Seminar 6 coordinator: U-M Professor Benjamin Paloff (Slavic Languages and Comparative Literature)
Visiting speakers: Bill Johnston (Indiana U), Russell Valentino (Indiana U), Joanna Trzeciak (Kent State), and Clare Cavanagh (Northwestern)
Local speakers: Tatjana Aleksic (UM Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Comparative Literature), Jindřich Toman (UM Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures), Herb Eagle (UM Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Since the early 1960s and continuing to this day, if an American is reading a book by a contemporary Central European writer, chances are extremely good that the book was translated and/or published at one of a small handful of universities in the Upper Midwest. Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Northwestern, among a few others, have long served conspicuously as conduits for writers living in a kind of historical—and, for much of the twentieth century, political—frontier. It is through these institutions that many such writers have entered the world literary marketplace. Though rarely remarked, this concentration of activity has deep demographic, cultural, and geopolitical roots, tying the middle of one continent to the middle of another and providing a durable link between immigrant communities and their points of origination.
This interdisciplinary seminar retraces the institutional history of midwestern translation networks for Eastern European literature. We will consider theoretical models for how such networks form, operate, and evolve, and propose future directions for this robust legacy. The topic can be approached from multiple disciplinary directions: translation studies, area studies, history, political science, cultural studies, information science, library science, etc. For many students, I suspect that these networks remain invisible, even as the books they may be relying on have been produced right under their noses. Yet is difficult to overstate the geopolitical impact of this connection during the Cold War or how vital it has been in maintaining and expanding Central Europe’s contributions to world literature ever since. The seminar will emphasize the importance of a comparative perspective on this phenomenon.