I Heart Demerits

Even in an academic context that gives lip service to diversity and interdisciplinarity, there is little to no reward—and perhaps even demerit—for learning a language one has not already “mastered” by age 22 in order to become a slightly more attuned citizen of the world. There is little to no reward for bringing under discussion, let alone translating, books hailing from cultures that are not already broadly thought to possess copious amounts of cultural capital. There is suspicion of work in translation, as if the very basis of Western culture had not come down to us at third (or fourth, etc.) hand. A slowly mutating shortlist of foreign authors that one ought to know circulates through polite conversation (sometimes without acknowledgment that they have been translated), but one can pass as culturally literate more fluidly if one doesn’t make interlocutors uncomfortable by invoking foreign authors with unpronounceable names. This provincialism is as much historical as it is cultural.

- Jennifer Scappettone in this Roundtable on Translation