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Panel Title: Translating “Controversial” Arabic Literature
Conference: International Federation of Translators XIX World Congress: Bridging Cultures, San Francisco, CA, August 1-4, 2011
Proposal are invited for a panel on “Translating ‘Controversial’ Arabic Literature” at the FIT XIX World Congress in San Francisco, CA, August 1-4, 2011.
Arabic literature, declared Edward Said in 1990, “remains relatively unknown and unread in the West, for reasons that are unique, even remarkable.” Twenty years later, it is hard to say that the situation has remained the same: there has certainly been an increase in the availability of Arabic literary works in several European languages, and more attention is being given to current Arabic literature. Yet, considering the great interest in the West (generated mainly by political events) in Arab and Muslim societies and the remarkable growth in Arabic literature (especially the novel) in recent years, translating and publishing Arabic literature in several Western languages is often seen as nothing less than a gamble.
Whether it is their illustrative social value, their exotic appeal, their connection with current trends (as in the case of Naguib Mahfouz, for example), their confirmation of established political views or representations, Arabic literary works often have to give (non-literary) justifications for their existence in Western languages. One very effective pass to translation has been the “controversial” or “subversive” status of a work in Arabic. Writings viewed as subverting political, social, and religious establishments or defying moral codes (especially when accompanied by public outcries or bans of different kinds) have usually been given priority by translators and publishers in the West.
This panel seeks to explore, from various angles, the translation of works considered controversial or subversive in Arabic. Our aim is to examine the factors influencing the selection of works for translation, the choices and dilemmas facing translators and publishers in the process of transferring the work from Arabic, and the recent developments and current state of the field.
We welcome contributions that benefit from recent research in translation studies, especially those engaging critically with traditional paradigms in translation theory or scholarship on Arabic literature.
Some of the questions that the panel addresses are:
What defines a work as controversial or subversive, whether in the source Arabic or in the target culture? Are readers’ expectations in the source and target necessarily compatible?
What types of controversy usually attract western translators and publishers?
Do translators sometimes highlight, or exaggerate, controversial aspects in the works they translate? And what strategies do they use in the process?
Generally speaking, the controversiality label can add interest to a work translated from any language. How significant is the work’s controversial status to its selection for translation from Arabic? Is controversiality a major condition for selection, or only one among others?
Has there been any change in recent years toward more attention to the “intrinsic artistic value” of Arabic literature, rather than its social or political relevance?
Conversely, did recent political developments in the Middle East and the West (the 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Iraq, the rise of fundamentalist movements, the Ghaza conflict), and the ensuing interest in the culture and politics of the Arab World, have any effect on the perception of Arabic literature and the conditions surrounding its translation?
How valid are the traditional paradigms of Orientalism and exoticism in understanding current translator choices and audience reactions in Western languages?
Does Edward Said’s description of Arabic literature as “embargoed” still illustrate (if it did in the first place) the way Arabic literature is being treated by translators and publishers? Is there a deliberate intent somehow, as Said stated, to “interdict any attention to texts that do not reiterate the usual clichés about ‘Islam,’ violence, sensuality and so forth”?
What differences exist between Western countries in the conditions and modes of reception surrounding translations from Arabic?
To what extent can Arab institutions, intellectuals, and writers themselves be blamed for deficiencies in translating from Arabic?
To what extent can the conditions in which Arabic literature is translated and received in the West be compared to those governing the reception of literary works from other non-European, especially “Third World,” cultures?
The submission deadline is December 1, 2010. Presentations should be in English. Please send proposals (maximum 300 words) to Tarek Shamma, United Arab Emirates University, email@example.com.