Translation without original, sovereignty without exception: Animal fables and the transformation of politics in colonial India
01 September 2022 to 28 February 2023
This project tracks a remarkable text and its multilingual translations across languages and geographies between the sixth and the nineteenth centuries, and uses this itinerary to propose a new concept of political sovereignty in colonial India. Exploring archival material, published texts, and various technologies of circulation, this project unearths a textual model of sovereignty—as opposed to an “exceptional” one—that shaped, simultaneously, colonial politics and nationalist resistance. The text in question is in fact a cycle of animal fables derived from the Sanskrit original the Pañcatantra (and some older Jātaka fables from the Buddhist tradition, primarily in Pāli), and was translated and retranslated into a number of languages over the ages. By the nineteenth century these fables reached almost every major literary culture in Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa and probably had more readers than any other text except of course the Bible. Using insights from book history and translation studies, this project will explore this multilingual and multiscaler translational history and its close connection with the idea of politics during the colonial era.
Baidik Bhattacharya is Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. He is the author of The Literary Sovereign: How Colonialism Shaped the Modern Culture of Letters (forthcoming) and Postcolonial Writing in the Era of World Literature: Texts, Territories, Globalizations (2018). He is the co-editor of Novel Formation: The Indian Beginning of a European Form (2018) and The Postcolonial Gramsci (2012). His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Boundary 2, New Literary History, Interventions, Novel, Postcolonial Studies among other places.