Skip to content

The un/translatability of code?

Posted in Reflections

This week I participated in the Comparative Humanities summer reading seminar at Bucknell organized by Katie Faull, along with Elizabeth Armstrong, John Hunter, Nick Kupensky, Alf Siewers, James Shields, Meenakshi Ponnuswami, and Slava Yastremski. The theme of the seminar was “Untranslatability.” I have no facility with Translation Studies nor with the German and Russian and Japanese flying around the room all week, and the discourse about World Literature was certainly outside of my wheelhouse, but it was exhilarating to take the time to sit with colleagues and engage in sometimes heated and always exhilarating discussions about the challenging, dense readings by Elizabeth Apter, Barbara Cassin, Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, Franco Moretti, and others. It was fantastic and exhausting, and by the end of this afternoon’s session (as so often happens) I didn’t want it to end.

My preoccupation over the course of the seminar sprung from the discussions that have been increasing in the DH community about global DH and engagement with culture and language – even at the code level. I’m still wrestling with the ideas of whether code is something that should be considered a “conventional” language as described in The Dictionary of Untranslatables (in the entry on “Sign”), or even whether we should worry about the reliance on the Anglocentric in machine readable language. That, too, may be beyond my facility to grapple with properly, but I’ll wrestle with it for a while and maybe come back to it at some point in the future.

After reading Moretti’s Distant Reading last night, I posted a piece on the seminar website that I called “Different Reading.” It’s full of holes, and if I’m wise I’ll go back and fill some of them, but I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my wise, gracious, and encouraging colleagues at Bucknell for giving me the opportunity to take part in such an enriching intellectual experience. It is opportunities like this that make me love being an academic and glad to be at an institution that supports intellectual endeavours at such an organic level.