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I’m forcing some more creative activity…

Hi all,

To be clear: I do not translate into Arabic professionally. However, as I embark on my graduate school journey, I’ve decided to stretch. I’ll be posting some images on Instagram (@Tarjema) of translations. They will all be small; short pieces, quotes, that kind of thing. Here is the first:

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A Few Words to a Young Writer

A post shared by Tim Gregory (@tarjema) on

I’ll work on my photography skills, too. Promise.

 

Kareem James Abu-Zeid on ‘Literary’ vs. ‘Academic’ Translation

This article/interview about literary vs. academic translation is well worth your time.

ArabLit

Way back in March, Kareem James Abu-Zeid was in D.C. for the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here festival. At that time, he spoke with Epicenter about Mutanabbi (the tenth-century poet of poets) and about the art of translation:

This is not academia. This is not academia.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid is one of a few professional Arabic-English translators who makes his living outside academia. In the past, he has taught courses in Arabic (and German, French, and English) at UC Berkeley and at the Universities of Mannheim and Heidelberg in Germany. But he has since left the academy. And his primary focus was never on academic work, but on translating and writing.

In the interview, which is posted in full below, he discussed the divide between “academic” and “literary” translation:

Everybody has different takes on translation — and there’s actually a lot of Arabic literature being translated — there’s a pretty strong divide between what I’d call more academic…

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[Translated] Poetry is the Shortest Path to Prison in the Gulf – Raseef 22

Mona Kareem 10/4/2015 – translated by Tarjema

Muawiyah al-Rawahi did not know that his Omani citizenship, which allowed him to drive his car across the borders and bridges in the Gulf, would be the thing that would entrap him. Muawiyah was on his way to the Sultanate of Oman, crossing the border they share with Emirates after a short trip to the neighboring states. This border was the source of many tales of problems encountered by colonists, regular people, and transients. Muawiyah had relayed these stories in his blog, “Muawiyah al-Rawahi’s Delirium”, the contents of which were deleted after his arrest.

However, this was not the first time that Muawiyah was detained. The Omani authorities placed him in a mental hospital as part of the sandstorm blowing through on the winds of the “Arab Spring”. They considered him subversive to the Qur’an and an atheist, writing vertical poems, and teaching people how to memorize verses with the help of numbers.

Muwawiyah

Muawiyah al-Rawahi

Muawiyah has several books of poetry and prose, including his most recent volume, “The Charter of Salvation”, in which he talks about his experience in the prison/hospital. However, Muawiyah did not raise the ire of anyone through his literary work. Instead, it was his virtual presence on his blog and YouTube channel. He “theorizes” that the internet is like an “intellectual experiment” to determine and discover the self. He “intellectualizes” to his viewers through long vlog posts about a walk to buy cigarettes or a trip to look for a taxi driver. Muawiyah thinks that his “lengthy postings distance him from impatient meddlers, and provoke the eyes of security observers who are worn out by the ramblings of all-night chatter”. These video clips are part of what the poet calls a “free-form” of “field extrapolation” of his surroundings.

On Muawiyah’s channel on YouTube, we find his recorded poetry, including poems about Sultan Qaboos that seem to have been written after he was released. They might be a subtle attempt to reconcile with a man who has remained untouched by overthrow and revolution. But the poet’s repentance was not accepted; if the Sultanate refrained from arresting him again, prisons do not respect borders. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, before and after the Gulf Security Agreement, have the ability to take over an issue like this. Muawiyah’s visit was the perfect opportunity to discipline the neighbor’s child and to settle the score with a young author for his criticism of “the authorities of the Emirates and the state symbols”. Muawiyah’s family did not know where in the Emirates he was imprisoned. Talk was that he was being tortured.

Author Fatimah Alshidi sees her colleague al-Rawahi as an example of “the phenomenon of personal and text abuse”, fluctuating between “acceptance, refusal, overt compliance, and internal departure”. Al-Rawahi is now waiting for his court hearing coming in October, after it had been postponed yet again. Despite the seriousness of his statements, the Sultanate’s literati have not completely given up on Muawiyah. They have released a statement requesting his release, and some of them have continued to write articles and blog posts about him.

Ghermezi

Ayat al-Ghermezi

Poet of the Perpetual Revolution

The Gulf prisons are not just for agitators and modernists. Often times the poet in prison is a poet who works in the vernacular, like Mohammed Ben Alzib, who has spent 15 years in prison because of a sensational poem about the Tunisian revolution; or the poet might be a young girl like Ayat al-Ghermezi who was imprisoned for a year in Bahrain because of the “Dawwar” poems (the Pearl Roundabout, where the protests broke out in the February, 2011 revolution). Then there is the tale of the Saudi poet, Adel Lobad, nicknamed “Poet of the Revolution”, who was detained in 2012 and sentenced to 13 years in jail.

Lobad

Adel Lobad

Lobad’s latest arrest was his fourth, but his prison saga started a few decades back when he joined the “Vanguard Messengers Movement”, a “Shiite Movement” , many of whose members ended up in Syria before King Fahd “pardoned” them. Lobad was one of those who came back, but the Qatif demonstrations in 2011 and the arrest of Nimr al-Nimr brought Lobad back to his place as the “Movement Poet”. The Saudi authorities sentenced him to “five years for information crimes, three years for passport forgery – 30 years ago – and five years of back-to-back penalties”.

The Immigrant and the Sin of Poetry

In January of 2015, another poet – one who had not participated in demonstrations or badmouthed a ruler – was arrested. His name is Ashraf Fayadh. He is a Palestinian who moved his family to live in Saudi Arabia twenty years ago. His arrest garnered some outcry at the beginning, but the majority were silenced by fear of being charged with atheism, a charge Fayadh was facing. A reader filed a complaint against the poet, accusing him of spreading atheism through his book, “Instructions Within”, which had been published in 2008 by Dar Alfarabi. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was behind the imprisonment this time, not the Security Service or Intelligence Service. They interrogated him and talked to him about Islam; they asked him about his long hair and his photos on the internet with his female colleagues, artists and authors. The charge had nothing to do with the text, but with its author who was full of pride at the time because of his recent participation in the Venice Biennale, and he had just organized an exhibit for young artists.

After his arrest, Fayadh’s father spoke to some media outlets in an attempt to explain his son’s situation. He said that “a citizen quarreled with [his] son and filed these spiteful charges, demonstrating the morality of a barbarian, even if the charges would have been dismissed.” More than a year passed after Fayadh’s arrest, and the charges against him diversified shifted, and the date set for his trial changed with the judges assigned to his case. There is nothing left to see now but the interpretation of a reader who does not yet believe in the author’s death.

Source: http://raseef22.com/politics/2015/10/04/poets-in-prison-in-the-gulf/
Copyright ©: 2015 – Raseef 22

  • UPDATE: Somehow I had attributed this article to the wrong author, my apologies to Mona Kareem. I encourage you to visit her bilingual (Arabic/English) blog at http://monakareem.blogspot.com/

To Translate, It’s Not Enough To Understand a Language, ‘One Needs To Feel It’

I wish I could have attended this in person!

ArabLit

A panel made up of an Arabist, a specialist in modern Arabic Literature, and an author discussed the aspects of translations that delight and nettle them at the Seventh Emirates Airline Literature Festival, which took place at the beginning of this month:

By Sawad Hussain

Photo credit: Sawad Hussein. Photo credit: Sawad Hussain.

Translation from any language into another is a tall order, each having its own cultural references and local idioms. But translation from Arabic is another story altogether: one-sentence paragraphs; subjects separated from their verbs by lines on end; colloquial Arabic, from any possible number of countries, mixed in with Modern Standard; the tense being a mood rather than actually stated throughout the text; and the list goes on.…

As such, it wasn’t surprising that the Seventh Emirates Airline Literature Festival dedicated a session to unravelling “The Sticky Arts of Translation and Interpretation.” Though Arabic wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the title, the session primarily…

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‘Dictionary of the Revolution’: Defining Words in Flux

What an amazing project!

ArabLit

On January 31st, A Dictionary of the Revolution launched a kickstarter to boost the project toward its final phase:

dictionary_revolutionThis fund-raising campaign is focused on building the dictionary a digital text and sound archive for the material that Amira Hanafi and her team have collected in the past year. Through one-on-one interviews, leaping off from particular hot-button words, “A Dictionary of the Revolution makes space for viewpoints that are no longer represented in the media or in the Egyptian public. The book and archive preserve the memory of a moment in Egyptian history when many voices could be heard.”

Open to the public, Hanafi writes, the Dictionary archive “could be used for research, as the basis for other projects, or just exist for posterity: so we don’t forget the uprising in Egypt as time passes and things change.”

The campaign’s minimum goal is $2,500, and it’s already more than halfway there.

Dictionarist…

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Translating good stories

This article is a couple of years old, but it certainly looks to me as though it is still very relevant. I will be posting more as time goes on, but I’ve been approached to translate an Arabic SF novel into English; I’m reading the book right now and I’m very interested in the project. I will probably be getting in touch with the blog’s author as well, just to ask some questions (after I read through more of her blog to see if my questions are already answered, of course).

Anyway, enjoy the read!

Lydia Moëd

After such a positive first couple of posts, I thought it was time to talk about some things that annoy me. Two things annoyed me repeatedly at the London Book Fair: snobbery about genre fiction, and use of the phrase ‘lost in translation’. I thought I’d talk about the genre fiction one first.
(again, please bear in mind that I hate the terms ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction, and that I do think ‘literary’ fiction is to some extent a genre of its own, but that I hate the term ‘commercial fiction’ even more and I don’t know any other words for the stuff I want to talk about. Now, onwards!)

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About a cat…

Since hearing from Said Hassanieh about the post I made concerning “filthy animals“, my interest in finishing reading The Hunger Games in Arabic has been renewed. I started over, this time paying closer attention to the story and how it is being told. This post concern’s Buttercup, a cat Prim rescued and brought home and Katniss was going to drown rather than feed.

As I have said, I aspire to translate literature someday. I know that when I do, any other translator will be able to pick on my work and find little things like this to pick on. When someone does, I will feel like an idiot and question why I ever set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I admire the courage, skill, and artistry of those people who brave the world of literature. I have been impressed by the first by Said Hassanieh’s translation, and once I finish reading through this series I will be picking up some of his other translations. His Arabic is wonderful, clean and easy to read, and very expressive.

That said…

The paragraph introducing Buttercup struck me when I read it. It comes in right at the beginning of the first chapter, and I think it sets a lot of tone for the story. In this chapter we learn the following bits of information about Katniss:

  1. She loves Prim and will give her nearly anything. We don’t know it yet, but the family is subsisting barely above starvation; Katniss hunts and they eat her game to supplement their rations, and Katniss sells anything extra to buy the things they need.
  2. Katniss is in charge. Prim stopped her from drowning the cat and begged to be allowed to keep the cat. Katniss let her, and mom took care of the cat’s health.
  3. Katniss is willing to make hard choices and values things that pay their own way.

I’ll go into a bit more detail after the text especially about why I think these things are important and what happened in the translation.

Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named her Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin, and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

جلس أبشع هرّ في العالم على ركبتي بريم، فبدا وكأنه يحرسها. رأيت هذا الهر بخطمه المنتفخ، كان فاقداً لنصف أذن، أما لون عينيه فيمثل لون الكوسى الفاسدة. أطلقت بريم اسم الحوذان على هرّها هذا، وأصرّت على القول إن لون فرائه الأصفر الداكن يماثل لون تلك الزهرة النضرة. يكرهني هذا الهرّ، أو دعني أقول على الأقل إنه لا يثق بي. أظن أنه لا يزال يذكر ذلك اليوم الذي أحضرته بريم إلى المنزل، كان ذلك منذ سنوات عدة، عندما حاولتُ إغراقه في دلو مليء بالمياه. كان هرَاً صغيراً وهزيلاً يمتلئ بطنه بالديدان، وتتنقل البراغيث في أنحاء جسده. كان آخر شيء أحتاج إليههو فم إضافي ملزمة بإطعامه، لكن بريم توسلت إليّ بشدة، وحتى إنها بكت، كي أدعها تبقيه في المنزل، فرضخت لمطلبها. سارت الأمور على ما يرام في ما بعد لأن والدتي تمكّن من من تنظيفه من تلك الحشرات، فبدا وكأنه ولد من جديد، حتى إنه تمكّن من اصطياد الفئران بين الحين والآخر، كما اعتدت أن أطعمه أحشاء الفرائس بعد تنظيفها، لذلك كان يتوقف عن المواء عندما يراني.


Back-translation (translated as though it were an Arabic document, and I am trying to make it read as well in English as I can):

The ugliest cat in the world sat at Prim’s knees. It looked like he was guarding her. I saw this fat-muzzled cat that had lost half an ear, yet its eyes were like the color of rotten zucchini. Prim gave this cat the name of the buttercup, insisting that its dark yellow fur looked like the color of that bright flower. This cat hates me. Or, let me at least say that it has no confidence in me. I think he still remembers that day, when Prim brought him to the house several years earlier, when I tried to drown him in a bucket filled with water. He was a small gaunt cat, his belly full of worms and fleas moving all over his body. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged me, she even cried, so I would let her keep him in the house. I gave in to her request. Things were alright after that because my  mother was able to cleanse him of the vermin. It seemed like he was born again. He was even able to catch mice from time to time, and I used to feed him the entrails of my kills after I cleaned them. That is why he stopped meowing when he saw me.

Alright. Before I start with the critique: the first time I read the Arabic was well over a year after I read the English. The cat is not a major character in the story, though he has some value (as I listed above). The larger part of that value is retained in the translation – it was an ugly little sick kitten that Katniss had tried to kill but ended up letting Prim keep it (showing Katniss was in charge, not mom). It is in the last couple of sentences where some of the impact is lost, and that is where my focus is going to be. Keep in mind that this is a bit of foreshadowing; the cat will be taking over Katniss’ role as guardian and a hunter when she goes off to fight in the Hunger Games.

One major note: This novel, in English, is written in the first person, present tense. This voice is generally used to make the reader feel as though they are going through the experience with the narrator. I haven’t read enough Arabic literature to know the justification (do Arab authors avoid that voice?), but the translator changed the whole thing to first person, past tense. Is this a big deal? I do not know, but I feel like I need to find out, especially if I ever plan on translating an Arabic novel into English – or if, someday, I stick my neck way out and translate an English book into Arabic. Why? Well, here is the question. If I find a sci-fi or fantasy novel written in Arabic in the first person and past tense, would it be appropriate to change it to the present tense in English? It is a global decision that impacts the entire work.

The physical description of Buttercup is alright. I could argue about fat (the Arabic) vs. mashed-in; but since I am not a native speaker of Arabic, I can’t be sure that this is not the perfect word to describe the shape of a cat’s muzzle for those breeds that have flat faces, like Lizzy here:

Red Persian

Were the assignment mine, I think I would try to find a cat fancy web forum in the Arab world and see if there is a technical name for it, or (more appropriately) a nickname that pokes fun at this look.

Buttercup. That’s what Prim (named after a flower herself) names the cat. In my translation below, I’ll show you how I would have done it differently; but the short version is that I feel the definite article doesn’t belong. By making “buttercup” (الحوذان) definite, it changes the structure from an indirect object (Prim named the cat…) to a possessive noun construct (Prim gave the cat the name of the…). The easiest fix would have been to put the name in quotes, but one of the many things that makes me a fan of Hassanieh’s work is that he avoids all of those cheap tricks and writes in a very clean style that is easy on the eyes.

Alright. I’m going to stipulate the rest of the description, and Prim’s pleading, Katniss caving in, and mom healing. The translation is very solid and keeps all of the points and impact that the author is expressing.

The next thing I take issue with is the cat being “born again”. This is a case where I think the translator simply misunderstood the English. Buttercup was “a born mouser”. This means he was a natural hunter of mice, driven by instinct, and that he was good at it. Good enough that from time to time he caught a rat (much larger and generally more inclined to fight back than a mouse). I think it is important to get this phrase right because of what it shows us about Katniss’ character. She can make hard decisions; as a hunter she regularly kills and cleans animals, and she was prepared to euthanize this bedraggled cat. She has a soft heart; she gave in to Prim’s pleas. She has deep appreciation of people (and cats) that are able to pull their own weight in the family – this attitude is further explored in her conflicted love/anger at her mother, who has a gift as a healer but let the living family down when her husband died. And again, the cat is going to be filling her shoes as hunter/protector soon.

These things are first hinted at in this innocent little description of the cat, so I think it is important to get it right. The cat hates Katniss – or at least, doesn’t trust her. Katniss recognizes the cat’s value, both emotional (Prim loves it) and intrinsic (as a fellow hunter), so she starts to feed the cat the parts of her game that the people won’t eat. This brings us to another place that I think the translator missed the point. Katniss feeds the cat entrails, and now it doesn’t hiss at her. The Arabic says it stops “meowing” (المواء). A hiss and a meow are two very different things, as anyone who has spent any time with cats knows. A cat will meow for basic communication. Hungry, lonely, looking for a mate, maybe trapped or hurt. Hissing, on the other hand, shows anger and a readiness to attack or defend itself. The fact that Buttercup used to hiss at Katniss demonstrates the hatred/mistrust that Katniss attributes to her attempt to drown the bedraggled little critter. Cats tend to not meow most of the time (other than my sister-in-law’s dear, departed Hairy – she taught him to talk pretty, and he used to chirp at the birds), so there doesn’t seem to me to be much significance to the fact that Buttercup stopped meowing when Katniss came around unless it is that Buttercup was afraid of her.

So here goes. Feel free to laugh behind your hands or right out loud:

يجلس عند رقبتي بريم ابشع هرّ في العالم، يحرسها. الهرّ، ذو خطمة محطمة، نصف أذن غائب، وعينيه لهما لون الكوسى الفاسدة. اطلقَت بريم عليه اسم حوذان، أصرّت أن لون فرائه الأصفر الداكن المشوش يشبه لون الزهرة النضرة. يكرهني هذا الهرّ. أو على الأقل، لا يثق بي. بالرغم من السنوات التي مضت، اعتقد أنه لا يزال يذكر أني حاولت اغراقه في دلو مليء بالمياه عندما احضرته بريم إلى المنزل. كان هرّا صغيراً وحزيلاً، بطنه متورم بالدودان وتنتقل البراغيث في انحاء جسده. كان آخر شيء احتاج عليه فم اضافي ملزمة بإطعامه. لكن توسلت بريم عليّ بشدة، حتى كانت تبكي، فلا تركت لي اختيار غير الموافقة. سارت الأمر على ما يرام. والدتي نظفته من تلك الحشرات، وهو  صياد الفئرات طبيعي، وأحياناً يصيد جرذاً. في بعض الأحيان بعدما أقوم بتنظيف فرائسي، اعطيه الأحشاء. توقف عن البخيخ عليّ.

الأحشاء. عدم البخاخ. هذا الحد الأقصى لنا في اتجاه الحب.

As always, I eagerly welcome commentary and criticism. I am a novice at translating into Arabic, and have not read a great deal of Arabic literature. I have a lot to learn about style and convention, and appreciate any honest effort to help!

How a Tomato saved my sanity, or at least my job

Translation is one of those art/science things, much like writing novels. And, much like novel writing, there is a lot of information available about technique, methodology, finding work, marketing… Some good books cover how to keep yourself on task, but I’m not so good at that part of the job.
Screenshot_2014-12-16-12-19-55I have often suffered from procrastination. I think most of us have. Sometimes the hardest part for me is to just sit down and work. I usually know what I have to work on, but keeping myself on that task can be challenging at times.

One of the many times I spent an hour searching the internet for advice on how to be productive (rather than being productive), I came across an article about the Pomodoro Technique. You can follow the link for a neat little video explaining the system, but here is the short version:

An Italian (thus pomodoro, Italian for tomato) grad student was working on studying for his exams and was facing this kind of dilemma: how to stay focused, but still stay fresh enough to study everything he needed to. He came up with an idea, probably not a new thought, to do intervals. He had a kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato, that would time up to 25 minutes, so he went with 25 minutes of work and a five minute break, with a 15-minute break after four “pomodoros”.

That’s the short version. I had a timer on my iPhone that was pretty straight forward, a circle that drew itself and shrank and numbers on the screen counting down. It worked alright, and I liked that it ticked like a clock, even in the background of music I was listening to. But the design was uninspiring. When I gave up my iPhone and moved back to the Android world (with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4), I went looking for a timer. Most of them looked a lot like the iPhone one, and then I ran across Pomodoro Challenge in the Google Play store.

The visuals are industrial, the colors are very attractive (to me), and the slight mean streak reminds me of another of my favorites – the “sudo” (or superuser do) command line utility in Unix/Linux/FreeBSD. If you compile it with insults active, it flips you a ration when you mistype your password. Pomodoro Challenge does similar things. When you start out, you are given the rank of “Unrepentant Slacker” and work your way up from there. So far I have worked may way up through Recovering Slacker and Dead-eyed Drone to Resigned Attendant; there are 11 higher ranks, I’m looking forward to seeing how high I can go as I use it daily – a few days before Christmas, then five days off didn’t do much for my standings.

Anyway, this app is fantastic. Between the design and achievements, I am really enjoying using it. The Pomodoro Technique works.