• Denise Merkle

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  • Denise Merkle
    Université de Moncton

The articles grouped in this issue of TTR reflect on the relationship between Comparative Literature and literary Translation Studies from various angles and come to different, yet ultimately complementary, conclusions. Should literary translation studies “become the heart of comparative literature?” is a question initially posed by Lieven D’hulst (2007, p. 103) in a seminal essay, written in response to Emily Apter’s call to expand the “translation zone” in Comparative Literature (2006), her answer to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s pronouncement of the death of Euro- and US-centric Comparative Literature (2003). The question will be echoed in his contribution to this issue as well as in Patricia Godbout’s and Jean-Marc Gouanvic’s contributions in particular. In general terms, the question is considered from the points of view of two multilingual countries and two continents: a European perspective is provided thanks to the contributions of two Belgian scholars and a North American perspective thanks to contributions penned by Québécois and English-Canadian scholars. Furthermore, disciplinary approaches diverge and converge. Two papers are written by scholars often associated as much with comparative literary studies as with literary Translation Studies: K.U. Leuven’s Lieven D’hulst and Université de Sherbrooke’s Patricia Godbout. The authors of three contributions are associated first and foremost with literary Translation Studies: Concordia’s Jean-Marc Gouanvic, McGill’s Gillian Lane-Mercier and K.U. Leuven’s Reine Meylaerts, while Brock University’s Jane Koustas and Mount Allison University’s Glen Nichols, a theatre translator in his own right, are known for their innovative contributions to Canadian literary studies through their work on translation. A corollary to nineteenth-century European nation building, Comparative Literature ostensibly set out to determine what distinguished one national culture from another as expressed through their respective literary production. Nineteenth-century comparatists expected to learn more about their national literature by comparing it to foreign national literatures read in their respective languages. Fearful of the filter of translation, especially gatekeeping, they understood that direct access to a foreign culture was afforded by reading a nation’s textual products in the original language. In fact, a school of comparatist thought holds that literary works must be studied in the original language by those comparatists who have mastered it. However, the traditional comparatist nation-state paradigm, i.e., nation equals a geographical territory, one language and one culture, does not necessarily hold in a post-colonial world marked by multilingualism and hybridity. As a case in point, the government of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently recognized (in 2006) the existence of the Québécois nation within the Canadian state. Moreover, Acadians consider themselves to be a nation, along with Canada’s numerous First Nations. A good many modern states are in fact officially multilingual and multicultural, their identity plural: Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, the Faroe Islands, Finland, India, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and so on. The valorisation of minority and hybridity has turned traditional Comparative Literature studies on its ear, so to speak. Having lost its anchor, Comparative Literature is looking for meaning in new areas, including translation, to the point of wondering whether translated literature should not be the discipline’s central object of study. Whereas the study of Comparative Literature is a product of nineteenth-century European nationalism and identity affirmation, Translation Studies has developed in the aftermath of nationalism gone awry during the first half of the twentieth century. Rather than compare national literatures in order to identify the locus of difference and establish boundaries to separate national identities (and the image they project) as well as better understand the politics of cultural influence, Translation Studies was, at least in part, and perhaps especially in the Canadian context, born of the desire to mediate difference, better understand how …