A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Translating for Bigots"

M. Lynx Qualey at the Arab Literature (in English) blog reports on a lecture at AUC by Adam Talib called "Translating for Bigots," about translating Arabic literature for Western audiences who bring stereotypical preconceptions about the Middle East to their reading. An excerpt:

These prejudices are an issue with any Arabic literature in translation, but they were most at hand, Talib said, when dealing with Arab women writers and Arab women characters.

“Translating Arab women characters is…extremely fraught. Why? Because if you’re a reader of modern Arabic literature, you know that what happens in modern Arabic literature. People date in modern Arabic literature; people have sex in modern Arabic literature; people drink and take drugs. And a lot of times, you will just translate what you find on the page, and you’ll find that reviewers find this peculiar.”

If a reviewer — who Talib sees as a proxy for the reader — finds an Arab woman not wrapped in ten layers of fabric, forced to marry her cross-eyed cousin, and pushed to the back seat of a car, then, “the reviewer says, ‘What an unrealistic depiction of Arab women.’”

“There is a hostility in the reader’s mind” to characters who don’t fit particular stereotypes, Talib said.
Read the whole thing.

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