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Degrees of untranslatability: Muhammad Shukri’s quest for representation

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The publication history of Moroccan writer Muhammad Shukri’s autobiographical book Al-khubz al-hafi is paradigmatic of the role played by national contexts in the reception of world literature, and of the rigid hierarchies of prestige associated with each field of cultural production. Originally published in English translation by Paul Bowles in 1973, in French translation by Tahar Ben Jelloun in 1980 and in Spanish translation by Abdellah Djbilou in 1982 – the same year as the first publication of the text in Arabic appeared – it quickly became an international sensation. In this article, I pay special attention to the role played by the Moroccan Hispanophone literary community in the late twentieth century, and by the Spanish language, in the crafting of Shukri’s original narrative. I contend that the narrative simultaneously seeks to invite and resist its own translation, by going beyond formal and ideological expectations, and that the ultimate untranslatability of Shukri’s fictionalized biography is not a defense of an essentialized Moroccan identity, but rather reflects a constant triangulation among Morocco’s diglossic reality and the European languages of his translators.
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Keywords: Abdellah Djibilou; Paul Bowles; Tahar Ben Jelloun; World literature; untranslatability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Modern Languages, Oakland University, Rochester, MI, USA

Publication date: April 3, 2019

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