Translation and Transformation in Modern Arabic Literature: The Indigenous Assertions of Muḥammad 'Uthmān Jalāl
This path-breaking book offers a re-examination of the east-west (Egyptian-French) cultural encounter during the early period of the renaissance or nahda in 19th-century Egypt, through looking closely at the particular contact zone of literary translations, specifically some of the earliest translations of prestigious French literature into Arabic. In this unprecedented study, in contrast with views that presume a passive top-down model of cultural influence, Carol Bardenstein formulates a more complex and ambivalent model - a transculturating one. She shows how - within the translations themselves - an indigenous sensibility is asserted and elaborated, running against the grain of the apparently deferring gesture of borrowing from the French literary tradition, which was viewed by many in the Egyptian intellectual vanguard as having the prestige and cultural capital to civilize an Egypt and an Arabic literary tradition that was perceived as being belated in its development. In translations of works by La Fontaine, Bernardin de St. Pierre, Moliere and Racine, Muhammad Uthman Jalal indigenized the texts in various ways, Arabizing, Islamicizing, and Egyptianizing the textual field. Not only did this translational approach create a corpus of indigenized literary texts, but it also implicitly engaged in the process of experimenting with different possible delineations of the contours of the collective or community that was to produce what was to become modern Arabic literature. In so doing, it anticipated many later explicit ideological formulations about the nature of possible or desired configurations of collective affiliation and identification, as Arab, pan-Arab, regional Egyptian along nationalist lines, pan-Islamic etc., with the passing of Ottomanism.
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