Posts Tagged ‘problems’

Okay, I lied.

These week, I am feeling a little down, not cheerful — although not over rejection. I’m a little upset over students. Unmotivated, terrible, don’t-answer-any-questions students.

Take P, for example. P shows up on time, P is quiet, P attends virtually every class (except for once, when he had a funeral). Unfortunately, P never participates. When I call on P to answer questions on an exercise, he stares blankly into space, and reads the previous question, and does not give an answer. Basically, he’s a black hole of a student that sort of sucks up class energy and patience, and while I’m obliged to call on him and try and help him, the other students have no patience for it, some of them even calling out the answers for him or just sit their in the agonizing silence as he fuddles the words.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve helped him personally. I’ve mixed him with stronger students. I’ve forced him to do things. I’ve let the rest of the class lag behind because of him. Nothing works. Yesterday, we had a quiz and he left his paper blank, because he said he didn’t understand. I explained twice. I asked for questions. I asked him in the middle of the exam period if he was doing okay on the test — IN ARABIC. He said he was fine.

Nothing works.

In fact, this has been the closest I’ve ever come to calling someone legitimately stupid, even though I know it’s not the case. But that’s the trouble: he’s not. He’s not stupid. The man’s got a job. He’s married. He’s forty years old, for crying out loud. It’s just very difficult to deal with someone who is older than you, independent, and obviously paying to be in your classroom, but just not seizing any recognizable effort at an opportunity.

He just keeps showing up, and it destroys the classroom dynamic.

In fact, this is a widespread problem at the Center in general; students are promoted a level on the basis of paying their 400 LE. No one wants to take a course again. But this leads to students that fail at the lower levels advancing to proficient levels where they clearly do not belong.

Another example: M. M and I used to go to the same church. He is chatty and amiable outside of class, where he insists on speaking English (no matter how much Arabic I use). He tried explaining to me in class about Easter vigil next Sunday happening in a Smouha church instead of Sacre Coeur on Port Said Street. I didn’t get it; his accent was way too thick and he dropped most verbs: “Shurstch Sunday fa da feast come night Smouha.” After class, I asked in Arabic what he was saying earlier and he looked uncomfortable. He turned to Ahmed and told him in perfectly clear Arabic what he meant, and to tell me in English, and then I said, “Oh, that’s what you meant!” and asked him “Why didn’t you just say that to me?” Again, he looked uncomfortable. Ahmed was embarrassed. He said that he felt really stupid that P did that because everyone knows at the center that I understand Arabic.

Both these students are Sudanese. I’m not attributing the bad attitude to the fact that they’re Sudanese, but Nessma pointed out that most teachers have the similar problems with Sudanese students. Quite a few of them just enroll in a course and pay 400 LE to prove that they’re doing something in the country; it has something to do with immigration laws or whatnot. As a consequence, they just don’t care. And the administration doesn’t care about the quality of the classroom experience either, as they just keep packing the students in my classes — opposed to giving me a next section — and putting the problem students in with the good ones.

When people really make up their minds to not understand, they really make up their minds.

It makes me a bad teacher, I know, but I get so relieved when these kinds of students don’t show up for class. And yet, these are the students that need the most help. They pay their money, they enlist in the class, they’re obviously there for a reason. You can’t just teach the good students — the bad ones need it more. But damn it all, how the hell do you teach someone that doesn’t want to be taught?

Sometimes I get the fear of God put into me by things like this; one day, I know I’m going to have my talents counted — “Am I using them well enough?” I ask myself sometimes.

Sometimes I just don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know how.


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Rumi tuned me in yesterday to the controversy surrounding the Swiss popular vote to ban minarets. As usual, there’s what he termed “twitrage” about the decision, though for me, it raises some interesting questions about churches here.

Naturally, I’m outraged.

Interestingly, the character known to me only as “Sandmonkey” (see his amazingly crazy rants here) twittered in response to the ban: “Switzerland is banning the phalic extension of a mosque. Not building the mosque itself. Muslim countries do that, to churches.”

Kind of what I think.

Fadhila posted a really level-headed article by Tariq Ramadan of The Guardian on the ban’s motivation by fear: the Swiss fear “Islamization,” and that a variety of Islamic symbols are targeted as a result of fear — which is implied to be the product of ignorance among non-Muslims. I’m a fan of Ramadan’s articles in general (not his one on Benedict XVI, though), but I think that his assertion that the Swiss have voted “not against towers, but Muslims” is taking the matter entirely too far. And again, I’m outraged. I really am. I hate having to censor myself, I hate that I can’t hear church bells. I hate that being Christian in a Muslim country makes me feel a little under siege. And I don’t want anyone to experience that — ever — in any other country. But I’m not really asking if it’s really ethical, because we all know it’s not; I’m asking if we’re at all surprised at the decision.

When Hamas won the majority vote in the Palestinian legislative assembly in 2006, the rest of the world trembled a little, fearing that the election of the party would escalate the already simmering issue of Palestine. During the Bush administration, the atmosphere surrounding such election results was made to sound like evil was slowly taking over; that within years, the US would become embroiled not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in some tragic, painful conflict in Palestine. But no one interfered. Interference would mean compromising the electoral principle that, when people vote, they vote for a reason: neither the United States nor anyone else could eliminate that fact. Does the same principle apply? (Serious question)

When authors cannot freely publish critical books without incurring death threats and are forced into years of hiding (Salman Rushdie)…

When the publication of the positive portrayals of Islam in The Jewel of Medina (about the life of Aisha) is cancelled and delayed for fear of outcry against the publisher and threats against the author

When the director of (an albeit tasteless) film criticizing the verse from the Qur’an that a man has a right to beat his wife if she is disobedient is murdered in reaction to its release

Protestors outside the Danish embassy in London, c. 2006 following the cartoon controversy

When protesters to the Danish cartoon controversy react with violence against the cartoon depiction of Muhammad, portraying Islam as a violent religion….

When filmmakers are afraid to destroy the Ka’aba in a stupid blockbuster about the end of the world but are more than willing to topple the Basilica of St. Peter’s…

When underage girls in Antwerp feel as though they need to veil and be accompanied by their brothers to be socially accepted by their classmates…

When the display of Christian icons, crosses (even on one’s person!), or the open worship of Christianity is expressly forbidden by law and carries a prison sentence…

When all this happens, are we surprised by Ramadan’s assertion that such a controversy is “fuelled by fear”?

Of course it’s fueled by fear. Fear that we cannot criticize, fear that we cannot unveil, fear that we cannot protect our right to free speech. The public face of Islam is one that advocates itself as the True Faith and a unifying religion of peace; and yet, these items are at odds with the idea of free speech contained within liberal democracy. Shari’a law does do permit public worship of other religions, it requires other adherents to pay taxes: where Christianity conceives itself as a separate political identity (“Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…”), Islam is conceived as an umma, a nation of believers that is spread in a diaspora across the world, to be governed ideally by a caliph under shari’a law. Hence, as Bernard Lewis notes:

The penalty for apostasy, in Islamic law, is death. Islam is conceived as a polity, not just as a religious community. It follows therefore that apostasy is treason. It is a withdrawal, a denial of allegiance as well as of religious belief and loyalty. Any sustained and principled opposition to the existing regime or order almost inevitably involves such a withdrawal.

I too am a little afraid. When such potentials are so essential to the practice of the religion, what is the religion itself? Is Islam really how the theologians would have it? Or is it how the people practice it — how it is visible, perceived, and read?

Isn’t that always the question in religion?



Bikya’s article on the ban makes me SO ANGRY in that it fails to address similar issues within Egypt:

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Longest post ever. I assure you, it’s good.

Ever since writing about the Antwerp headscarf ban (mentioned in The Economist some time ago by the wise Charlemagne), I’ve been turning over the ethics of freedom of choice and couple of the more controversial topics concerning Islam. It’s high time that I wrote about them.

Here begins a mini-series of posts. I have no doubt in my mind that what I’m going to say here will very likely make some people angry, but I want you to rest assured: I’m quite open on these subjects, and I’m simply trying to understand how they can be resolved as a function of both principles — both democracy and Islam. I want to be clear: they are not opposing forces. Ideally (and both in their ideal forms), they merge rather nicely. However, to reiterate my dear friend Fadhila’s observation, “Islam is perfect, not Muslims.” The same applies to the American brand of democratic idealism, to Christianity, and any ideology that might be worth naming: those self-same imperfections in the gap are really what make things difficult for all parties.

And so, rather than these being my observations of Islam, these are really my personal observations of Muslims, and a few of the meditations that those interactions.

“You have your religion, and I have mine”

I’m not a Muslim; I’m a Roman Catholic.

I like incense, I like hymns, I like kneeling to take communion. Which, I believe — beyond reason — is the actual whole Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Who is God. I believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son, I believe in a Trinitarian God and I believe that God, though God (and not needing to do things) has done a number of vastly un-Godly things: like Himself His only Begotten Son so as to provide an appropriate sacrifice for the sins of Mankind and for Himself. Like resting on the Seventh Day (NB: I think that it’s easier to say that God did all of that (because He could if He wanted!) then say that God can’t have rested or incarnated Himself or become Three-in-One and One-in-Three, because, let’s call a spade a spade here: He can. We might not understand it, but He can. He can dig a bottomless well and stand at the bottom. He can even find the end of infinity. He’s God; stop asking questions).

That’s my act of faith, and I think that the act of having faith is actually that: it’s quite unreasonable. It’s laying aside logic and putting your money on something you have absolutely no proof over. I try to stay away from theological arguments because, truth be told, I’m not going to convince anyone, no matter how logically I put it to them.

Muslim offenders

With that in mind, I recently tweeted about the up-and-coming biopic on Muhammad, pointing out that I was rather doubtful that it would draw anything but criticism from any and all Islamic parties. Read about Barry Osborne’s potential flick it here on BikyaMasr.

To understand exactly how serious the upcoming controversy, I refer you to the Wikipedia article on a similar (much beloved, very respectful) movie, Al-Risala (“The Message”), produced to critical and public acclaim in 1976:

On March 9, 1977, a group led by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, seized several buildings and took 134 hostages in Washington, D.C.[2] The takeover led to the fatal shootings of a journalist and a police officer, and the non-fatal shooting of Marion Barry, who would become mayor of Washington, D.C. two years later. One of their demands was to prevent the release of the film. One of the hostage-takers specifically said, according to an on-site reporter, that “he wanted a guarantee from the whole world it will never be shown or they would execute some of the hostages…”

Dude: seriously?

The Message sported a score by Maurice Jarre (think: Doctor Zhivago) and avoided all depictions of Muhammad, his wives and his sons-in-law. The closest it ever comes to even remotely portraying him (or any of them) are a few shadows — maybe a staff or a sword (Ali’s double-pronged Zulfiqar). It’s much-beloved even today by Egyptians especially, and is seen by many as walking a nice middle path between “Western” art and halal portrayal. Probably because the director (Moustapha Akkad) was a practicing Muslim. Cool.

Let’s get back to that.

Apparently, German director Roland Emmerich was debating a Ka’aba explosion scene in his rather mediocre-sounding 2012, the much criticized film about the “potential” Mayan end of the world. Here’s what really got me:

Emmerich, who fathered such films as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and Stargate, told scifiwire.com that he wanted to create a scene where he would blow up Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, but decided against it for fear of having a fatwa issued against him.

His decision to preserve the sanctity of Mecca was a wise decision. It would not have added to the film in terms of plot or content and probably would have been received as the West flexing its empirical muscles over the Arab world, whether justifiably so or not. However, one has to question Emmerich’s understanding of culture and religion as he reluctantly withdrew the proposed Mecca-exploding scene, adding that, “we have to all, in the western world, think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have … a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is.”

I don’t understand this. At all. Why not the Ka’aba?

I can understand Akkad producing a film that was very careful about his representation of Islam’s greatest (and Seal) of the Prophets; he is, after all, a Muslim. But for a non-Muslim director to wince because he is afraid of a fatwa…?!

Books offend people. Movies offend people. The whole idea behind freedom of speech is that you have that license to do so. What I object to is not necessarily that Emmerich didn’t blow up the Ka’aba in his most recent film (which, if he did, I would have considered in bad taste anyway), but rather his reasons for backing down: he was afraid.

It’s not even like 2012 was even a movie about blowing up the Ka’aba. It was about the end of the world, and to Emmerich as a filmmaker, the end of the world involves blowing things up. It’s not the Ka’aba itself, and if you want to talk holy sites, the Vatican gets blown up in 2012. It’s a plot device. It’s a screen shot for shock effect! It’s almost incidental! For crying out loud, it’s not like it’s a whole movie about blowing up a holy site (anyone hear of Angels and Demons?).

To quote the Gateway Pundit’s interview of Catholic League president Bill Donohue, “When we got word recently that the movie ‘2012’ depicts the Vatican being blown up, along with the famous statue from Rio, Christ the Redeemer, we were unmoved. Why? Because this occurs during the end of the world in a massive destruction. This kind of sensationalism, we reasoned, is standard fare for director Roland Emmerich: he is the guru of the ‘blow ‘em up’ genre of movies.”

But it’s fear that keeps us from this. Fear that we might have to go in hiding because some nutty Irani ayatollah has issued a fatwa on us, calling on every good Muslim to execute us, and everyone who has translated our works to meet the same fate. I’m actually kind of disgusted at the potential of any religion to do that (and my own has no clean hands, I’m aware).

Peace and blessings be upon him! (But he’s not my prophet)

Offense is good, it forces us to question, to defend what we believe in. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary, but what the 2012 and Salman Rushdie controversies point out to me is a discomfort with the idea of free speech. Muslims around the world are crying out against the arrest of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world (around the world!) to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, as a violation of democratic freedom of speech.

I’m not saying that Awlaki speaks for Islam. No one speaks for Islam. But listen up, pal: Muslim, Christian, black, white, or purple, you can’t go around encouraging people to take up the sword; you can be against the war all you want, but you can’t tell people to kill other people in a public forum. That’s called assault. That’s called aggravation. Rights have limits, and even in the Land of the Free itself, you can’t say (even kidding) that you plan to murder the President, or that there’s a bomb on a plane — even if you’re just kidding. It’s illegal — and for good reason. Your right to speak freely ends where the other peoples’ begins.

This whole rant was really set off by someone telling me to call Muhammad the Prophet Muhammad. Her reasons for telling me so were simple enough: we should have respect for him. But to that, I answer: He is not my prophet. I never thought he was a prophet, my own religion expressly forbids regarding him as a prophet. I’m not a Muslim; I’m a Roman Catholic. I like incense, I like hymns, I like kneeling to take communion. Which, I believe — beyond reason — is the actual whole Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Who is God. I believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son, the Holy Spirit that unites them all in one giant Trinitarian mystery that I don’t even attempt to pick apart, but still have faith is somehow (quite incomprehensibly) true. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion here, that’s just what I believe.

What I don’t like is the should. We should refer to Muhammad as “The Prophet.”

No. I don’t believe he was. Asking me to do so amounts to stepping over my side of the line.

I’ve been stopped from calling Jesus Christ the Son of God by Muslims, I’ve been told that referring to Mary as the Blessed Mother of God is offensive to some people; I’ve gotten into arguments over how stupid I am for believing in the Trinity. Priests in Egypt are not allowed to proselytize, Muslims are forbidden to convert to Christianity, churches forbidden to ring out the Angelus three times a day. The government drags its feet about allowing Copts and Catholics to construct churches, and everywhere in Middle Egypt, there is outcry about an “in your face attitude” that uppity Christians have about when they do get to build or repair a church. And then riots ensue, and people freak about having Christians in the community. “There goes the neighborhood.”

I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying I’m offended. I don’t go around asking people to refer to Jesus as the Son of God, or Mary as the Blessed Mother. I just want the same courtesy of neutral titles extended to me. I’m not saying that that’s the “official Islamic stance.” In fact, the entire time, I’ve grown more apologetic; I’ve been the one to avoid talking about it. I explain it away because I’ve spent the better part of four years studying it, reading about it, going to mosques, and learning Arabic. You know what, though? It doesn’t work that way. Someone telling me to shush every time I say “when the Son of God was born” to explain the significance of Christmas or mention that Jesus was crucified, DIED, and resurrected on Easter Sunday…their blasphemy is my belief. My being told to shut up is really starting to offend me. I’m not going to shut up about it.

Let’s make this personal for a moment. Let’s say I should refer to him as The Prophet. Out of respect. I should perhaps say after his name “Peace and blessings be upon him!” (respect, right?). I should perhaps avoid reading Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and avoid being seen with it, because it offends people. I should read the Qur’an, I should maybe avoid being in rooms alone with women. I also shouldn’t drink, eat pork, or pray without ritual ablutions.

Oh, and by the way, I probably should convert to Islam, just while I’m at it.

No: I don’t think so.

I’m not asking you to eat pork; I’m asking not to be judged for eating it myself. You don’t like wine? Don’t drink it. Islam is predicated on the fact that no one (no one) can know the true deen a person possesses. Perhaps what I do is enough; perhaps you are not held to the same standard, being who you are. Perhaps I am wrong and you are right. Either way, I don’t think that popular practice or even sharia (which sharia?) should prescribe how I live my own religious life, though.

I really, really, really dig most Muslims I know. I love quite a few of them quite dearly (here’s to you, Fadhila, Halima, and all the Penacobas!), but I’m not going to call him the Prophet Muhammad on principle. I’ve read the Qur’an — even attempted the Arabic — I love listening to it. I think the Burda is gorgeous, and I find great value in learning from Islam: it enriches my own perception of Christianity as a historical religion. I respect the historical man, and I would like to point out Holy Mother Church’s praises:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, S. 841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

Can’t we get a little for giving a little?

Peace and blessings be upon him, the Prophet of Islam!

But he’s not my prophet.

*                         *                             *

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ (Q 109:6)

“To you, your religion; to me, my own.”

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Recently from Pete Willows, a writer at BikyaMasr — a wonderful article diving to the ins and outs and intricacies of the Zabaleen, “the Garbage People” living in the shadow of Muqattam in Cairo:

Read the awesome article

This harkens back to my own post some time ago.

Real post later on today: fun stuff on teaching. Stay tuned, Egypt.

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For this post, I’m going to refer you to this morning’s comment, made by a gentleman known only to me as “Mohamed.” Apparently he’s a rival translator in the Salah Jahin project and has a bit to say on the subject of translation. His main objection it seems would be the distinct meanings I’ve given to the word ‘agibi in each quatrain — which I’ve defined in my page dedicated to a brief background on the Rubaiyat, and he seems to be pretty enthusiastic about being the better man for the job. Be that as it may (and I’ll readily admit that perhaps I’m a bit precocious with my Arabic), it’s given me an opportunity to look over the bits of my undergraduate thesis relevant to the subject and collect my thoughts once more on the act — and true art — of translation. You’re going to have to indulge me here, because it’s one of three subjects I feel I’m somewhat qualified to go off on.

Texts in Translation

In my mind, not all texts are actually “texts”; by referring to a work as a text, the critic presupposes that the work in question is indeed original, and not derivative. Yet translations differ; though ostensibly the main text, a translation screens, focuses, and delivers the source text only obliquely. Antoine Berman suggests that a translation is “a work, but it is never The Work” (6). As such, it is predicated itself on a kind of derivative authorship, and its authority as a translation comes from “remaining derivative, distinguishable from the original compositions that it tries to communicate” (Venuti, Scandals 4). Both Berman’s and Venuti’s descriptions should remind us that nearly all translations are classified by their authors’ names, despite the fame of the translator: Omar Khayyam is still author of the Rubaiyat, even if Robert FitzGerald made him famous in the English-speaking world—Omar Khayyam composed the work that FitzGerald only transmitted. Though compositions of a kind, translations ultimately point not to themselves or their translator, but to their origin and author.

Consequently, the translator’s commentary—except when explicitly cross-referencing another work—addresses not only the translation text, but the source text behind the translation as well. The translator has a different use for these paratexts: he has no need to “map out” the “correct” interpretation of the text with commentaries and footnotes and introductions: the interpretation already exists. He has already done that in the translation, as one interprets in the very act of translation: “interpreting is any activity aiming at bringing about comprehension, and translating has the same aim, but normally involves a different language in which comprehension is to take place” (56). Venuti posed the term “domestication” in order to stress how the target language appropriates the source text:

A translation always communicates an interpretation, a foreign text that is partial and altered, supplemented with features peculiar to the translating language, no longer inscrutably foreign, but made comprehensible in a distinctly domestic style. Translations, in other words, inevitably perform a work of domestication. (Scandals 5)

Here, Venuti essentially addresses the common phrase “lost in translation”: that complete reception, comprehension, and synthesis from a fluent source text to a fluent target text must “alter” and “supplement” certain elements that create the difference—constituting an interpretation. This is a two-step process—but an intricate and involved one. Initially, the translation must identify and comprehend of the source text in the source language: then judge unspoken linguistic codes (tone, irony), evaluate social register of the speech, analyze context, and determine the message’s value (whether or not it is worth translating)—among other things (Bühler 60-62). The process then is becomes one of target synthesis: the translator identifies the author’s thoughts and intentions, considers the overall linguistic arrangement and structure, infers the inexplicit, and, finally, most importantly, determines the best fluent equivalent target text (60-64). The translator engages in choices of how to, in the earlier words of Benjamin, “turn Hindi, Greek, English into German” (22). The “domestication” of a text is, in essence, how a source text is received wholly and completely into the target language—“the intention or the meaning of the foreign text—the appearance, in other words, that the translation is not in fact a translation, but the ‘original’” (qtd in Munday 144).

Not a pipe

This process not only “rewrites” the text according to the translator’s judgment, but also cuts the target audience off from the source text and potentially allows readers to mistake the translation for the text itself. This divorce from the source text gives us what Venuti terms “the illusion of transparency”—that the fluent translation “sees through” to the source text itself. To make an analogy from the art world, this echoes something of the effect of Magritte’s La trahison des images: we think we see a pipe, but in reality, we only see an image of a pipe. Venuti’s remarks regarding domestication were meant as a critique to what he saw as “the translator’s situation and activity in Anglo-American culture” (qtd in Munday 144); by rending a foreign work fluently into the target language, the target language culture erased the foreign identity of the source text and “conceal the act of translation” (144). Once translated, it is not “The Work” that can actually be read, but a interpretation of it.

This is, I think, what led Walter Benjamin to conclude that the best kinds of translations of the Bible were “facing” ones — translations set across the page from the original, so that the reader would be aware that the composition he was exploring was just that: a composition. There was an original. I expect that Benjamin’s ideal reader would also be one that read both the source text and the target text as in conversation with one another: looking at the translation first, and then the original, and seeing how each word or phrase matches up.

Killing the source text

As for the criticism that translation kills all other meaning for the source text, I’d agree — if only to an extent. Benjamin’s ideal readership exists — but such readers are rare. I’m more of the mind that (with literature, poetry) the target text is what matters; the final product should be released from the obligation of “doing justice” to the original. Just as Barthes called for the death of the author, there must be another death, the death of the source text, in order for translation to really come into its own. Barthes objected to the adherence of academics to biographical criticism, where critics tried to reconstruct the author’s life from fragments left behind, or actually asking the author the direct meaning of a passage. By doing so, the author governed the meaning of his work. “Killing the author” was a way of opening up criticism to an infinite number of interpretations, instead of the one “correct” one approved by the prescription of the author’s biography. This is the modern, “readerly” approach to literary criticism.

In the same respect, I’d say that the act of translation itself is an active interpretation: it is the interpretation of a single reader, the translator: I daresay, a criticism. By regarding translation as something more than a simple “transmission” of a text, it allows for multiple translations to occur, rather like multiple criticisms of the same Shakespeare play or Eliot poem. Translations themselves become compositions predicated on the same foundation, but from different perspectives. I think that’s what has kept translation from being regarded as real literature in and of itself. Once we start to regard it more as criticism, perhaps we’ll have a few more FitzGeralds, a few more Burtons.


Barthes, Roland. Criticism and Truth, trans. Katrine Pilcher Keuneman. U of Minnesota P: Minneapolis, 1987.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator,” trans. Harry Zohn. The Translation Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Berman, Antoine. The Experience of the Foreign. New York: SUNY P, 1992.

Bühler, Alex. “Translation as interpretation.” Translation Studies: Perspectives on an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Alessandra Riccardi. Cambridge UK: Cambridge U P, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. Ceci n’est pas une pipe, trans. & ed. James Harkness. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983.

– – – . “What is an Author?” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York NY: Norton, 2001.

Munday, Jeremy. Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Tymoczko, Maria. “Post-colonial writing and literary translation.” Ed. Susan Bassnett. Post-colonial Translation. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Venuti, Lawrence. Scandals of Translations. New York: Routledge, 1998.

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Dust has settled on the White City. Today was probably the scorcher of the season; it’s October, and while I hear about snow falling in Middlebury and NYC, the Mediterranean simmers to a flat calm. When the sea goes flat, the heat sinks it: the horizon blurs and the place is covered in a gray sheen that mists over the minarets of Anfushi and Manshaya on the western side of the Corniche. The mist seems to whiten as the day goes on, until those minarets and buildings are nothing more than steely silhouettes on a white sky at midday. And the heat is unrelenting.

I’ve been mentioning every now and then that the mornings have been filled with smoke; fires on the Delta. Apparently (according to the article good old Rumi sent me on the subject) it’s from cane brush fires. Either way, it’s starting to float over Alexandria in moments of dead calm (today, tonight) and stifle the city’s otherwise refreshing coolness.

Today was a busy, if tiring day. I’ve started teaching at another center (in Azarita, across from the Law College) — private lessons to a couple that are hoping to immigrate to Canada sometime in the next year, and to that end, are taking the ILEX (TOEFL, except Canadian-Australian version). They’re the most fluent Egyptians I’ve met outside the university, and cannot imagine why they are taking lessons. It is, however, refreshing (and easy) — quite the break from having to explain the verb to be and the differences between a and the to middling level students. Incidentally, they’ve sort of appointed me the expert on Canada after I told them I’ve been to Montreal — once — and suddenly I’m being asked whether or not I think they should move to Vancouver or Toronto. Hm.

Wisdom: fans break easily. A word to the wise: don’t overwork yours. If you do, it might break on a night like tonight; when the air is itchy with sugar-cane smoke, when the heat hangs over you like the hot breath of some exhausted animal, and your sheets drip with your own sweat. Have mercy on your fans. Otherwise you’ll be ranting about the heat and dead calm of the Mediterranean at 12 at night.

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Ahmed Shukri was a sailor with the oil companies for about thirty-five years. He hunches over, but is actually quite tall and, in contrast to most Egyptians, who tend to be olive-skinned, he is pale and soft — his face never seems to have a bristle of hair on it, which atop his head is a kind of pompadour of waxy whiteness. He wears striped polo shirts and bowling shifts, and his fingers are permanently knurled around a cigarette: when he walks, when he sits, when he laughs, and he never ashes it — as if the force of his shaking hands automatically does so. He is extremely eager to speak English. He is even more eager to speak German, which I tell him I can’t speak, but this never seems to stop him.

Ahmed Shukri must pass the ahwa on the corner of Delta Street near the tram station about fifteen times a day, and each time he does, he ducks his head into the shadows, squinting behind his giant black sunglasses. He looks for people he knows, and hollers, waves with both hands in the air, and walks on. I’ve noticed that he also looks in the corner that I sit the most often, and when he sees me (and other random people), he walks over and says hello. It’s not just a Hello-How-are-you? gig, but usually one consists of the following programmatical formula:

Hello! Michael! (English) How are you?

(Arabic) Good, Ahmed. How are you?

(English) You are good? Yes? You are good?

(Arabic) Yes, Ahmed. I’m excellent. How are you?

(He says something in German. I laugh. He laughs).

Okay, Michael. I call you later, no? Goodbye.

If Ahmed’s conversational skills strike you as a bit one-sided, you’re not alone. This represents about half of my conversations in Arabic; especially when your deal with hot-shot shop owners who think they can put a sentence together and insist on using English when you are clearly trying to speak to them in Arabic. OR you clearly speak Arabic better than their English. I’ve decided that when someone makes up their mind to not understand you (i.e., because you are a foreigner), they will not.

Much as in life at large.

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