Is the ‘Zone of Translation’ a ‘War Zone’?

At the end of this month, a School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)-organized translation conference will kick off in London with a discussion of Arabic-English “translation and the post-modern.”

A good deal of interesting-sounding stuff follows in the four-day meetup—such as Isabella Camera d’Afflitto’s “The Choice of the Translator: Ambiguity, Compromises and Courage”—but things really heat up during session three, to which the schedule refers as (the capital letters and aren’t mine): THE LITERATURE OF A SOCIETY IN EXTREMIS? THE ZONE OF TRANSLATION AS A WAR ZONE!


Speaking at this session are our friends Elliott Colla and Sinan Antoon, and the award-winning Samah Selim.

Colla will be talking about “The Task of the Dragoman: Communication, Empathy, and the Conduct of War.”  He has previously written about “Dragomen and Checkpoints” for ArteEast, and noted:

Translation is not just how we might understand each other, it’s also how we conduct the business of conflict.

Antoon’s talk is titled “Translation as Interrogation: On the Post 9/11 Forensic Interest in Arabic Literature.” He’s spoken about the West’s “forensic interest” with Ed Lake at The National, saying:

I don’t want to be the native informant. There is increased interest in the Arab world. But I call it forensic interest. For the most part it’s bad, because it’s assumed that novels and poems are going to explain September 11 to you. For example, I got a phone call from someone who says, ‘I want you to speak about agriculture in Iraq’. I was like, ‘Why would I know anything about agriculture in Iraq?’ But it’s assumed that as an oriental subject I would just know everything about my culture and civilisation.

Selim’s talk, the third on the morning roster, is titled “Ethics versus Politics: Translation and Arabic literature in the 21st Century.” She has written several articles on translation, although unfortunately I have read none of them. I have certainly enjoyed her award-winning translation of The Collar and the Bracelet, and did excerpt a bit of it here.

If you like, you can read an abstract of one of Selim’s papers, in which she discusses what she’s going to discuss about inequalities and translation.

But—what I really want to know is—who’s going? Are you going to blog, tweet, report from the event? Perhaps we can expect something about it on Jadaliyya? Perhaps something will come across SOAS Feed or SOAS Newsroom? (I prefer SOAS Newsroom, where they talk about, among other things, the campus toilets.)

Meanwhile, apparently sit-ins are going on now at SOAS, where they fear losing public funding. You can find out more about that here.