Sandra Bermann

2023-2024 Old Dominion Professor in the Humanities Council; Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Comparative Literature

Sandra L. Bermann is Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Comparative Literature.  She served as Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature (1998-2010) and co-founded the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication (2007). During her career at Princeton, Bermann served in various university capacities, including Head of Whitman College (2011-19).  Above all, she has contributed to international learning within the university, as Chair of the President’s Bridge Year Program planning group (2008), as Founder and Director of the PIIRS Migration Research Community (2016-19); and Director of the Fung Global Fellows Program (2020-21).  Within the field of comparative literature, she has pursued these goals as President of the American Comparative Literature Association (2007-09) and later, as President of the International Comparative Literature Association (2019-2022).  In addition to numerous essays in the fields of lyric poetry, history and theory of literature, as well as in translation studies, her books include The Sonnet Over Time: A Study in the Sonnets of Petrarch, Shakespeare and Baudelaire, (1988); Manzoni’s ‘On the Historical Novel,’ A Translation and Critical Introduction, (1984; 1996); Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, co-edited with Michael Wood (2005); and The Wiley -Blackwell Companion to Translation Studies, co-edited with Catherine Porter (2014).

Bermann’s project as Old Dominion Professor in the Humanities Council is “Reading René Char, “and entails research and writing on two related projects.  The first is to complete a book on Char’s poetry of the war years, entitled “Poetry and War: Reading René Char’s Fureur et mystère,” emphasizing the role of language under the pressures of history in this major collection of texts written between 1939 and 1948.  Using historical archives, particularly the new Char archive in Princeton’s Special Collections, and a series of close readings, the book explores the poet’s wartime notebook from the Resistance, as well as his poetic and philosophical reflections on temporality and art.

Char’s themes of mortality, violence, friendship, war, and love, along with the complexity of his metaphorical language, have sometimes led to descriptions of his poetry as “untranslatable.” Such descriptions are closely tied to a second, collaborative project on Char’s wartime poetry, tracing its paradoxically substantial “afterlife” in translation.  This second, co-edited book, entitled “Poetry and War: Translating the Untranslatable,” is already underway, generously supported by a Humanities Council Magic Grant.  It engages with the digital humanities as well as with an international group of colleagues in digitizing and comparing translations of Char’s poetry into some thirty languages. Beyond the immediate gains of this volume in bringing together voices from around the globe, the work intends to shed new light on the act of translation as a kind of literary reading.

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