Reframing the Politics of Aesthetic Appropriation in the late-Nahḍah Novel: The Case of “Plagiarism” in Ibrāhīm al-Māzinī’s Ibrāhīm al-kātib

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Maria Elena Paniconi University of Macerata Italy

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In his novel Ibrāhīm al-kātib (Ibrāhīm the Writer, 1931) the Egyptian poet, narrator, and humorist Ibrāhīm al-Māzinī borrowed several passages from his own translation—via English—of the Russian novel Sanin, by Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev, which he had published in 1922 under the title Sanīn aw Ibn al-ṭabī‘ah (Sanīn, or The Son of Nature). In this article, I analyze several personal authorial accounts, including the introduction to the first edition of the novel Ibrāhīm al-kātib (1931), in which the author develops the idea of creative writing and translation as a mechanical process of filling in the gaps of a “lost original.” Alongside literary allegations raised by critics against al-Māzinī soon after the publication of Ibrāhīm al-kātib, I recontextualize this issue of self-borrowing in the light of two parallel processes: the changing politics of intertextual practices that took place in Egypt during the first quarter of the twentieth century; and the rise of concepts as “Egyptianness” and “aṣālah” (cultural authenticity), key ideas to a national canon. Both Sanīn aw Ibn al-ṭabī‘ah and the (partially) re-written Ibrāhīm al-kātib, are the outcome of a process of adaptation, in which translation, intertextuality, literary borrowing and manipulation of the text constitute a common working practice and are not isolated incidents in the author/translator’s career.

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