State of the Disciplines: Reading Arabic in Academia

The American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) is currently assembling a 2014-2015 “State of the Discipline” report. According to Waïl S. Hassan, writing in that report, 2014-2015 marks the first time Arabic comes into the official “state of the discipline” discussion:

sotd2In Arabic and the Paradigms of Comparison,” Hassan writes about previous reports, noting that Arabic largely remains embedded in comparisons with English and French:

“The study of modern Arabic literature within Comparative Literature in the “ages” of multiculturalism and globalization has remained by and large confined to the North-South paradigm, as a small subset of the postcolonial, and studied mainly in relation to English and French. Postcolonial studies has thus had the paradoxical effect of creating a space for Arabic, African, Caribbean, and South Asian literatures by tying them to the center-periphery, or North-South paradigm. The enormously rich area of South-South comparison remains largely unexplored.”

Hassan’s essay was followed, a few weeks later, by Alexander Key’s “Arabic: Acceptance and Anxiety,” in which Key writes that being an Arabist within comparative literature currently “elicits only acceptance. It is the achievement of full participation of Arabic inside Comparative Literature that remains an unfinished task.”

It is not only literature, after all, that can be “comparative”:

Only when the entire theoretical underpinning of Comparative Literature is divided, according to some appropriate weighting scheme yet to be devised, between the theoretical resources available in all world languages from all times in world history will the discipline be able to escape from Europe!

And, with a very Arab attitude toward the exclamation mark:

The challenge of broadening Comparative Literature’s theoretical tool box, and of providing Arabic theory solutions to Latin American translation problems, remains before us. Fingers crossed for 2025!

These on-the-whole optimistic assessments of Arabic’s life in comp lit come as Aaron Bady writes, less cheerily, about “Academe’s Willful Ignorance of African Literature.” They also come at the same time as Hilary Plum’s “A Conversation with Youssef Rakha,” in which Rakha also looks to the relationship between Arabs, Arabic, and comparative-literature studies.

Certainly, the relationships between English-language scholars and Arabic literature are in an expansive mode. In January 2016, the Modern Languages Association will inaugurate a new forum dedicated to the “Global Arab and Arab American,” which is sponsoring three panels at its annual meeting, in addition to the already-established “Arabic Literature and Culture,” which is sponsoring four.

For those interested, the Arabic Literature and Culture panels:

1) Postcolonial Literatures and the Question of Indigeneity

The question of indigeneity, indigenous culture, community, identity, rights, activism, and sovereignty in postcolonial literatures in Arabic and other languages. Abstracts 250 words by 13 March 2015; Stephen Sheehi (spsheehi-at-wm.edu) and Vilashini Cooppan (vcooppan-at-ucsc.edu).

2) Beyond Darwish: The Struggle Continues

Palestinian literature beyond Mahmoud Darwish, lyrics and verses of liberation, political, gender, and class struggle against Zionism, authoritarianism, and patriarchy. 250 Word Abstracts by March 13 by 13 March 2015; Stephen Sheehi (spsheehi-at-wm.edu).

3) Graphic Interventions: Visual Cultures of the Arab World

Explorations of visual culture and graphic media (comics, graphic novels, video games) in Arab popular culture. 300 word abstracts by March 13, 2015. by 13 March 2015; Stephen Sheehi (spsheehi-at-wm.edu) and Hoda Elshakry (hshakry-at-gmail.com).

4) Arabic Publics: Who Reads Arabic Literature

Reading publics of Arabic literature, its translation, worldwide circulation, reception, teaching, and adaptation into other media and cultural forms. 250 word abstracts by March 13 by 13 March 2015; Stephen Sheehi (spsheehi-at-wm.edu) and Wail Hassan (whassan-at-illinois.edu).

The Global Arab and Arab American panels

1) Politics of Solidarities and Cross-Racial Alliances

Representations of cross-racial relations in US, transnational contexts: indigenous solidarities; Arab Americans and other racialized US minorities in relational frameworks. 250-word abstracts, bios by 13 March 2015; Carol N. Fadda-Conrey (cfaddaco-at-syr.edu).

2) Global Arab Texts and their Publics

Displaced writers. Deterritorialized texts. How do recent Arab émigré/exiled/refugee writers and their publics redefine the global? Role of gender, religion, language, literary economies. 250-word abstracts, bios by 15 March 2015; Carol N. Fadda-Conrey (cfaddaco-at-syr.edu).

3) Global Arab Texts and their Publics

Displaced writers. Deterritorialized texts. How do recent Arab émigré/exiled/refugee writers and their publics redefine the global? Role of gender, religion, language, literary economies. 250-word abstracts, bios by 15 March 2015; Carol N. Fadda-Conrey (cfaddaco-at-syr.edu).

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Categories: academia, conferences

2 replies

  1. Thank you for this! Also: Hala Halim’s panel, “Bandung, Afro-Asianness, Non-Alignment, Tricontinentalism and the Global South,” which is here:
    http://acla.org/bandung-afro-asianness-non-alignment-tricontinentalism-and-global-south-comparatism

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