Summer 2023 Undergraduate English Courses

358:445 Seminar: Black (In) Translation

01  TTH4        ROBOLIN   SPR - 403

Black (In) Translation

There is a word for “black” in nearly every language, but as scholars and practitioners have shown, translating Blackness—as identity, as lived experience, and as claim to political solidarity—is an incredibly complicated task.  By reading contemporary Black literature and translation theory, we will attend to the ways that Blackness travels or does not—how it means and translates differently—through literary and cultural production and translation practices across the Atlantic world.  How is the Martinican philosopher Aimé Césaire's neologism négritude rendered in Cuba where it was first translated into Spanish?  What are the implications of translating "Black Lives Matter" in the United States as "Les vies noires comptent" in France?  Taking an interdisciplinary approach, course readings will be drawn from literature, film, and history and will focus on the ways that Blackness has been defined, wielded, and disavowed at key historical moments including in the time of revolutions against slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, anti-colonial movements in Africa, the long Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and the anti-apartheid and Black Consciousness movements in South Africa.

The innovative aspect of this course is its format.  This class will be conjoined to another: a French/Romance Languages course at Duke University, taught by Professor Annette Joseph-Gabriel.  While our class will be covering Anglophone texts (originally written in English) and Francophone texts (originally written in French) in English translation, members of the other class will be reading the “same” titles in the original French or translated into French.  We will also cover some Hispanophone texts.  While our class will meet in person every meeting, we will sync up with the Duke class electronically on Tuesdays to discuss together the nuances of translation.  These discussions will rely upon and help sharpen close reading skills, prompting deep dives into questions of connotation, multiple meanings, and resonance across a given text.  In short, all will grapple with the consequential work of translation and its implications.  The conjoined conversations will be conducted in English.  Knowledge of French or Spanish are not required to take this course, but a curiosity about language is.

The primary texts will be drawn from the following:

Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land

Véronique Tadjo, Queen Pokou

Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco

Miriam Warner Vieyra, Juletane

Toni Morrison, A Mercy

Langston Hughes, Panther and the Lash and Nicolas Guillen, Cuba Libre

Claude McKay, Banjo

Isabelle Allende, Island Beneath the Sea

Maboula Soumahoro, Black is the Journey, Africana the Name

Catel & Bocquet, Josephine Baker

Films may include Dante James’s Harlem in Montmartre/Harlem en Montmartre and Ousmane Sembène’s La noire de …  Critical readings, focusing on the subjects of translation and race, may include works by Brent Hayes Edwards, Ryan Kernan, Kaiama Glover, Grégory Pierrot, Lorgia Garcia Pena, Walter Benjamin, Gayatri Spivak, Khavita Bhanot, and Jeremy Tiang.

Assignments will include collective annotation (via, leading discussion, book review, short essay, and a revised longer research essay.  Evaluations—which will be conducted by the instructor of record for this course alone—will be based on regular participation, attendance, and written work.