Seminar in Comparative Literature: Translation and Adaptations

Within a framework that is interdisciplinary and attentive to our location in the
Pacific, this course focuses on two connected cultural practices — translation and
adaptation—that have, in different ways, shaped historical and current understandings
of folk narratives (folktales, fairy tales, myths, epics, and legends). Methodologically,
the course presents students with the tools of a folklore & literature approach,
but does so in a self-reflective mode where disciplinary assumptions and methodological
tools are both employed and put into question, especially in light of the difference
between “emic” (relevant within a community) and “etic” (descriptive from the outside)
genre categories and the imbricated history of folkloristics and colonialism as well
as “coloniality” (Walter Mignolo) more broadly.

“Traditional” narratives considered in this course rest on oral tradition but are not
limited to oral cultures; while many are authored, traditional narratives are often othered
as “non literature,” and then adapted in modern literary texts all over the world. If
“folktales,” “myths,” and “epics” are perceived as foundational to the construction
of a “language of the imagination,” we can benefit from studying how structures of
inequality inflect this language of the imagination; how the translation and adaptation
of these “traditional” narratives informs children”s, national, comparative, and world
literatures; and how social and ideological processes affect the production,
transformations, and exchange of such narratives across cultures and
history, without a priori determining their ideological impacts. Focusing
on translation and adaptation as contact zones, we will pay attention to their
politics (e.g., dynamics of “othering,” appropriation, and empowerment) and their
poetics (e.g., translation as innovation, narrative strategies of adaptation); more
specifically, we will ask how these dynamics are played out in Hawai‘i and we will
read some translations/adaptations from Asia and Oceania.

The work of Linda Hutcheon (A Theory of Adaptation 2006), Linda
Tuhiwai Smith (Decolonizing Methodologies 1999), Gayatri Spivak
(“Politics of Translation” and Death of a Discipline 2003), Epeli Hau‘ofa
(We Are the Ocean: Selected Works 2008), Emily Apter (The Translation
Zone: A New Comparative Literature
2006), Frank De Caro and Rosan Augusta
Jordan (Re-Situating Folklore: Folk Contexts and Twentieth-Century Art 2004),
Sadhana Naithani (The Story-time of the British Empire: Colonial and Postcolonial
2010), and the 2007 PMLA issue on Remapping Genre will
inform our aproach to selected case studies.

Case studies include translations and adaptations of The Arabian
(from the XVIII-century French-language edition by Galland to
contemporary adaptations), of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder-und
(“Children and Household Tales”) as canonized children’s literature,
and of Hawaiian mo‘olelo (e.g., The Legends and Myths of Hawai‘i by His
Majesty Kalākaua; Emma Nakuina’s Hawai‘i: Its People, Their Legends;
Kamapua‘a: The Hawaiian Pig-god, translated by Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa, and
Ho‘oulumahi‘ehi‘e’s; Hiiaka, a bilingual edition, w/ translation by Puakea
Nogelmeier’s team of translators). We will also read Albert Wendt’s epic and off-the-top
metanarrative novel in verse, The Adventures of Vela, and discuss media
adaptation by focusing on the PBS performance Holo Mai Peleand films
adapting the Arabian Nights tradition as well as several fairy-tale films, including David
Kaplan’s The Year of the Fish and the Korean Hansel and Gretel.

Within this framework, the practice will be to encourage students to put individual
and collective knowledge of their languages, cultural traditions, and critical
practices to good use.


  • an oral presentation
  • a group project
  • a short paper with research component
  • a final argumentative research paper.