Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic Literature
Intimate Philologies: Translating Arabic Literature into English After Orientalism
Postcolonial accounts of cultural transmission between the West and the Arabic-speaking Middle East have often emphasized translation’s complicity in an Orientalist or neoimperial politics of representation, from Edward Said’s pathbreaking insights in Orientalism (1978) to Lawrence Venuti’s diagnosis of trends of domestication and foreignization in the Anglophone publishing market. Intimate Philologies takes a different approach to understanding the politics, and the ethics, of Arabic-to-English literary translation since the colonial era. In this book, I propose an ethico-political framework organized around physiological, rather than mimetic, experiences of otherness made possible through the production and consumption of translated literature. Beginning with the popular and controversial nineteenth-century “Arabian Nights” translations by Sir Richard Francis Burton, I trace a genealogy of Arabic-to-English literary translators for whom the philological practice of translation is a form of embodied labor, linking a love of words (philology) to the affective possibilities of texts that circulate in the international literary system. As Burton’s work unsettles normative regimes of sense and sensuality among Victorian readers, the translations that feature in subsequent chapters mobilize the physicality of translated literary language to disrupt the colonial language hierarchies, epistemological frameworks, and structures of soft and hard power that have shaped the relationship between the Anglophone West and the Orient in recent centuries. Rather than identifying these texts and their translators as an uninterrupted lineage, however, Intimate Philologies emphasizes modes of inheritance and influence that are discontinuous, contingent, and fraught with anxiety, ultimately showing that the salutary potential of literary affect in a post-Orientalist setting is always counterbalanced by ethical risk.