Preface: Objects of Translation(s)

C.C. Wharram’s “Preface” to this special issue argues that translations call on us to rethink the way we face the planet and its literary history. The essay asks a series of questions pertinent to educators regarding the need for and difficulties in incorporating translated texts into courses designed for literature students. Identifying a peculiar “resistance to translation,” Wharram interrogates the historical accuracy of the picture we present to our students when we expunge translators from literary history, and reviews recent scholarship from Romanticists who address the need for translation’s greater visibility. The essay summarizes recent work in translation studies, drawing attention to a burgeoning interest in the productive “failure” of translations to represent original texts in anything other than a distorted form. Wharram goes on to parallel the understanding that a translation creates a wholly new textual object with our contemporary shift in emphasis from the nation to the planet, a shift that manifests a new problem: the vast scale of what Frances Ferguson calls “Planetary Literary History.” Regarding this new history as a “hyperobject” of inquiry, Wharram touches on recent methods for addressing problems of scale, proposing that translations offer us the “structural possibility” for reading them closely and “distantly” at the same time. The essay concludes by suggesting that translated objects facilitate a peculiar, uncanny means of investigating literary history, and like fossils in natural history, have the capacity to withdraw from and index literary history simultaneously.