Prohibiting Translations

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää and the Question of Text-, Process-, and Agent-driven Untranslatability


  • Johanna Domokos Bielefeld University


untranslatability, literary diversity


This essay intervenes in recent World Literature debates about untranslatability by considering a case in which one Nordic indigenous poet, Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, issued an explicit interdiction on the translation of one of his poems. Domokos considers what the ethical, pragmatic, political, and literary-critical effects of such an interdiction may be—both for its indigenous community of production and for non-Sámi readers, who must encounter this single poem on a different level of interpretability than that of close reading and its critical literacies. Domokos further explores how this case may assist World Literature theorists in further specifying the widely-traded value / vice of poetic untranslatability in a way that would acknowledge the varying stages and agents of translation practice. 

Author Biography

Johanna Domokos, Bielefeld University

research associate, comparative literature