Book reviewAgainst World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability London: Verso, 2013. viii + 358 pp..
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
University of Portsmouth
Emily Apter’s Against World Literature continues the project that she started in The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2006) of using moments of translation, or, moreover in this new book, moments of untranslatability (3), as the focus of comparative literature. The title is a provocative response to the “endorsement of cultural equivalence and substitutability” (2) that Apter sees in some approaches to world literature. Untranslatability, following Apter, highlights the differences between languages and cultures through their expression in language that world literature often hastens to overlook (3). The book is not so much against world literature, but rather wants it to be more aware of these differences, some of which may be incommensurable, and to investigate what they mean for readers and literary systems. Apter draws on a range of approaches, from studies of individual words to tracing the history of translations, to suggest ways in which non-translation can be a catalyst for thinking about how cultures are unique and how they relate to each other.