Sunday Submissions: Arabic Lit-related ACLA Seminars

Thanks to Bill Martin for assembling the calls that relate to Arabic literature for the American Comparative Literature Association’s 2019 Annual Meeting, set to take place at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.:

Abstracts must be received by Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 9 a.m. EST.

Sixth Annual Seminar on African Language Literature

Organizer: Wendy Belcher

While African literature in colonial languages remains the subject of most Africanist scholarship in the United States and Europe, the vast majority of African texts are in African languages. Indeed, Africa is home to vibrant literary practices in indigenous languages that go almost entirely unstudied. Therefore, the annual ACLA seminar on African language literature provides a forum for scholarship on such texts from any period, and in forms traditional and popular, including film, television, music, art, online sites, genre novels like romances or thrillers, oral poetry, epic, and so on. Papers may introduce relatively unknown texts or suggest new theoretical approaches to the study of vernacular African literatures, which include, but are not limited to, literatures in Arabic, Berber, Coptic, Meroitic, Ge’ez, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Kiswahili, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali, Malagasy, Shona, Zulu, and Xhosa, as well as Sheng, Nigerian Pidgin, and other creolized African languages.

The Islamic Empire in Literary Theory, World Literature, World Cinema, and Media

Organizer: Eralda Lameborshi

Throughout the twentieth century literary studies that focused on world literature were defined and challenged by anti-colonial and postcolonial thought. Postcolonial theory focused on a critique of modernity and especially a critique of western empires. This panel seeks to shift the focus of the study of empire and invites papers that consider representations of the Islamic Empire. We invite papers that analyze literature, film, and other media that engage with Islam as a religion and culture. We ask the following questions, among others: To what extent has Islam affected western immigration policies? How has Islam been represented in various forms of cultural production? How have European anxieties after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire affected cultural representations of the Islamic Empire? Ultimately, this panel seeks to understand the role that Islamic Empires had in shaping the cultures with which they had contact, and how this contact affected the literary and cinematic imaginations of these cultures. In addition, we welcome papers that engage with the lack of scholarship on the Islamic Empire in literary theory, postcolonial theory, and world literature.

Send 250 word abstracts and CV to panel organizer, Eralda L. Lameborshi, PhD,

Reckoning with Race, Gender, Class and Imperialism: New Approaches to Southwest Asia and North Africa (or, the Middle East)

Organizer: Mariam Rahmani

Co-Organizer: Parisa Vaziri

Since the advent of the study of the so-called “Near East” during the rise of European imperialism as chronicled by Said’s Orientalism (1978), the study of cultural production of Southwest Asia (or, the Middle East) and North Africa in the West has seen major changes. If Orientalism (defined here as the creation of an exotic Near Eastern Other at the level of discourse and militarily enforced reality) is part and parcel of the very origin story of Comparative Literature, the proliferation of postcolonial studies in the 1980s forced the field to move beyond its pretensions to apoliticism and reckon with the real effects of power and perspective.

While studies on the effects of Western imperialism on Southwest Asian and North African countries now abound, rarer are studies attending to violence that take into account the sedimentation of intra-regional power dynamics, and premodern, and thus precolonial, forms of violence—or modern forms of violence (e.g. binary gender, the heterocouple, etc.) whose shape may not be exclusively, or even predominantly, modeled on the West. Does the virtuous posture of postcolonial theory, which takes colonialism as its starting point, dissolve the violence of precolonial sociality through its exaltation of the East-West binary and the reproduction of orthodox narratives about Western modernity? How do scholars today approach the ruptures in time and space enshrined by postcolonial thought by attending to shifts in hierarchies of human difference in the long duree? How might the disentangling of “modernity” from occidental result in a more complex understanding of power?

This panel seeks to bring together new approaches to the study of Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and North Africa in order to facilitate conversation and debate among various temporal, geographic, disciplinary, and theoretical spaces. Young scholars or those established scholars pursuing new projects or directions are especially welcome. Possible topics might include, but certainly are not limited to:

Race as an analytic term in Southwest Asia/North Africa
Legacies and histories of Indian Ocean World slavery
Constructions of gender and sexuality
Blackness and anti-blackness in Southwest Asia/North Africa
Critiques of history and Western historiography
The current state of postcolonial studies
Translation and Untranslatability
Questions of the archive
Global modernisms and modernity

Translating Difference in Arabic Literature

Organizer: Erin Twohig

Co-Organizer: Alexander Elinson

This seminar considers the cultural and linguistic power differentials that affect the translation of Arabic literature. While translation from one language to another is nearly always fraught with unequal power dynamics, translating literature from, and into, Arabic poses a unique set of challenges. What are the implications of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Arabic-speaking world for literary translation? How might we approach translating work from certain regions within major literary zones (North Africa within the Arab world, for example) into English? How can we articulate power differences and references that exist for Arabic readers from different places, and translate those into other languages?

We also seek contributions that take a more figurative approach to the concept of “translating” the Arabic literary world, including papers that consider how literary success and critical reception might translate unevenly across different spaces. While Cairo and Beirut represent the traditional centers of Arabic publishing, literature from the Arabic-speaking world is produced in, and has ties to, many other spaces. How are authors from the “margins” of the Arabic literary world received in its “centers” and vice versa, and how does this reception change when their work is translated for non-Arabic-speaking audiences? How do the politics of translating difference in Arabic literature trouble assumed categories of the center/margins at the heart of theories of “world literature”? We welcome contributions that consider translation theoretically, practically, and metaphorically, as we explore the politics and aesthetics of translating difference in Arabic literature.

The Arabic Qasida: The Poetics and Politics of Performance

Organizer: Suzanne Stetkevych

In the last couple of decades studies of classical Arabic poetry have begun to engage Performance Theory and related approaches such as Speech Act (Performative) Theory and Interarts Theory. Taking these studies as a theoretical starting point, this seminar proposes to explore how poets working within a highly conventional tradition perform and re-perform the qasida to achieve particular poetic and extra-poetic purposes.

This seminar assumes first that the classical Arabic qasida (ode) was part and parcel of social, political and religious life, and that its generic conventions are carefully calibrated by the individual poet to negotiate or compete for rank and status within a multi-dimensional social setting. In addition to exploring the performance aspects inherent in the poetic text itself, this seminar recognizes that the prose narratives (akhbār) that accompany the poem in the classical commentaries and literary compendia do not record the actual presentation of the poem, but rather constitute, in themselves, literary (re)-performances, in terms of editing, staging, keying, interpretation, etc.

In addition to the poetic texts themselves and these akhbār-framed literary re-performances, there are many other versions or iterations of poems that could be fruitfully interpreted in light of Performance Theory. In these cases, a poem is coopted, in whole or in part, to serve new purposes or performative goals, in a new setting. These include liturgical and talismanic uses of poetry; amplification (tashṭīr, takhmīs) in which a base text is enframed or encased, and redirected, within an epigone’s added lines; contrafaction (muʿāraḍah), in which the rhyme, meter and key words of the original reverberate aurally and semantically in the imitator’s homage, challenge, and cooptation of the original; manuscript and architectural inscription in which verbal aesthetics are brought into dialog with visual messaging; anthologizing, in which a selection is meticulously framed within a curated master-program; and song, in which the sonority of the poetic rhyme and meter is surrendered to a new aesthetics of musical performance.

Furthermore, these and other performances and re-performances may entail the cooptation and re-inscription of poems or lines of poetry for specific political, ideological, religious, and pedagogical purposes, among them Ṣūfī mysticism, Nahḍah revivalism, pan-Arabism, nationalism, modernism and Islamism.

Rewriting Local Dialects in Translation

Organizer: Dima Ayoub

Co-Organizer: Giancarlo Tursi

Thinking the relationship between dialect and translation poses both practical and theoretical questions. On one hand, translating works in which dialect or some regional variant is present poses obvious challenges for the translator. Does the translator attempt to reproduce the linguistic texture and relationality of the original text or rather substitute it with an analogous case from the target language and culture? Or does the relationality and linguistic difference of the original text necessarily get sacrificed by the paradoxically more monolingual language of translation? How does/can translation reach the dialectality of the original text?

We may also look at the translational work that is done by ‘original texts’ themselves when confronted with dialect. Writers Elena Ferrante and Italo Svevo, to take two writers from the Italian case, make frequent reported reference to the dialect of their protagonists without ever writing in it. Others, like Carlo Gadda or Pier Paolo Pasolini, seem particularly bent on introducing dialect into their novels in an effort to defamiliarize and pluralize language. Similarly, in the case of Arabic, the relationship and tension between formal and localized dialects has been central to Arabic literature in both original texts and in translation. Indeed, the issue of which form of Arabic to employ still exists for many writers of Arabic, and translators often reference the difficulty of translating different dialects.

How should we look at this dichotomy between translation as effacement of the original language and translation as introduction (following the parallel Latin etymon traducere, still common among Romance languages) of the foreign element? In what way does effacement of dialect in translation allow novels to travel in translation? And can we think of accents and dialects not only as markers of otherness but also as tools through which belonging is established and policed?

Finally, thinking dialect and translation together allows us to consider some of the more philosophical dimensions of translation. How does thinking of languages not as distinct, discrete entities bound up with their respective nation-states, but rather as dialects along a continuum of identity and difference, with a multitude of actual or potential filiations, allow us to think the linguistic and political implications of the translational act?

We invite papers that engage with any aspects of this question and strike a balance between the empirical and linguistic and the experimental and theoretical.

Palestine/Israel: The Vocabulary of the Conflict and its Circulation

Organizer: Ella Elbaz

Co-Organizer: Na’ama Rokem

The purpose of this seminar is to create a conversation between Palestinian and Israeli cultures, which raises the question of the possibilities and impossibilities of the operation of comparison as a methodology. To what extent can we generate and discuss a shared set of metaphors and images that circulate within each culture and between the two and what might we learn through such an endeavor. We invite scholars of cultural production generated in the orbit of the conflict writ large, to reflect on common themes (such as exile, return, diaspora, memory, at-home-ness) as they intersect but also as they rise in separate, disparate, and even disconnected circumstances. By bringing together comparative and non-comparative research done in theater, visual arts, literature, history, and cinema we hope to crystalize the specific conditions in which images, terminologies and styles transfer from one culture to another. The questions we ask concern both the common grounds and the particularities of post-48 Israeli and Palestinian cultures: What are the spaces that allow interaction versus those that are disconnected (for example, the city of Haifa versus the Palestinian diaspora in the Arab world)? What is unique to each of these spaces in how it constructs cultural communication? Which ideas, forms, and imagery transgress geographical limitations and reach the other side of the conflict regardless to location? What are the key terms and metaphors that are common to both cultures in narrating their history and experience and in what ways are these terms represented differently (for example, exile)? How can we analyze and account for the commonalities found in places that do not invite knowing, understanding and accessing the cultural objects of the ‘enemy’? How can the rhetoric and the methodology of comparison account for the unequal power relations folded into – and sometimes obscured by – the term ‘conflict’?

We are interested on the one hand in circulation and translation between Hebrew and Arabic, and on the other hand in the cultural spheres in which the two develop a similar vocabulary despite the lack of exchange.

For more, visit the ACLA website.