Translation, Orientalist Networks, and the Crisis of Diversity

By Annette Lienau
Submitted to Session P6080 (Orientalist Networks and Their Afterlives, 2020 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The proposed paper re-examines evidence from several print-platforms and inter-imperial print networks central to the foundations of Orientalism and Islamic studies in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the process, it considers how the relational notion of ‘ajami (or non-Arab) “racial” difference presented translational challenges for foundational Orientalist figures like Ernest Renan (in his work on comparative philology), Ignaz Goldziher (in his foundational Muslim Studies), and the Dutch Islamicist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (whose proto-sociological work helped to establish, along with Goldizher, “Arab-Islamic” studies as an Orientalist sub-discipline in Europe). By re-tracing how Renan translated notions of ‘ajami difference, for example, into “Aryan” difference, or how Goldziher and Snouck Hurgronje attached 19th century European epistemes (like “national consciousness” and “racial pride”) to historical and contemporary ‘ajami-‘arabi dynamics, this paper suggests how Orientalism foundationally evolved through inter-imperial debates on the translation of “Oriental diversities.” On this basis, the paper ultimately argues that this translational issue may offer the grounds for under-examined, transregional critiques of Orientalism’s legacies within the fields of world literature and comparative, post-colonial studies, in ways that conjoin counter-imperial writing from within and beyond the nominal “Middle East.”