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Disarming Words

Disarming Words: Empire and the Seductions of Translation in Egypt

Shaden M. Tageldin
Series: FlashPoints
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Disarming Words
    Book Description:

    In a book that radically challenges conventional understandings of the dynamics of cultural imperialism, Shaden M. Tageldin unravels the complex relationship between translation and seduction in the colonial context. She examines the afterlives of two occupations of Egypt—by the French in 1798 and by the British in 1882—in a rich comparative analysis of acts, fictions, and theories that translated the European into the Egyptian, the Arab, or the Muslim. Tageldin finds that the encounter with European Orientalism often invited colonized Egyptians to imagine themselves “equal” to or even “masters” of their colonizers, and thus, paradoxically, to translate themselves toward—virtually into—the European. Moving beyond the domination/resistance binary that continues to govern understandings of colonial history, Tageldin redefines cultural imperialism as a politics of translational seduction, a politics that lures the colonized to seek power through empire rather than against it, thereby repressing its inherent inequalities. She considers, among others, the interplays of Napoleon and Hasan al-'Attar; Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, Silvestre de Sacy, and Joseph Agoub; Cromer, 'Ali Mubarak, Muhammad al-Siba'i, and Thomas Carlyle; Ibrahim 'Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, and Ahmad Hasan al-Zayyat; and Salama Musa, G. Elliot Smith, Naguib Mahfouz, and Lawrence Durrell. In conversation with new work on translation, comparative literature, imperialism, and nationalism, Tageldin engages postcolonial and poststructuralist theorists from Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak to Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, Emile Benveniste, and Jacques Derrida.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95004-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. OVERTURE Cultural Imperialism Revisited: Translation, Seduction, Power
    (pp. 1-32)

    Much as I hesitate to air the intimate apparel of (post)coloniality in general and of mainstream (post)colonial Egyptian intellectual subjectivity in particular, do so I shall—with a little help from the Moroccan literary theorist ‘Abd al-Fattāḥ. Kīlīṭū (Abdelfattah Kilito). Kīlīṭū opensLan Tatakallama Lughatī(2002;Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language), a provocative excursus into the psychological underbelly of translation in the medieval and modern Arab worlds, with a prologue that speaks volumes to a central argument of this book. Citing the example of Muṣṭafā Luṭfī al-Manfalūṭī (1876–1924), an influential early-twentieth-century Egyptian man of letters known for his...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The Irresistible Lure of Recognition
    (pp. 33-65)

    When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt on 2 July 1798, he came bearing not a cross but a crescent. I speak metonymically, of course, but not far from the mark. For in his first proclamation to the people of Egypt, written in French and translated into Arabic just before the invasion, Napoleon does not announce the Christianization—or even the Europeanization—of Egyptian subjects as his aim but instead assures Egyptians that he is a Muslim like them, as are his armies of soldiers and scholars.¹ By a brilliant stroke of (mis)translation from Napoleon’s French, which read, “Nous sommes amis des...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Dismantling I: Al-‘Aṭṭār’s Antihistory of the French in Egypt, 1798–1799
    (pp. 66-107)

    To the intimation that the colonized might be as much disarmed as coerced into subjection, only fiction does justice. No Egyptian representation of the French occupation better attests to the power of French self-translation to seduce Egyptian minds than a rhymed-prose fiction(maqāma)written, in Arabic, around 1799. Its author, the Maghribi-Egyptian intellectual Ḥasan al-‘Aṭṭār (1766?–1835)—who had fled Cairo for Upper Egypt in terror of the French—returned that year to befriend scholars of the occupation and to teach them Arabic.¹ In al-‘Aṭṭār’s “Maqāmat al-Faransīs” (Maqāmaof the French), a strangely erotic encounter between cultures erupts in the...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Suspect Kinships: Al-Ṭahṭāwī and the Theory of French-Arabic “Equivalence,” 1827–1834
    (pp. 108-151)

    To speak of the nineteenth-century French project to teach Egyptians “language” as a (post)colonial enterprise is to interrupt conventional historiographies of Egyptian-European cultural contact, which persist in forgetting fear, remembering love, and failing to ask why they so forget—and so remember. It is to intercept a critical tradition in flight from the fact that French colonialism and its imperial afterlives rewrote Egyptian self-understanding on the ground of the linguistic and the literary. For most critical accounts of the literary and cultural transformations in Egypt that followed the expulsion, in 1801, of the armies of the French Republic and the...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Surrogate Seed, World-Tree: Mubārak, al-Sibā‘ī, and the Translations of “Islam” in British Egypt, 1882–1912
    (pp. 152-194)

    In 1908 Evelyn Baring, first Earl of Cromer, freshly resigned from his post as Britain’s consul-general in Egypt, mused that England would never control Egypt until Egyptians had abandoned the “attractive damsel” of French civilization for the “greater moral worth” of England, that “excellent but somewhat ill-favoured matron.”¹ Some eighty years after Mehmed Ali Pasha first dispatched Egyptian students to France, Cromer ascribed French success in Egypt in part to the Pasha’s desire to fortify Egypt against the specter of “British aggression” but more emphatically to the attraction that French civilization exercised over Egyptian minds. That attraction Cromer located in...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Order, Origin, and the Elusive Sovereign: Post-1919 Nation Formation and the Imperial Urge toward Translatability
    (pp. 195-236)

    Recalling Muḥammad al-Sibā‘ī after his death, Ibrāhīm ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Māzinī offers this telling snapshot:

    He … used to write or to translate anywhere, in a café or a shop or on the tram. [O]nce we were on the Metro tram to New Cairo[Miṣr al-Jadīda],at night; he crossed his legs and began to translate. The light went out, so he turned to me and said, “Imagine this coincidence! I was writing the word ‘dominion’[al-su’dud],so I penned oned [dāl]in the light and oned [dāl]in the darkness!”¹

    Three forces meet in this passage: translation, colonial...

  12. CHAPTER SIX English Lessons: The Illicit Copulations of Egypt at Empire’s End
    (pp. 237-272)

    The narrator ofMountolive(1958), the third novel in Lawrence Durrell’sAlexandria Quartet, describes the first sexual encounter between the young English diplomat-in-training David Mountolive and the older, landed Coptic Egyptian siren Leila Hosnani as the stumbling of “a man into a mirror.”¹ After all, when a mystified Mountolive asks Leila why she has taken him as her lover, she repeats his question with a “musical contempt”; coyly replies, “‘Why you? Because’”; and straightaway proceeds to intone passages from an address by John Ruskin—“one of her favourite authors”—on arts education in England and its potential both to inspire...

  13. CODA History, Affect, and the Problem of the Universal
    (pp. 273-288)

    I return to Najīb Maḥfūẓ on the relationship of modern Egyptian letters to the West: “Yes, we know Western literature here. In fact, we love it too much.”¹ How do we read Maḥfūẓ’s assertion? Certainly as confession: we love Western literature passionately; we have surrendered ourselves to its charms. Surely too as indictment: we love Western literature toexcess, to a fault, more than we should—because it has come to us with the West’s “civilizing mission,” and that mission has led us to imagine it greater than our own. And perhaps also as testimony to the notion that postcolony...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 289-330)
  15. Index
    (pp. 331-348)