Cannibal Translation and Latin American Anthologies of World Literature

Part of the Convocation Seminars in World Literature and Translation in collaboration with Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS)

Co-convened with LINKS (London Intercollegiate Network for Comparative Studies)

Speaker: Isabel Gómez (University of Massachusetts Boston)


What could literary translation accomplish if practiced as a reciprocal, creative endeavor rather than a unidirectional, faithful homage to an original? The Latin American translation practices I illuminate in my forthcoming book Cannibal Translation (Northwestern University Press) reject normative, servile translation and instead develop techniques to question, reanimate, or improve on their source texts. Building on the Brazilian avant-garde notion of cannibalism as an indigenous practice of honorably incorporating the other into the self, Cannibal Translation animates an alternative ethics of translation norms within Latin American configurations of World Literature. In this talk, I focus on the Cannibal Translation techniques used in the World Literature anthologies of Brazilian poet Augusto de Campos and Mexican writer José Emilio Pacheco. Published in the 1980s, these two poet-translators collect a broad canon of World Literature while also calling into question that framework to explore and translate from fragmented incompleteness and a pose of non-mastery in which the translator is a loving amateur and source authors become a mask, a heteronym, a voice held in common and reactivated through their Latin American varieties of Spanish and Portuguese. Pacheco and De Campos’s anthologies never let readers forget the mediated perspective presented in any translation. Reading them comparatively, I find within each project a critical approach to World Literature that asks: what does it mean to acknowledge that, in translation, the source author becomes an invented heteronym in the target language? Pacheco and De Campos deploy Cannibal Translation techniques of approximation, porous prose, and untranslation to reimagine colonial relationships between languages, to emphasize the role translation plays in the incorporation of subaltern figures into the literary frame, and to play with abandoning and usurping authorship and authority.

Date: 3 December 2021