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Munia Bhaumik: Translating Tagore

Date and Time: 
Friday, March 5, 2021. 01:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Workshop in Poetics
Meeting Description: 

Professor Munia Bhaumik (Emory University) will workshop “Traduciendo Tagore: Desolación y los lazos de la lírica entre el sur” (“Translating Tagore: Solitude and the Bonds of Lyric Poetry Between South/sur"), a draft chapter from her book project Tales of Translation. Stanford professors Roland Greene (Comparative Literature and English) and Roanne Kantor (English) will offer a response, followed by questions and group discussion.

There is a scholarly assumption that comparative studies with European literature and visual art (i.e. East/West, North/South, metropole/colony) alone explain the development of modernist aesthetics, generally, and lyric form, specifically. Tales of Translation is a book positing new comparative frameworks for re-situating studies of modernist poetics across the Global South by offering specific insights on the epistemological import of translations of verse between South Asia and Latin America. During the first half of the twentieth century, an epochal period defined by two world wars, fascism, and the British empire’s disintegration, a set of intertextual lyric routes circulate between Bengali, Spanish, and Portuguese-language poets (although none of them could read the other’s poetry in the original language). These “lyric routes” between the peripheral but high modernist metropoles of Buenos Aires, Calcutta, Havana, Mexico City, and Santiago are pivotal in reshaping key aesthetic debates and poetic experiments reflexively cognizant of the limits of European discourses of Westphalia and “civilization.” Moreover, the often playful translations of verse from a previous translation, rather than the language of the original text, render new poetic forms and philosophies of language for critical concern.

The chapter under discussion focuses on the specter of Rabindranath Tagore’s verse and celebrity in Latin America during a pivotal moment of world decolonization during the interwar period. As intellectual, art, and literary historians demonstrate, not just Tagore’s Nobel Prize recognized oeuvre and prose-poem Gitanjali, but a number of earlier writings, dramatic plays, doodles, and paintings come to yield enormous influence on major Latin American poets, philosophers, and intellectuals. Yet the translations and incorporations of Tagore’s poetic-philosophy by Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Jose Lezama Lima, Victoria Ocampo, and (eventually) Octavio Paz are not mere passive translations but offer a critical reservoir of lyric transculturation registering a specifically modernist disenchantment with European modernity. Although the reception of Tagore’s poetry as inherently a South Asian mystic theology from Ocampo to Paz could certainly be construed as what Edward Said importantly outlined as Orientalism, the politics of affect and translation entre el sur tells the tale of the complexity of poetic desires at the peripheries of European modernity, that seeks overtly to re-shape aesthetic practices. Mistral’s invocation of an affective topography of solitude in her invocations of Tagore (via her conversations and readings of Ocampo) for a feminist readership is a poignant example of how translation becomes a mode of poesis. Bhaumik provides close readings of Mistral’s translations in Desolación as a point of departure for reconsidering Tagore’s own thesis on “world literature” and “world citizenship.” At stake in this comparative framing is not just a story of reception between South Asia and Latin America, but critical reconfigurations of the political ideals of universality as world-making through poesis.

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