Examination without Misrepresentation: Analyzing Culturally Diverse Narratives

(Roundtable)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / World Literatures (non-European Languages)

Adam DePaul (Temple University)

How can academics attempt to faithfully translate, interpret, analyze, and/or discuss the creative narratives of cultures and communities to which they have no personal connection? This round-table will insist that this question, although immensely complex, is not rhetorical—and that we, as students and scholars of literature, language, and culture, are positioned to conduct particularly constructive explorations into possible answers.

As we become ever more aware of the ways in which ethnocentric analysis has historically marred and perverted the narratives of foreign and marginal communities, an increasing sense of helplessness has permeated academic literary studies. We are caught in a seeming paradox: on the one hand we recognize the importance of an inclusive and diverse approach to literary studies, while, on the other, we recognize that to discuss the literature of unfamiliar communities is to run the risk of cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation. We want to teach more, but we feel qualified to teach less.

This panel will explore solutions to this paradox by examining the limitations of language as a means of intercultural and cross-cultural communication, and invites, among other approaches, discussion of absurdist theory, translation theory, adaptation theory, and cognitive-linguistic theory. Some questions to consider:

1. How do we respond to the suggestion that even the concept of accurate intracultural communication is absurd given the significantly subjective nature of language?

2. How can we minimize ethnocentrism in the cognitive schematization of language-concepts?

3. How does the linguistic relativity hypothesis affect our analysis and treatment of foreign narratives?

4. How can we attempt to provide faithful translations and adaptations of foreign narratives without falling subject to the discourse of fidelity. Or, rather, is this an area in which fidelity might be valued rather than avoided?

5. What pedagogical methods might be effective in communicating beyond the limitations of language?

Can academics faithfully translate, interpret, analyze, and/or discuss cultural narratives to which they have no personal connection? Ethnocentric analysis has historically marred the narratives of foreign and marginal communities; consequently, a sense of helplessness has permeated academic literary studies. We are caught in a seeming paradox: we advocate an inclusive and diverse approach to literary studies, yet we recognize that this approach risks cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation. This panel will explore solutions by examining the limitations of language as a means of intercultural and cross-cultural communication. Discussion will include, among other approaches, theories of absurdism, translation, adaptation, and cognitive linguistics.