Critics agree that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1827 vision for a world literature has since been realized – especially three centuries later. What Goethe probably never imagined is that this body of work will be largely monolingual in English – due to historical capitalist processes that he could not have predicted. The contemporary result of those historical processes is that literature written in indigenous or world languages hardly ever feature in discussions about world literature as a bordering discipline of comparative literature – except perhaps through token translations. In other words, a disciplinary conservativism discourages an active regime of the translations of texts in world languages into Europhone languages.
This is partly due to arguments about the problematic of translation as emphasized in Emily Apter’s controversial but nuanced self-positioning Against World Literature (2013). My argument in this paper is that the idea of untranslatability takes its impulse from that conservatism which is rooted in the same historical imperial discourses and capitalist processes that created the literary and linguistic inequalities within world literature, in the first instance. I propose that translation, linguistic and otherwise, is indeed viable and necessary, towards a larger cultural translation that should strive to correct historical inequalities and create a truly global modernity.