Laughter from the Periphery: Translation and Tamil Dalit Literature on the Offensive

Israel, H. (Speaker)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


To what extent can the expression of marginalization be translated into other languages when the very linguistic register of that marginalization is tied to very specific language and identity politics? I examine literary texts written by contemporary Tamil Dalit writers to identify a range of non-standard Tamil literary and language registers used as a political strategy of resistance. Their emphasis on regional dialects, colloquialisms that mark the language as ‘Dalit,’ themes of resistance and use of black humour, swearing and scatological references together challenge long-established conventions of good writing in Tamil (and Indian) literature and thus disrupt entrenched hierarchies of literary taste, social caste and political oppression. Translating this literature is challenging but importantly an act of intervention: translators must go against the grain of what is considered ‘literary’ in the Indian context. What is the role of the ‘offensive’ in such translated literature and to what extent can the offensive be translated into other languages to express conditions of marginality effectively? I argue that conceptions of the ‘comic’ as deployed by these texts can function beyond the literary as powerful political tools of resistance and radical questioning for writers, translators and their respective audiences in India.
Period7 Aug 2017
Held atCentral University of Hyderabad, India


  • Translation
  • Tamil
  • Dalit Literature
  • Heteroglossia
  • Translating humour