Untranslatable Modernity: Literary Theory from Europe to Iran

Dr Kayvan Tahmasebian, Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Birmingham, introduces TRANSMODERN. The project is funded by the European Commission within Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.

TRANSMODERN is a two-year project to revisit the relation between modernity and translation with focus on modern Iranian literary theory. By exploring the translational scaffolding of modern Iranian poetics, TRANSMODERN aims to launch a new field of enquiry into “translational modernities” that focuses on the crises of non-metropolitan modern literatures as challenges of translatability. This project broadens the study of belated modernities methodologically (by proposing new interdisciplinary combinations with translation studies), and geographically (by focusing on understudied literatures).

“Translational modernity” does not reiterate a theory of literary influence based on translation and imitation. TRANSMODERN considers the crucial role of untranslatability and resistance to translation as equally formative forces in shaping a modern Persian literary theory in Iran. We point to the ways that the project of literary renovation should be sought not in the critical norms that are transferred through translations but in what is left out of translation in the form of distortions, variations and imaginary interpretations.

TRANSMODERN shows how translation could be generative and innovative in the context of a “translational modernity,” rather than merely imitative. The project will advance both Middle Eastern studies and the study of world literature by presenting a model of a literary world in which materials and practices are seen as both locally embedded and amenable to global comparison.

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