Bringing together novelists and poets with literary theorists and literary historians, Creative Writing and Critical Thought is a series of lively and in-depth conversations about the state of literary practice and study in contemporary American culture.
In this installment, novelist Katie Kitamura, writer of Intimacies—an electrifying story about an interpreter caught between many truths—joined Professor Emily Apter (Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability) for a conversation on the complexity and consequences of translation and the paradoxes and power of language.
The conversations that result from this series will be published in the New Literary History journal as well as online, creating a permanent record of dialogues among a variety of prominent writers and theorists thinking together about the nature and role of creative practice.
Creative Writing and Critical Thought is an occasional series co-sponsored by New Literary History and The Center for Fiction.
Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability
By Emily Apter
Published by W. W. Norton
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.
By Katie Kitamura
Published by Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House
An interpreter has come to The Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home.
She’s drawn into simmering personal dramas: her lover, Adriaan, is separated from his wife but still entangled in his marriage. Her friend Jana witnesses a seemingly random act of violence, a crime the interpreter becomes increasingly obsessed with as she befriends the victim’s sister. And she’s pulled into an explosive political controversy when she’s asked to interpret for a former president accused of war crimes.
A woman of quiet passion, she confronts power, love, and violence, both in her personal intimacies and in her work at the Court. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to decide what she wants from her life..
Emily Apter is Silver Professor of French Literature, Thought and Culture and Comparative Literature, and Chair of Comparative Literature at New York University. Her books include Unexceptional Politics: On Obstruction, Impasse and the Impolitic (Verso, 2018), Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (2013), Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (co-edited with Barbara Cassin, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood) (2014); and The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2006). Her current project, What is Just Translation? takes up questions of translation and justice across media. Her essays have appeared in Public Culture, Diacritics, October, PMLA, Comparative Literature, Art Journal, Third Text, Paragraph, boundary 2, Artforum, and Critical Inquiry. In 2019 she was the Daimler Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. In 2017-18 she served as President of the American Comparative Literature Association. In fall 2014 she was a Humanities Council Fellow at Princeton University and in 2003-2004 she was a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient.
Katie Kitamura’s most recent novel is Intimacies. One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2021 and one of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021, it was longlisted for the National Book Award and the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. Her third novel, A Separation, was a finalist for the Premio von Rezzori and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Gone to the Forest and The Longshot, both finalists for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and is being adapted for film and television. A recipient of fellowships from the Lannan, Santa Maddalena, and Jan Michalski foundations, Katie has written for publications including the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times, the Guardian, Granta, BOMB, Triple Canopy, and Frieze. She teaches in the creative writing program at New York University.