Sameh Hanna on two nationalist Egyptian Othellos

Sameh F. Hanna, Othello in Egypt: Translation and the (Un)making of National Identity. In Translation and the Construction of Identity (St. Jerome, 2005), 109-128. (This is the First Yearbook of the International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies.)

Abstract:

The long held view that national identities are natural entities whose
formation is not conditioned by human agency, and hence are constitutive rather
than constituted, has been challenged by a whole range of scholarship which
underlined the constructedness of national identities and the role of
intellectuals in their formation. The role of translators, as intellectuals, in
fashioning and subverting versions of national identity is discussed in this
paper in relation to two translations of Othello in Egypt, one by Khalil Mutran
(1912), and the other by Mustapha Safouan (1998). The translation strategies
adopted by these two translators are deployed towards the (de)construction of
the national identity of the target culture. In reading the two translators’
(un)making of national identity, this article relates their translation
strategies to their discourse on translation.

Some parts of this article (on Mutran) are recapped in Sameh’s contribution to the 2007 Critical Survey volume. But this piece is really good on the language politics guiding the two translations: Mutran’s Levantine Christian need to forge an identity that is larger than Egypt yet not premised on Islam; Safouan’s post-Nasser and post-Gulf War reversion to Egyptian identity and use of the play for collective political psychoanalysis. Using Othello allegorically in just the opposite of an anticolonial way, Safouan casts him as the delusional Arab nationalist leader so caught up in his own glory that he murders his willing and competent nation (Desdemona). If Safouan is washing any dirty linen, he doesn’t care — anyway for an `ammiyya translation his public would be small.

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