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Comp Lit Statement of Purpose - Please help with draft

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I am applying for PhD programs in comparative literature and would appreciate any comments/feedback on my SoP. 

Thanks a lot, in advance. 


As a prospective student in your department I come with an interest in researching the intersections and interactions between performance translation and politics in postcolonial contexts. Having done my MA in Literary Translation at X where I enjoyed researching and grappling with various theoretical and practical issues of translation, I wish to pursue a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at X, because it is one of the few universities in the US that offers an emphasis in translation theory and literary translation and has, for a long time, encouraged a broader approach to the discipline, which was for a long time primarily Eurocentric.  

My undergraduate thesis was titled Beyond Bakhtin: Subversive Narrative Strategies in Mid to Late Twentieth Century Syrian Women’s Fiction and looked at the dialogic nature of and the narrative strategies used in novels by Ulfat Idilbi and Colette Khouri. While doing so I realised that any literary analysis in the English language, of texts written in languages other than English requires an understanding of the theories and politics of translation. This led me to do my MA in Literary Translation, where I was able to critically engage with the works of translation theorists ranging from Schleiermacher to Venuti and Tymozcko. However, what I was really influenced by was the work of theorists working on postcolonial translation like Harish Trivedi, Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak and Susan Bassnet. I explored these issues further in my master’s thesis which was titled Mapping a Translator’s Space through Alka Saraogi’s novel Kali-katha via bypass. It sought to challenge the notion that a translator’s space is grounded in the target language and culture and offer an alternative conceptualisation using Alka Saraogi’s Hindi novel Kali-Katha Via Bypass (1998) which operates within a multilingual paradigm.  Doing the research was a rewarding experience and solidified my conviction in pursuing an academic career. In particular it raised research questions and avenues that I want to explore further – How do postcolonial multilingual states and the politics they entail affect translation, theories of translation and the role of the translator in general? How can translation be subversive? And finally, what is the relationship between the text, the audience, the creator and the translator of a translated text.


In the summer of 2012, while I was writing my MA thesis I attended a number of events at the Globe to Globe festival at the Shakespeare’s Globe in London which saw 37 of his plays being performed in 37 different languages.  This experience made me realise that theatre (a long-standing passion of mine, and one on which I had written two research papers on during my MA) and the politics of performance would be the perfect field in which to contextualise and research the questions above. While watching the plays the fact that the politics of performance is shaped and perhaps even created by the audience really hit home. This was especially true of the performance of Richard II in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) by the Palestinian group Ashtar.  Moments in the performance resonated as being indicative of the generic Arab spring as it resembled scenes I had witnessed in Rabat in early 2011 and seen on TV as happening in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. However, for the Libyan man sitting next to me it was only representative of the Libyan condition and the revolution against Gaddafi. I also attended a Q&A with members of Ashtar and the Intercultural Shakespeare Symposium later on in the festival where issues of linguistic choices in the translation process were raised. In the context of my research the two that struck me the most were the fact that Ashtar chose to translate and perform the play in MSA rather than in Palestinian Arabic as requested by the globe and the Mumbai based group The Company Theatre made a strong case for using English in their translation in spite of the Globe’s guidelines which did not permit this, owing to the hybridised nature of Hindi spoken in urban India. It also highlighted the fact that the translator is perhaps even more ‘invisible’ to use Venuti’s controversial term in the theatre, perhaps because of the collaborative nature of the theatrical production process, or at any rate her space is not as clearly defined.


I came back to what I had read during my MA and found that a lot of research in theatre translation in the past had focussed on the processes of translation, and the problems that differentiate these from other kinds of literary translation. Given that performance is a collective activity – both at the level of watching and at that of performing – and that the ‘theatre’ as a space can be imagined in different ways,  some of the terms critics use to describe the practical techniques of translating theatre are “adaptation” (Zatlin 2005:1), “transposition” (Zuber-Skerritt 1984:8), and “acculturation” (Aaltonen 2000:55).  Within this framework, the importance of the performability of the translated text is emphasised by critics like Zatlin and Aaltonen (Aaltonen 2000:43; Zatlin 2005:23).  Although the performative dimension is central to the work of these critics, the text and the linguistic factors involved in processes of translation remain the basis of their criticism[1].


Therefore, in my research I would like to foreground performance and the ways in which audience expectations and the political contexts of the target culture determine both translation choices and perceptions of translated plays as cultural products. Even though much research, especially that which focuses on intercultural Shakespeare performances, engages with the culture in which the translated play is being performed (for example, Trivedi 2005), generally the translator’s role per se is neglected. 

In my project I will examine this role, while also comparing why and to what end specific plays like those by Shakespeare, Brecht, Lorca and Chekhov that are a part of the dramatic canon[2] are translated into Arabic and Hindi for performances in the Arab world and India. The dramatic traditions in these two regions, and the role that translated theatre has played in their growth, is very different. India has a long and varied tradition of both classical and popular folk forms of theatre. Whereas, irrespective of folk traditions of performance theatre as a literary genre emerged in Arabic literature through the translation of European plays in the nineteenth century. This significant difference makes the comparison interesting because it enables one to look at whether, to what extent and how theatrical traditions influence translation choices. There are two other reasons that make this comparison fruitful. The first is the process of decolonization in the Middle East and India in the 20th century, which means that any examination of these translations has to examine their varied postcolonial contexts. Secondly, significant events in recent years, most importantly the Arab spring and grass-roots movements in India, have foregrounded new forms of collective political identities. This has meant that theatre, owing to the collective space it provides as a democratizing art form, has been put in the spotlight. Moreover, especially in instances where fundamental rights and freedom of speech is at stake, translating canonical works seems to serve a dual purpose – it legitimises the theatrical performance, while at the same time allows the performers and translators to bypass censors of various kinds. The aim of my research is therefore to examine the role of translated theatre and the construction of a global literary canon in these events, and in the broader and complex contexts of postcolonialism as a whole.


I hope to focus my research on the texts and productions of theatre groups who work mainly with translated theatre, such as the Kuwait based group ‘Sabab’, the Palestinian group ‘Ashtar Theatre’, New Delhi based group ‘Janam’ and ‘The Company Theatre’ which is based in Mumbai. 


I need the academic structure, some time and guidance to refine my research questions. With its strong emphasis on literary translation, postcolonial studies and criticial theory, I feel that X will be the best place to pursue my training. I feel that courses like X and Y will allow me to explore these ideas further.  I would also really benefit from X's work on globalization and postcolonialism. Similarly X's interests in the dialogue between literary works of the past and the early modern and post modern present as well the relationship between gender and power in dramatic texts resonate with my work in that I hope to look at plays from the past that are being translated in the present. I also believe that the interdisciplinary nature of the program including the close collaboration with the drama department and the International Center for Writing and Translation will allow me to interact with faculty and graduate students with a broad range of interests helping me discover new connections and enriching my work. I also hope to develop my teaching skills in my areas of interest which would prepare me for my future career in academia.


[1] This approach places the source text on a pedestal and tries to offer an apology for the translation process (Johnston 2011:13-14).

[2] The dramatic canon is one that brings playwrights writing in other languages such as Brecht, Chekhov, and Lorca into the fold of English Literature through translation. This idea and the way this canon has been constructed is an underlying concern in my project. 


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Skimmed.. but here's my basic feedback:


Simplify your sentences. They're way too wordy with too many clauses, prepositional statements, etc.. Break them up into small sentences as need if the information is REALLY important.


Also simply your arguments. Intersections "and interactions" is already one thing too many in a sentence that's leading to an "and" statement that needs to be there. Try not to use "and" more than once in any given sentence.


Also, pick a single style for lists and stick to it. "XYZ based group ABC" and don't change.


The flower, the cookie, auxillary items wherewithin you find joy, and the thimble.


See which one doesn't quite fit? People like things to fit neatly into their expectations - throwing them for a loop mid-sentence just annoys them.

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