PalFest Day 5: Translation of Translation of

More than 200 people were at PalFest’s biggest event yet on Wednesday night in Nablus: 

The audience in Nablus.
The audience in Nablus.

The night began with an excerpt of Omar El-Khairy’s Sour Lips. A play, necessarily, is a collaborative translation by the director, actors, and others. Wednesday night’s rendering was also a translation into Arabic, and a translation into a shorter form. Excerpting was particularly difficult with Sour Lips, which unravels its conceit (of the puppet and puppeteer) as it goes along.

But, even if the entirety of the play’s thrust wasn’t clear, the audience was game.

After Sour Lips, novelist China Miéville said he’d been asked to reflect on his time thus far with PalFest and said his reflections, as  a foreigner, were “very much intended in humility.” But what Miéville read was not a series of reflections, but more like spoken-word poetry, full of dense crackly images, like “a checkpoint has been set up at the border of the dead” and “‘settlers’ is an odd term for these vectors of the unsettling.”

Unsurprisingly, the translator looked at the text before the event and said he could not render it in Arabic, clarifying later that he tries to pass along  a general idea when he’s translating. This text, however, required a defter hand: instead of an idea being primary, it relied on the specificity of the crush of the sounds and images.

What followed was music from Basel Zayed & Turab, including a poem of Najwan Darwish’s, “الجزائر  (Algeria)”, set to music. The lyrics to all the songs were in Arabic, although they could’ve been in Chinese; our impatience for what we don’t understand seems to melt away when it’s accompanied by music.

There should have been readings by poet and PalFest literary adviser Najwan Darwish, who apparently makes a dynamic team with Basel Zayed on oud. Unfortunately, Darwish got stuck in traffic at one checkpoint, couldn’t get through at a second, and then missed the event.

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