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Decolonial Praxis: Translation and Method in Arabic Studies

Session V-19, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
How are objects of study formed in Arabic studies? What are the terms based upon which an object is produced, legitimized, organized, and institutionalized? What is the relationship between Arabic studies and other modes of inquiry, for example, Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, Feminist and Trans Studies, Decolonial Studies, and others? If the work of Edward W. Said, in Orientalism (1978), has drawn attention to the ways in which objects of study are discursively formed, and if students of Arabic literature, culture, and thought, in part responding to Said, have studied exertions of institutional, interpretive, and social violence in a variety of Middle Eastern and North African contexts, how do we receive this Saidean provocation today? At the same time, if the work of Talal Asad has drawn attention to modes of subjectivity, and subjection, coerced through the modern state form and its secular practices, how do we think the production of scholarly knowledge in relation to these forms of subjectivity, subjection, and social organization? Is academic knowledge production free from the terms for political subjection? Does the formation of objects of study—and the very practice of doing “scholarship”—relate itself to, and become a partisan activity in relation to, the expansion, distribution, and proliferation, and also the destruction and elimination, of modes of being and ways of thinking and doing? Put differently: does the activity of doing scholarly work relate itself to what Wittgenstein called a “form of life”?, and, if it does, how can we think scholarship in a decolonial horizon, which is to say: as a practice that refuses the terms of colonial state formation and social understanding, in relation to which we continue to be interpolated as subjects? How can we think scholarship as not only a decolonial practice but as a praxis, as a mode of thinking that is also a way of doing, as a project for theorization that is also a way of being or living, as a collective mode which, in its activity, invents forms of living entirely other than those to which we continue to be subjected in the modern world? The papers offered here address these questions through an attention to language, translation, and media—in the Arabic translation of Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, in Hussein al-Barghouti’s essayistic theorization of place, and in contemporary Palestinian digital media forms—in order to think method, in Arabic studies, as decolonial praxis.
  • This paper studies the Arabic translation of Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, published in Cairo in 2015, to address the question of method and its relation to language in Arabic studies. What are the historical and social forms this scholarship presumes? What are the forms of subjectivity, and subjection, this scholarship authorizes and proliferates? If two interventions in relation to Arabic studies have drawn the attention of scholars—the publication of Edward W. Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular (2003)—how can we think the Arabic translation of Black Marxism within this lineage as a text for Arabic studies and a critique of its terms? Black Marxism elaborates 2 moments: (1) the historical emergence of capitalism as a global, racialized form; and (2) the social emergence of the Black radical tradition as a practice of struggle and as a mode of being and way of knowing, which extends from the maroon communities in the Americas to the writings of W.E.B. DuBois. Robinson writes of a “shared past,” which is “precious,” “not for itself, but because it is the basis of consciousness, of knowing, of being.” The Arabic rendering of this passage—“laysa fi hadd dhatihi, wa lakin li’annahu yu‘tabar asas al-wa‘i wa al-ma‘rifa wa al-wujud”—compels attention to each of these terms, and in particular “knowledge” and “being,” in relation to Arabic linguistic practice. In this frame, the Arabic Black Marxism gives to us a renewed attention to language as a practice, where the “texts” one reads are no longer understood to exemplify (or fail to exemplify) a historical, literary, philosophical, or religious tradition, trend, or movement, but are understood merely to occasion a certain way of doing language and, therefore, a certain sense of being. In approaching language in this way, we might open a reflection on Arabic studies that explicitly delinks it from the state, capital, the logic of property, and the modes of understanding language and subjectivity these authorize. This paper reads closely the translation of 2 moments in the Arabic Black Marxism—in particular the passages that address “feudalism” in its relation to “capitalism,” and those that address the sense of being, which the Black radical tradition, for Robinson, makes manifest—to address how a reading of these two moments becomes a locus for thinking method in Arabic studies as a decolonial praxis.
  • In the 2018 posthumously published, Al-faragh aladhi ra’a al-tafasil (The Emptiness that Saw the Details) by prolific Palestinian writer, Hussein al-Barghouti (1954-2002), three of the collection’s six essays contemplate what Murad al-Sudani calls al-Barghouti’s critical examination of the “essence of place” (jawharaniya al-makan). These three essays – “The I and the Place” (al-ana wa-l-makan), “On the Extinct Place” (‘an al-makan al-munqarid) and “The Illusion of a Beginning … The Specter of Place” (wahm al-bidaya …shabah al-makan) while written separately, exist in conversation with one another to discursively produce al-Barghouti’s astute and intuitive theorization. In the particulars of Palestinian experience, al-Barghouti succeeds in expressing both the distinctive parameters of the Palestinian encounter with placeness - and its disorientations - and its universality. And through what he identifies as the “latency of place within us” he bridges a discussion of the psychological with the material. This is all to say that al-Barghouti - a writer about whom Mahmoud Darwish commented had achieved, in his autobiography Al-daw’ al-azraq, perhaps the most beautiful instance of prose writing in Palestinian literature - has had an immense impact on the landscape of Palestinian cultural production. He has, of yet, however, only had two of his works translated, both into French. This paper makes two critical interventions regarding engagement with al-Barghouti’s writing: Through close readings of al-Barghouti’s essays on place, I explore, first, why conversation with untranslated scholars and cultural producers, like al-Barghouti, is imperative to decolonial praxis, particularly within the field of Palestinian literary and cultural studies and second, I propose the intrinsicality of what Christina Sharpe has called “becoming undisciplined” to this decolonial praxis – that is, the ways in which this “undisciplining” rejects the partitioning of colonial knowledge and advances “new modes” of research. What do we stand to lose by neglecting to put authors like al-Barghouti into conversations with those thinkers partitioned into the fields of, for instance, Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, or Feminist and Queer critique?
  • In this paper, I approach questions of language and translation from a point of convergence whereby contemporary Palestinian digital media forms confront the logics of settler-colonialism. I ask: what does it mean to narrate the Palestinian experience? More accurately, I ask: in what ways do a Palestinian digital media form invite new expressions of Palestinian sociality that do not require “permission to narrate?” To frame a logic of Palestinian narration, I draw on the discussion presented by Edward Said (1984) in his essay, “Permission to Narrate.” For Said, the logics of militarized violence produce a condition whereby Palestinian narration is rendered improbable due to the Israeli state. This improbability stems from the coercive and “disciplinary communication status” of the that state, whereby all renderings of Palestine and what it means to exist in the world as Palestinian are cast as “terrorist.” While what Said suggests is true, in this paper I look to the generative possibilities of Palestinian narration enabled by the Palestinian digital form. In doing so, I invite an engagement of Palestinian narration not arrested by the logics of settler-colonial erasure nor the militarized state– decolonial in practice and praxis. It is my intention that such a project not only reflects new possibilities in theorizing language and method, but also invites a reflection on ways of being and existing unfazed by the logics of settler-colonialisms which seek to erase and disperse.