Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Imagined Audience and the Reception of World Literature: Reading Brooklyn Heights and Chicago

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Imagined Audience and the Reception of World Literature: Reading Brooklyn Heights and Chicago

Article excerpt

This article argues that transnational Arab authors' envisaging of their national and international audiences and awareness of the contexts surrounding the reception of their texts impact the thematic and technical choices they make. These choices deliberately induce postcolonialist readings of these texts, set in motion through animating dialectical encounters of the self and the other within contexts of uneven power relations. Following a brief discussion of problems of, and insights into, the production, translation, and reception of transnational texts, the author offers readings of al-Tahawy's Brooklyn Heights and al-Aswani's Chicago which illustrate the theoretical issues raised earlier.

Introduction

After closely examining various problems of world literature, J. Hillis Miller concludes that "[i]t is better to read and teach The Dream of the Red Chamber in translation than not read it at all" (561). The production, circulation, and reception of transnational texts have been the target of numerous critical and theoretical investigations. These investigations have revealed a wide range of problems and concerns, all of which are applicable to transnational Arabic texts. In spite of the serious issues that have been raised, few critics have reached a different conclusion than Miller's. Instead, efforts have been made to guard against reductionist readings of transnational texts that ignore the contexts within which these texts are produced, translated, and consumed. This article argues that transnational Arab authors' envisaging of their national and international audiences and awareness of the contexts surrounding the reception of their texts impact the thematic and technical choices they make. These choices deliberately induce postcolonialist readings of these texts, set in motion through animating dialectical encounters of the self and the other within contexts of uneven power relations. Occidentalism, as defined by Hasan Hanafi, turns the self into a studying subject and the other into the object of study. As it interprets its own situation and position, the self resists the imposing structures and desires of colonial mimicry (uncritical mimicry of the other) and blind nostalgia for the pre-colonial.

Following a brief discussion of problems of, and insights into, the production, translation, and reception of transnational texts, I offer readings of two Egyptian novels by Miral al-Tahawy and Alaa alAswany. I chose these two novels because they were written after their respective authors had achieved international recognition through translation into the so-called major European languages. The two authors' reaction to a global and unknown international readership is apparent in shifting the setting of the two novels from Egypt to post-9/11 New York and Chicago. These new locales are symptoms of new configurations and the dialectic between the national and international literary scene. Transnational Arabic literature is predicated on a critique of the postcolonial Arab nation which has achieved independence, but not liberation, from its past, on the one hand; and on the other hand, it challenges persisting postcolonial conditions in the Arab nations. These changing arrangements and accommodations have inflected and refashioned the national and global imaginary in such a way as to resist internalizing Orientalist tropes.

Postcolonialism and World Literature: Beyond the Euphoria of Decentring the European Canon

The translation of the category of "Weltliteratur" has significantly shifted since Goethe first named the concept in 1827. The category no longer includes (Western) literary masterpieces, to which Goethe was referring; it now refers, at least in theory, to the national literatures of the entire globe. World literature's detachment from its Eurocentric presupposition has been a welcome development. However, its susceptibility to commodification has stirred numerous concerns about the production, circulation, and consumption of texts in the global literary marketplaces. …

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