MESA Banner
Literary Translation and Cultural Contact

Session XII-18, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of Soviet archives, scholars in the United States began producing new comparative scholarship challenging the boundaries of traditional Cold War area studies (Meyer 2014; Tuna 2015; Khalid 2015). Though work by a new generation of historians, including Samuel J. Hirst’s scholarship on Turkish and Soviet diplomatic and cultural relations during the 1920s and 1930s and James H. Meyer’s research on Turkish students at KUTV, represent important new directions in Russian and Eurasian history, the literary and cultural dimensions of Turkish and Soviet entanglements is yet to be explored. This paper seeks to supplement this gap by tracing the Cold War Soviet itineraries of the influential exilic Turkish communist writer Suat Derviş, who lived in exile in Europe between 1953 to 1961 and maintained close contact with the Soviet Writers’ Union and the Russian translator Radii Fish. Through a study of her novel Liubovnye romany (Moscow: Molodaia Gvardiia, 1969) that has to date not appeared in Turkish and other Soviet archival materials documenting her previously unknown visit to the Soviet Union in March 1961, this paper will address the transnational publication history of this work and its reimagination of socialist realist aesthetics. Composed sometime during the 1950s in exile and chronicling Derviş’s life during the 1944 and 1946 communist crackdowns (including her miscarriage under police investigation), this fictional autobiography traces the daily struggles of a persecuted writer who spends her days composing “thoughtless” romances and translating French detective fiction in a desperate attempt to support herself and her jailed twin brother Fuad, a communist. Contextualizing this novel in relation to Derviş’s other works, I will argue that Derviş used the technique of metanarration to counter Turkish “police aesthetics” of the 1940s and 1950s, and in doing so, made a valuable contribution to the global canon of socialist realism. Among other things, Liubovnye romany shows that Turkish literary history of the early Cold War years cannot be understood without tracing its neglected literary entanglements with the Soviet Union.
  • This paper argues that the debates surrounding multilingualism on the eve of Algerian independence cannot be fully accounted for without taking into consideration the role played by secularism as an ideological project in determining the linguistic fault lines that opposed those who proposed to construct the new nation on the basis of multilingualism, and those who insisted that Algeria’s new people had to be engineered through monolingual Arabization exclusively. Such a situation, where secularism takes the form of a conflict between a political universalism inherited from colonial rule and a formerly marginalized but soon-to-be dominant form of Arabist universalism, not only overdetermines the debates about multilingualism in Algeria but gives precedence to the linguistic question as to which direction the fledgling nation should be taking. In 1962, as Algeria emerges on the world-historical stage as an independent nation, the problem faced by its elites is that of inventing a public after decades of colonialism have left the greater part of the nation illiterate—and all those able to read and write almost exclusively proficient in the former colonial language. While the political class quickly decides to bypass the issue by settling for monolingual Arabization, the nation’s foremost writers, from Kateb Yacine to Assia Djebar, almost all Francophone Berbers, agitate in French—the only language in which most would be able to write throughout their life—for a version of multilingualism that would associate Arabic to French and Berber languages. This paper proposes a brief intellectual history of a generation of Algerian Francophone Berber writers through the figures of Kateb Yacine and Assia Djebar, whose political hopes for the recognition of Algeria’s multilingual reality had become tethered to French. Grounded in an analysis of their critical writings and of two of their novels, Le Polygone étoilé and Le Blanc de l’Algérie respectively, it holds that the specificity of Francophone Algerian poetics—from a heteroglossic defense of multilingualism to a rejection of any possibility of conciliation with Arabic—cannot be understood outside of the operations of the secular state.
  • In recent years, scholars of the modern Middle East have paid increasing attention to the global currents connecting the region to East Asia and, in particular, to Japan. Historical research on the early twentieth century has examined how an Arab public eagerly consumed information about Japan through translations of European books, essays, and news, which enabled readers to see in the rising Eastern nation an alternative to Western models of modernization (Worringer 2014). Scholars have also discussed the ways in which Japan figured prominently in the discourse of Egyptian reformists, who often cited the country’s political and military progress and drew moral parallels with the Japanese (Abaza 2011, Abbas 1990, Laffan 2001). Yet, little research has addressed another body of writings that contributed to Arab conceptions of modern Japan: travel writing. Over the course of the twentieth century, Japan became a destination that Arabs not only read about in translation but visited for themselves, with many penning vivid accounts of their journeys afterwards. They were journalists and diplomats, tourists and religious reformers. And while they travelled for a range of reasons, their accounts commonly portrayed Japan as an alternative framework for Arab modernization, one in which an “Eastern spirit” could be harmonized with foreign science and technology. This talk explores Arabic travel writing from Japan, drawing on published travelogues as well as popular periodical essays to examine common themes and tropes in this writing as well as the "curious comparisons" it often drew between Arab and Japanese culture. As I show, in these publications, Japan came to serve as a lens through which readers looked outwards onto an exotic other. At the same time, I suggest that such travel accounts also provided a lens for looking inwards and commenting on Arab society. This investigation of the "rihla yabaniyya," or "Japanese journey," sheds light on an unstudied thread of literary works, bringing into new focus cultural flows between East Asia and the Arab world.
  • During the period of al-Nahda, radical transformations of literature took place quickly, since the renewed society was ready to accept new poetry, on the one hand, and the continuation of creating poetry based on the old tradition was not more acceptable, on the other hand. We illustrate this process through the analysis of some of the early poetry of Nasīb ʿArīḍah (1887–1946). He belonged to a group of North American Arabic innovative writers, known as the mahjars, who migrated to The New World at the end of the nineteenth - early twentieth century. Arida’s poetry found a good response from his early readership. His studies at The Russian Teacher’s College in Nazareth had impacted his personality and especially early literary writings. His profound knowledge of Russian literature and language has led to the formation of his individual creative impulse, which inevitably forced him to fade his poetic discoveries into a traditional form. Through the fourteen pieces of Russian classics (Tuitchev) and Symbolists (Bal’mont, Kuzmin, Merezhkovskii, Sologub), that he had selected for translations, Arabicizations, and imitations. Through these works, he has contributed to the absorption of the literary elements of Russian cultural tradition to the complex process of synthesizing cultures of various types by the Arab poets of al-Nahda. Arida’s poems written during the early American period (“Al-Shā’r”, “Limāzhā?”, “Fī jal’sa-t ṭarab”), between several others) serve a good example of a common style of mahjar verse. They are still written in the traditional hemistich and with the application of the traditional rhythm and meter, but the lines are shorter and simpler. Thus, his poetry had to take another form, which would combine the Arab and non-Arab cultures.
  • While scholars of Middle East studies have recently turned their attention to the connections and contestations between Ottoman and Arab literary modernities, the Tanzimat and al-Nahḍah, the history of literary translation between Arabic and Turkish in the 19th century has largely been left understudied. To address this lacuna, my paper will focus on one set of texts that embody late Arabic-Turkish literary contact: 19th-century Robinson Crusoe translations. Introduced to Ottoman reading publics through Dimitrakis Çelebi’s 1853 Karamanli translation, this foundational text of “the Western canon” was first translated into Turkish in Perso-Arabic letters in 1864 by Ahmed Lutfi, who took as his “source” text nothing other than Qiṣṣat Rūbinṣun Kurūzī—the first print translation of Crusoe in Arabic, published by Protestant missionaries in 1835 in Malta. By the time Lutfi translated the Arabic Crusoe into Turkish—thereby reintroducing the novel to the Ottoman reader through Arabic—Buṭrus al-Bustānī had already published his version of the text: Al-tuḥfah al-Bustānīyah fī al-Asfār al-Kurūzīyah, aw Riḥlat Rūbinṣun Kurūzī, first printed in Beirut in 1861. Traversing the capitals of Arabic and Turkish intellectual production in the 19th century, Crusoe translations and their multiple editions thus provide a provocative case to better situate the exchanges between the Tanzimat and al-Nahḍah within a broader context of Ottoman literary and translational modernity. Approaching the translations in question through a comparative lens, I will benefit from the analytical strengths of Middle East studies while also engaging with the methodologies of literary studies, translation studies, and postcolonial studies. Situating the Crusoe translations within a larger genealogy of translation in Arabic and Turkish, I will primarily attend to their publication, circulation, and reception histories, paratextual elements, material features, and visual components. This historical, material, and visual attention will lead into my close reading, where I will zoom in on the scene that depicts Robinson Crusoe’s encounter with and education of the Carib native soon to be named “Friday.” Juxtaposing postcolonial readings of Robinson Crusoe with postcolonial historiographical perspectives on the late Ottoman Empire, my comparative analysis will ultimately explore how the translations in question linguistically and visually edited Crusoe’s enactment of colonial difference in connection with late Ottoman geopolitical parameters through such categories as race and religion.
  • This paper explores the literary dimension of Ottoman Jewish cultural modernity through the prism of literary translation and adaptation. The history of Ottoman Jewish modernization is often portrayed as a product of westernization, a process promulgated primarily through the educational network of the Alliance Israelite Universelle. The relationship between French and Ottoman Jewries has been described by scholars as semi-imperial or semi-colonial in economic and cultural terms. Calling attention to the colonialist and imperialist undercurrents of this Jewish intellectual discourse, I examine the nature of Sephardi literary engagement with the discursive West, represented by the import of French canonical novels and the fictional accounts of French culture within their Ladino adaptations. Employing insights from translation studies and postcolonial theory, I analyze the practice and the poetics of Ladino translation in two literary adaptations of French novels, Alexandre Dumas’ "The Count of Monte Cristo" and Victor Hugo’s "Les Misérables," produced by author Elia R. Karmona (1869-1931) in early twentieth-century Constantinople. Through dynamic and creative engagement with French literature, Karmona’s works complicate our understanding of modernization and specifically westernization in the Ottoman Jewish context, illuminating the significance of local socio-political and cultural processes taking place in the Ottoman Empire and the impact of semi-colonial power structures shaping Ladino literary culture. I argue that Karmona’s works utilize the genres, texts, and tropes of the dominant French culture to reflect critically on the central dilemmas and concerns accompanying Sephardi modernization: political and specifically imperial belonging, shifting social class and gender norms, and the reception of Western notions of modernity.