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Tze-Yin Teo

Tze-Yin Teo profile picture
  • Affiliation: faculty
  • Title: Assistant Professor
  • Phone: 541-346-0906
  • Office: 306 Villard
  • Office Hours: Spring 2019: W 2-4 & by appointment
  • Interests: Translation studies, modernism in transpacific and transnational frames, global Asia, global Anglophone literature, experimentalism, environmental humanities, literary and critical theory
  • Curriculum Vitae


I write on translation and literature from the twentieth century to the contemporary. At the heart of this work is an affinity with ‘weak’ translations: literary, illegible, or merely provisional in their claims to meaning and attention.

My first book project turns to such translations between the Chinese and English languages. In the twentieth century, growing industries and technologies of translation enabled intellectuals on both sides of the Pacific to see in each other the promises of mutual understanding between east and west, democratic progress, and even economic prosperity. Yet this was also subtended by the economization of the Pacific writ large and the emergent militarism of the United States. Unfinished Translation: Literature and Form Before the Pacific Century offers a sustained account of translation and literary form in this context. I argue that translation’s literary force lies not so much in effecting that mutual understanding as in reflecting on the methods that create and govern such a mutuality—and the damaging conditions through which it takes place. The body chapters treat Ernest Fenollosa, Yang Lian, Theresa Hak-kyung Cha, and Eileen Chang as each writer navigates a legacy of transpacific formation. Living and reckoning with the effects of primitivism, orientalism, U.S. military power, and proto-neoliberal desire on their relationships to language and poetry, the writers I study respond to these conditions by writing them into incomplete and ultimately imperfect forms. Sometimes remaining unpublished until posthumous recovery, sometimes with one translator requiring another translator to complete the work, or yet other times ending with nothing but emptiness, the ongoing work of translation shapes provisional spaces of relation and even exemption—even as it too guarantees that those promises will not endure.

My second book project, Just Translation, gathers a global archive in which translation has become an invisible norm in order to ask, counter-intuitively, what kind of conceptual and political work it may still do. While the corrective politics of translation has often been articulated in institutionalized contexts (nations, canons, markets), I instead turn towards improvised or experimental translations in the contemporary moment: gestures and sign language; search-bar translation, even pseudo-universal emoji. Often characterized as malignant symptoms of neoliberalism, these forms of small translation—at once pervasive, enduring, and available—still lay claim to the possibility of insurgency and repair. Intertwining the insights of literary and biopolitical theory with the interdisciplinary field of translation studies, Just Translation makes sense of how translation continues to matter in worlds that anticipate its eventual demise.

Related work has been published or is forthcoming in Modernism/modernity, Comparative Literature Studies, CR: The New Centennial Review, and The Oxford Literary Review. I also serve as the Book Review Editor for Comparative Literature.

I was born and raised bilingual in the Southeast Asian city-nation of Singapore, and have been working in the United States academy since 2009. As pre-tenure faculty, I am not directing dissertations at this time.


B.A. (Hons.), 2009, English Literature, National University of Singapore
Ph.D., 2015, Comparative Literature, Emory University