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2017 Early Cultures Graduate Conference: Travel and Translation

Department: The Center for Early Cultures

Date and Time: October 13, 2017 - October 14, 2017 - 9:00 AM

Event Location: HG1010

Event Details


“Many Will Travel”: Travel and Translation in Early Cultures

In contemporary philosophy and theory, the connections between space, place, and experience might find their most recent development in ecological/ecocritical theories; however, many modern thinkers have considered the way that the movement between travel and translation provides a powerful way to think through this problem. Octavio Paz has suggested that "On the one hand, the world is presented to us as a collection of similarities; on the other, as a growing heap of texts, each slightly different from the one that came before it: translations of translations of translations. Each text is unique, yet at the same time it is the translation of another text." The forms of interpretation play a central role in the work of the romance philologist Erich Auerbach, as his work on existential realism and figural interpretation shows us the way that human experience relies on processes of interpretation and translation. The 20th century French psychoanalytic scholar and Jesuit Michel de Certeau found even the most compelling dramas in the simple poetry of the modern city. To explore the routes of the metropolis is to unknowingly translate its story. He found unwitting authors in the city’s denizens, observing that “they walk - an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and the thins of an urban “text” they write without being able to read it.” Similarly, the German sociologist Siegfried Kracauer saw his own life’s journey reflected back at him in his experiences of the vibrant thrum of Paris’s lively streets. The lives of others were presented to him as tableau vivants that offered him the opportunity for self-reflection and analyses. In his translations of their lives to his text, Kracauer referred to them as “live images”.
Meanwhile, Montaigne, in the early modern period, translates songs from the New World in his essay “On the Cannibals,” even giving an account of the travel of several natives to Europe and suggesting provocatively the way their values might translate across to ours. From the concept of translatio imperii studii to these relationships with the New World, early cultures provide us with an excellent set of ways for thinking about travel and translation. Indeed, the Grand Tour was an important marker of the cultured, high-society Renaissance man of the early modern period, theoretically intended to expose an individual to exotic locations, experiences, and ideas, with the hope of bringing back a tale or two to tell. In the medieval romance, travel figures prominently as knights explore similarly exotic locales; medieval morality drama would seem to even translate the human soul onto the stage. The ways that travel and translation regulate and negotiate borders would also suggest productive ways of thinking about the nation and the (im)possibility of any completely whole body politic.

In addition to these political and cultural possibilities for travel and translation, we are also curious in the travel to imagined or poetic worlds: some fantastical, as in de la Barca's dreamscapes in "Life is a Dream," some journeys to translate one's mind, as in Descartes's "Discourse on the Method," and some the magical translation that Shakespeare’s Bottom experiences in his journey through the forest. Some travel to spiritual realms, where not all translation is strictly textual. The Byzantine patron saint of artists, St. Luke, one of the Four Apostles, is said to have been the earliest person to record the Holy Family in paint, creating the first Christian icon. His journey was the search for his own spirituality and intimacy with God. For him, the act of translation was itself the journey. Transcribing the physical forms of the Virgin and Christ child into the two-dimensional image of the Hodegetria constituted a pilgrimage from the material world to the divine - a trek that devotional icons still facilitate today. The way art transports us to these other worlds suggests yet another way that translation and travel are linked to the larger human condition.

In concord with these imaginative travels, we also are interested in work that considers the modern need for translation of the past cultures that we are interested in. The move to “modernize” or “update” early texts like Shakespeare or Chaucer might suggests limits on our capacity to travel to the past. Indeed, we hope that in a conference where we continually travel to the past we will also shed light on the pressing problems regarding cultural, historical, and actual translation in the present.

Possible Topics for Papers might Include:

 Translatio imperii and the travel of empire
 Travel narratives (and their translation)
 Travel in romance
 First contact and translation in the New World
 Travel to ruins and sites of the ancient world
 Translation and travel between historical periods
 Travel and translation against hostile borders
 The need to translate the past
 Figuration and/or typology
 The translation of ideas into new languages and/or disciplines