Samah Selim: Text and Context – Translating in a State of Emergency

Plenary 1


النص والسياق: الترجمة في ظل حالة الطوارئ

سماح سليم


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This presentation will explore the problems associated with activist translating in revolutionary historical moments like the one that began in Egypt in 2011. Using my experience working as a subtitler with the radical video collective Mosireen in 2012/13, I want to reflect on how the process and experience of translating in a state of emergency – when the state mobilizes its arsenal of violence on the streets – profoundly shapes how we think about terms like profession and objectivity, and about the roles of both translator and audience in building effective cross-border virtual solidarity networks in real time. I also want to broadly distinguish between what I see as the two closely related and equally urgent modes of political translating work described above; crisis and building. While the former is defined by transposable and widely-circulating spectacles of violence and resistance, the latter seeks to mobilize the broadest possible array of socially embedded source texts (tracts, statements, press conferences, testimonies, manifestos, analysis) in order to fully territorialize the spectacle and give it political meaning. I will argue that building effective and sustainable international solidarity networks absolutely depends on this kind of multi-directional territorializing translation work, particularly at this time when militant popular movements are exploding across the globe.

سيطرح هذا العرض بعض المشاكل التي يواجهها الناشط الذي يقوم بأعمال الترجمة في لحظات تاريخية في عمر ثورة كالتي بدأت في مصر عام 2011. ومن واقع خبرتي العملية كمترجمة نصوص فيديوهات مع مجموعة فيديوهات مُصرين Mosireen في 2012/2013، سأطرح كيفية تشكيل الترجمة في حالة الطوارئ لطريقة تفكيرنا الخاصة بمفردات معينة مثل المهنية والموضوعية وبدور كل من المترجم والجماهير في بناء شبكات تضامن افتراضية وفعالة عبر الحدود في الواقع الافتراضي عندما تلجأ الدولة إلى حشد ترسانتها بهدف اللجوء إلى استخدام العنف في الشوارع. اود ايضا ان افرق في هذه المداخله بين نوعين مختلفين من الترجمه السياسيه، وهما ترجمة الأزمات، اي الترجمه السريعه في خضم ازمات سياسيه عنيفه، وترجمة البناء، اي الترجمه المتأنيه في سياق بناء أطر سياسيه علي المدي الطويل.، ويسعى “البناء” إلى حشد أوسع مجموعة ممكنة من نصوص اللغة الأم ذات المضمون الاجتماعي (الكتيبات والبيانات والمؤتمرات الصحفية، والشهادات، والبيانات الرسمية، والتحليلات) لإضفاء الطابع المحلي على المشهد بالكامل وإعطائه معنى سياسي. إن بناء شبكات تضامن دولية فاعلة ومستدامة يعتمد تماماً على هذا النوع من أعمال الترجمة ذات الطابع المحلي والاتجاهات المتعددة، ولا سيما في هذا الوقت الذي تتسع فيه رقعة الحركات الشعبية في جميع أنحاء العالم.

Samah Selim is Associate Professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures at Rutgers University. She received her BA in English Literature from Barnard College in 1986 and her PhD from the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in 1997.  She has previously taught at Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of Aix-en-Provence. Selim co-directs the literature module of the Berlin-based postdoctoral research program, Europe in the Middle East; the Middle East in Europe and is a member of the Mataroa Research Networka Greek initiative bringing together scholars, activists and culture workers for a radical, commons-based Mediterranean. Her academic research focuses mainly on modern Arabic literature, with a particular interest in narrative genres like the novel and short story; comparative theories of fiction, and cultural discourses on modernity and the politics of translation practice in colonial and postcolonial contexts. She is the author of The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, 1880-1985 and is currently working on a book about translation, modernity and popular fiction in early twentieth-century Egypt. Selim is also a practising translator. Her translation of Yahya Taher Abdallah’s The Collar and the Bracelet won the 2009 Banipal Prize and in 2011 she was awarded the University of Arkansas Press Award for Arabic Literature in Translation for Jurji Zaydan’s Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt. Her interest in translation has taken new directions with the beginning of the 2011 revolution in Egypt. In 2012 she joined the Mosireen collective’s video subtitling unit and has done freelance translating/subtitling on social media and for Egyptian left political organizations.

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