Field Guides to Elsewhere: How We Read Languages We Don’t Read

The Quarterly Conversation has posted a nice investigation of the assumptions behind Claudia Roth Pierpont’s New Yorker piece on Arabic lit by former Interlink editor Hilary Plum.

Does Arabic literature need to have a “purpose” for “us”? (Oh, this insidious us!) Must it really, as Roth Pierpont suggests, “translate foreign histories into stories that we can make our own”? (Which history? And, once we have these stories in our pockets, then what?)

And if we make these stories “our own”—which I suppose is central to any act of reading—what sort of ownership is it?

Plum suggests a different way of approaching foreign texts:

Instead one could begin by arguing that the first necessary good is to know what stories we do not hold in common; to be concerned not with what we as readers need and can acquire, but what we do not need and do not want, and yet which is being urgently offered anyway—not offered to us for our convenience, but offered. What happens if we begin the discussion of literature in translation not as Pierpont does—as that of needs satisfied—but in the terms of this excess?