Though lost to history, we are working to bring you whatever we can from the May issue of The Blue & White. Here, Allie Curry explains how we are able to read things not written in English, even though we won’t pay for the convenience.
The headline of a 2003 New York Times piece on the matter states it best: “America Yawns at Foreign Fiction”. Statistics confirm this—Americans don’t buy literary works in translation and major publishing conglomerates don’t publish them. Nonetheless, academics at Columbia fight for new, liminal, and innovatively funded spaces to study and support literary translators.
The Core Curriculum at Columbia College and Nine Ways of Knowing at Barnard College are inheritors of a tradition that values fiction, poetry, and prose for its transnational and transhistorical influence rather than its “trendiness” or sales potential. Point of fact, English is a relatively new development in the history of the Western Canon, especially as Lit Hum conceives it. Including the Biblical and Masoretic texts, only three of the 23 works on the standard Lit Hum syllabus were authored in English and two of those three—Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse—are arguably the most hotly contested additions to the second semester of the course. This is similarly the case in many of Barnard’s First-Year Seminars where at least three Reinventing Literary History concentrations (which are focused on Classic and Great Books texts, “Women and Culture,” and pan-American literature) substantially incorporate translated works. Individual sections of these courses, however, vary wildly in terms of translation cognizance. Helene Foley, Professor of Classics, for one, believes that most students think “very little in general” of issues raised when reading literary works in translation. (more…)