Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation: ‘World Literature and its Discontents’

Gate of the Sun is so intimately tied to the specificities of Palestinian history – I mean that’s part of the point, to preserve a collective history of a dispossessed people – but this also means that the novel asks a lot of its reader. The way Khoury works with these symbols and disrupts them is where much of the novel’s meaning resides, so in class we think about what it means for a novel that’s quite locally-bound in a number of important ways to be read by audiences who don’t share in this semiotic language, who aren’t a part of the novel’s initial literary community. The film   Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles   shows this brilliantly by juxtaposing interviews with Bowles and Choukri. To understand the terrain being negotiated by contemporary authors writing in Arabic, students first need to understand Arabic’s relationship to the Qur’an, the language’s resultant sacred connotations, and the discomfort some feel when Standard Arabic is used to write experiences that don’t fit into conventional models of propriety. So many contemporary authors note that they grew up with these stories, hearing them from their mothers, grandmothers, or other women of the family (Fatima Mernissi talks about this in detail in   Dreams of Trespass, and she’s hardly alone), and I’ve read autobiographical authorial accounts of this as early as the 15th   century. It became hard not to ask these questions of Nabil Ayouch after Zin Li Fik (Much Loved) came out in 2015. We look at other material as well, like the actual laws that governed the zone, which are printed in Graham Stuart’s   The International City of Tangier   (1931). This is a far bigger issue in the context of literature in South Asia than it is in the Arab world, where I don’t think any of us believe there’s much danger of Arabic being displaced by another language with greater global reach. So, our initial context is one of post-independence disillusionment. In this case, an accurate understanding of the space of the camp is crucial to the narrative and the type of displacement it describes. It’s understandable, the name is a misnomer. How did this course come about? In contrast, many contemporary novelists write with an eye to their work ultimately being translated into English and French. The references need to be spelled out, explained. Kilito explains this tension in a way that I think is easily grasped by students. These two very different representations of women sitting next to each other in the same text raise a number of questions for students, especially when we consider how Shahrazad is taken up by authors in the 20th   century, something we see later in the course when we read   Gate of the Sun   and   In the Country of Men. Nevertheless, World Literature as a way to frame comparative literary conversations seemed to be gaining more traction. I choose to work with the example of Tangier for a few reasons, though certainly other sites could be substituted for it. idiosyncratic language. It also allows us to approach the idea of literary community from another angle by considering the misunderstandings that have arisen when the Qur’an has been exported to the very different literary communities of Medieval and Enlightenment Europe. So, I think you’re right to ask about genre here, because if there’s a “normative force,” to borrow one of Mufti’s phrases, it’s likely our privileging of not only the novel form, but particular types of novels as well. Are there other texts you’ve considered? I’ve never included Jane in this unit, but maybe I should. It’s Khoury’s most celebrated novel, and it’s been translated into English, French, Hebrew etc., so it has undoubtedly become an example of World Literature. I realize I’ve put together quite a masculine syllabus here so it might not be a bad idea to develop a unit around women’s writing specifically.   
  Unit 4 focuses around Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men. Most of Zafzaf’s work, on the other hand, is set in the 60s, often in Casablanca, though   The Elusive Fox   is set in Essaouira (‘The Woman and the Rose’ has similar themes, and is set in Casa). Of course, for a slightly different theme, both of these authors could work.    
What do the two films bring to the discussion? I lived there for quite a long time and return often. And do you use more than one translation in talking about the ways in which the Nights in particular have been translated and trans-dapted into English? I wouldn’t use Zafzaf here since he wasn’t a part of this specific milieu. We see the same place in the same historical moment from radically different angles and it comes together like a cubist painting. First, in terms of genre, I wanted to work with a novel as opposed to a memoir like   The Return,   where generically the theoretical stakes are different. Earlier, in relation to the Qur’an, I mentioned the idea of literary community, and I think this idea is relevant here as well. Moments of historical cosmopolitanism allow us to see this divide (the global, after all, is in a sense also the cosmopolitan) in an exceptionally clear way. The Reynolds essay is the best recounting I know, not only of the strange process that led the Nights to evolve from a story collection that hadn’t been terribly highly regarded in the Arabic tradition to the status of World Literature, but also of the Medieval Arabic literary tradition in which it was originally situated. GH:   Mufti points out that the very concepts and classifications upon which World Literature is founded are themselves European/Western. For students unfamiliar with the region, they read that the events of the novel’s frame story are set in a refugee camp and they immediately imagine tents. In an unsigned letter of complaint written by the parents, one comment in particular is worth mentioning. Al-Ḥarīrī’s maqāmāt that feature alternating dotted and undotted words, for example, demonstrate a complete indifference to, if not disdain for, the possibility of translation. Given that it’s a translation of Muhsin Mahdi’s printed edition of the 14th   century Syrian manuscript held by the   Bibléothèque Nationale,   it’s the closest we can get to an original text. Likewise for Goytisolo, who was really rooted in Marrakech. While I’ll say more about Mohamed Choukri’s For Bread Alone later, I’d like to consider for a moment the novel’s censor at the American University of Cairo in 1998-9. She is coeditor (with Nizar F. In Gate of the Sun, the reference isn’t named, it’s assumed the reader will intuit the analogical relationship Khalil shares with Shahrazad as he attempts to rehabilitate Yunus through the act of storytelling. This only becomes amplified when we turn to Edward Lane’s and especially Richard Burton’s translations. I was also the lead translator on Choukri’s memoir of Paul Bowles (in English, Paul Bowles: The Recluse of Tangier; in Arabic, Būl Būwilz wa-‘uzlat ṭanjā), published back in 2008. the global. Might the women in these stories that were never written down have looked somewhat different? Malti-Douglas elucidates this representational tension, meaning that we have in the text countless examples of women’s   kayd   – guile or trickery – evoking the well-known Qur’anic declaration found in   Sūrat Yūsuf, “Inna kaydakunna ‘azīm   (Indeed, your [feminine plural] guile is great),” yet simultaneously we have Shahrazad, an   adība, or littérateure,   who takes on the task of healing the king through the art of narration. Much of the first four classes are devoted to different ways of reading the Qur’an (and Antara). I don’t like to repeat material in different classes so the only real limitation is that whatever I choose shouldn’t be a part of another class that I teach. This hands-on work allows them to think through the issue of translation in a direct way. Unpacking this statement allows us to cut to the core of the different expectations that many readers continue to hold when it comes to the Arabic text and the tension this often creates in modern Arabic writing. And then the Nights. By considering these different materials together, we get a kind of   Rashomon   effect. The texts that will circulate as world literary texts will never be those that are most intimately linked to the Arabic tradition, that resist the critical categories of Western theory or the expectations of global audiences. It’s then left to the reader to interpret what that analogical relationship means, how to understand the reversal of gender in the role Khalil inhabits, and even Khalil’s ultimate failure as storyteller etc. Of course, one of his central concerns, evident enough in his title, is the hegemony of the English language. I’ve had several students tell me that they simply hadn’t had the imaginative tools to picture the life Choukri describes until they saw Nabil Ayouch’s (admittedly loose) adaptation. She has published articles in the Journal of Arabic Literature, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, Portal 9: Stories and Critical Writing about the City, The Global South and the Journal of North African Studies. (What about Jane?) What framing texts, questions, and jumping-off points do you use for this relationship? There’s also something productively jarring in moving from the extreme specificity of   Gate of the Sun   to the heavily abstracted quality of   In the Country of Men. GH:   I find that the issue of Global English actually needs to be brought to their attention. Given the discussions we will have already had by that point in the class around Gate of the Sun and In the Country of Men, Kilito’s ideas intersect directly with many of the core themes we’ve been thinking about. This could be, in part, because The Institute for World Literature had just held its inaugural session in 2011. This might go against the idea that the literary text should be doing that work, or that it’s for each individual reader to imagine the spaces described within a novel’s pages. Though I think this is improving – the ACLA, for example, makes a conscious effort to push back against the discipline’s tendency to exclude “peripheral” literatures – if we were to do a quick survey of Comparative Literature departments in North America, we would still find a dearth of specialists in Arabic among the faculty. We also think about how the novel’s success abroad has affected its subsequent reception in the Arab world. GH: Since I’ve divided the class into units, I can always potentially design a new unit and simply switch it with an existing one. Malti-Douglas’ work brings another important aspect of the   Nights   to the forefront. How do we reconcile these two oppositional paradigms of femininity? The particularities of my current institution mean that every student takes what is in essence a year-long class in World Literature their first year. They didn’t worry about the reverse because the assumption was anyone who really wanted knowledge would inevitably need to learn Arabic. GH:   Again, if we want to focus on the issue of reception, there’s hardly a better case study than the Nights since it was their translation and subsequent incredible popularity in Europe that caused the stories to ultimately be taken seriously in their local context. Beyond this, there’s the particular voice Matar develops with his narrator/protagonist Suleiman. These were the types of scenes that sparked the controversy. They read texts and authors from across the globe, everything naturally in translation. And then of course we have the matter of Bowles’ translation of For Bread Alone, something Choukri discusses at length in Paul Bowles: The Recluse of Tangier, and the fact that the English text came out in 1973, circulating for a nearly a decade before the Arabic was finally published in 1982, only to be banned in Morocco a year later, which lasted until 2000. I don’t think World Literature as a model allows us a way out of this problem, and I don’t imagine that’s likely to change. Given that the stories would have been set down in writing by men rather than women (something we see explicitly in the frame story’s conclusion), might we question the manuscript tradition of the   Nights   as potentially more masculine than what may have been circulating orally among women? Why Tangier, Bowles, and Choukri? Their attention can be brought to these issues fairly easily. Let me explain what I mean when I say I could see using Zafzaf for a slightly different theme. Most people associate Bowles with   The Sheltering Sky,   but if we’re interested in Tangier’s international zone (1923-56, at its height governed by France, Spain, the UK, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the US),   Let it Come Down   is the best illustration of the period written from the perspective of the foreign elite. GH: Of course, you’re right to see a connection there. This meant that I spent a lot of time reading their work on Tangier in a concentrated way.  
  Following on Mufti’s Forget English!, does “World Literature” (inevitably?) privilege the novel and narrative prose in ways that limit the ways in which we see the Arabic tradition? For the students, this immediately raises the question of form, and to what degree the text’s language influences its structure. The implication is that it was the resemblance between these French stories and the Nights that both drew Galland to them and appealed to readers in France. GH:   I’ve already discussed the film on Paul Bowles above, though I could add that I generally see a value in showing students what places actually look like. Yet in so many ways the novel resists this status, which is one of the main reasons I like to think about it in this framework. If the film can help foster that connection, if it prompts students to be moved by the story, then that’s also important. GH:   In your first question, you referenced the difference between Classical and Modern Arabic literature when we think of its position in the world literary system, how it was once in the center, and certainly perceived itself as such, whereas now it perceives itself to be on the margins. It’s graphic in its depictions of drug use, violence, and illicit sex. In the first iteration of this class, I did also include Jean Genet’s   The Thief’s Journal   in this section, which allowed us to address how certain aesthetic structures might be appropriated in startlingly innovative ways when they travel to new contexts. But in fact this also becomes an issue of reception, since a Moroccan audience would have a very different store of imaginative images from which to draw when reading Choukri’s text than a foreign reader who had never been to Morocco, or potentially anywhere in the region. This is an excellent starting point for thinking about how a target language and literary context influences not only the way a translator translates a source text, but also the degree to which translators often select the texts they translate based on how well they conform to the reader expectations of their own literary contexts. An Abridged Syllabus: World Literature and its Discontents

UNIT 1: Beginnings
Introduction to class and introductory discussion of pre- Islamic poetry and the Qur’an
In class reading: The Mu‘allaqa of ‘Antara; Sura 81 “The Overturning;” Sura 99 “The Quaking; (with sounds cues)” Sura 101 “The Calamity (with sound cues)”
The Qur’an as Text
Introduction to Approaching the Qur’an, 1-31; Sura 1 “The Opening, (with sound cues)”; Sura 53: 1-18 “The Star;” Sura 94 “The Laying Open;” Sura 96 “The Embryo”
The Qur’an and Its Reception in the West
Ziad Elmarsafy, “Translators and Translations of the Qur’an,” 1-36, from The Enlightenment Qur’an: The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam
The Qur’an’s Status at Home
Nasr Abu-Zayd, “The Dilemma of the Literary Approach to the Qur’an,” 8-40
The 1001 Nights, the Most Famous of Frame Stories
Husain Haddawy, The Arabian Nights, Introduction, ix-xxxi, Text, 1-16;
Fedwa Malti-Douglas, “Narration and Desire: Shahrazad;” “The Anecdotal Woman,” 11- 53, from Women’s Body, Women’s Word: Gender and Discourse in Arabo-Islamic Writing
The 1001 Nights at Home & Abroad
Reynolds, Dwight, “A Thousand and One Nights: a history of the text and its reception,” 270-291
From Hadaway’s translation: First Story Cycle (The Story of the Merchant and the Jinni, The First Old Man’s Tale, The Second Old Man’s Tale, The Third Old Man’s Tale) & Second Story Cycle (The Fisherman and the ‘Ifrit, The Story of King Yunan and Duban the Sage, The Story of King Sindbad and the Falcon, The Story of the Treacherous Vizier, The Story of the Semi-Petrified Prince)
The 1001 Nights, Its Translations, Adaptations and Influence Burton’s translation of the frame story, 1-16
David Damrosch, “Goethe Coins a Phrase (Introduction)” 1-36 David Damrosch, “World Enough and Time (Conclusion)” 282-303 In Class: Presentation of research on the Nights
UNIT 2: Interzone: Tangier
Introducing Cosmopolitan Tangier
Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down, 7-50
Graham H. Bowles published the book in 1952, when the international zone was already winding down, so even his novel is an act of colonial nostalgia. There are also a few recent theoretical texts around which I’d like to build a unit or units. And it’s not just the basic facts of contemporary Middle Eastern history and politics that it takes for granted, it expects the reader to understand a very specific representational language, a distinctly Palestinian set of semiotics. This is one of the aspects of ‘discontent’ in the course’s title. Tangier, however, is a context I know better. Her current book project engages with a wide range of Arabic prose material, primarily from Morocco from the 19th to 21stcenturies, including travel narratives, historical chronicles, dystopian satires, and hybridized novels. The nostalgia for a lost cosmopolitan Alexandria is more frequently discussed and could be used to the same end, pairing Lawrence Durrell, Constantine Cavafy, and André Aciman with writers more confined to their local context like Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. I ask students to choose a section of the Nights and compare translations side by side themselves. I suppose the Zafzaf I was thinking about was The Elusive Fox, where the narrator is an outsider watching these foreigners and half-participating in their revels — the perspective of a Moroccan schoolteacher on vacation attracted to these foreigners’ modes but ever outside. “Writing Palestine” centers around Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun. The difference between the way a text is read in English or French and the way it’s read in Arabic has been at the heart of some of the biggest 20th century literary controversies in the Middle East and North Africa. For a reader with little context, it could be a work of speculative dystopian fiction along the lines of   1984. It participates in a semiotic language shared by a large body of Palestinian literature and film, but most Palestinian novels don’t circulate as widely outside of the Arab world as Gate of the Sun, so we tend not to consider the degree to which this isn’t a transparent code. Colonial writing in general also tends to have a very specific kind of affective register. Michael Allan’s   In the Shadow of World Literature, for example, wasn’t out yet the last time I taught this course, nor was Aamir Mufti’s   Forget English!: Orientalisms and World Literature. They then present their findings to the rest of the class. Zafzaf? They don’t imagine that these spaces have become permanent with multistory buildings. I use Haddawy’s translation of the   Nights   as a kind of neutral base. The actual village of Bāb al-Shams, inspired by the novel and constructed in the occupied West Bank in 2013, is a wonderful example to consider. For the same reason, I show clips of Mai Masri’s Children of Shatila when we’re reading Gate of the Sun. The novel is set in Tripoli, but it could be almost anywhere. I show Nabil Ayouch’s ‘Ali Zaoua in part for this reason. What might you subtract? ArabLit’s ongoing series on   Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation   continues with a discussion with Gretchen Head,   Assistant Professor of Literature at Yale-NUS College, Yale University’s Singapore campus, and   co-editor of   The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives. Goytisolo? In general, I read Choukri as borrowing and adapting a number of Genet’s narrative modes to often revolutionary effect in Arabic; I’ve discussed this at some length in an article published in   Alif’s 2014 special issue,   World Literature: Perspectives and Debates. In Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language, he argues that in the Classical period, authors writing in Arabic viewed translation as a “one-way operation,” from languages like Persian, Greek, and Syriac into Arabic. In the footage, Bowles describes all the ways his life was idyllic during this period, the lavish parties, the luxury, the indulgence in vice etc. Despite the heroism of Shahrazad, the stories are filled with examples of women’s deceit. What does Kilito bring to the discussion? A text only becomes a work of World Literature, at least in Damrosch’s definition, by circulating beyond its linguistic and cultural origins, often itself transforming from a local object into a global one. He describes the two 10th century texts where we first see the Nights mentioned (Ibn Nadīm’s Fihrist and al-Ma‘sūdī’s Murūj al-dhahab), and this section of his essay pairs wonderfully with chapter 5 of Robert Irwin’s Nights & Horses & the Desert: an Anthology of Classic Arabic Literature. Let me start to explain what I mean by this through an example. when writing that book, I had to search out his original sources so that the translation would contain these authors’ actual language rather than Choukri’s Arabic translations translated back into English, which wouldn’t have given us anything close to Bowles’ or Burroughs’ et al. Can you talk about the texts you use around it (the Malti-Douglas, Reynolds)? Yet at the same time as I want students to understand the way the Qur’an and the literary heritage built around it sometimes serve to complicate how the modern Arabic novel is received in the Arabic speaking world, I don’t want them to have the impression that the Qur’an as a text is somehow intrinsically repressive. Choukri’s   For Bread Alone   is set in precisely the same place and time, though the spaces Bowles’ characters inhabit are essentially absent in the landscape of Choukri’s Tangier. I’d also like to incorporate some of Emily Apter’s work, either from   The Translation Zone   or   Against World Literature. For so many there’s an emotional relationship to the Qur’anic text that’s rarely understood by those outside of the tradition. Only time constraints led me to remove   The Thief’s Journal and I may bring it back next time I teach the course, especially since Genet appears again in Gate of the Sun. We have original editions of Lane and Burton in the library, but they’re encouraged to look at other translations as well, and in other languages if they know them. This quality of abstraction has an effect on how intertextual references work as well, which is why I reference the absent intertext. There’s a rhetorical code of symbols at work in the novel that an Arabic-speaker would intuitively understand because it’s a part of the cultural landscape: the figure of the fadā’ī, the olive trees, the keys to the houses that have been lost, the connections the written text retains to oral modes of story-telling triggered by phrases like kān wa mā kān. What I want them to be thinking about is how the act of reading can mean different things depending on the literary community and larger context. The influx of Western artists and musicians into Morocco in the 60s (the Rolling Stones probably most famously) would indeed seem to be something of a legacy of the interzone, but the context is different enough so that I would want to have a unit with a revised focus that asked slightly different questions. What questions do you want to raise and consider about the absent intertext(s)? The letter acknowledges that For Bread Alone was regularly taught at the AUC in English translation without issue and then states that while it might be possible for students to “accept such a thing in English,” anyone would protest if they were forced to read the book in Arabic. Reading Choukri next to Bowles inevitably makes students question the very nature of cosmopolitanism (the global), since in this case it’s so explicitly at the expense of a local population literally prohibited from entering the spaces reserved for the (mostly foreign) elite. GH:   World Literature as an idea inevitably raises the question of the local vs. In an interview in   Guernica   in 2011, Matar said that writing in English will likely always feel like something of a betrayal, but that it also gives him a distance and restraint in his writing; he’s said that English has “abstracted” the reader for him. Hermes) of The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives (Edinburgh University Press, 2018). The use of a 9-year old narrator – all of the ambiguities that introduces, especially when we, as the readers, have to start questioning the integrity of Suleiman’s character – this, in and of itself, seems to participate in a narrative strategy more common in European languages, and perhaps English especially, than in Arabic (Rushdie’s Saleem Sinai in   Midnight’s Children,   Grass’ Oskar Matzerath in   The Tin Drum,   or further back, the classic examples of the child narrator in novels like   To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye,   and   Huckleberry Finn). Any particular texts about the translation of For Bread Alone? I’ve also had students from Latin America and South or Southeast Asia tell me that with the film they could imagine Choukri’s equivalents in contexts closer to them personally. Staurt, “The Internationalization of Tangier,” 81-96; “The International Government of Tangier,” 155-171
Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down, 50-101
Michelle Green, The Dream at the End of the World, xi-18
Watch Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles
Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down, 101-154
Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down, 154-245
Paul Bowles, letters from In Touch, 84-85; 88-89; 176-177 Conversations, 103-134
Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down, 245-292 Conversations, 157-179
A Local Response Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone, 1-50 Mohamed Choukri, Paul Bowles in Tangier, 7-57
Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone, 50-100 Slavoj Žižek, from Violence, 1-39
On the Limits of the Acceptable, a Local Adaptation: Watch Ali Zaoua
Mohamed Choukri, 100-169
Samia Mehrez, “Literature and Literalism: The al-Khubz al-Hafi Crisis Reconsidered,” 229-250
Mohamed Choukri Interview, “Being and Place,” 220-227
UNIT 3: Writing Palestine
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 4-70
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “What is a Minor Literature,” 16-27, from Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 71-157
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 158-238
Jean Genet, “Four Hours in Shatila,” 208-228
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 239-349 Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel”
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 350-411
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 411-463
Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra,” from Simulacra and Simulation
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun, 463-531
Franco Moretti, “Evolution, World Systems, Weltliterateur” 400-408
UNIT 4: When the Intertext is Absent: Arabic Literature & Global English
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, 1-60
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, 60-142
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, 142-190
Abdelfattah Kilito, selections from Thou Dost Not, and Shalt Not, Speak My Language
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, 190-245
Gretchen Head is currently Assistant Professor of Literature in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and Book Review Editor for the Journal of Arabic Literature. It’s very easy for students to get lost in the novel’s details. Even in Haddawy’s translation, however, the   Nights   is a very masculine text. GH: I chose   In the Country of Men   over Matar’s other works for a few reasons. This can change the novel’s composition, causing authors to avoid allusions and expressions that won’t translate easily. I could see using both Shaden Tageldin’s   Disarming Words   and Jeffrey Sacks’   Iterations of Loss   if I didn’t already draw on those texts in different classes. Even then, the idea of World Literature wasn’t exactly new. Qaddafi, who’s never named explicitly, could be any number of authoritarian leaders.  
What other texts might you add in a future iteration of the course? So here we have the very opposite conceptualization of the reader than what we find in   Gate of the Sun. Matar is writing in a language where the Nights as intertext doesn’t work the same way. He can’t start with the assumption of reader familiarity. What interests students about “Global English(es)”? While Khoury expects his reader to be historically and culturally grounded, Matar doesn’t really expect his reader to have any familiarity with his context at all. For reasons like these, I would position Gate of the Sun as a text that happened to become a work of World Literature, while In the Country of Men is a work explicitly designed for global circulation. Why this instead of (for instance)   The Return? GH: Gate of the Sun is an interesting case. In short, when teaching Choukri’s novel in Arabic in an Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature course at the AUC, Mehrez was summoned to an administrative office where she was met by a number of high ranking university officials and told that several of her students’ parents had complained about the book. And because the scene was largely defined by its literariness, it lends itself to inquiries into the politics of literary circulation, and also questions of literary form, particularly in regard to some of the shifts occurring in Choukri’s Arabic writing. Certainly, the topic of literary prizes would make an excellent unit, especially in light of the new canon currently being created by the Arabic Booker. I know many of us have always appreciated the theoretical focus and rigor of Comparative Literature as a discipline while simultaneously often feeling disillusioned by its eurocentrism. Related to this, we also talk about the Qur’an as a world literary text in and of itself, in the sense that it too is a text that has historically traveled. It opens up a concrete way for students to think about the contemporary politics of translation, literary circulation, and reception. What are the upsides to this (as a “world literature,” a representative of Palestine/Palestinianness) and the possible pitfalls a student might slip into? For anyone unfamiliar with For Bread Alone, suffice it to say that Choukri’s novelistic autobiography is a brutal portrait of what it means to be among the most marginalized in Moroccan society, though surely the events he describes aren’t limited to Morocco and have equivalents throughout the Arab world. Then the film cuts to Choukri describing all the ways he was excluded from everything Bowles has just described, the signs on café doors stating “interdit au marocains”   etc. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Sunday Submissions: The 4th Annual Khayrallah Prize, Artistic Expression of the Lebanese DiasporaCategories: Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation Of course, a film adaptation, especially one like ‘Ali Zaoua that was successful internationally, also raises a number of questions relevant to the course’s central themes: how different media carry different possibilities of circulation, which films are made for international consumption and which are made for local audiences, how does this affect the film’s content etc. Even-Zohor’s “The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem” goes back to 1978, Moretti’s “Conjectures on World Literature” to 2000, and even Damrosch’s What is World Literature had come out nearly 10 years earlier in 2003. The Tangier unit is really tied to a specific time and place: the particular moment of the international zone, when all these American and European writers were there alongside a young Mohamed Choukri (and others, like Mohamed Mrabet, who I’ve considered adding). Because Choukri used so many quotes from Bowles, Burroughs, Ginsberg etc.  
Gretchen Head:   I first taught a version of this course in 2012 when I was a postdoctoral fellow in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Gate of the Sun presumes that its reader already has a working understanding of key events and concepts: the nakbah, the naksah, the Lebanese civil war and its intersection with Israeli occupation, the Sabra and Shatila massacres, the PLO’s expulsion from Lebanon. There, Irwin has translated the excerpt of Ibn Nadīm’s Fihrist where the 10th century bookseller gives his own opinion of the Nights, saying, for example: “I have seen it [the Nights] in complete form a number of times and it is truly a coarse book, without warmth in the telling.” This gives students a clear picture of the lack of prestige with which the Nights were initially endowed by the Arabic literary establishment. Despite that the faculty consciously draw attention to the issue of language, I nevertheless think that the translated nature of the texts somehow gets lost, that it’s taken as natural that we would be reading everything in English. Since the Qur’an is acutely aware of its status as an Arabic text (see, for example, Q 12: 2), this leads to some extremely productive questions about the limits of translation. To understand this, I think we need to begin with the Qur’an. Samia Mehrez has explained and theorized what has since come to be known as the Al-Khubz al-hafi crisis in her 2008 Egypt’s Culture Wars: Politics and Practice, so the full story is there for anyone who wants all the details. James English’s   The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value   could be useful here. In contrast, World Literature’s focus on the global and its destabilization of how we think about literary canons seemed to offer a potentially more inclusive space for inquiry and I wanted to explore this in a class. This is an easy way to refresh the class without having to completely restructure it. She holds a PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, Head discusses her “World Literature and its Discontents.” An abridged syllabus is available at the end:
Relating Arabic literature to “world” literature (both from when it was at the center of its world to now, when Arabic literature often perceives itself at a margins) is certainly a rich vein for interrogation. Given that I teach in a Literature department, rather than a Middle Eastern or Near Eastern Studies department, I can’t assume my students will have any prior exposure to the Qur’an at all. Using Michael Sells’ translation of the later surahs that are so rich in metaphor and figurative language, we spend several sessions so that they can begin to develop a sense of the text itself, and just as importantly, a sense of how readers relate to the Qur’an as text. At the same time, none of our students are monolingual so they have a point of reference when it comes to questions of language choice, why one might choose one language over another, the different points of access different languages provide at particular historical moments. Once we shift to thinking about the moment of the Nights’ translation into European languages with Galland, one of the useful things that Reynolds does that I haven’t seen commented on as much by others is tie Galland’s interest in the stories to the new genre of fiction – that of the Fairy Tale (contes des fées) – that emerged and gained almost instant popularity in France around 1690. I ask students to think of the way Shahrazad and the Nights are referenced in Gate of the Sun and In the Country of Men. What grounding does this give them, in which sorts of questions (and which sorts of lenses)? how he could have anything he wanted at virtually no cost. Looking at the way emotions work in Let it Come Down can be very revealing, and brings students back to question of how external politics and socioeconomic structures can affect internal textual form. Paul Bowles in Morocco. GH:   World Literature tends to focus on questions of circulation and reception, and this is inevitably tied to modes of reading. When I say this, I’m not referring to Goethe’s famous 19th century proclamation, but rather to the fact that people like Itamar Even-Zohor, Franco Moretti, and David Damrosch had been writing about the themes that preoccupy discussions of World Literature for some time.