Translation is a staple subject on the seminar programme of the annual CIBF, and this, the 40th round of the fair, was no exception. On January 27, the Spanish Embassy in Cairo organised a seminar on "Translation as a Bridge Between Cultures," that repeatedly invoked Andalusia.
Daniel Grammatico, representative of the Andalusian Legacy Foundation, shed light on the history of Al-Andalus as a cultural crossroads. The Arab presence in Andalusia, he suggested, "had a great influence on the culture of the city at the time, yielding a rich cultural diversity that the society still enjoys to this very day." As a result of this cultural renaissance, he added, several institutions specialising in translation came into being early on in the city, institutions comparable to Dar Al-Hekma in Baghdad in the 9th century. "That unique encounter of different cultures refutes the 'clash of civilizations' theory," he commented.
The Andalusian Legacy Foundation was created by the Andalusian Regional Government in cooperation with the Spanish Government. Its aim is to promote a better knowledge of Spanish-Arab culture and to highlight the role of Andalus in this respect. The foundation, Grammatico noted, has already published over 90 titles in Spanish, English, French and Arabic.
The next speaker was Dario Marimon, general coordinator of the Three Cultures Foundation, which was established in 1999 by the Andalusian Regional Government and the Government of Morocco, its mandate being to promote cultural dialogue in the Mediterranean region. One of its noted recent publications is a book on Palestinian women artists, he noted.
Marimon spoke of the role of the Arabic language in encouraging the translation movement in times as early as the 10th century. Turning to the controversies surrounding religious diversity in Europe, he commented that "unless we study and recognise the Arab origin of our culture, we will never be able to understand it properly." "It is essential," he continued, "that translation play a role in breaking down all psychological and cultural divisions in the Mediterranean area."
Manuel Pimentel, president of Almuzara Publishing House, suggested that the image many Europeans have of Arabs, as projected on satellite TV, is the stereotype of the terrorist. "Hence, translation is the only safe bridge that enables us to move from one culture to another." However, he added, there are many problems that hinder Spanish publishers from establishing stronger ties with their Egyptian counterparts. "Most Spanish publishers have very little information about the cultural scene in Arab countries. In addition, there is a lack of Arab book agencies that facilitate this kind of communication between publishers." Arabic dialects pose another problem: "Spanish translators only understand the Arabic fusha [classical], so if I want to publish a good book like Taxi, which is written in Egyptian 'ammiya [colloquial] by Khaled El-Khamissi, I won't be able to find a translator."
Pimentel added that the Spanish translation of classic Arabic literature has been linked since the 1960s to academic institutions like universities and some cultural centers, such as the Arab Studies Centre in Madrid. "Therefore, it was really difficult to access modern Arabic literature in public libraries and bookshops," he explained. It was therefore hard, he continued, for Arab writers to get their work published by large commercial publishing houses in Spain, unless that had achieved international fame, as in the case of Naguib Mahfouz and Alaa El-Aswani. Almuzara, therefore, maintains a base in Tetuan in Morocco, as well as one Guadalajara in Mexico.
Egyptian critic Sami Khashaba wondered if, in the age of multimedia technologies, books still had a role to play, suggesting that the new media may offer more productive avenues of cultural communication between Egypt and Spain. Pimentel disagreed: "Books will remain the most effective way, in the long term, more influential, I believe, than cinema and satellite channels. However, it is also important to establish some sort of a bilingual, specialised on-line translation magazine... It would also be beneficial for Spanish publishers to find out more about young Arab writers, and new literary trends in the Arab world."
At the CIBF, Rania Khallaf attends a seminar on translation organised by the Spanish Embassy in Cairo
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