In this paper, I seek to investigate the manifold relationships between traditional and contemporary, oral and written Swahili poetry—in the utendi and mashairi forms—and its recitation in terms of the following considerations: how have advances in technology changed the production, transmission and reception of Swahili Islamic poetry? To what extent do writing and orality coexist in a recited text? What is the nature of performer identity formation within a “discourse network” of artists—the composer (mtungaji), reader (msomaji), and singer (mwimbaji)—who, in Goffman’s words, play “participation roles” and appropriate poetry belonging to other living poets or to their own (sometimes anonymous) ancestors? In an attempt to answer these questions, I provide examples of performers and their performative craft.
Scholarship in modern Arabic literary studies has treated the literature of the Lebanese Civil War, particularly novels written by women, in some depth. One of the most important texts used in both scholarship and teaching about this war is Ḥanān al-Shaykh’s Ḥikāyat Zahrah, translated as The Story of Zahra. This article focuses specifically on the one chapter in the novel narrated from the point of view of the protagonist’s uncle in order to explore how the English translation dramatically changes a number of elements in the original text. It uses insights from translation studies to show how significant changes to the novel in translation produce a text that serves particular ideological functions in English, consistent with a horizon of expectations that constructs Arab women as oppressed and passive victims of war. The article analyzes specific translation choices—most notably the extensive editing out of words, sentences, and passages—to demonstrate how the character of Zahrah’s uncle is changed in English and depicted as an unsavory and abusive man with little background, context, or history that would help the reader to better understand the character’s actions and motivations. It also shows how cutting out elements of the uncle’s story serves to depoliticize the text in English, divesting it of its local political context and changing its meaning and function as a novel about the Lebanese Civil War. The article is grounded in postcolonial, feminist translation studies, especially those dealing with Arabic fiction, to argue that the English-language novel The Story of Zahra functions within an ideological field that recycles stereotypes and tropes about Arab women. It will propose that the translation changes here depict Arab men against Arab women, rather than in relation to them, and subordinate the analysis of politics and communal relations to a more individual and individualized story of one exceptional woman.
This article discusses the performative function of enumeration in Arabic prose. Bringing together a great variety of word lists from classical to modern prose (including the 1001 Nights, al-Tawḥīdī, al-Suyūṭī, al-Shidyāq, and Darwīsh), it unveils their often neglected importance to literature by drawing from an emerging scholarship on enumeration. Focusing on “enumerative games” (Mainberger), the article does not ask what the enumerated elements mean, but how the act of enumerating produces meaning. In the first part, the article discusses elements central to the poetics of the enumerative (including items, length, arrangement, and frame). In the second part it deals with the politics of enumeration in the example of al-Shidyāq’s al-Sāq ʿalā al-sāq fī mā huwa al-Fāriyāq (1855). The article seeks to provide a basic approach to enumeration and argues that enumerative games in literature perform acts of cultural politics.
This article analyzes comparisons between Arabic and Turkish literatures in literary histories from the late Ottoman period, with a particular focus on works by Jurjī Zaydān (1861-1914). Drawing upon Alexander Beecroft’s concept of “literary biomes,” it argues that these comparisons overlooked intersections of Arabic and Turkish literatures in the “Ottoman literary biome” and depicted them as belonging to two separate “biomes.” I define the “Ottoman literary biome” as the transcultural space of the Ottoman Empire that allowed the circulation of a multilingual textual repertoire and cultivated a cultural elite. Through foregrounding the transcultural context of Ottoman literary biome, I demonstrate that modern Arabic and Turkish literatures morphed in a reciprocal entanglement. My work finally calls for the fields of Arabic literature and comparative literature to further flesh out the diversity of literary biomes in which Arabic texts circulated.