Invasive translations: Violence and mediation of the false -colonial, France and Ottoman Egypt (1780--1840)

Burcu Gursel, University of Pennsylvania


This project explores translation and the figure of the translator on a trajectory from late eighteenth-century France and Ottoman Egypt, to what I consider to be a false-colonial relationship between the two: The Napoleonic invasion of Egypt (1798-1801), and the "Egyptian" schools of translation in Paris in the 1820s-30s. In Revolutionary France and Ottoman-Mamluk Egypt, the translator was conceptualized as a figure of political mediation, empowerment, and privilege. In the context of military invasion and of subsequent politics of repression and expansion, however, the translator's privilege was redefined as a depoliticized and subservient expertise—a process in which the translator was both complicit and disillusioned. Engaging current theories of the sublime, as well as eighteenth-century European thought on political translation, the first chapter shows that Constantin-François Volney, the (anti-war) "ideologue" of the invasion, theorized privileged subjects who can translate the universal law of nature and the linguistic/cultural/historical Other (Voyage en Syrie et en Égypte; Les ruines; Leçons d'histoire; 1785-95). The next chapter delineates `Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti's theory on the political mediation of the ulama (clerics) in his history of Egypt, `Aja'ib al-athar, while exploring bilingualism, translation, hybridity, and authorship in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. In the third chapter, I analyze translation strategies in the invasion of Egypt, through Ottoman and French sovereign discourses and al-Jabarti. Demarcating the invasion from properly colonial contexts, I show how the term "the intellect" (al-'aqi) enables translation and "plagiarism"—the enslavement of the ulama and the savants by the military. The fourth chapter argues that Silvestre de Sacy and Jean-François Champollion, founders of Orientalism and Egyptology, resort to a heroic work ethic of translating the radical other when feeling censored and politically disempowered. Their letters, government motions, and speeches show that they gradually adjust their politics to their professional privilege. In conclusion, I trace in Rifa`a al-Tahtawi's travelogue on Paris, Takhlis al-ibriz, an anecdotal subtext of violence that potentially justifies Egyptian colonialism, and that emerges against pressure from French and Egyptian authorities in his education as translator. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Literature, Romance|Literature, Middle Eastern

Recommended Citation

Gursel, Burcu, "Invasive translations: Violence and mediation of the false -colonial, France and Ottoman Egypt (1780--1840)" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3309438.