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Wrestling with al-Hariri’s Maqamat
This lecture is part of the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies' research committee agenda to invite scholars both internal and external to share their expertise on their areas of discipline.
"They're impossible to translate!" Since 1822, European readers have been saying this about the rhyming episodes (maqamat) of al-Hariri (d. 1122). The 50 episodes, which tell the story of the world's greatest con man, combine rhymed prose and verse, and include puns, riddles, and other wordplay, as well as visual tricks. In this presentation, I will argue that a certain kind of translation is possible. My approach is modeled on the the medieval Hebrew translation by al-Harizi, the 19th-century German rendering by Rückert, and the word games practiced by the 20th-century French writers George Perec and Raymond Queneau. Digital humanities plays a role, too. The result looks quite different than what you might expect from a translation, but I will try to persuade you that, in order to wrestle with al-Hariri's brilliantly experimental text, the usual rules need to be tossed out the window.
About the Speaker
Dr Michael Cooperson is Professor of Arabic at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles. He has published two monographs on earlyAbbasid cultural history: Classical Arabic Biography and Al-Ma'mun. He has translated Abdelfattah Kilito'sThe Author and his Doubles, Khayri Shalabi's The Time-Travels of the Man WhoSold Pickles and Sweets, Jurji Zaydan's Brothers at War, and Ibn al-Jawzī'sVirtues of the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Dr Cooperson is currently a fellow of theLibrary of Arabic Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi, where he is working on atranslation of al-Ḥarīrī's Maqāmāt.
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