English as a Foreign Language: David Mitchell and the Born-Translated Novel


Why would a novel want to undermine its own words? Surely, literature is made of words, and any ambitious novel would want to wear its words proudly, declaiming their truth as well as their beauty. Yet we know that novels produced in smaller languages, which possess fewer publishers and fewer readers, have needed to make their words accessible, both to distant audiences and to translators in dominant languages. And some works in dominant languages, when they are produced in spaces far from the centers of publishing, have likewise had to retract idiomatic phrases, alter references to regional languages, and provide glossaries. But why would a British novel, produced in English and first published in London, stake a claim for patterns rather than words? And why would it pretend – as David Mitchell’s does – to be taking place in one of several foreign tongues? In this essay, I address these questions by turning to Mitchell’s several novels, which solicit future translation by registering translation’s past.

Read Article On Muse