From Silence to Insurgency
: The Translation of Syrian Pre-and-Post-2011 Literature for the Anglophone Market as a Consecrating Practice: Cultural and Socionarrative Accounts

  • Mohammad I M Zabadi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Until recently, several literary works from Syria remained untranslated and unpublished and relatively unknown in the Anglophone literary market. However, following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, interest in Syrian writing has sharply increased and, consequently, several works of literature have crossed geographical boundaries and reached international audiences.
The movement of Syrian writers and texts to the Anglophone market is studied in this thesis under the notion of “translation flows from the periphery to the centre” and in light of the global system of translation and its basic four-level-core-periphery structure (Heilbron 1999; Heilbron 2010, Van Es and Heilbron 2015). Because these texts have been translated from Arabic into English, i.e. from a peripheral to a hypercentral language, their translation into English is conceptualised under the notion of “translation as consecration” (Casanova 2004, 2010). Noting the long history of socio-cultural and historical representations that condition how texts from the Arab world are selected, translated, published, and ultimately received, this thesis examines the translations into English of contemporary Syrian literature written before and after the 2011 revolution, paying a close attention to how these translations are produced, packaged and circulated for the consumption of the Anglophone market. To this end, the thesis employs a mixed-methods approach, drawing on Mona Baker’s (2006) social narrative theory, Lawrence Venuti’s (1995) dichotomy of domestication and foreignisation, Vladimir Ivir’s (1987) classification for translating cultural-specific items, and Gerrard Genette’s (1997) and Kathryn Batchelor’s (2018) theories of paratext. Additionally, it draws on the work of Pascale Casanova (2004, 2010) and Johan Heilbron (1999) on the circulation of literature in the global system of translation in an attempt to reveal the dynamics of consecrating Syrian literary works through and in translation into the Anglophone market.
This thesis reveals the dynamics of translation and publishing as consecrating practices, especially in terms of how producing and packaging translations of contemporary Syrian literature can become a means of foregrounding or suppressing certain narratives or of positioning and enacting agency. Through mainly textual and partly peritextual and contextual analyses, it contends that the Anglophone translatorial agents demonstrate a proclivity to feed entrenched stereotypes and public narratives about Syrians and Arabs through translation. These public narratives include, but are not limited to, contentious discourses on terrorism, as well as Orientalist depictions of the Arab Other, which are reflected in which works are selected for translation, how they are translated, and the way peritextual materials are designed and packaged. Via a series of close readings of source and target texts, this thesis demonstrates that the translations of contemporary Syrian literature are entangled with and contribute to pre-existing and ideologically-motivated public narratives circulating in the West.
The implications of the translation of Syrian literature for the Anglophone market are elaborated throughout the thesis, with an eye toward complicating Pascale Casanova’s (2004, 2010) notion of the consecrating power of translation. A micro-level analysis of translators’ and publishers’ strategies showed that consecration and peripheralisation were indivisible practices. The translation of Syrian works of literature was not as consecrating as one might have assumed, nor was it canonising. On the contrary, it encompassed micro layers of peripheralisation embedded within and around the consecrated texts. These layers manifested themselves as part and parcel of the production of Syria texts for international audiences, constructing repeated and homogenised images of the Arab Others. Additionally, it shows that consecration can be accompanied by a regressive counterweight that serves to re-peripheralise translated literature when translation takes place from less to more ‘central’ languages. This poses a provocative challenge to the general conception of world literature and reveals the effects of power differentials within the circuits of cultural capital. Unless the agents of the translation and publishing industry produce the foreign beyond the confines of historical representations and centuries-old myths about the Orient, the metaphor of translation from peripheral languages and cultures as consecration can serve as a disguise for translation as deconsecration or peripheralisation.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorCarol M O'Sullivan (Supervisor) & Myriam Salama-Carr (Supervisor)

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