Comparative Criticism and Translation

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Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation is a research hub based jointly at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities and the Centre for Comparative Criticism and Translation at St. Anne’s College. We are supported by generous donations from Jane and Peter Aitken, Maria Ferreras Willetts, Celia Atkin, Fiona Lindblom and Arabella van Niekerk, and by the John Fell OUP Research Fund. We run seminars, workshops, a postgraduate-led discussion group and an annual conference. We stage public events, such as Oxford Translation Day, and edit a book series, Transcript. We are currently collaborating with the AHRC-funded programme in Creative Multilingualism to pursue research into our concept of Prismatic Translation. See 'OCCT People' below for who we are.

Comparative Literature is changing. Its Eurocentric heritage has been challenged by various formulations of World Literature, while new media and new forms of artistic production are bringing urgency to comparative thinking across literature, film, the visual arts and music. The resulting questions of method are both intellectually compelling and central to the future of the humanities. To confront them, our research programme brings together experts from the disciplines of English, Medieval and Modern Languages, Oriental Studies, and Classics, and draws in collaborators from Music, Visual Art, Film, Philosophy and History. We prefer the phrase ‘Comparative Criticism’ to ‘Comparative Literature’ or ‘World Literature’ because it draws attention to the role of the critic in determining the corpus to be explored and the manner of its exploration; and we flag ‘translation’ as a process fundamental to our work, and indeed to all communication.

In our first phase, under the title ‘New Grounds for Comparative Criticism’ (Jan-Sept 2013), we explored the role of translation in a global comparative literature, the elements and aspects of texts that support comparison, and the challenges of comparative thinking across literature and the other arts. Our conclusions can be sampled in our Living Library; a special issue of the journal Comparative Critical Studies will appear in 2015.

During 2013-14 we pursued four main lines of research: 'Languages of Criticism'; 'Cultures of Mindreading: the Novel and Other Minds'; 'Intercultural Literary Practices'; and 'Translators and Writers'. For more detail, see our Researchpage. We also staged various public events, including Make an Aria and the first annual Oxford Translation Day, in collaboration with the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. The year's explorations culminated in our conference, Minding Borders, 10-11 September at St Anne's.

During 2014-15 Languages of Criticism and Translators and Writers merged to form a single line of research, Translation and Criticism; the other two strands continued as before. We held a workshop on Auto-exoticism, producing papers which are now being published as a cluster in PMLA (Spring 2017). We hosted Oxford Translation Day 2015. Our summer conference was on Prismatic Translation.

In 2015-16 the same three strands continued their work. We hosted workshops on narrative and translation in the context of the migration crisis, and collaborated in the follow-up conference in Palermo. We contributed to two seminar series at the International Comparative Literature Association in Vienna, one (in collaboration with CERC - Paris 3) on Translation as a Common Language, the other (in collaboration with the ICLA's Literary Theory Research Committee) on Prismatic Translation.

In 2016-17 we continued work on Translation and Criticism, Prismatic Translation, and Fiction and Other Minds, and we launched a new strand on Cultural Forms in Comparison.

In 2017-18,  Prismatic Translation, Translators and Writers and Fiction and Other Minds continued their work; and Cultural Forms in Comparison morphed into Comparative History of Literatures: Concepts and Methodologies. Key events this year were the conference on Literature, Democracy and Transitional Justice, which is now being made into a Transcript book, and the launch of our volume Minding Borders: Resilient Divisions in Literature, the Body and the Academy, itself the product of one of our conferences.  

2018-19 saw OCCT join with the humanities research centres of the universities of Chile, Western Cape and California (Irvine) to form a Mellon-funded Global Humanities Institute on The Challenges of Translation. After an initial meeting at OCCT, the Institute took place in Santiago. This year, our research strand Prismatic Translation launched its ongoing website-publication Prismatic Jane Eyre: an Experiment in the Study of Translations. Our Discussion Group explored the translation of literatures deemed 'minor'.

See the events feed on our homepage for this year's plans; sign up here to receive updates and follow our blog.

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Dr Matthew Reynolds

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