MLA 2019 (Chicago) Special Session CFP: Southeast Asian Textual Translations and Transactions (Detailed Follow-Up)

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This is a detailed follow-up to a previously-circulated CFP for a Special Session of the MLA 2019 Convention (Jan 3-6, 2019 in Chicago) sponsored by the CLCS Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian Diasporic Forum:

Southeast Asian Textual Translations and Transactions

Each year, the Southeast Asian Writers Award (S.E.A. Write) is awarded to an author from each of the member states of ASEAN. The awardees are typically authors whose works are written in their respective national languages (Thai in Thailand, Malay in Malaysia, etc.), though Singapore and the Philippines have recognized authors from different linguistic traditions. While “Southeast Asian literature” is already—by such official modes of consecration—a multilingual formation, the multilingual reality of this body of literature is indeed much greater—and more complex—than the sum of its national languages. This reality stems from histories of (post)coloniality, diaspora, migration, the incorporation and subjugation of indigenous communities, and global cultural exchanges, intersections, and transactions (such as the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity). Based on various literary formations (Anglophone, Sinophone, and others), scholars have begun conceptualizing approaches to Southeast Asian literature from more transnational, translational, and transactional perspectives.

Perhaps to an even greater extent than literature, cinema has provided a transnational and translational medium from which to engage and conceptualize Southeast Asia as an indispensable region for analysis and comparison in the humanities. The twenty-first century has witnessed increased attention to cinematic production in the region, with the establishment of the Association for Southeast Asian Cinemas and intensified regional branding through film festivals and digital/online platforms. The global acclaim of art-house filmmakers like Lav Diaz (the Philippines), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), Rithy Panh (Cambodia), and Trần Anh Hùng (Vietnam) have put the region on the map of film enthusiasts, even while many important and canonical works of Southeast Asian cinema—particularly national and popular cinema—remain without subtitles (in English or other languages) and well beyond the purview of most film scholars.

Bearing such developments in mind, and recognizing that specialists of one Southeast Asian cultural, linguistic, or national context often feel compelled to research, teach, and dialogue with other contexts in the region, this special session reflects upon the current conditions for textual translations and transactions in Southeast Asian studies, aiming to provide resources for scholars and educators hoping to venture beyond their areas of expertise in a conscientious way. We welcome papers addressing any aspect of this issue, including:

  • How does one teach, research, and/or compare Southeast Asian texts (literature, cinema, etc.) from different or multiple linguistic, national, and cultural contexts in translation?
  • What role can (or should) translation responsibly play in building a transnational canon for Southeast Asian literature that does not favor the perspective of more mobile or elite postcolonial traditions (Anglophone, Sinophone, Francophone) or marginalize literary traditions more bound by nation, or subnational region (such as Cebuano)?
  • How should questions of linguistic difference, or even linguistic multiplicity, be conscientiously incorporated in researching and teaching Southeast Asian texts in translation? When translation assumes a one-to-one correlation between source language and target language, what are some strategies for translating texts that are already multilingual and polyglossic in their original form, as is the case with many Southeast Asian texts? What are the affective dimensions of translation practices in Southeast Asian literature and cinema?
  • How do state funding, national laws, and/or institutional structures influence textual translations/transactions in the region? What role do the cultural and language politics of region-based publishers and film archives/distributors—as well as literary anthologies, cinematic collaborations (like omnibus films), and literary/film festivals (such as the ASEAN Literary Festival)—in Southeast Asia play in the translation and broader circulation of Southeast Asian literature and cinema?

Please send your 300-word (maximum) abstracts and short bios to Brian Bernards (bernards@usc.edu) by March 15.