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This book examines the history of modern Arabic Bible’s translation as one of the key discursive spaces that shaped our inquiries into the problem of modernity. As this book argues, the Bible provides an ideal example for the study of translation temporally. Through a comparison of Western missionary protagonists, and the local translators Butrus al-Bustani (1819–83) and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804–87), I explore translation through its temporal dimensions in order to illuminate the earliest beginnings of some of the ideas about the past that we carry today. I claim that translation’s temporalities entangle the Bible with modernity and set standards for how to write, transfer, publish and read books. I further propose that translation’s temporalities are not just located in Walter’s Benjamin’s definition of translation as the ‘afterlife’ of a particular text, but also include larger temporal processes that are mediated in how the Bible came to be perceived as a quintessentially modern text in the nineteenth century. By turning to the Bible to explore the changes in the perception of Arabic language and literature in modernity, I suggest that a literary history from a translational perspective cannot be subordinated to the linguistic – as is often proposed in translation studies and its current deployments of the concept of ‘untranslatability’. I turn to conceptual history and its temporal focus and borrow the theory of ‘multiple temporalities’ into translation studies in order to suggest that the discourse of modernity is a linguistic response to, and intervention into, the transformations in the political economy of globalisation that can be exemplified in many objects, including the Bible and its transformation into an exchange commodity. In the Modern Arabic Bible, I argue that translation performed a synchronistic labour and that this labour resulted in identifying these practices with modernity. Through this book, I aim to pursue this claim about modernity’s synchronising work towards the entanglements that reveal the negotiation of a common modernity that is nevertheless incommensurable with itself, with only relative standards of measurement.
The task of studying translation thus becomes the key to unlocking how ideologies of language and literature responded to as well as shaped the historical context. In this sense, I select details that reveal how the Bible was produced as an exchange commodity.
On July 24, 2010, the Irish Independent ran a story that might have been startling for those familiar with the alleged origins of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The paper’s security editor, Tom Brady, reported that “A man was in garda custody last night after a father-to-be was stabbed to death when he attempted to break up a row. Good Samaritan James Joyce (20) was struck several times in the upper body with a domestic knife.” The writer James Joyce was also putatively involved in a fight 106 years before this incident and was rescued by a Good Samaritan—or so the legend goes. The truth, however, is much more complicated. And understanding this likely apocryphal incident and its effect on Joyce and Ulysses reveals a writer and a novel indebted to this specific parable and to Scripture more generally.
Ulysses gradually reveals the faultiness of Stephen Dedalus’s notion of hyperelitist artistic predestination and his embrace of extreme atomistic individualism derived from a caricature of the Reformation in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by showing him slowly moving into a type of heterogeneous community epitomized by Christ’s pluralist parable of the Good Samaritan. The question of what it means to be a neighbor—a good neighbor, even—dominates much of Joyce’s Ulysses and became increasingly important to the peripatetic Joyce while in exile from Ireland. While living in Rome in 1906, he regretted not reproducing in Dubliners the “hospitality” of Dublin, which he claimed to his brother Stanislaus, “does not exist elsewhere in Europe” (SL 110). The two central characters of Ulysses, Stephen and Leopold Bloom, are often rebuffed by their neighbors—Stephen by Buck Mulligan and Haines, Bloom by a whole series of Dubliners—and gradually drift toward each other. The central, long-planned-for event of the novel occurs with their meeting in the second half of the “Oxen of the Sun” episode and continues through the apocalyptic, overly long “Circe” episode, and the parabolic episodes of “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca,” even “Penelope.” Bloom tries to be neighborly to Stephen, fatherly even, and his actions here and earlier in encounters with others in the novel are depicted as re-enactments of the Good Samaritan parable, perhaps Jesus’ most famous story of this kind in Scripture.
There is something special in the way Ulysses not only constitutes a journey in terms of a narrative but also embodies a journey for the reader.
David Pierce, Reading Joyce, 299
The import of a text is not exhausted by what it reveals or conceals about the social conditions that surround it. Rather, it is also a matter of what it sets alight in the reader—what kind of emotions it elicits, what changes of perceptions it prompts, what bonds and attachments it calls into being.
Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique, 179
Declan Kiberd has argued that Joyce believed Ulysses would “invent a new sort of reader, someone who after that experience might choose to live in a different way. He wanted to free people from all kinds of constriction, among them the curse of passive readership.” By perceiving Bloom’s encounter with Stephen through the intertext of the Good Samaritan parable, with its emphasis on the need for the hearer to respond, we ourselves are expected to respond in some way; in so doing, in connecting with Stephen and Bloom, we help continue the parable’s action into the present. Joyce thus expects and depends upon our read-erly labors. Arguing that “disconnectedness” is the “anxiety that Ulysses massively struggles to transcend,” Leo Bersani posits that “Joyce’s dependence on his readers is most pronounced, for it is their intra- and extratextual work that reconstitutes his mind as the serene repository of the resources of our language and culture.” Much of Joyce’s success in conveying his message of hospitality and loving our neighbor depends upon our response, which is unquantifiable finally, but still worth examining. If Ulysses exemplifies a particular kind of wisdom literature, as Kiberd argues throughout Ulysses and Us, then by so doing, it also seeks to inculcate a new ethical responsibility—and even agency— in readers because of what we have learned about treating those different from ourselves in its pages. In this regard, Virginia Moseley was the first critic to argue for Joyce employing his retelling of the Good Samaritan parable to reach the reader, even to rescue the reader. She reads “Eumaeus” through Jesus’ walk to Emmaus, concluding that Joyce himself “‘bucks up’ his reader ‘generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion, which he very badly’ needs.
The arrival of American missionaries in Beirut was a world apart from the pre-nineteenth century history of Bible translation. The American commoditisation of the Bible contested the authority of other religious communities and dragged them into the fray of competition. The Catholics were especially vexed with the Americans and identified them as the most dangerous contenders for Christian leadership. American zeal awakened the history of the Reformation and old seventeenth-century Catholic tricks like Bible burning, excommunication, and official complaints to the Ottoman and Western authorities were tried in this new context to little effect. To complicate matters for the Catholics, the Americans distributed a version based on the bilingual Arabic-Latin Catholic Bible from 1671, Biblia Sacra Arabica. American salesmanship and ardour, as well as their serious interest in educating the locals and converting them to their reading practices, qualified their competitive advantage.
Competition between the Catholics and the Protestants was not the product of the nineteenth century. But at this time, competition became a market force, wedded to a commodity, when in the past it had been embodied in religio-political rivalry over turf and over who has access to the production as well as to the reading of the Bible.
Competition between the Jesuits and Protestants in the nineteenth century took advantage of the emergent colonial political economy that favoured imported commodities over local labour. The spirit of free trade was spreading, and in the Ottoman Empire, it was inaugurated by the Balta Liman Agreement of 1838, with the emerging British colonialists. This agreement, like the Tanzimat edicts signed in the same year, facilitated the movement of American missionaries in the Levant, as members of the British millet, and thus protected by an agreement that allowed them to trade in the Empire. Describing the impact of this agreement on British and Ottoman political relations, Necla Geyikdağı writes that the agreement ‘conferred upon British merchants not only the status of “most favoured nation” but also that of ‘most favoured domestic merchants’. Through this agreement, the British were referred to as a millet, a term that legally recognised the group by the state, and was thus discreetly included alongside other millets (sects or nations), that resided within the Ottoman domains. The American missionaries, who counted as part of the British millet gained tremendously from the Balta Liman agreement.
All that he [Bloom] does is to hover round him [Stephen] for three or four hours, look after his money, bore him with banal advice, serve him with Epps’ cocoa, and invite him to stay the night on an improvised bed. When they take leave of each other we feel certain that they will never meet again. And yet in a measure that no spectacular action could have achieved, we are led from the things done, felt and said to the contemplation of a mystery.
Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses, 287
Textual Considerations of “Eumaeus”
At the beginning of the “Eumaeus” episode of Ulysses, still the most understudied episode in the novel, the narrator describes Leopold Bloom’s actions toward Stephen Dedalus, who has been punched by Private Carr in “Circe”: “Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed” (U 16.1–3; my emphasis). Given Hugh Kenner’s argument that the language of “brushed,” “shavings,” and “bucked” here returns us to the opening scene of the novel where Buck Mulligan lathers his face and shaves, the new context for this language—Bloom’s helping of Stephen—suggests that here, instead of a usurper, a false friend, Joyce now offers Stephen a rescuer, a true friend. Joyce thus rein-scribes the Good Samaritan parable in “Circe,” “Eumaeus,” “Ithaca,” and even in “Penelope.” But he is also rewriting the first episode, as it were, and bringing Stephen full circle from Buck’s attacks on him at 8:00 that morning to Bloom’s midnight rescue of him after Private Carr attacks him in “Circe.”
There are three other references to the parable in the novel that antedate the reference to it in “Eumaeus.” Besides Bloom’s pondering of the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, in “Lotus Eaters” (5.341), in “Oxen of the Sun”, Stephen thinks of the last words of Christ in the parable in the context of a perverted sexual twist on John 15:13: “Greater love than this … no man hath that a man lay down his wife for his friend” (U 14.360–2).
“You should approach Joyce,” said William Faulkner, “as a preacher approaches the Old Testament—with faith.”
Qtd. in Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us, 312
[T]he Bible plays a distinctive role in the world of Ulysses that sets it apart from the brawling, untidy democracy of quotations in which it often appears to participate as no more than an equal partner with a welter of uncanonical texts, high and low.
Robert Alter, Canon and Creativity, 158
In this chapter, I first argue that Joyce’s early turn to Scripture and scriptural narratives, and his deep familiarity with them, particularly the Gospel of Luke and his parables of the humanized Jesus, is grounded in a hospitality ethic that indelibly marked his great epic. I conclude with a brief assessment of two primary inspirations for the novel—Joyce’s putative “rescue” by Alfred H. Hunter from his beating in Dublin in 1904, and Joyce’s mugging and possible rescue in Rome in 1907—suggesting that these incidents enabled Joyce to read himself into the Good Samaritan parable and see in it profound fictional possibilities.
“Preparatory to anything else”: Joyce’s Interest in Scripture As D. H. Lawrence slightingly acknowledged about Ulysses in his letter of August 15, 1928 to Aldous and Maria Huxley, Joyce thoroughly incorporated passages from Scripture in the novel to the extent, Lawrence believed, that it was merely an assemblage of quotations from other sources: “Nothing but old fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations from the Bible and all the rest…” Lawrence’s remark reveals the extent to which Joyce’s contemporaries recognized the novel’s immersion in Scripture, although later critics have by and large tended to downplay the role of scriptural narratives as intertexts in Ulysses. Critics who have closely examined the scriptural underpinnings of the novel, however, have apprehended their variety and pervasiveness, and furthermore, how biblical narratives enable Joyce to achieve his moral vision. For instance, Robert Alter, a leading expert on the use of Scripture in literary narratives, has argued that “[i]n the extraordinarily supple and varied uses to which the Bible is put in Ulysses, it is converted into a secular literary text, but perhaps not entirely secular, after all, because it is reasserted as a source of value and vision.
Recounting the scene of the Last Supper, St John writes in 13:4, that upon finishing the meal, Jesus ‘riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel and girded himself’. When Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq sat down to translate those words into Arabic, he chuckled to himself, took note, and later commented on the verse in a polemical manuscript entitled Mumahakat al-taʼwil fi Munaqadat al-Injil (Squabbles and Disputations over Gospel Interpretations, 1851). He was still in the employment of the British SPCK, working with the Chair of Oriental Studies at Cambridge Rev. Samuel Lee (1783–1852) on translating the Bible, when he began to circulate this manuscript amongst a trusted group of friends. In it, al-Shidyaq ridicules the narrative produced in the Bible. He writes
John recounts that after the supper, Issa [Jesus] took off his clothes and tied a towel around his waist to wash the feet of his disciples. This implies that, at the time, Issa was drunk; that he did not know what he was doing, for the washing of feet does not require getting naked.
This was the first book al-Shidyaq circulated that was not on commission from the missionaries. Keeping it in manuscript and never printing it, al-Shidyaq controlled its circulation. Nevertheless, with this small book, al-Shidyaq sets the framework through which he would define his literary vocation.
Literature as he contended was irreverent; not even the Bible was too divine for its whimsical exploits. His is what Emily Apter would have characterised as a ‘dispossessive stance’ that cast the Bible ‘as an unownable estate, a literature over which no one exerts propriety prerogative and which lends itself to a critical turn that puts the problem of property possession front and center’. Dispossessing the Bible through carnal acts of reading, al-Shidyaq recuperates the literary as a critical possibility that questions the precepts of capitalist relations of production in the scholarly and authorial professions. Through working towards a new conception of adab, al-Shidyaq wrestled with the modalities of alienated labour as a Bible translator. Through metaphors of literary consumption, he reconciled his labour with the whims and desires of the authorial self and evolved a notion of adab that emanates in concrete and intimate ways from the body and its activities.
Bloom’s Continuing Samaritan Hospitality to Stephen
Regardless of whether we accept Margaret McBride’s auto-fictive account, “Ithaca” continues the events originally iterated in Christ’s parable but with a twist: it rewrites the end of the parable when Bloom leads Stephen to his own home, not an inn or hotel like the Good Samaritan did. The Good Samaritan took the beaten stranger to an inn and paid “two denarii,” which “would provide approximately two months of lodging in an ancient inn.” Yet Bloom goes beyond that hospitality to invite Stephen into his own home and truly make him a neighbor, an act of excessive generosity. Certainly, Bloom wants him to meet Molly and perhaps for him to sing with her eventually, but he is most concerned to care for Stephen.
“Starting united” (U 17.2), the two men wander toward 7 Eccles Street, and Bloom’s inviting Stephen into his home constitutes an extension of his enfleshed care for the young man. Edward Casey has pointed out that because we have such “increasingly intimate relationships with their material structures, the longer we reside in places, the more bodylike they seem to be. As we feel more ‘at home’ in dwelling places, they become places created in our own bodily image.” Recall the opening of “Calypso,” the first episode in the novel in which we meet Bloom. This thoroughly embodied man is preparing his wife’s breakfast and is completely at home in his kitchen and house generally. As he wanders home from the butcher’s shortly afterwards, the kidney he will soon eat in his pocket, he recoils from what seems like a gray and shrunken world and longs for the embodied world of his home: “To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes” (U 4.237–9). Molly’s concluding affirmations at the end of the novel have rightly garnered more attention, but Bloom’s affirmation of his home as an extension of his body—a comfortable and enfleshed place of food and Molly’s flesh—deserves more attention and suggests strongly what a generous offer he makes to Stephen when he invites him home in “Eumaeus,” then hosts him in “Ithaca” in his continuing role of Good Samaritan.
But what of the incident the night of June 22, 1904? While references to it have become obligatory in investigations of Joyce’s representations of “the Jew,” very few thoughts beyond the argument over its mere occurrence have been offered.
Neil R. Davison, James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity, 105
Joyce’s affinity for scriptural stories arose again around the time he was conceiving Ulysses—and likely stemmed from the almost certainly apocryphal encounter with Alfred H. Hunter, as we have seen, and his later mugging in Rome. Using the Torah as his analogy, Declan Kiberd has convincingly argued that Joyce saw Ulysses as a “holy book” replete with “divine wisdom in the text.” He posits that “Joyce was someone who snooped around old texts looking for a back door through which to effect an entry. The New Testament was one such text and a major element in the creation of Ulysses.” No one until Kiberd has made such a succinct and telling statement of the New Testament’s influence on the creation of the novel. And yet even Kiberd, despite his clear recognition of Joyce’s secular “gospel” inhering in the mandate to love our neighbor, neglects his reiteration of the Good Samaritan parable as epitomizing that message.
After writing short stories and a play and some poetry, Joyce settled upon what we might now call “long-form fiction,” the novel, as his preferred genre, and that preference (as well as his having left the Catholic Church) may well have contributed to the refusal of many critics to employ religious interpretations of Ulysses. As Justin Neuman has shown, of all genres, the novel has most resisted religious readings. First, the novel’s rise as a genre was largely coincident with “European secularization.” Moreover, because of the genre’s reliance on narratives of ordinary individuals, which repudiated “the transcendental frames of reference within which allegories, romances, and epics forge their meanings,” the “question of immanence prompts scholars to differentiate novels from other prose forms.” Finally, the tendency of novels to be “rhizomatic, presenting a multitude of voices and styles through which the active reader must negotiate” is a characteristic “at odds with secularist ideas about religious dogmatism and the monolingualism of a divinely authored text.
James Joyce and Samaritan Hospitality reads Dubliners and Ulysses through studies of hospitality, particularly that articulated in the Lukan parable of the Good Samaritan. It traces the origins of the novel in part to the physical attacks on Joyce in 1904 Dublin and 1907 Rome, showing how these incidents and the parable were incorporated into his short story 'Grace' and throughout Ulysses, especially its last four episodes. Richard Rankin Russell discusses the rich theory of hospitality developed by Joyce and demonstrates that he sought to make us more charitable readers through his explorations and depictions of Samaritan hospitality.
[T]here’s a devotional quality in agreeing to be worked on by a text, a level of attunement and a willingness to yield that might be like worship.
Tracy Fassenden, “A Hermeneutics of Resilience and Repair,” 172
[B]oth religious and secular redress need novels to help envision other worlds, to fancy themselves carried farther than they are able to go on their own.
Kevin Seidel, “Beyond the Religious and the Secular in the History of the Novel,” 646
Future Avenues for Joyce and Hospitality Studies
While there are many aspects of hospitality to explore in Joyce these lie beyond the scope of this book, but they would prove fruitful for future research endeavors. Hospitality was an abiding concern of Joyce, and aside from his interest in scriptural explorations of it, there are many other avenues of hospitality to consider.
One of these would be Joyce’s receptive and hospitable attitude toward language and translation. Deeply interested in languages from an early age, Joyce became proficient in both Italian and French, and he also knew Latin (especially the Latin of the Vulgate translation of the Bible) and some Irish in addition to English. Having lived on the continent, and having immersed himself in its languages and cultures, and having delivered a series of lectures in Italian, Joyce’s career proves his openness not only to language but also translation. His works themselves, particularly Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, can be profitably read as translations into English of the Dublin idiom Joyce knew well, leavened with snatches of other languages, at times becoming a new language for which we as yet have no name.
Hospitality might be considered as part of another dimension of Joyce’s aesthetic and creative process: his interest in other writers and literary traditions beyond his own could be profitably explored. By opening himself up to a series of non-Irish writers such as Ibsen, Defoe, Calvino, and Dante, among others, Joyce showed a remarkable receptiveness to authors whose literary agendas differed from his own; yet he learned a great deal from them even if he rejected some of their particular stylistic or thematic approaches or ideologies.
The inspiration for this book emerged from a graduate seminar on Yeats and Joyce that I taught at Baylor University in the fall semester of 2016. After spending half the semester on Yeats’s poetry, drama, and prose, we spent the second half on Joyce, reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Turning back to Ulysses is always a daunting task, and as always, I felt compelled to rehearse others’ arguments about the novel while admitting I had few original readings of my own. Valid as some of those established readings are, I found myself wishing for a new theory that would illuminate the novel for my students and myself. Late that semester, when we started the “Nostos,” or last three episodes, I discovered my entrée. It comes in the first sentence of “Eumaeus,” the sixteenth episode: “Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed” (U 15.1–3). I had always tended to distrust this circumlocutious narrator, who is not only long-winded but also vague and who fumbles to accurately convey conversation in this episode. What I realized for the first time after recognizing the reference this narrator makes to the Good Samaritan narrative as recounted in Luke 10:25–37 was that the narrator nonetheless can describe the actions in this episode clearly (and often does). Actions, then as now, still matter more than words for some of us, and Joyce chose to admiringly portray Leopold Bloom’s charitable actions at crucial moments earlier in the novel and especially beginning in the second half of “Circe,” the fifteenth episode, continuing through “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca.” A significant portion of that excessively long episode rendered as a sort of phantasmagoric expressionistic drama, I later realized, begins “staging” the Good Samaritan narrative that will be referenced in the opening sentence of “Eumaeus.” Later still, I would realize that Joyce dramatizes this parable in this crucial section of “Circe” in verbatim phrases and sentences he “recycled” from “Grace,” the penultimate story in his collection Dubliners.