9 December 2007

A PhD in Persian? Who needs that?!

This is pure terror. Especially for someone planning to take up the same career. With shortage of jobs and cutting down of departments, of course, Persian, Urdu (Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, ...) would be the first to go. And with them research on various literatures which some would insanely consider precious. Of course, we don't need PhDs on Persian poetry. Milton will do for now. And later, when even English departments become too cumbersome, (what with their study of English translations of Chughtai, Premchand, and such like) they too must go.


Mike said...

"...with their study of English translations of Chughtai, Premchand, and such like..."

Unfortunately, the work of translation might be the very thing (this is what you're getting at) that keeps English afloat, which I think could be worse than if it just went: colonizing all history and culture through one language, never reading it in the original, English survives. I'm not saying translating, making available, is bad, but to never go back to the whole text--which is what so many readers do (even when reading "classics" like Baudelaire or Goethe)--enacts a type of forgetting that keeps English around on campuses and makes Persian PhD's end up writing cookbooks. English students (here at least--I assume its a bit better in New Dehli, where respect for other languages I hope is higher) have the tendency to forget that going back to the original also means soliciting the help of a dedicated department, and thus beats them out in the end...

Mike said...

...though I shouldn't say things are so bad here, at Princeton, at least (state schools, however, are um... shall we say... well... what shall I say!? Eek). I have several classes where we always go back to the second half of the whole (translated) text, whether it is in Hebrew, German, or whatever. It is just a matter of seeing the inability of a person to do this--and the necessity of a department to help you out there... Professors do this--I know several who go to other departments for help or co-authoring--but I don't think students in English do. Comp Lit, yes. But English, not so much: we think we can read anything and everything--provided there's an English translation. And that is dangerous, as you show. I shouldn't also say respect for languages must be higher there--your post makes clear it isn't.

metaphysicallycomplicit said...

Translations do keep English alive. There’s no doubt about that. But there is also another issue at hand.

In a University system (and I can only talk about Delhi University. I’m not sure whether JNU- the Univ. discussed in that article- works the same way) where Eng Lit meant studying literature from England, and only England (Canonical stuff. Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare,…), introducing into the curriculum literature translated into English from several Indian languages, Indian writing in English, or for that matter literature from any other country is something recent and groundbreaking. And if it wasn’t for studying translations in English, a lot of people would be completely removed from it altogether. Imagine studying Donne and not knowing anything at all about the sort of art produced in the same continent. Also, looking into the un-translated version isn’t always ideal considering works from ten different languages are put into a single paper titled “Indian Writing” and the only common language spoken in the classroom is English.

That’s colonial hangover for you.

And though English departments (and the Humanities in general) have it bad, it’s much worse for languages lower down this disturbing hierarchy. The article is reflective of that.

Even though, in the end, everyone is just studying literature.

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