circulation, and location of culture, readership, and reading.

Nevertheless, corrective measures are knotty because they work in isolation and get trickier when they bump up against one another, particularly when novels in many languages translated into English are in play. Thus, limiting The Savage Detectives, Bolaño's entry into "world literature," to the semiotics of an illustrated poem flouts numerous cultural issues, among them the lack of difference in the literary Spanish of authors like Vila-Matas or Latin American novelists widely read in Spain. Along with Walkowitz's admirable job on Pamuk's untranslated novels and on the geography of Ishiguro's novels and their versions/book covers in other languages, it would have been equally productive to problematize Ishiguro's reception if he had published "English novels" in the Japanese he doesn't write.

In linguistic terms and concerning her great emphasis on expressivity, physical production, and how reception contributes to imagining communities, Walkowitz is convincing regarding Junot Díaz's punning, as a corrective to Adam Thirlwell's vague and unconvincing "multiple" translation enterprises. …

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