Dr. Eugenia Kelbert is a prominent scholar in the field of translingualism. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature at Yale University and an MPhil in Translation Studies at the Ecole Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (ESIT) in Paris. Her dissertation won the ACLA Charles Bernheimer Prize for outstanding dissertation in Comparative Literature in 2016. She has published on translingual poetry and prose by Rainer Maria Rilke, Eugene Jolas and Joseph Brodsky, among others, and is involved in collaborations in Comparative Literature, multilingulism, neuroscience and Digital Humanities.

Writing, in the title, refers both to the process and the product. The seminars, therefore, cover literature written in the foreign language of the author as well as the light it sheds on the process of second-language writing today. Kelbert will focus especially on poetry and prose written in English by non-native English speakers such as Joseph Conrad, Romain Gary, Joseph Brodsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Jolas and others in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The five seminars, which will all take place in E890 are:

April 11 (Tuesday), 2-4 ­– Introduction

This introductory seminar will cover the dominating discourses around migrant and translingual (second-language) writing. I plan to offer an overview of autobiographical accounts of bilingual writers and how they, their readers and their critics speak of such fundamental issues as emigration, identity, language loyalty and hybridity. We will talk of the current research on the subject, the range of writers who may fall, worldwide, into the category of bilingual, translingual/exophone, transnational or migrant literature, the nuances within these categories and what they mean to the writers and their work. We will touch on all of these categories with a special focus on writing in a non-native language - that is to say, the kind of literature where the writer’s foreignness is at its most salient.

April 20 (Thursday), 2-4 – Cognitive Aspects of Translingualism

In this seminar, I plan to bring up the question of the state-of-the-art findings on bilingualism as they relate to literature. We will discuss three sets of questions. The first has to do with the way a bilingual speaker processes language in general: does bilingualism or second language acquisition (SLA) make for a different kind of language users and, therefore, potentially, writers? What are the effects of such cognitive practice, regardless of which language is being used? The second question has to do with writing in one language rather than another and is largely Whorfian in nature: does writing in a particular language move the writer’s hand and mind in a particular way? If it is true that writing in English rather than French leads a particular writer to produce a different text than he or she would have produced otherwise, understanding this effect and its causes is relevant for any writer. We will consider, for example, the case of Romain Gary, whose drafts show that he did not merely revise each phrase on the margins but insisted, at the end, on physically writing the bulk of the new version out. It seems to have mattered to Gary to let one phrase lead to another in the target language. Finally, in the case of translingual writers alone, a third set of issues sets in: the extent to which writing not merely in a different but in an acquired language, especially one acquired later in life, has an impact on the written text.

April 27 (Thursday), 2-4 – Foreignization: Cornerstone or Stumbling Block?

This middle seminar will focus most closely on the stylistic minutiae of transnational/translingual writing. We will consider strategies such as simplifying one’s style or making it more complex, using or not using foreign or foreign-derived vocabulary and references, idiomatic language, interference and elements of translation, playing with memories and associations from another language etc. In this seminar, the focus is squarely on the elephant in the room of transnational and especially translingual literature: foreignness. All too often, readers and - famously - writers see foreigness as a severe disadvantage in creative writing. Indeed, it clearly is so often a handicap in all areas of a foreigner’s life - and finding an original style in a foreign tongue is a pinnacle of this struggle. So, how do foreign writers who achieve success in a foreign milieu come to this success? How do they find ways to overcome the difficulties posed by foreignness?  To what extent can the methodology and theory of translation - the original context of foreignization - explain and embrace something that is not translation? And last but not least, when and how does foreignness, often unrecognized, become an advantage?

May 4 (Thursday), 2-4 – Translingualism and (Self-)translation

Translation and self-translation goes hand-in-hand with transnational creative writing today (one illuminating recent work on the subject is Walkowitz’s Born Translated). In this seminar, I plan to discuss both theoretical and practical aspects of the relationship between multilingualism and translation. What does it mean to write in a global literary market dominated by English? How does the writer’s choice to switch to English affect the status of the text and its quality, and how does it compare with the alternative choice of writing in another language, perhaps with future translation in mind? And how does self-translation fit into this paradigm? Until recently, few scholars engaged with the fact that all self-translators are, by definition, bilingual, and that their bilingualism affects their work in ways that go far beyond matters of faithfulness and translational liberties. Self-translation is, in other words, an inherently hybrid form, as I hope to demonstrate.

This seminar will be structured around comparisons of original English and self-translated texts written by the same authors. The focus will, further, be on the inevitability of choices regarding translation that each writer makes today, as well as on the subtleties and the implications of these choices. The theoretical discussion will touch on translation theory, bilingualism and the audience’s own experiences and attitudes to (self)-translation.

May 11 (Thursday), 2-4 – Transnational Aesthetics from Past to Future

One major change that distinguishes today’s translingual writing from that of the 20th century is that we seem to be going through a stage common both to literature as described by Shklovsky, and to society at large, one where minority status is still hailed for its deviance and is yet rapidly becoming mainstream. Critics have been able to speak convincingly of a “bilingual aesthetics” and a “translingual imagination” for some time, but these have now been absorbed into the larger market of hybridity and transnationalism. Any writer, in any period, may write in a second language. However, to win readers over a writer has to be capable of either overcoming the inherent cognitive difficulties or of drawing on the cognitive advantages of bilingualism. The latter has now become simpler and more intuitive than ever before: writing like a hybrid writer is an advantage already. In this last seminar, I plan to demonstrate some milestones of this process and think, together with the researchers at the Department of English, where it may be going, how being aware of this context affects our analysis of modern literature, and how to turn it to their advantage as writers.