From a labor of love to Gulf labor : the ethics of translating Arabic literature in a global age




Stanton, Anna Ziajka

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How does modern Arabic literature travel within an international literary space increasingly networked for intelligibility across wide areas of the globe? What forms of translatability, and what untranslatables, do Arabic novels activate as they engage twenty-first-century audiences in English translation? This dissertation considers the implications of these questions to be not only practical--a matter of which texts are translated and through which channels they circulate--but also ethical, as the literary structures particular ways for relating across cultural and linguistic borders within an irreducibly heterogeneous contemporary world. Responding to contemporary debates in the field of translation studies over the politics of representation, I challenge the assumption that ethics in translation could be defined as only a matter of how the foreignness of an original text is either conveyed or erased by certain semantic choices. Instead, I draw on theories of affect and embodiment to propose a new mode of understanding both the possibilities and stakes of translating Arabic literature into English today, in which ethics hinges on the capacity of a singular and material otherness, reproduced through the literary, to impinge on the human body, changing it and being changed by it. My argument unfolds over four chapters, each of which presents a different view of this process taking shape in works of modern Arabic fiction. Chapter One interrogates the potentials and risks of affective encounters with the other through a reading of Egyptian author Bahāʼ Ṭāhir's novel Wāḥat al-ghurūb (2007; Sunset Oasis, 2009). Chapter Two attends critically to my own practice in translating Lebanese writer Hilāl Shūmān's novel Līmbū Bayrūt (2013; Limbo Beirut, 2016) into English to theorize the role of the translator's body in the events of language transfer. Chapter Three examines Iraqi author Sinān Anṭūn's English self-translation of his novella Iʿjām (2004; I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, 2007) to argue that it rewrites the violence of American policies toward Iraq by implicating American readers in structures of corporeal and ontological collapse. Chapter Four interrogates the role of the Abu Dhabi-funded International Prize for Arabic Fiction in creating a new Arabic canon by comparing two novels that won the award--Kuwaiti author Saʿūd al-Sanʿūsī's Sāq al-bāmbū (2013; The Bamboo Stalk, 2015) and Saudi author ʿAbduh Khāl's Tarmī bi-sharar (2009; Throwing Sparks, 2014)--and demonstrating that each elaborates different possibilities for the translatability of modern Arabic literature in an affectively constituted world literary space.


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