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Invisible Persons, Invisible Texts: Translation and Translators in Medieval and Modern Afghanistan and the West

Invisible Persons, Invisible Texts: Translation and Translators in Medieval and Modern Afghanistan and the West

Book Panel on Zrinka Stahuljak's Les Fixeurs au Moyen âge - Histoire et littérature connectées
Zrinka Stahuljak (UCLA), Jawanshir Rasikh (Independent Scholar), and Arezou Azad (Oxford)
Discussant: Domenico Ingenito (UCLA)

Thursday, February 17, 2022
9:30 AM - 11:00 AM (Pacific Time)
Click here to register

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Afghanistan through Afghan Voices is a series of virtual workshops that highlights and critically engages with recent scholarship on one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. It aims to open an inclusive and multidisciplinary space where Afghan scholars and artists come together in conversation with broad audiences to publicly reflect on their research endeavors and creative trajectories. Monthly programs include Afghan artists from around the globe in dialogue with scholars of literature, art, and history; panels featuring conversations on visual culture and media; and poetry readings in Persian/Dari, Pashto, and English.

The series is hosted via Zoom by the UCLA Program on Central Asia and co-sponsored by the University of Washington’s Persian and Iranian Studies Program, Stanford University’s Center for South Asia and Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, CMRS Center for Early Global Studies, as well as the Center for India and South Asia.

Fixers: An Intermediary Ethics of War and Translation 

Zrinka Stahuljak

I will talk about two, of the many, questions that can be drawn from 20 years of Western presence in Afghanistan: what happens when an intervening exterior military power, France or the US, itself needs help in the host country that is being "assisted?" Where do their local intermediaries, the fixers, go, when the war is over?

After offering a definition of fixers—multifunctional intermediaries who perform many tasks beyond translation—I will focus on the power differentials that fixers expose between the intervening West and the local host. Drawing partially from my experience as a war interpreter, I will look at the complicated linguistic, legal, and ethical issues that emerge in a war that is being translated, whether in Southeast Europe or in Central Asia. The relationship between the Western armies and Afghan fixers was regulated by contract, but the case of Afghan interpreters points to a lack in international law and an ethical void in the understanding of the relationship between clients and fixers, Westerners and interpreters. This talk draws on a larger call presented in my book (Les Fixeurs au Moyen Âge: Histoire et littérature connectées) for a development of an "intermediary ethics" an ethics of intermediaries, and for the inclusion of interpreting as part of the history of translation because of its many implications. 

The House of Nasir, The Lightful Path of Religion Uthman Son of the Lightful Path of Religion from Juzjan, and The Region of the Mountain: Some New Translations of the Tile, Name, and Toponym of Tabaqat-i Nasiri, Minhaj al-Din Uthman bin Siraj al-Din Juzjani, and Balad-i-Ghur

Jawanshir Rasikh 

I will discuss the "hermeneutic motion" of translating medieval Persian Islamic tarikh or "history." By focusing on the many possibilities as well as limitations of translation as a hermeneutical literary practice, the talk will feature reflections on the uses of translation to interrogate the historical evidence at our disposal. During my presentation, I will discuss some of my new English translations from Persian of the title, name, and toponym of the Persian Islamic history text, Tabaqat-i Nasiri (c. 1260 CE), its author Minhaj Siraj al-Din Juzjani, and the locality of Balad-i-Ghur in medieval South Asia. 

Translation as Authorial and Scribal Intervention: The cases of Fada'il-i Balkh and New Manuscripts from Afghanistan (11th-13th century)

Arezou Azad

The late Persianist Jerome Clinton reminded us that translation is not principally a matter of thematic content, "but often what is most influential in shaping a new tradition or reshaping an old one, is the importation of new forms." In this paper, I will explore what happened when in 12th-century Afghanistan authors of books and scribes of documents used and translated Arabic content and form into Persian texts. Did these authors and scribes act as invisible translators, and if not, how were they intervening in the narrative or form? Were their interventions part of an agenda, or just the result of human error? And why should modern editors and translators show these deviations, and readers be cognizant of them? I will end with a brief reflection on my own experience of making translation decisions and annotations of these texts for publications in English. 


Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Center for India and South Asia, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of Washington Persian and Iranian Studies Program, Stanford University Center for South Asia and Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies