Northwestern University

Wed 12:00 PM

"Comparative Literature and the Measures of Modernity..."- Graduate Workshop by Shaden Tageldin, University of Minnesota

When: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM  

Where: Kresge Hall, 5-531, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Graduate Students

Contact: Sarah Peters   847.491.3864

Group: Comparative Literary Studies

Critical Theory

Category: Academic


The Comparative Literary Studies Program Presents:

Graduate Workshop by Shaden Tageldin, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and Director of the African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota

"Comparative Literature and the Measures of Modernity: Translating Word, Sense, and Sensibility in Rūḥī al-Khālidī’s Tārīkh ʿIlm al-Adab ʿind al-Ifranj wa-l-ʿArab"

DESCRIPTION: To Victor Hugo’s question in Les Orientales (1829), “With what does the Orient rhyme?”, the Ottoman-Palestinian intellectual Rūḥī al-Khālidī might reply, With a broken chime. In al-Khālidī’s pioneering comparative study of French and Arabic literatures (1904, 1912), the figure of Hugo drives the uneven rupture of the modern Orient—its chime and its break—with select parts of its literary past and select parts of Europe’s literary present. Tracing the nineteenth-century Frenchman’s call for a literary language less interested in itself than in the ideas it expresses to comparable pronouncements by the eleventh- and fourteenth-century Arab-Islamic theorists ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī and Ibn Khaldūn, al-Khālidī incarnates in Hugo the lost “nature” to which an “artificial” modern Arabic letters must return. As a touchstone of the once-and-future modernity to which the writer of modern Arabic should aspire, he cites Hugo’s 1822 dictum, “Poetry is not in the form of ideas but in the ideas themselves.” Staging semiotic transparency as that which underwrites the equality and fraternity of signs, their utterers, and their receivers, al-Khālidī upholds Hugo’s literary ethos—“He declared that all words are equal”—as the heart of a properly modern conception of literature. In this radical democracy of words, long-held distinctions between “literary” and “common” language are toppled. Once untranslatable, the two are now interchangeable. And yet not so. On the one hand, if a so-called vulgar word can replace the arcane, the common and everyday is always to be preferred to the elite and recherché. Thus a shade of valorized difference accrues to the common, an edge of (political) untranslatability in the new global regime of vernacularized language proposed for modern literature that makes it more than equal to the rarefied word it replaces. On the other, however, an important caveat limits that excess: the “exchange” of the common for the literary, al-Khālidī stresses, must not violate the formal systems of Arabic grammar and morphology. This caveat holds open a space between the emergent (vernacularized) modern standard and the colloquial, such that the language of a new, properly modern, and comparable Arabic literature—fashioned in the crucible of translation between “old” Arab-Islamic and “new” French theories—is a third space in which formal and colloquial word, sense, and sensibility converge but do not interconvert.


Shaden M. Tageldin is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and Director of the African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Disarming Words: Empire and the Seductions of Translation in Egypt (University of California Press, 2011), which was awarded an Honorable Mention for the Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association. Tageldin’s work in comparative literature, empire and postcolonial studies, and critical translation theory has appeared in, among other venues, Comparative Literature Studies, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Arabic Literature, Journal of Historical Sociology, Philological Encounters, and PMLA, as well as in the edited volumes Futures of Comparative Literature, The Oxford History of the Novel in English: The Novel in Africa and the Caribbean since 1950, and Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses, Pedagogies. She currently holds an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, where she is at work on a book titled Toward a Transcontinental Theory of Modern Comparative Literature.

This event is co-sponsored by Critical Theory Program, Department of French and Italian, Department of German, and Program in Middle East and North African Studies


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