The short piece “Stop the press! New literary category discovered in the Nordic region” appeared earlier this week, after literary scholar Olli Löytty’s presentation on the publication of Ahmed Al-Nawas’s report “View of the Conditions of Arabic Literature in the Nordic Region”:
While Löytty does not have a focus on Arabic literatures, what he saw in the report was a “need to recognize the existence of literatures written in non-dominant languages” in the “Nordic region” of Sweden,
Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Mazen Maarouf’s stomping grounds, Iceland. Löytty added that, “The sheer fact that there is something called Arabic-Nordic literature should not only result as headlines in literary magazines (as if!) but in addition have a deep impact in our conceptions of literature in general and national literatures in particular.”
In general, Löytty’s read of Al-Nawas’s (very brief) report has more questions than answers: Is Arabic-Nordic literature different from that of other diasporas? Are communities created by Arabic-Nordic literature? What sort?
Löytty did key in on one particular observation, the way the English language often gets between Arabic and Nordic languages.
To put it bluntly: the best way for Arabic-Nordic literature to become part of Nordic literature scene goes through English translation. And this is not at all, I want to stress, desirable situation! Therefore we must find other ways to recognize and promote Arabic literatures in the Nordic context.
Al-Nawas’s very brief report has some statistics. For instance, According to a MA thesis by Johan Petersson (2014) on Swedish literature translated into Arabic, 284 Swedish titles have thus far been translated into Arabic, the vast majority of these since the 1990s. In the opposite direction, Arabic to Swedish, Al-Nawas couldn’t find statistics, although he noted that Hesham Bahari’s Alhambra förlag publishing company has brought out more than 200 titles.
The flow between Danish and Arabic was lower, Al-Nawas wrote, but without accompanying statistics. Nor were there statistics for Finnish, Norwegian, or Icelandic.
There was a long discussion of the publishing problems in Arabophone countries, which ends with a somewhat surprising suggestion that Arabic-language publishing be done in Nordic countries:
Therefore, it is important that future policy actions should focus on enabling support structures and facilities that would allow the publishing and translation of Arabic literature within the Nordic region. Also, it is of urgent importance to adopt strategies for including Arabic-Nordic literature as part of the Nordic literature structure and in the collections of Nordic public libraries.
It’s unclear how publishing literature in Nordic countries would address issues of censorship or distribution. However, anything with libraries is good.