Academic discourse and translation from Arabic
A case study from the Spanish tradition
Translation, like any other mechanism of text production, has the intrinsic potential of both producing and reinforcing a specific discourse. In spite of the never-ending debate about the discursive character of academic knowledge and Edward Said’s particular interpretation of Foucault in Orientalism, it is difficult to deny that for a long time many European universities have fostered some of the most important misconceptions about Arab culture(s). In this kind of academic discourse, translation plays a central role. Translated texts are one step further than those texts written about the other, for they are themselves the other (or at least a part of it).
We are indebted to countless generations of scholars responsible for most translations from Arabic. Nevertheless, the time has come to ask ourselves some important questions. Which texts have been translated from Arabic by European scholars and why? Which criteria have been used to translate these texts instead of others? What has been the influence of these translations on the target culture? Which representations of Arab culture can we find in these translations and their paratexts (introductions, forewords, reviews, footnotes, etc.)? Arabic studies in Spain have been reviewed by J. T. Monroe, Manzanares de Cirre, López García, etc., yet none of them have approached directly the problem of translation or its implications for the construction of a specific canon. In Spain, this canon has been restricted to the Andalusian heritage for a long time (especially in the fields of history, philosophy, theology, sciences and poetry) and to some universal works, such as The Arabian Nights, and has only opened itself to other spheres of the Arab culture in the last decades. My aim in this paper is to present, from a critical perspective, some of the results of my analysis of a corpus of translations from Arabic — carried out by an eminent Spanish Arabist — and to use these results to understand how translation has helped to construct a specific academic discourse in Spain about Arab culture and particularly about al-Andalus.