Knowledge Alphabets Lab Syllabus

Course Summary

Translating Knowledge Alphabets Across Media – Spring 2021

How does translation work today? What effect do machines have on the delicate art form of translation? Co-taught by Professors Emily Apter (French & Comp Lit) and Alexander R. Galloway (MCC), this undergraduate course will focus on the problem of translation in natural and digital languages. We aim to redefine translation theory today in the light of new developments in artificial intelligence (AI), machine translation, biotranslation, aesthetic practices and forms of knowledge production that are translation-based. We will investigate what a “knowledge alphabet” is today and how it is related (or not) to its particular medium, whether phoneme, script, algorithm, bitmap, pixel, or RNA molecule. With an eye to the sciences, we will gain understanding of the complexities of translation as interpretation, code, natural language, morphing intelligence and biotechnological reproduction. Drawing from the arts and humanities, we will gain experience in thinking about translation as a medium, as border checkpoint, and political cartography.

Course readings will include texts by Walter Benjamin, Lydia Liu, Catherine Malabou, Eyal Weizman, and others.

Curriculum for this course was developed in the “Knowledge Alphabets” working group, a Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Lab sponsored by the NYU Center for the Humanities.