What we call translation is long overshadowed by semantics that privileges words and overlooks script and medium. Whenever writing is present, one translates words and even syllables (transcription) but not the letters that are used to write those words. The problem of translatability (and untranslatability), therefore, is as much about the whereabouts of meaning in foreign words and in one’s own language as it is about the resolution of meaning between them. Alphabetical letters remain almost as opaque or unthought as any of the non-words we find in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky verse. In Liu's lecture, she will explore the disjuncture between word and letter, the relationship between letter and number, as well as the boundary of sense and nonsense in general, all of which have been brought into sharp focus by the conceptual and technological revolution in digital media.
Presented with the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program and the Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Chapter of Wisconsin.
Lydia Liu is a theorist of media and translation, a professor of comparative literature, and a bilingual writer in Chinese and English. She is Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities, director of Columbia’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and founding director of the Tsinghua-Columbia Center for Translingual and Transcultural Studies at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Her publications include The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious; The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making; Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity; and, more recently, The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory (co-editor/co-translator). As a creative writer in Chinese, she is the author of The Nesbit Code, a mock detective story.