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Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability argues for a rethinking of comparative literature focusing on the problems that emerge when large-scale paradigms of literary studies ignore the politics of the “Untranslatable”—the realm of those words that are continually retranslated, mistranslated, transferred from language to language, or especially resistant to substitution.
In the place of “World Literature”—a dominant paradigm in the humanities, one grounded in market-driven notions of readability and universal appeal—Apter proposes a plurality of “world literatures” oriented around philosophical concepts and geopolitical pressure points. The history and theory of the language that constructs World Literature is critically examined with a special focus on Weltliteratur, literary world systems, narrative ecosystems, language borders and checkpoints, theologies of translation, and planetary devolution in a book set to revolutionize the discipline of comparative literature.
“Just following Emily Apter’s dizzying array of texts from diverse traditions and times (including a tightly argued discussion of the philosophicality of Simone de Beauvoir, lost in translation to the best of US feminists), embracing much experimental material, all read with meticulous care, is an education. No one has thought the question of world literature in greater depth, at once re-thinking Comparative Literature as translatability studies.”
“Rarely does one read a book with the title Against that is so much for important causes and ideas: writing, translation, worldliness, diversity, cosmopolitanism, while fully aware of their promises and threats. In this moment of dispossession of the Humanities, we needed just that book to clarify matters and move beyond the contradictions.”
“Arresting and unashamedly political, Against World Literature asks us to regard untranslatability - those thorny, frustrating moments of cultural dissonance and misunderstanding - as the key to translation and cross-cultural engagement.”
“There is much value in Apter’s insights into the ambiguous nature of translation and language barriers”
“Apter's critique is relentless - World Literature is the handmaiden to a late-capitalist moment that transforms all cultural idioms into easily digestible products for an expanded global marketplace... Against World Literature has an astonishing range of critical and literary reference, with the introduction moving rapidly through an overview of world literature today, translation studies, the philosophy of Walter Benjamin and Wittgenstein, theology and language, and culminating in an attempt to "conjugate" the abstruse writings of Alain Badiou with those of the French philosopher of language Barbara Cassin... Emily Apter's study is essential reading for scholars working across nations and boundaries, and a chastening reminder of how crucial translation if for myriad forms of literary inquiry.”