“Reading through borders”

A new publication from CEU Press, Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation brings together feminist scholars in a new, interdisciplinary critical approach to national, cultural and language boundaries. Edited by Jasmina Lukic, Sibelan Forrester and Borbala Farago, the volume is a first in a series of books to explore issues of transnational literature and feminism. We asked Jasmina Lukic, Professor of Gender Studies at CEU, about the exciting concept of transnational literature in our world of diverse identities and constant mobility.

One main topic of the volume is transnational literature that aims to rethink the concept of European literature, giving it a gender perspective. Why is it important to give literature a larger framework beyond the borders of nation states?

Jasmina Lukic: With the transnational turn the concept of national literature, as well as the concept of the nation state, has clearly shown its limitations. The division into national literatures is predominant, but is not the only way to organize the field of literary studies. “European literature” cannot be simply translated into a sum of national literatures and its representatives; a more complex approach is needed which can help us address huge and crucially relevant production that does not fit any national borders, be it geographic, linguistic or symbolic. The transnational perspective offers such an approach. It offers a new explanatory framework to address a dynamic and complex phenomena related to shared experiences of living together within and beyond the borders of what is seen as “Europe” (and I am intentionally not equating it with the “European Union” here). At the same time, it can help us problematize various assumptions behind any presumed “European identity”, and to critically investigate the specificities and limitations of the concept of European literature in relation to other corresponding concepts, like national literature on the one hand and world literature on the other.

What does ‘transnational literature’ exactly mean and how do you apply it in a European geographical area?

Jasmina Lukic: Transnational literature addresses complex questions of literary production in a globalized world. It does not deny the existence of national literatures, but challenges their inherent logic, and sets a different perspective in which literary texts can be seen. The transnational perspective brings into focus specific problems of cultural production that goes beyond all kinds of boundaries set by institutions that create canons and define principles of inclusion and exclusion on various levels. It is a term that can help us interpret the fast growing body of writings by those who do not belong, or, as Azade Seyhan puts it, those who live “in between” languages and cultures. There are different approaches to transnationalism in literature, but this quality of transgression is an essential one.

What makes transnational literature so timely in the postmodern world of increased mobility and global migration?

Jasmina Lukic: It has been often the case in history that outstanding writers had complicated, interesting biographies in which moving in-between countries and languages had a particular importance. So the transnational experiences of individual authors are not new and they have always been an important part of creative processes. What is new is the enormity of the scale of migration which has become one of the characteristics of the times we live in. There are more and more people who cannot be easily categorized with the tools used by traditional academia, within departments dedicated to national literatures. And there will be more and more highly relevant, influential and valuable texts that address the multiple realities of the world - or should I say, worlds - we live in. We need an approach that gives us tools to deal with writers who do not belong, either because they are not included, or because they do not want to belong.

How do transnational literature studies recognize the specific issues writers face today such as the new technologies of communication that allow instant creation of virtual communities and constant possibilities for interaction?

Jasmina Lukic: New technologies have changed the nature of migration, allowing families and communities to remain in close contact event if they are living far apart. In that sense, the work of Arjun Appadurai, who speaks of new forms of collective imagination closely related to the new technological possibilities, has been particularly influential in transnational literary studies. But I also want to emphasize that literary studies are more and more interdisciplinary, and transnational perspective adds to that quality, requiring from researchers to get engaged with migration studies, cultural studies, new technology studies, and so on.

One of the other focus points of the volume is translation studies that also has a transnational dimension. How do you see the role of translation in shaping identities and empowering authors?

Jasmina Lukic: Questions of translation are an inherent part of transnational studies. In previous decades translation theory has also undergone profound changes, as it has been the case with literary studies, leading to more complex understanding of translation as a creative act of interpretation. In her article in this volume, Susan Friedman emphasizes that translation from one language to another is always an “enriching process of cultural translation”. We are not talking here only about translation between languages, but also about all other forms of translation between cultures, theories and texts.

What was the inspiration behind the creation of this volume?

Jasmina Lukic: My interest in transnational literature dates back to the mid-2000s, so when Borbala Farago came to the Department of Gender Studies as a Marie Curie scholar in 2012, we jointly organized an international conference “Transnational Women’s Literature in Europe” the following year. This conference was the starting point of this volume. Two years later, at Swarthmore College, Professor Sibelan Forrester and I organized the conference “Transnational Literature and Translation”, which was another important step forward. In the final phase, papers emphasizing the Central and Eastern European perspective were added to the volume. Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation is the first volume in a series of books planned with CEU Press under the shared title Transnational Perspectives in Gender Studies. In the upcoming volumes the emphasis is still going to be on literature, but the series intends to go in other directions as well, in particular to address specific problems of transnational feminism(s).