[P6429] A Philology of Concepts: Translation and Butrus al-Bustānī

Created by Jeffrey Sacks
Wednesday, 12/01/21 11:30 am


What does it mean to think about translation when reading and writing about the work of Butrus al-Bustānī? Alongside his essays and lectures al-Bustānī produced what is perhaps the first modern Arabic dictionary, Muhīt al-Muhīt, a massive encyclopaedic project, unfinished at the time of his death, Dā'irat al-Ma'ārif, pedagogical books about mathematics and grammar, and a number of translations, including of Defoe's Robinson Crusoeand Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Al-Bustānī has been read and studied as a historical and literary figure, as a convert to Protestant Christianity, and as an advocate of a new, "secular" and "humanist" frame for language and thought, and yet we wish to ask whether the labor of translation his writings perform--including the theoretical frameworks he invented, the new sense of language his writing advanced and made manifest, and the many words, the sense and orientation of which his lecturers, writings, and lexicographical and encyclopaedic practice transformed--may, itself, become an object for critical reflection. What kind of social and epistemic labor, what kind of conceptual work, did al-Bustānī's writing perform and institutionalize? May we separate linguistic from conceptual labor, philology from theory, material from ideational practice? How might we think about the formation of concepts in relation to social events and transformations--for example, the civil war of 1860, a decisive event for al-Bustānī, but also peasant rebellion and unrest, occupation, the expansion of capital, and the global contexts of colonization and settler-colonization? If concepts are not merely ideational, this is because they are, at the same time, social; but if concepts are not merely social, this is because they are also formulated in and through language. What reading al-Bustānī demands is an attention to concept formation in relation to language, of language in relation to the social, and of each in relation to translation: a philology of concepts.





Jeffrey Sacks

(University of California, Riverside)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Jens-Peter Hanssen

(University of Toronto)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Nadia Bou Ali

(American University of Beirut)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;