Cosmopolitanism in Translation: Muhammad al-Zubayri in Pakistan

By John M. Willis
Submitted to Session P5323 (Eurasian Encounters: Reconciliations and Circulations, 2018 Annual Meeting
Indian Ocean Region;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines the oceanic itineraries of Muhammad al-Zubayri, a Yemeni poet and revolutionary activist who spent four years (1948-52) as a political exile in the newly established state of Pakistan. It was during this time, that he was introduced to the poetry of Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), considered the poet-philosopher of Pakistan, whom he spent considerable time translating. Drawing on his political and literary engagement with Pakistan/Iqbal, this paper is an attempt to problematize the concept of “cosmopolitanism” as it has been deployed by historians and historically minded scholars of the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean world (Bose, Ho, Hofmeyr, Frost, etc). Rather than accepting idealist or liberatory accounts of cosmopolitanism, it instead looks at the ethical possibilities of translation as it intersects with the transnation. In what ways does the critical dyad translation/transnation simultaneously disclose and foreclose political and ethical possibilities that are often left unconsidered in accounts of the cosmopolitan Indian Ocean? And in what ways was the cosmopolitan project of "welcoming" (in Derrida's reading of Levinas) dependent on language as much as it was the state?

This paper draws on the collected Arabic writings of Muhammad al-Zubayri in addition to memoirs and essays by contemporaries in Arabic and Urdu.