Rabindranath Tagore’s Internationalism in Circulation
The first chapter turns to Tagore, whose auto-translations stand as examples of degraded art both because translations fail to meet the criteria of aesthetic originality and because the critical consensus around Tagore’s English works is that they fail to transmit the beauty and flair of their Bengali originals. Rather than discount Tagore’s translations, I centralize them and examine how he turned unglamorous, second-order acts of literary production, such as compilation, translation, and editing, into modernist strategies for preserving linguistic difference and partial unintelligibility as a style of transnational contact across imperial lines of power. Through my close readings of Nationalism (1916) and The Home and the World (1919), I show how Tagore treated his Bengali originals not as hermetically-sealed, finished works of art, but rather as repositories of material. Their translation and rearrangement into English allowed him to mediate between utopian internationalisms that dreamed of perfect communication between nations and autarkic nationalisms that argued for the cultural self-sufficiency of the nation as a marker of its readiness for sovereignty. Against both these more absolutist positions of globalism and nationalism, Tagore’s auto-translations intervene with a model of national autonomy that precludes cultural organicism and a model of internationalism that makes imperfect communication a feature of globalized collectivity with which to grapple rather than an obstacle to overcome.
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