Excerpt from Special Forum On Global Huck in Journal of Transnational American Studies

Last week The Journal of Transnational American Studies published a Special Forum on Global Huck: Mapping the Cultural Work of Translations of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The forum features ten essays and two bibliographic appendixes exploring the translation and reception of Twain’s novel is a wide range of cultural contexts. The Center For Mark Twain Studies is excited to share an excerpt from the editorial introduction to the “Global Huck” forum, as well as links to the Open Access issue of JTAS. Several of the scholars involved have been Quarry Farm Fellows, Trouble Begins Lecturers, and Friends of CMTS. We are proud to play a small role in supporting this important contribution to Twain Studies.

Global Huck: Mapping the Cultural Work of Translations of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Tsuyoshi Ishihara, Ronald Jenn, Holger Kersten, & Selina Lai-Henderson

…..As of 2019, Huck Finn can be heard conversing with Jim in sixty–five languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Alemannic, Arabic, Armenian, Assamese, Basque, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Catalan, Chinese, Chuvash, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Korean, Kirghiz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Malay­alam, Marathi, Moldavian, Norwegian, Oriya, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Tatar, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Yiddish….

This JTAS Special Forum features researchers around the world with expertise in Mark Twain and his novel. It explores the social, cultural, and political agendas of translators and publishers, and looks at how the cultural demands of readers shaped the book’s translation. Some of the essays address the arc of translations over a broad swath of time: Margarita Marinova outlines the story of Russian translations, Ronald Jenn and Véronique Channaut deal with France, and Behnam M. Fomeshi with Iran. Others deal with how translators handled one specific dimension of the novel: Miguel Sanz Jiménez focuses on how Spanish translators dealt with the Explanatory while Winston Kelley addresses the challenges that the word “trash” posed for German translators. Two other contributors focus on the modes of presentation of translations: Vera Lúcia Ramos examines the contextualizing materials published with translations in Brazil, while Seema Sharma compares a Hindi graphic novel adaptation with another Hindi edition marketed to young readers. Finally, two translators, who are also scholars, contribute essays that provide insight into the challenges of translating the book in the twenty–first century: An-chi Wang describes what was involved in producing the most comprehensively annotated edition of the novel in Chinese, while Hamada Kassam explores the challenges of his efforts to produce a translation in vernacular Arabic. Both of these essays—autobiographical as well as critical—include some of the translators’ personal reflections on their experiences. 

The contributors explore the ways in which the racial politics of a particular time and place have informed translators’ treatment of Black characters, and the ways translators handled the N–word. They discuss how various translations have tackled the issue of dialect and colloquial speech, how Twain’s humor has fared in translation, and the ways in which Twain’s satire and social critique were sustained or minimized by translators. They look at how the audiences for which the translations were designed shaped the translators’ choices, and explore the role of adaptations in other media, such as films and anime. They also pay attention to how translations of Huck Finn have shaped perceptions of the US around the world.

Through its examination of translations of Huck Finn across nine world regions, this Special Forum bridges disciplinary boundaries as well as national ones, melding the fields of Literary Studies, Translation Studies, and Transnational American Studies in fresh ways. It opens up a space in which we can rethink seminal works of American literature and American literary history in a radically different light as it situates US cultural, regional, linguistic, gender, and racial nuances in different spatial, temporal, and global geopolitical contexts.

Thanks to its exploration of how Huck Finn has been read in vastly different global sites and historic moments, this Special Forum provides new perspectives on the global circulation of knowledge and literary cultural production. Taken together, these essays gesture to a fascinating array of perspectives on racial and class divides that break through the monolingual and nation-bound silos that usually constrain literary studies. We hope that this Special Forum will facilitate global discussions of American literature; of satire and social criticism; of race, dialect, education, and historically marginalized voices. We hope it will be a critical tool to navigate the complexity of the role of American culture in the Global South (India, Brazil), in the Arab world, and in China, as well as in countries that have participated in the cultural conversation about Mark Twain for over a century—such as France, Germany, and Russia……

To read the entire Special Forum on “Global Huck,” please visit The Journal of Transnational American Studies here.