Intimate encounters : the materiality of translation in Egyptian novels of the late Nahḍa




Ziajka, Anna Rose

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Foucault described translation as an instance of two languages colliding; Spivak calls translation “the most intimate act of reading.” Considering the two Egyptian novels ‘Uṣfūr min al-sharq by Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm (1938) and Qindīl umm hāshim by Yaḥyā Ḥaqqī (1944), this paper argues that the particularly subtle type of translation that they employ from French and English into Arabic can be best analyzed with a theoretical model of translation that, following Foucault and Spivak, emphasizes the material properties of languages, and specifically, their capacity to engage each other physically through acts of colliding, coupling, and reproducing.

Such a method of analysis suggests fruitful new implications for looking at how language and literature traveled between Egypt and Europe during the so-called Arab Renaissance (the nahḍa) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including what possibilities for the Arabic language might have emerged in its intimate engagement with the languages of the European other. Moreover, this model of translation allows us to move beyond the politicized paradigms that dominate the field of contemporary translation studies and embrace the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in any encounter between cultures, societies, and languages, and in any act of translation.



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