Shadi Rohana: Cervantes and the Arabs (Don Quixote in Translation)

This is the text of a paper given at the the Humanities Institute of the University of California at Santa Cruz on 22 May 2019

The Aljamiado Manuscript, a Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) manuscript from 16th-century Arévalo written in Castilian using the Arabic alphabet. Source: ballandalus.wordpress.com

The story which I’m about to tell you today is the history —or, rather, la historia, which in the Spanish language means both story and history— of how Miguel de Cervantes’ novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, or, in English, The Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the Mancha, was translated into Arabic.

Two weeks ago, after I finished writing this first paragraph in my study room in Mexico City, I began reading it out loud to myself to test how it may sound to you. However, back then in Mexico City, as I reached the written word “Quixote,” how it is written in English —Q U I X O T E— my reading was interrupted by the silence of the following question: How am I to pronounce to you, in English, the name of our world-famous caballero? Am I going to pronounce it, here in Santa Cruz, as دون كيهوتِ, as some of my north-American friends do —with an “h” sound in the middle— or the Anglicized دون كْويكْسوتِ, the way many English-language speakers in Britain, to my surprise, still do?[1]

Continue Reading

Tanjil Rashid: In Time’s Late Hour

Al-Ma’ari’s Saqt Al-Zand (or “The Tinder Spark”, Syria, AD 1300. Source: sothebys.com

I am often susceptible to feelings of belatedness. “Is literary greatness still possible?” Susan Sontag asked around the turn of the millennium, and twenty years on, I’m not sure we have had an answer. Is it finally, as Cyril Connolly put it, “closing time in the gardens of the West”? I have always preferred the gardens of the East, but they may not be faring any better.

I am fully aware that this sentiment has been known to reactionaries for thousands of years, and quite often they’ve been wildly wrong. With me it is not by any means a political stance, and probably just a hyperbolic way of appreciating works of art and literature from a time before my own. The feeling is usually prompted by an encounter with a marvellous line composed in some distant time by an ancient poet or sage.

Continue Reading

No more posts.