Jan 13, 2022

Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Mona Kareem on the colonial phenomenon of rendition as translation 


1

Earlier this year, an English translation of Yi Lei, a prominent poet of the ’80s generation in China, was released by Graywolf Press. Tweets and headlines in the American press rejoiced, stressing how this Chinese Emily Dickinson has been brought into English by none other than the Pulitzer prizewinner Tracy K. Smith. They marvelled at such feminist collaboration, our best woman poet and their best woman poet, meeting in verse. ‘An encounter with Tracy K. Smith eased the late Chinese poet’s emergence into the Anglophone world,’ declared the New Yorker. The verb ‘eased’ struck me; like an unwanted pregnancy, her poems arrive in English—a ‘second life’ to use the article’s Benjaminian wording. Tracy K. Smith has no knowledge of Chinese, and as such, I doubt that she knows enough about Chinese poetry and where Yi Lei stands among her generation, or the place of her poetics within their literary domain. In the introduction, written without the co-translator, Smith makes no mention of any other Chinese poets, nor does she contextualize Lei’s work. She describes her as a revolutionary voice, tells us about her brief friendship with Lei, comparing her to one American master: ‘she was huge-hearted and philosophical, on intimate terms with the world in the way of Walt Whitman, one of her literary heroes.’

Smith does not hide her anxiety at the nature of this work yet she does not frame it as a non-translation, or perhaps an anti-translation: ‘I accepted the fact that the music of the original, which I wasn’t capable of recognizing in the Chinese, or gleaning from David’s intermediary translation, could not be a component of my concerns as a translator.’ After all, it is no strange phenomenon for Western poets, from Ezra Pound to Ted Hughes, to hire a linguist or a literary scholar to compose a ‘rough translation’ to then make an adaptation of the text. I hold no objections against adaptation as a form of translation, nor am I interested in guarding definitions of translation but am rather interested in examining how such co-opting of literary translation speaks of a larger attitude toward non-western literatures. Sometimes it is the author of the original text who partners in this process and, where not versed in the target language or its literature, this yields a collaboration distinct for its uneven power relations. Last July, Graywolf announced a new translation, or an adaptation, of Dante by Mary Jo Bang, another beloved woman poet of America. It announced in a tweet, ‘Congratulations to Jo Bang on her release,’ to which I couldn’t help but respond, ‘Congratulations to Dante!’ 

This phenomenon of Western poets calling their renditions translations has always baffled me. Everywhere else in the world, poets might commit the sin of translating a text via an intermediary language which they speak (a translation of a translation) but never would they hire someone to give them a rough draft of the original to then workshop the hell out of it! One can’t help but wonder, if the resources are available for a rough draft, if the enthusiasm is present to ‘ease’ a text into a new language, then what is it that stops western poets and publishers from leaving the task of translating someone of the caliber of Yi Lei to a qualified translator? After all, Chinese is not some obscure language of the Norwegian outskirts, it’s literally the largest language in the world when we count native speakers! In his review of Smith’s adaptation, Andrew Chan writes about the state of confusion he found himself in, wary of the ‘false conclusions’ that Smith’s ‘unfaithful renditions’ would leave the English-speaker with. Chan, who has read the poetry of both Smith and Lei (in the original), is able to tell how Smith’s renditions were decorated by an aesthetic contrary to Lei’s work, a musicality specific to Smith, a drastic difference in style and tone. What poets who are not translators fail to understand is that it is exactly ‘style, tone, and content’ that makes or breaks a translator. Chan too is aware of this phenomenon, offering examples beyond poetry, where the translator takes liberty in not only domesticating a text, but making of it a ‘loose’ adaptation. It is indeed a form of textual violence.

As an Arab poet, I can tell you that stories of what western translators do to our work make a favourite subject in literary festivals, late-night gatherings, and zoom events. One cannot miss the sense of ‘guardianship’ western translators practice over us—how they filter us, make us lyrical, oblique, politically-correct, or appealing. A sense of paternity is at practice by which the western translator takes your hand and guides you into the darkness of the abyss, especially if you do not speak their language. Often, you naively believe in them, after all this is not a matter of ill intentions, the two of you work on the belief that it is a ‘collaboration,’ and as so, whatever it yields, might be worth the while! 

Dec 10, 2021

خرائط المنفى

 جالسة على أريكة خضراء في شقة بروكلينية باتت الآن موبوءة ببقّ الفراش، أدركتُ فجأة أن موعد رحلة طيراني للقاء عائلتي لأول مرة منذ خمس سنوات كان الليلة، وليس غداً؛ أي 12:30 بعد منتصف الليل، وليس 12:30 وقت الظهيرة. كنت قد خططت للاستيقاظ مبكراً في الصباح، أحضر فُنجاني قهوة، قبل ملئ حقيبتي الصغيرة بالقليل من الهدايا التي تمكنت من شرائها لإخوتي في آخر لحظة. ظننت أن لدي المزيد من الساعات كي أجلس مع ذاك الشعور الثقيل، الذي حسبته مزيجاً من الانفعال والشوق، ولكنه كان في الحقيقة مزيجاً من القلق والخوف – الخوفُ من أن تسير الأمور على غير ما يرام؛ الخوف من لقاءات لا يمكن لأحد أن يحضّر نفسه لها.


أمام الأريكة طربيزة مدورة، حُمت حولها بذعر، غير متأكدة من قدرتي على الوصول إلى مطار جون إف كينيدي في الوقت المناسب، أو إلى كييف، أو إلى تبليسي. على مر شهور، كنت قد جمعت أنا وأختي مبلغاً لكي نتمكن من الذهاب في رحلة لم الشمل تلك التي ستدوم أسبوعاً، في بلدٍ لا نعرف عنه أي شيء. بعد شهورٍ قليلة من وصولي إلى الولايات المتحدة، رفض الكويتيون طلب تجديد وثيقة السفر، فصرتُ بذلك لاجئة. قوبلت محاولاتُ عائلتي للحصول على فيزا أمريكية بالرفض المتكرر أيضاً؛ لذا بحثنا عن خطط بديلة. اتصلنا بالسفارات كل صباح، في الولايات المتحدة وفي الكويت. سألتُ، «هل تقبلون وثيقة سفر لاجئ من إصدار الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية؟ كم يستغرق إصدار تأشيرة السفر؟» أما هم فسألوا «هل تقبلون وثيقة سفر «بدون»؟ كم يستغرق إصدار تأشيرة السفر؟» وكانت جورجيا هي الدولة الأسهلُ للطرفين، المكان الذي أعاد العرب استكشافه خلال السنوات القليلة الماضية، هذه المرة ليس بصفتهم فاتحين، وإنما لاجئين مارّين، يطمحون للتسلل إلى القارة الأوروبية من جانبها الشرقيّ.

غادرتُ الكويت في شهر أغسطس / آب عام 2011، وكان ذلك أفضل وقت لمغادرة الكويت، حيث درجة الحرارة 120 فهرنهايت (48.8 مئوية). كنت متيقنة من أنني على الأغلب لن أرجع في أي وقت قريب. كان حلم مغادرتي لهذه البلاد قديماً قِدَم جسدي. لطالما كنت مسحورة باحتمالات الأماكن الأخرى، يغلبني شعور الملل والتبلد من مسقط رأسي؛ وفوق كل شيء تعبت من كوني بدون جنسية، ومن دولة عمرها أصغر من عمر أبي تتهمني مراراً أنني لا أنتمي أو أنني لست «أصيلة» كفاية. لا أعرف النوم في الطائرات، ولا حتى عند استقلال الحافلات؛ شيءٌ ما في حضور الآخرين يقضّ مضجعي. قضيتُ الساعات أضع لمسات أخيرة على مشروع ترجمة كلفتني به امرأة بيضاء حاولَت ألّا تدفع أتعابي بحجة أنها تمنحني «فرصة الظهور في المشهد الأدبي الأمريكي». امرأة بيضاء لا نفوذ لها حتى في هذا المشهد. انتبهتُ إلى جيراني الجالسين بالقرب مني، وكانوا أماً وثلاثة أطفال، عندما سمعتهم يتحدثون بالعربية. طرحنا على بعض السؤال الذي عادة ما نطرحه قبل السؤال عن الاسم. أجاب ابنها، المولود في باي ريدج بروكلين، «نحن فلسطينيون».

عند وصولنا إلى كييف، تم تفتيشنا أنا والفلسطينيين بدقة، وراح الولد ذو الاثني عشر عاماً يلقي دعابات «عنّا»، وعن كوننا «نحن» من يؤخر الطوابير، ومن يجعل الحشود تتأفف وتتململ. سلبَ الأوكرانيون مني مقصاً صغيراً وملقط شعر كان حاجباي بأمس الحاجة إليه. شعرتُ بالإحباط ولجأت إلى السخرية، فصرت أجيب عن كل سؤال بسؤال – لا أعرف... لأن... أنتم تعرفون... لماذا... هل يجب عليّ ذلك؟ كانت هذه من جملة أساليب التكيّف التي اكتسبتها في رحلاتي من مطار إلى مطار، كبديل عن الابتسام في وجه من يقوم بتفتيشك واذلالك. يفاجئهم سلوكي هذا ويجبرهم أحياناً على اللجوء إلى استدعاء مدرائهم، للتعامل مع امرأة تتحدث مثل أمريكية متسلطة، لكنها ليست بأمريكية. ذاك اليوم، مثل بقية الأيام، رفضتُ أن أجيب عن أسئلة من قبيل، لماذا أنا بدون جنسية، أو لماذا أملك وثيقة سفر لاجئ. تمسّكت بسلوكي المعاند وفكّرت، حتى الأوكرانيّين. ففي العام السابق، قامت روسيا باحتلال أوكرانيا، مما يدفع المرء على الظن بأن لدى الأوكرانيين أشياء أجدر بالقلق. طلبتُ أن تؤخذ صورة لنا، أنا والفلسطينيين. صوَّرتنا الأم، واتخذنا – أنا والأطفال – وضعيات مختلفة، نرفع أيادينا في علامات لا نستطيع فك شِفراتها. 

Nov 1, 2021

Mapping Exile: A Writer’s Story of Growing Up Stateless in Post-Gulf War Kuwait

Sitting on a green couch in what is now a bedbug-infested Brooklyn apartment, I suddenly realized that my flight to meet my family for the first time in five years was actually tonight, not tomorrow; 12:30 am, not 12:30 pm. I had planned to wake up early in the morning, make two cups of coffee, and pack a small bag with the few gifts I managed to buy last minute for my siblings. I thought I had more hours to sit with my heavy feeling, which I assumed to be a mix of excitement and longing, but which was rather a combination of wariness and fear, of things going wrong, of encounters no one can prepare for.

In front of the couch, there was a round coffee table, which I circled around in panic, not sure if I could make it to JFK on time, to Kiev on time, to Tbilisi on time. For months, my sister and I had saved and borrowed so we could have this one-week reunion trip in a country we knew nothing about. A few months after my arrival in the United States, the Kuwaitis had denied my application for passport renewal, subsequently making me an asylee. My family’s attempts to get US visas were repeatedly denied, so we began to make different plans. We called embassies every morning, in the United States and in Kuwait. I asked, “Do you accept a US refugee travel document? How long to issue a visa?” while they asked, “Do you accept a stateless travel document? How long to issue a visa?” The mutually closest country was Georgia, a place Arabs have come to discover in the past few years, this time not as conquerors, but as refugees in transit, hoping to infiltrate Europe from her eastern side.

I left Kuwait in August 2011, really the best time to leave Kuwait, when it was 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew I would be unlikely to return anytime soon. My dream of leaving the country was as old as my body. Fascinated with the possibility of other places, I was also dulled by my place of birth, but most of all I was tired of being stateless, tired of a state younger than my father telling me I didn’t belong or I wasn’t native enough. On airplanes, I never sleep, nor on buses; something about the presence of others unsettles my rest. I killed the hours making final touches on a translation project commissioned by a white woman who tried to not pay me since she was giving me “exposure to the American literary scene.” A white woman with barely any name, I should say. I began to take interest in my seat neighbors, a mother with three children, after hearing their Arabic. We asked each other the question we tend to ask before getting each other’s names. Her son, born in Bay Ridge, said, “We’re Palestinian.”

Arriving in Kiev, the Palestinians and I got thoroughly searched, the 12-year-old kid, slick again, making jokes about “Us,” that it’s only Us who are made to hold the lines back, who make the crowds huff in frustration. From me, the Ukrainians took small scissors and a tweezer my hairy eyebrows were in dire need of. I grew frustrated and sarcastic, answering every question with a question—I don’t know… because… you know… why… do I have to? These are the coping mechanisms I’ve acquired airport to airport, as a substitute to smiling at those who search and humiliate you. My attitude surprises them, often makes them resort to getting their own managers to deal with a woman who speaks like a bossy American but is not one. Today, like other days, I refused to answer why I was stateless or why I had this refugee travel document. I wore the fuck-it-up attitude and thought to myself, Even the Ukrainians. The year before, Russia had invaded Ukraine, so you’d think they would have had better shit to worry about. I asked that we take a picture together, the Palestinians and I. The mother volunteered as photographer, her kids and I posing and throwing hand signs we couldn’t decode.

Jul 19, 2021

THE ROOM OF ESCAPE & LEISURE

The lights are always on 

in the room of escape & leisure.

If you're passing by, you might mistake it 

for the dim glow of a falling miracle.


On its wall, a woman with her baby

and goat sit still on their knees

looking up towards the sky 

painted in watercolors. They pray 

in a cracked moment, as a spaceship

flies fired into freedom. A prayer 

for modernity without the wet eyes 

of a naive monk.


Even on the far corner, there are rosaries

hung for urgent use. In the room 

of escape & leisure, there is no God

but there are believers– 6 shelves,

3 stands, & 4 stacks of butterflies

roaming around. Careful not to dance


too heavy, the landlord will put

the miracle to flames.

* Published in FENCE magazine

Jun 15, 2021

Bidoon: A Cause and Its Literature Are Born

 In a brilliant and personal essay on the history of Bidoon literature, Mona Kareem shows why literature cannot be thought along national lines.

Translation from ArabicAlice Guthrie

1.

Here we are in exile once again. We’re not the first Arab generation to cast itself into the labyrinth, and we won’t be the last. Sometimes they call us migrants or refugees; at other times they call us marginalized—then they invite us to talk, from the margin, about the margin: “How’s the weather over there on the margin?” They put us in anthologies that no one will read but the mummies in Middle East Studies, and they consider our poems and novels as documentaries, or treat them as confessions from the dark end of the tunnel. Perhaps there might be a little progress, consisting of a hyphen, tantamount to a mist-shrouded bridge, being placed between our identity and theirs: “Arab-American.” It’s a bridge not intended for crossing, one they take it upon themselves to guard; someday they’ll erect an electric fence on it.

I’ve spent ten years in the USA now. I haven’t obtained nationality yet, so I still travel on a twelve-month refugee passport, each annual renewal taking three months on the grounds that travel is a luxury. I am referred to, without hesitation, as an “Arab-American” writer; I don’t know when exactly this transformation occurred, shifting my classification from “exiled Arab” to “Arab-American.” By contrast, I was born in Kuwait and raised there until the age of twenty-two, by which time I had already published two poetry collections and worked for five years for local newspapers. In fact there was hardly a field I hadn’t dabbled in, from acting to theater criticism to literary translation to political organizing—feminism, workers’ rights, and the Bidoon cause.[1] I also played violin, oud, and piano, and if my voice hadn’t been thin and ugly, you would even have found me singing in the shopping malls and on the polluted beaches of the Gulf. I lived large during a short life, succeeded and failed and grew, all of it without a denotation or a classification to my name.

In 2011, after the Bidoon movement was born in the streets, there came to be something known as “Bidoon literature.” Prior to that, “Kuwaiti literature” anthologies and encyclopedias had ignored our very existence, their raison d’être being to shore up the idea that Kuwaitis actually had such a thing as a literature—and that by extension they also had a nation, a history, and a state. They excluded us Bidoon from the Kuwaiti Writers’ Association and from all public benefit associations. Although these are supposed to be more democratic than the state, they are in reality even more reactionary, grim, and racist than the state is. We would chat with our migrant comrades—the Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and other Arabs wandering lost in petroland—and make friends with them in the knowledge that all of us existed on the margin, the margin of here and the margin of there, without knowing how to create anything out of this margin—a geography of our very own, say, or at least a space based on something other than His Lordship Mr. Citizen. “Bidoon literature” would never have been born without the birth of the Bidoon movement. Every political cause has an innate need for literature, for culture, to voice the suffering of a people and recount their progress towards their collective aspirations. Someone’s profile would be defined by the single vague line “born in Kuwait,” with the phrase “a Bidoon poet” deleted by the editor, because how can anyone be defined by a negation?

May 28, 2021

How Ra’ad Abdulqadir Changed the Iraqi Prose Poem Forever

It’s late 90s Baghdad: with a trembling heart and weak joints, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, the editor of Aqlam literary magazine, would return from his office to his home in the western outskirts of the capital every day. He would change into his pajamas, lay down on the couch, and begin to write a poem for what would become his most notable work, Falcon with Sun Overhead. He would then doze off with the notebook resting on his belly. Like much of the rest of Iraq, Ra’ad spent the 90s suffering from health issues, and the hospital visits became part of his routine. He hated doctors and hospitals and chronicled their dreadful presence in his poems. “The poet used to be an angel,” he told novelist Warid Badir al-Salim in what’s considered his last interview in 1999. “Now he is a coal miner.”

And what does that mean for you, Mr. Ra’ad? “Well, I like to think of myself as the angel in the coalfield.”

And so he is—the angel in the coalfield, the cemetery, the empty classrooms, the white hospitals, the dark streets. For years, he was the kind of poet loved and envied by both his contemporaries and the generations that followed for his magical ability to keep the angel’s garb free of ash. Now, though, he has been underrated and forgotten.

Ra’ad began to publish in the 70s and reappeared again in the 90s “to save the Iraqi prose poem,” as his close friend poet Abdulzahra Zaki has written. He belonged to a generation overshadowed by those that came of age in the 60s, a generation that lives in exile, having escaped the authoritarian grip of the Ba’ath regime, and is celebrated across the Arab world, including poets like Sargon Boulus, Fadhil Azzawi, and Salah Faiq. Those poets that began to publish in the 70s and afterward, meanwhile, endured dictatorship and survived the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, and sanctions. Literary historians describe this period of dictator-ship era literature (1979-2003) as one in which several generations of Iraqi poets—as well as their variety of poetic forms and practices—existed and developed side by side.

For Ra’ad’s generation, the 70s poets, survival came at a high cost. Those not already in prison or exile were required to serve in the military. For most people, the only hope was to be a woman, disabled, on reserve, or working as a reporter. Ra’ad worked as an editor and journalist his whole life, which allowed him to continue to write in relative safety. At the time, all forms of cultural production were run by state institutions (unless they were student-run or informal, in which case they would face censorship).


* continue reading at LitHub

From Rap to Trap: The Khaliji Migrant Finds his Aesthetic

This article explores the trajectories and artistic productions of Arabic‑speaking hip hop artists of migrant background in the Gulf countries (especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia). More specifically, the article describes the recent emergence of a new hip hop scene led by second‑generation migrants, whose lyrics appear as more politicized than those of citizen rappers. While these artists face criticism by local audiences on the basis of their foreign origins – often used to delegitimize their position – the article suggests that hip hop provides them with a language to express their specific experiences as migrants– the informal neighborhoods they grew up in; their critical takes on kafīl‑s, the police, and systematic exclusion; or their experiences of unemployment and discrimination. The article further suggests that these very experiences grant their artists the “street credit” that citizen rappers would lack.

The article looks both at tracks and videoclips produced by the rappers as well as some of the discourses held about them– in the media and in the comments section of YouTube videos or online forums. It also points toward a number of issues – the question of how ethnicity and social class are mobilized in the lyrical, linguistic, and parodic creativity of the songs, and in controversies and discourses surrounding the artists; the question of state intervention, either through financially co‑opting the cultural industry or through censorship; the question of migrant experiences, that are rarely expressed elsewhere, and how they are made visible through hip hop productions.



* read the full paper at Arabian Humanities

Feb 16, 2021

على أطلال الأدب القومي أو عن أدب يكتبه الغرباء

 ها نحن ثانية في المنفى، لسنا بأول جيل عربي يسّيب نفسه للمتاهة كما لن نكون الأخيرين، يسموننا مهاجرين تارة أو لاجئين ومهمشين تارة أخرى، يدعوننا للحديث عن الهامش من الهامش "كيف هو الطقس على الهامش؟" يضعوننا في أنطولوجيات لن يقرأها سوى مومياوات المؤسسات أو جيتوهات دراسات الشرق الأوسط، يتعاملون مع قصائدنا ورواياتنا باعتبارها وثائق، أو اعترافات من الجانب المظلم من النفق. أو قد يتطور الأمر قليلًا فيضعون شرطة هي بمثابة جسر ضبابي بين هويتنا وهويتهم "عربي-أمريكي"، جسر لا يهدف للعبور، يتولون حراسته، وسوف يبنون عليه حائطًا مكهربًا يومًا ما.

قضيت في الولايات المتحدة حتى الآن 10 سنوات. لم أحصل على الجنسية بعد وما زلت أسافر بجواز سفر لاجئ مدته 12 شهرًا، ويقتضي تجديده 3 شهور في كل مرة، باعتبار أن السفر رفاهية. يتم الإشارة إليّ باعتباري كاتبة "عربية-أمريكية" بلا تردد، ولا أعلم متى بالضبط حدث التحول في تصنيفي من "كاتب عربي منفي" إلى كاتب "عربي- أمريكي".

في المقابل، ولدت وتربيت في الكويت حتى سن الثانية والعشرين، نشرت خلالها مجموعتين شعريتين، عملت في الصحف المحلية لخمس سنوات، بل أني لم أترك مجالًا إلا وتمرغت فيه: التمثيل، النقد المسرحي، الترجمة الأدبية، التنظيم السياسي، النسوي والعمالي و"البدوني"، لعبت على الكمنجة والعود والبيانو، ولولا أن صوتي شحيح وقبيح لوجدتموني أغني في المولات التجارية وعلى شواطئ الخليج الملوثة. عشت حياة ضخمة خلال عمر قصير، نجحت وفشلت وكبرت، كل ذلك دون مسمى أو مصنف أحمله.

في 2011، وبعد ولادة حراك "البدون" في الشارع الكويتي، صار هنالك شيء اسمه "أدب البدون". من قبل، كانت أنطولوجيات وموسوعات الأدب الكويتي تتجاهل وجودنا، والتي لا هدف منها سوى تثبيت فكرة أن لدينا بالفعل أدبًا وبالتالي لدينا أيضًا أمة وتاريخًا ودولة، يقصوننا من "رابطة الأدباء الكويتيين" ومن كل جمعيات النفع العام التي من المفترض أن تكون أكثر ديمقراطية من الدولة إلا أنها في الحقيقة أكثر بؤسًا ورجعية وعنصرية.

نتصاحب ونتسامر مع رفاقنا المهاجرين، من المصريين والسوريين والفلسطينيين وغيرهم من العرب التائهين في بلاد النفط، نعرف أننا على الهامش، هامش الهنا وهامش الهناك، ولا نعرف كيف نخلق من هامشنا هذا شيئًا، جغرافية أخرى خاصة بنا، مساحة غير قائمة على السيد المواطن. لم يكن لـ "أدب البدون" أن يولد لولا أن حراك البدون قد ولد، فكل قضية سياسية بالطبيعة تحتاج إلى الأدب والثقافة لتسريد معاناة وحراك قوم ما نحو تطلعاتهم الجمعية. كانت النبذة التعريفية للواحد تأتي في سطر مبهم "ولد في الكويت" أو أن تكتب "شاعر بدون" فيقوم المحرر بإلغائها، إذ كيف يمكن تعريف الواحد بصيغة النفي.

Feb 3, 2021

The Exact Number of Stars: André Naffis-Sahely Translates Ribka Sibhatu



Last year, I was asked by an American editor to submit a selection of my poems for an anthology of contemporary Arabic poetry. “Self-translations are not allowed,” came her disclaimer, predicated on the assumption that a poet is effectively monolingual, and reinforcing a modern understanding of translation, and by extension other cultural practices, to be neutral and objective. “We think self-translation poses a threat to the art of translation,” she added. As I come close to completing a decade in American exile, I have accumulated many examples of how monolingualism enacts the violent politics of the publishing industry and its literary apparatus­––“self-translations are not permitted,” publishers and magazines declare on their submission pages with no effort to embrace the multilingual possibilities of a contemporary American literature. It pushed me to embark on a search for “poet-translators,” whose practice does not separate writing from translation and who often don’t even deploy the term “self-translation,” as they have come to realize that the author and the translator are inseparable.

Now at this distance, having understood the racist nature of monolingualism in the literary context, I find myself in the company of a nation of multilingual poets and translators––from Western pre-modernists like Goethe and Pessoa and Rilke to the émigré writers of modern and contemporary literatures. One would think that our literary conceptions and visions would adapt in light of mass displacement being the new norm–that publishing practices, whether editorial or translation-based, would work on expanding what is a national literature, or do without it altogether. However, the gatekeepers continue to guard the rusting gates, while the poet-translators make their attempts to jump in through the windows.

Ribka Sibhatu and André Naffis-Sahely are two such versatile literary artists. Sibhatu is an Eritrean poet and activist who writes in Italian, Tigrinya, Amharic, and French. She has been fighting Isaias Afwerki’s dictatorship at home, writing poems that imagine diaspora as the hands of a nation, and reclaiming refugee literature from its ghettoization to create a promise for a new literature. For Sibhatu, the refugee is the so-called “renaissance man” who has crossed landscapes, lived multiple lives, shed tongues, and acquired new ones. With such ethos, Sibhatu writes each of her poems, against linearity, against frontiers, and against amnesia.

It is no coincidence that Naffis-Sahely found Sibhatu’s poems, becoming the first to introduce her work to English readers. He grew up in Abu Dhabi with an Iranian father and Italian mother before his family was exiled from the emirate, but his maternal country was not any welcoming either, facing him with xenophobia. When encountering Sibhatu’s work, Naffis-Sahely discovered himself as a literary translator––seeing the possibility of another Italy, narrated and inhabited by the strangers within. In 2011, Andre was asked to translate Sibhatu’s poems for an Italian documentary film. Twenty titles later, Naffis-Sahely has now finally been able to publish his English translation of Sibhatu’s work.

Dec 16, 2020

حول ترجمة رواية “نسب” ﻷوكتافيا بتلر


قضيت في ترجمة هذه الرواية ما يقارب العام من العمل اليومي. خرجت منها بشعور من مر برحلة تحول ميثولوجية مزقتني إلى أشلاء لتعيد تشكيلي من جديد. لا أكاد أصدق أني نفدت بجلدي من هذا العمل الروائي العصي والمتقن والذي يقدم هذه الكاتبة العظيمة لأول مرة لقراء العربية. ولدت أوكتافيا إيستيلي بتلر وترعرعت في باساديناكاليفورنيا في العام 1947 لتصبح لاحقًا من أهم كتاب الخيال العلمي ومن بين أوائل النساء اللواتي خضن هذا النوع من الكتابة الأدبية، بالإضافة إلى كونها أول كاتب أمريكي أسود يتخصص في هذا النوع وأول كاتب خيال-علمي يتوج بجائزةماك آرثرالتي تمنح سنويًا لخيرة الأدباء والفنانين والعلماء في الولايات المتحدة.


أقدم لقراء العربية أحد أهم أعمال بتلر والتي قد يتم تصنيفها ضمن ما يسمى بـأدب العبودية الجديدالذي بدأ بالظهور في ستينيات القرن الماضي (ويستمر حتى اليوم) على أيدي كتاب مثل توني موريسون، مارجريت واكر، ديفيد برادلي، شيرلي آن وليامز، تشارلز جونسن، وإشمائيل رييد والذي يرجع له الفضل في إطلاق هذا المسمى. لكننسبتختلف عن أقرانها في مزجها بين جماليات الفنتازيا وأدب الرحلات ومذكرات العبودية. كما أن بتلر ليست بروائية واقعية، إلا أننسبتأتي كعمل واقعي تشكله الكاتبة باستغلال أداة خاصة بالخيال العلمي ألا وهي السفر عبر الزمن. 


كل أعمال بتلر السابقة واللاحقة تدور في مستقبل متخيل مظلم حيث البشر والكائنات الفضائية يتصارعون ضمن استعارة مسرحية عن التاريخ وواقع الهيمنة والاضطهاد. بذلك، اخترقت بتلر حدود الأجناس الأدبية وجاءت بمخيلة كاتب الخيال العلمي لتعالج تاريخاً شائكًا وقاتمًا بحساسية فذة وجديدة. نلاحظ كيف توظف الكاتبة خاصية الترحال الزمني لالتقاط مفارقة فلسفية كبرى ألا وهي إشكالية قراءة الماضي من موضع اللحظة الراهنة، حيث تمر سنوات الأمس وكأنها دقيقة أو صفحة أمام الإنسان الحديث. تركز بتلر على استعادة التجارب المريرة لإنسان الأمس عبر السرد المكثف والشخصيات المتعددة ولغة الجسد والحوارات التفصيلية للكشف عن الأبعاد الاجتماعية والنفسية للاضطهاد والقمع على الإنسان والجماعة. لا تكتفي بتلر بتقديم هذه الاستعادة من أجل القارئ الأسود الذي ما زال يموت ويعيش ويقاوم، بل أيضًا كمشروع إبداعي نقدي لكيفية التعامل مع الاضطهاد من الداخل عبر تقاطع عبقري بين قوة الخيال وحقيقة التاريخ، متمثلًا في التفاصيل والأصوات والأجساد.