Friday, February 10, 2006

Hamlet's "Something is Rotten" used in controversy over Danish cartoons

The photo is missing for some reason, but there is a striking entry about the use of Shakespeare in the Danish cartoon controversy  on Kristine Steenbergh's blog, Serendipities.  Here it is:

The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad this week featured this photo :

The photo captures a moment in a demonstration in the Syrian capital Damascus, one of the many demonstrations protesting against the cartoons placed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. We see a large group of male demonstrators carrying signs in Arabic, signs that I cannot read. The male protestors are captured either with their eyes closed, or looking at each other and each others’ signs. In the foreground of the picture is a woman who looks straight into the camera of Dirk-Jan Visser, press photographer at Reuters. She carries a sign that I can read, with a quotation that is immediately familiar.
What is Shakespeare doing in Damascus? What do Marcellus’ words, spoken in the depth of night on the watchtower of Elsinore, mean in this woman’s hands? She is looking us into the eye, addressing us in English, and she speaks in the words of one of Europe’s most canonical authors. The authority – the cultural capital – of Hamlet’s canonical status is strategically entered into the demonstration, to make a point about the decadence of European culture. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is thrown back at the Western world. Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy, as a symbol of European culture, is here appropriated with a vengeance.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

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.)


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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

What's rotten in Denmark? Is it the boycotted cheese?

Wondering if anyone has weighed in on the Danish cartoon controversy by appropriating a familiar line from Hamlet? Try this: