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Convergences: Studies in the Intricacies of Interpretation/Translation and How They Intersect with Literature

Convergences: Studies in the Intricacies of Interpretation/Translation and How They Intersect with Literature

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Convergences: Studies in the Intricacies of Interpretation/Translation and How They Intersect with Literature

738 pages
10 heures
May 25, 2017


This anthology is an amalgam of the authors output in the domains of interpretation, translation, and literary scholarship. It is a serious attempt to highlight the cardinal traits common to said fields. This research is a vested trek into the inner workings of the authors profession; interpretation and translation, as well as his standing engagement with literary genres throughout the ages. The books uniqueness resides in treating a diversity of matters interrelated in various ways, although on the surface it appears to make up a queer admixture of dissimilar elementshence the title, Convergences. Interpretation and translation are twin vocations, and between them, convergence is all encompassing. Both transform a message from a source to a target language. Complementary and mutually supportive as they are, yet there is a train of difference in the execution of these two inseparable professions: the method, nature and techniques involved in each. Interpretation is the instantaneous, the simultaneous, in a word the express mode of communication; and translation is the meditative, the slow or the local medium of correspondence.
Concomitantly, literature is the crucible for teleologically permeable convergences and incredible divergences. It has a noble ontological message and brings out humanitys hidden treasures, experiences, thoughts, and choices. Literatures lofty missive is grounded in understanding the scenes, events, and characters it depicts excerpts of which feed into discourses to be interpreted and translated. Clients come up with multiple interpretations depending on circumstances and the context in which texts are couched.
May 25, 2017

À propos de l'auteur

Dr. Nabil M. Abdel-Al, a former United Nations Senior Interpreter in New York (1982-2017), is a university lecturer, published author, scholar, researcher, public speaker, writer, and translator. Born in 1957 in a small village in Upper Egypt, he fell in love with the English language at an early age. He holds a BA in English literature and translation (1979), an MA in interpretation and translation (1982), an MA in English and American Literature (1987) and a PhD for his thesis on “E. M. Forster as a Critic” (1994). He is a member of the International Lawrence Durrell Society (USA) and a life member of the Marlowe Society (London). In his official capacity as a UN interpreter and wearing his academic hat Dr. Abdel-Al traveled to more than forty countries. He lectured on a broad variety of topics relating to interpretation, translation, and English literature, through his involvement in external studies, the UN outreach program, MOU between the UN and Universities or taking part in international conferences and seminars. He translated E. M. Forster’s Pharos and Pharillon into Arabic, which has been serialized in the faculty of Al-Alsun’s translation publication. Many academic works of his have been published in Malaysia, Canada, the United States, and Egypt. Dr. Abdel-Al now lives in New York with his wife, Wafaa Kassem, and their five children.

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Convergences - Dr. Nabil M. Abdel-Al


© 2017 Dr. Nabil M. Abdel-Al. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 07/19/2017

ISBN: 978-1-5246-0078-5 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-5246-0077-8 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-5246-0076-1 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016905121

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and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

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Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.



General Appreciation Of The Book Convergences



Author’s Note


Chapter One    Interpretation/Translation: The Indispensable Prosthetics Of An Indivisible Profession

An Interpreter In The Making: A Personal Journey Of Challenge And Evolution

Cultural Variations: An Interpreter’s Dilemma


Consecutive/Simultaneous Interpretation: An Outlandish Variant Of The Profession

Interpreter Vs. Clientele: Is The Nexus Incestuous Or Utilitarian?

Jonathan Swift’s A Tale Of A Tub (Discourse): A Problem Of Hermeneutics

Acts Of Interpretation Between Jonathan Swift’s A Tale Of A Tub And Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians

Three Farewell Poems To Retiring Colleague Interpreters

Author’s Rendition Into English Of Dr. Hussein Sabry’s Poem

Author’s Two Poems On His Retirement

Chapter Two    Convergences Vs. Divergences

a)   Convergences:

1)   Convergence Of The Protagonists In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

2)   Convergence Of The Protagonists In Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet Versus Antony And Cleopatra

a.   Preface

b.   Part I: Convergence Between Romeo And Juliet

c.   Part II: Convergence Between Antony And Cleopatra In Comparison With Romeo And Juliet

d.   Conclusion

John Dryden’s All For Love And The Dramatic Unities

Lawrence Durrell’s Convergence With The Cretan Landscape: A Case Of Translatability


The Concept Of Cosmic Music In E. M. Forster’s India

Society Versus Nature In Thomas Hardy’s Tess Of The D’urbervilles

Chapter    Three Durrelliana (The Larry/Gerry Duet)

Diplomacy Wedged Between The Hammer Of Lawrence Durrell And The Anvil Of E. M. Forster

Enosis and the History of the Cyprus Landscape in L. Durrell’s Bitter Lemons

Gerald Durrell’s My Family And Other Animals: A Case Of Trust

How Elusive To Interpretation/Translation Is Gerald And Lawrence Durrell’s Sense Of Humor In Marrying Off Mother And Other Stories?

Chapter Four    The Faust Figure Languishing In Between

An American Faust: Hawthorne’s Faust Compared To Some Continental Faust Prototypes

Perceptions Of Marlowe’s Devil In The Tragical History Of Dr Faustus In Relation To Milton’s Satan In Paradise Lost

The Cave: A Hideout For Re/Conciliation With The Self And The Elements In Lawrence Durrell’s An Irish Faustus

Servant/Master Relationship In Lawrence Durrell’s An Irish Faustus With Reference To Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus

Servant/Master Relationship In Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus

Chapter Five    Multidimensionality In Literature

The I Narrator In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden


Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner: A Narrative Poem Between Two Fables

To What Extent Can Hamlet Be Considered A Tragic Hero?

Shakespeare And The Nature Of Man

Reflexivity In Tristram Shandy: An Essay In Phenomenological Criticism.

The Role Of Writing In Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy

Chapter Six    Materialism! What Is New?

Jane Austen’s Sense Of Irony And Property In Pride And Prejudice

To What Extent Does Money Shape The Attitude Of Characters And The Kind Of Emotional Response Evoked To Them From The Readers In George Eliot’s Silas Marner?

e.   Overview

f.   Thesis

g.   Conclusion

Chapter Seven    Spirit Of The Place (Deus Loci)

Home In A Smattering Of Victorian Fiction

Home Vs. House

Spirit Of Mountains: A Distinct Modernist Strand Of The Durrellian Canon In White Eagles Over Serbia

The Spirit Of Place In D. H. Lawrence’s Love Among The Haystacks, Lawrence Durrell’s Spirit Of Place, And E. M. Forster’s Howards End

h.   D. H. Lawrence’s Sense Of Place

i.   Lawrence Durrell’s Sense Of Place

j.   E. M. Forster’s Sense Of Place

Spirit Of The Place In Lawrence Durrell’s Justine Vs. E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History And A Guide


The Author In A Nutshell

Synopsis Of The Book


The first textbook on literary criticism that I studied at Assuit Teachers’ College, Egypt in the 1960s stressed that comparisons were odious. That is why I tried to steer clear of the comparative approach. Not so for Dr. Abdel-Al who seems to believe that A small mind sees only differences, a great mind: similarities.¹ Hence the title of his book Convergences where he seeks to find likenesses among myriad authors. Indeed the author draws a broad canvas that covers authors from Shakespeare to Naguib Mahfouz- the outstanding Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1988- but where there is also room for socializing with fellow interpreters.

Let me, however, get personal, for most writing is personal. My acquaintance with Dr. Abdel-Al dates back to 1983 when we were new recruits at the translation and interpretation services of the United Nations in New York. Hailing from two adjacent governorates in Upper Egypt helped to strengthen our friendship. Thus I was honored when my friend asked me to read an early draft of his Ph. D. thesis entitled E. M. Forester as a Critic in 1994. I enjoyed reading his dissertation and admit that it helped to expand my vocabulary, as my friend’s diction is that of the extraordinarily literate,² whereas I prefer down-to-earth simple or monosyllabic words which do the job and guard against obfuscation. Needless to say, this is the topic of our on-going debate, but as mature people we know that there is no accounting of taste and that friendship should stand the test of time and language preferences.

Moreover, translation is more sedentary than interpretation. A translator has the luxury of using a phrase if one is needed, but an interpreter is always after the one word that helps him catch up with the speaker who is in a great hurry, to spite the interpreter or catch up with some extracurricular activity. Interpreters also service many conferences and meetings which involve a great deal of travel, to some exotic places such as Samoa from where my friend has recently returned. These diverse experiences are reflected in this book where he tries to delve deep into the intricacies of language and human nature.

Dr. Mohamed Ali Imam

Former senior translator/reviser

Arabic Translation Service

United Nations, New York.


Books on literature represent the spirit of the age, moments of a historical development expressing the ethos of our time. In his diversified book, Dr. Abdel-Al shows us the multidimensionality of language with special focus on the enticing profession of interpretation/translation and how it intersects with literature. Deepening our perspective helps us delve into the worth of philosophy (love of wisdom). The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: The language of a man is a copy of his world and the limit of his language is the limit of his world.

The author’s work at the United Nations over an extensive period of time spanning almost three and half decades enabled him to participate in all types of conferences and meetings making inroads into the inner entrails of his profession as a senior interpreter, surmounting lingual barriers. He acted and interacted wholeheartedly with his environs.

Neglecting the feel of the language, the essence of the message and sticking with the superficiality of bombastic terms and expressions engender empty rhetoric that involves humans in dangerously misleading polemics. In diplomacy and politics, language is identified as interlocutors’ pattern of behavior. Differentiating the levels of a language feeds into the sphere of aesthetics. Dr. Nabil’s book invites his readers to an intellectual festivity sensing the fun of which necessitates exploring the thoughts and notions posited therein. He elevates the style with which he tackles a wide variety of topics to a premise of appreciation and respectability. Emotional language is a colorful breed with a dialectic character that helps overcome contradictions. Dr. Nabil managed to utilize polysemy flexibly, to shun linguistic rigidities, more often adapting words to situations and generating light-hearted humor. He is well-versed in the philosophy of the language as a means of communication. His treatment of the multiple topics in the book is well organized, orderly and to the point.

I feel honored to write these words in appreciation of Dr. Abdel-Al’s book Convergences.

New York, 9/9/2016

With my best wishes,

Dr. med. Nadim Sradj M.A.

Prufeninger Str. 40

D – 93049 Regensburg

Tel. 0941-21857 Fax: 28711

Email: SRADJ@GMX.de


This anthology is a tribute to the memory of my late father the man who spiritedly instilled in me the unquenchable drive for learning. May his soul rest in peace and divine beatitude.


A well-deserved vote of gratitude is tendered to Dr. Mohamed Imam for his gracious and spontaneous assistance with the revision of certain parts of this book as well as for his writing the preface to it. I am profusely grateful to Dr. Nadim Sradj for taking it upon himself to write the general appreciation of the book, thus adding a unique touch of philosophy to the tenor of my work. I also owe a big debt of thanks to Messers Ahmed Abdel Fattah and Saleh Saleh for their indispensable help with the technical aspects; conversion of the material into Microsoft word, footnotes, citation, pagination… I am beholden to those friends for the considerable amount of time and effort they set aside for the completion of my work and for their readiness to extend a helping hand any time I sought it. By the same token, I wish to acknowledge my son, Marwan’s assistance in helping me choose that thought-provoking title of the book. I am indebted to my daughter Maram whose light-hearted critique was a crucial eye opener for me. My son Mohamed and daughters Maha and Mai’s moral support and encouragement were instrumental in completing the work. I would be remiss if I do not pay tribute to my wife whose backing contributed a great deal to my overcoming the fatigue and tedium that came my way while collecting and classifying the material. Concomitantly, I would like to voice my appreciation to the phalanx of friends and colleagues who encouraged me to press ahead and expressed their eagerness to read my book upon its seeing the light. For their honest advice and reinforcement I am much obliged.

Dr. Nabil M. Abdel-Al

Author’s note

Dear reader,

A serious attempt was made to document all excerpts inside the text. However, since I found out that certain parts were heavily referenced, in order to avoid inconveniencing my readers, I placed all the quotes taken successively from the same source under one footnote reference number, i.e. if you come across one or more of these quotes between quotation marks with no numbering, the following numbered quote refers to all the aforesaid non-numbered quotes.


Compiling a complete compendium containing the bulk of my contemplative and scripted output is by no means an easily manageable task. This work covers sparse aspects of my breadwinning profession (interpretation/translation) as well as the gamut of literary terrain spanning several ages. Far from laying any distinct claims to thoroughgoing expertise in either world literature or interpretation, I am viewing both from the narrow binoculars of personal experience, subjective taste, or individual preference. Yet no particular tendencies have been espoused in the ranking or classification of the topics in question. At times I lean heavily toward wrestling with the text myself with minimal resort to secondary sources. Yet unparalleled delight has been derived from the juxtaposition of a heterogeneous medley of items making up this work.

This enterprise combines personal passion about my current profession (interpretation) and my intellectual interest in a wide spectrum of literary works pertaining to a slew of cultures. There is an indissoluble interconnection between my present profession and my erstwhile (indeed, continuing) career as a university lecturer. This florilegium, project if you like, is a revivification of a long-standing desideratum to relish and cherish pent-up memories, to anthologize past and current intellectual harvests of mine in both fields, and to set straight the relationship between them. Simple math has it that on top of possessing the knack, the innate propensity, the ready reflex needed for building a well-grounded interpreter, the tools for delivering the job are somehow embedded inside the entrails of literary oeuvre. One needs an undepletable reservoir of vocabulary, an elegant style, sound sentence structure, correct grammar, accurate phonetics—in a word, taut symmetry of components to consummate delivery of the message smoothly and trustfully.

Chapter one dwells on my interpretational autobiography from the early days of my childhood as a village chap in Upper Egypt to this point in my career development as a senior interpreter at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This quick rundown in the gradation of my life and career prospects provides a cursory account of the numerous challenges, obstacles, and mishaps that stood in my way at the formative stages of becoming a full-fledged staff interpreter, and how I wrestled with them until I managed to surmount them. There’s no doubt that interpretation is an exciting vocation, defiance-ridden by nature, replete with gnawing trials that never go away but change with the changing moods of time, with the variegated developments speedily unfolding day in and day out. As a profession, interpretation has an intact magnetism unique to it.

The job of an interpreter is to smooth out communication and to transmit a message issuing from a source language speaker to a target language audience. An interpreter cannot be qualified exactly as a message carrier, but as a transformer of a message from one language to its equivalent in the opposite language. He is a conveyor of meaning, a breaker of language barriers, a linguistic middleman, a cultural go-between, a lingual communicator. He employs the medium of language or linguistic skills to enable the contenders to comprehend the core of their diverse viewpoints, to drive home a message, —in a word, to elucidate standpoints of interest to the audience. Short of that, interlocutors would be barred from comprehending, let alone leveling with those thoughts, once they are delivered in a foreign tongue alien to them. An interpreter’s role is thus not restricted to facilitating verbal correspondence and unraveling the conundrums that are peculiar to a source language, but transforming the latter into a meaningful target language with a different set of constructs; concepts, grammars, and sentence structure. The interpreter’s function becomes a daily ceaseless linguistic exercise, a communication drill on oral and written statements, a sort of intellectual workout.

Ideally, and as much as is humanly feasible, an interpreter should disassociate himself from the unavoidable interference of his native tongue. He should eschew attempts to collate and consort his mother tongue with the target language into which he interprets. Whether the relationship between the two languages (the passive and the active) is intimate or incestuous, what counts in the end for the interpreter is to fare well out of byzantine procedures and intricate speeches with a well-thought-out rendition, an intact message; something that helps the integrity of interaction. Still interpreters encounter such impediments that impede a clear, coherent, and accurate delivery as speakers’ velocity, thick accent, and their being immersed in their own speeches, paying little or no heed to other participants or those interpreters serving as intermediary receptacles on the receiving end. Some speakers think that interpreters are robot-like who can cope with any speed, any time and under any circumstances.

Chapter one is concluded with five poems of mine delivered on the occasions of colleague interpreters’ retirement get-together, including two at my own farewell party. These pieces are my work, and I cudgeled my brains in producing them. No secondary sources were resorted to in constructing them. Although they seem vaguely related to the topic at hand, I decided to incorporate them here simply because they are centered on fellow interpreters and constitute a linguistic challenge even to me every time I reread them. When some friends ask me about the implication or lexical signification of certain verses, I paraphrase Browning’s judicious words: When I wrote them, God and myself knew; now only God knows, and I find a safe passage out. Additionally, I added a translation of mine into English from Arabic of a personal love poem by a close friend of mine, Prof. Hussein Sabry of Abu Dhabi University along with the original Arabic text.

Why did my choice of title fall on Convergences, and not Convergencies, although the latter is senior to the former by four years? According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, both words are extant.

convergence … n. (1713) 1. the act of converging and esp. moving toward union or uniformity; esp: coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas; 2: the state or property of being convergent; 3: independent development of similar characters (as of bodily structure or cultural traits) often associated with similarity of habits or environment. convergency (1709): convergence.

Convergences is the book’s title, although initially I intended to title it Convergencies. Yet having looked into the limitations involved in each, I have opted for the former. Convergencies connotes compelling cacophonous, inchoate components to come together and interweave. Forcing heterogeneous elements upon one another may compromise the lexical and structural integrity of the final product. In a way, it looks like an attempt to cement interspersed heterogeneous points. Hence, Convergences provides a safe passage, a benign way out of any hiccups that may come up in the course of completing the book.

Chapter two is eponymous alongside the subtitle: divergences. The initial three items under that chapter—convergence between the protagonists in Wuthering Heights, Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet—is pursued in earnest with figures possessing more or less equal status despite the unbridgeable distances that separate their families and nations. Convergence between prominently beleaguered, bruised and misguided sets of characters happens in this life, albeit short-lived. Fictional speculation presages that a full-blown convergence denied the main characters here, in all likelihood, will push through in the afterlife and be perfected there. The final dramatic scenes of the protagonists’ eventual farewell make it abundantly clear that Romeo and Juliet as well as Antony and Cleopatra died into each other.

Under this chapter, the failure of forced, crafted, grafted, superfluous, untenable convergences in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India lead to sheer divergences. In Tess, the characters belong to the same society in general, but by no means to comparable social stature or strata. Lower classes’ poignant naiveté, fervid anxiety, and impetuous eagerness to meet the higher echelons midway and blend with them falls by the wayside and proves disastrous to both sides, especially the weak and the downtrodden. It is a zero-sum game, yet it is more devastating to the disadvantaged. The rich and well-to-do can afford unexpected shocks, whereas the poor, the helpless, and the hapless are too tenuous to resist such tragic eventualities. A streak of defeatism, despondent resignation, and incapacitating fatalism beset the innocent, inexperienced, defenseless Tess wherever she goes, turning her into a pusillanimous crapehanger. In her miserable state, she cannot be at one with either Alec or Angel (a denomination used ironically by the author). The novel ends in tragic divergence with not even a fictional possibility for convergence in the afterlife.

In A Passage to India, the Indians’ recurrent attempts to achieve harmony with their colonial masters are doomed because of the irreconcilable chasm between the rulers and the ruled. On the one hand, there are the representatives of the British Empire with their high-handed, haughty, and humiliating treatment of the vanquished Indians, who have been scapegoated due to their irreparably unsalvageable placement in their own homeland. They feel alienated from their own culture and environs, estranged in their own country as if their colonizers have been on an indomitable identity-effacing mission. This causes a loss of confidence in the self and in others. The situation remains murky and unpredictable, especially because the subjects of the Crown are deliberately kept on tenterhooks, in a state of anxious suspense as to their destinies and futures. The Indians are afflicted by a multitude of sects, religions, and classes among other things. It is hard for them to accomplish harmony among their diverse factions, let alone overcoming the inferiority/superiority complex in their exchanges with the Brits.

Pursuit of convergence in both cases, despite drastic differences that constitute the social makeup, breeds disconnection among the characters. A sense of divergence, of un-connectedness prevails among them so much so they become very far apart by the end. All efforts to reach out to one another in the interim peter out. Angst, a sense of anguish and despair, of dichotomy, splits them once and for all. Characters’ tendency to mix and match, to harmonize and come together, disappear untraceably. Aspiring for reconciliation is dashed on a dicey hope that at one future point compromise will prevail.

Chapter three combines a passing treatment of how humorous, though tough, are some works by the two brothers: Lawrence, the man of letters and diplomacy, and Gerald, the environmentalist and conservationist. Depending on the mood, the occasion, and the penchant of the writer, humor may turn out to be a very scathing tool, making a laughingstock of its butt. Specific, vivid instances of this have been adduced inter alia in Lawrence’s handling of the funny aura surrounding the growls of protest issuing from the stomach of the Finnish Ambassador’s spouse in Paris as she walked into a chamber with a buffet in it (in Esprit de Corps: Sketches from Diplomatic Life) and Gerald’s mystical ruses hatched around his mother and his account of Lugaretzia that Greek maid (in Marrying off Mother and Other Stories). E. M. Forster’s humorous take on the risible constituents of diplomacy is laid down in conjunction with Lawrence Durrell harping on the deformities of the diplomatic language. In The Game of Life, which constitutes a part of Abinger Harvest, E. M. Forster implicitly qualifies diplomats as those who yearn to debate what we ought to be, not what we ought to encounter, thus hiding behind rhetorical hyperbole and stylistic innuendoes. Diplomatic parlance employs ornate style in the main as an efficacious device to hunt down the arguments produced by the adversarial counterpart. However, this chapter is not set aside for humor only. There is a serious yet somber tracking down of the historical, the hysterical, and the political progression of the Cyprus case in Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemon, an experience proven to be bitter indeed.

Chapter four deals with the major developments in the Faust legend. It went through multiple phases and took different forms in different places over the ages. Initially, that myth revealed man’s unbridled yearning to control most, if not all, things in the universe, including such divine peculiarities as life and death. Originally in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, the Faust theme revolved around purely masculine exchanges between the protagonist Dr. Faustus and the devil, Mephistopheles, an attendant on Lucifer. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the struggle persisted between man and Satan. Gradually the female element, the fair sex, made headway into the Faust saga; Margret (Gretchen) and Helen in Goethe’s Dr. Faustus Parts I and II. Conversely, the female element is pervasive in the American Faust, so much so it overtakes the title of some works in the field as Dr. Rappaccini’s Daughter and The Scarlet Letter. A common denominator linking the Faust figures in general, be they American or continental prototypes, is that the ultimate end has invariably been tragic, whether on account of a diabolical desire to align oneself with the devil, a fallen angel accursed by the divine, using magic as a means to achieve nefarious ends, trying to get over scandalous deeds through devious methods, or harnessing science for reprehensible purposes. A large portion of the research dwells on the inferiority/superiority complex. Satan rebels against God, man attempts to collude with the devil in disobedience to his creator, and man does his level best to affirm his supremacy over his fellow humans and to reign supreme over the poles and the elements.

Chapter five combines a decent litany of literary oddments, starting with American, proceeding into Arabic, and ending in English works. Henry David Thoreau’s deft usage of the first-person narrator as a character, a persona, even as a person in disguise linked with the employment of the third-person pronoun has been explored in extenso. This has been followed by focusing on the achievements made by another literary giant, the 1988 Egyptian Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz, where I zeroed in on some of his lesser known works, especially what I dubbed a specialized dialogue along with translation into English of certain salient texts. From fact and fiction, I stepped into poetry, where I treated the famous narrative poem of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The narrator, a hoary-haired man, managed to impose his tale on the wayfarers, telling them about what happened to that ship and its crew as a result of shooting an awe-inspiring yet innocent albatross. Like the preceding two works, this poem is an insuperable technical success. Analysis of some fragments in the form of academic articles ensued on a piece entitled Shakespeare and the Nature of Man, as well as "The Role of Writing in Laurence Sterns’ Tristram Shandy," where writing is harnessed as a medium to occupy one’s time in doing something useful, beguile others, and prove the writer’s ability to demonstrate his extraordinary creative ability.

Chapter six spells out the difference between a rich person’s action and a poor man who was stripped of the little fortune he managed to amass over the years. Man’s adoration of fortune is innately connected with his entity. The transformation from spirituality to materialism became so visible with Faustus’s selling his soul to the devil in exchange for materialistic gains. As a matter of fact, a drastic shift took place with the motto proclaimed by Erasmus, that Dutch scholar, who asserted that glory was due man rather than God in the highest. My exploration of the prefatorial words with which Jane Austen initiates Pride and Prejudice highlights the irony with which material considerations obviate all other philanthropic values and human morals. Property empowers man and endows him with open and overt options to marry whomever he craves regardless of his base stock. The nexus between man’s estate and women’s eagerness to be consorted with him is inexhaustible in a secular society. In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, the unexpected disappearance of the hero’s treasure had the impact of a thunderbolt upon Silas; he lost hope in everything and everybody around him. Only the sudden appearance of Eppie, that little mermaid, at his cottage door consoled him a bit until he regained his senses with the restoration of his money, and the book concluded happily.

Chapter seven discusses the deus loci, or spirit of place, be that a city as Alexandria, a house or mansion as Howards End, a series of mountains as those prevalent in Lawrence Durrell’s White Eagles over Serbia, or a home or an enclosure containing residents of any elk. At best the spirit of place can be qualified as that mysterious if not mystical peculiarity unique to specific environs. Like electricity, it has the impact of gravity without being concrete. It takes the form of reaction to and interaction with one’s surroundings. It can be repulsive and dreary to a writer, such as Durrell’s city in Alexandria Quartet. The locale can be quite engaging and inviting for another writer such as E. M. Forster, where Alexandria acts as a centripetal force in Pharos and Pharillon and Alexandria: A History and a Guide. For Durrell, Alexandria makes up for a centrifugal force, which he exposed time and again in his book. Studying the quartet gives one the impression that Durrell assumed the role of a crapehanger who dwelled extensively on the ills, misdeeds, misalignments, crooked relations, and aberrations of the characters while hiding behind the rubric that only the city is real on the front page.

In Durrell’s An Irish Faustus, the cave is a shelter for a reflective pause with the self, for pinpointing the pros and cons of one’s real identity. The spirit of the cave forces one to come clean, to have a candid encounter with one’s inner psyche, where one is not viewed through the eyes of anybody else. In E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, the spirit of India—along with its caves, land, sea, and sky—was in no way welcoming the British, and the book ended on a pessimistic note and an anticipatory hope that the future might hold a promising get-together, a rapprochement of sorts. Regarding Alexandria, Forster looked at the bright side and treated it as his own city; he was reasonably balanced in delineating the historic facts and geographic contours of the city. For him, the locale was benign, its residents spontaneously helpful and gracious. In Howards End, E. M. Forster shows how the spirit of the locality enables people of diverse social strata to take charge of that mansion, which is simultaneously literary and physical. In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, the spirit of the place tossed the hero and the heroine back and forth, and in their feverish search for physical convergence and political compromises, Antony and Cleopatra had to shuttle aimlessly between Egypt and Rome until they met their tragic end.

Spirit of the place is that hidden engine, or clairaudience working behind the scene, beyond man’s ability to trace it. It is that invisible mover operating intangibly through its centripetalism which attracts people into it, and makes them rejoice in it or through its centrifugalism which feeds in them a sense of revulsion and keeping away from the locale and from each other.



the indispensable prosthetics

of an indivisible profession

An Interpreter in the Making: a Personal Journey of Challenge and Evolution

(interpretational apprenticeship)³

Where am I to start and how to end? What is my point of departure? That is the question anyway, the $1000+ question. No wonder the specter of Hamlet still hovers around us, indeed haunts us every time we hasten to hone after the hero’s horrific hamartia. Sometimes it is less difficult to start a family than to touch on so diffuse, so loose, and ticklish a topic as interpretation with its teasing ramifications. The concept, rather the craft, of interpretation as an art⁴ in its entirety revolves around stepping up to the challenge embodied in the capacity to unravel linguistic conundra, remove intellectual hindrances and clear conceptual hurdles.

At an early stage, when I began studying English at the prep and secondary schools in Upper Egypt, I had a penchant for memorizing vocabulary of all sorts, a craving for polysemous words and expressions. Destiny had it that I would enter Faculty of Al-Alsun, Department of English, where the material to be covered was enough to quench the thirst of any yearning student. Fortunately or unfortunately, our education system in Egypt somehow induces learners of foreign language(s) to equate them with Arabic, i.e. as soon as we acquire English terms, we collate them immediately, if not automatically, with their equivalents in our mother tongue. The danger lies in memorizing Arabic equivalents from English/Arabic dictionary, which are not necessarily accurate all the way through. At times, this is misleading as it gives rise to serious errors in comprehension and usage, e. g. the term expletive is translated in Arabic into tautology where in English it basically denotes a senseless word for swearing and expression of violent feeling; oath or curse: DAMN, scram it. It is an exclamatory word or phrase, esp. one that is obscene or profane.

With time’s onward march, and probably because I was born and raised in a harsh environment fraught with physical skirmishes and verbal wrangling, it was not possible to just get over my defiant nature and relinquish the apparently indomitable challenge embedded in translation. My linguistic ego swelled with age as well as with the swollen needs of time for bridging civilizational gaps and cultural disparities. I was drawn into satisfying an intellectual bent for learning English terminology by rote and aligning it with counterparts in my native tongue.

A freshman at Al-Alsun, my erstwhile youthful, restless ambitions of becoming an interpreter started to fall by the wayside. I sensed that translation was not my cup of tea, nor would interpretation be my forte. Hence, I became averse to studying either. The profession dealt me a disappointing blow. It was too tough for me to handle at that early stage. It necessitated cudgeling my brains and constituted a sore source of frustration. I realized full well then, as I do now, that it was, still is, a thankless job after all. Your audience takes you for granted. To do a good job is the order of the day; that is the bare minimum expected of a conceivably robot interpreter. However, once you do otherwise, woe to you, you only have yourself to blame, and foes and friends to tear you apart. If St. Augustine were able to read his work, he would not find occasion to constantly refer to Martial’s epigram to Fidentius:

The work you recite is mine, 0 Translator

But when you recite it badly, it begins to be yours

However, my desire to meet the challenge, in fact to seek out a challenge and proceed to encounter it was fomented by my study of Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, when I was a sophomore. A fervent votary of Marlowe, and by extension enamored of his objective correlative Dr. Faustus, the protagonist, I resolved, somehow impetuously, to emulate some aspects of his psychopathic personality; an upstart whose detestation of necromancy did not prevent him from specializing in it and surpassing all his contemporaries in that deplorable, indeed diabolical, domain. That erratic notion topsy-turvied my feelings and reversed my decision altogether. I made up my mind to change course, study interpretation and translation not necessarily to excel over others but to do well in the field. In other words, the stunning trait of my academic paragon replenished my determination to press ahead with my first MA in Interpretation and Translation, a course of study that was not to my liking, but turned out to be most rewarding when it comes to wrestling constantly with the challenge of which I was in pursuit earlier.

Is it sufficient to obtain an MA in Interpretation and Translation? In theory and for the sake of satisfying pedagogical requirements, that is fine, but, in practice, not at all. To meet the challenge, ideally one cannot rest on one’s laurels having just fulfilled the educational aspect of the equation which becomes academic. It simply turns into an ethereal, theoretic exercise that fades away if not backed up by on-the-job training, which in turn translates into practical, hands-on experience. Knowledge of Zeitgeist, the spirit of time and awareness of the ethos of the people and the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment which reforms the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society, dominant assumptions of a people or period is a sine-qua-non for transmitting a message accurately and effectively.

In 1982, having completed the requisites of an MA in said sphere, an unexpected opportunity loomed on the horizon. At the time, the Arabic section of the Interpretation Service, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York initiated an interpreter trainee program. Having just emerged from the MA intensive course of study, I was lacking live experience. For me, that was once in a lifetime. No agency would recruit fresh graduates as fully fledged staff interpreters with little or no exposure. Along with eight other trainees, I passed the aptitude test. We were admitted to the aforesaid training program. We were not instructed to do simultaneous interpretation at the commencement of the training course. Rather we were engaged in at sight interpreting, and here the importance of translation became quite visible.

Translation and interpretation are bound by an inextricable nexus. They are like an odd couple with common destiny, inseparable from each other and indispensable to each other, regardless of whether they are having matched or unmatched libidos. Interpretation is a species of that genus called translation. There is no skipping translation to specialize in interpretation. All fields of study revolve around the written matter. We had to familiarize ourselves with the terminology in vogue as well as the topics in question through studying the Book of Decisions and Resolutions. Step by step, we were introduced to sight and consecutive modes of interpretation. Then, we were made to listen to tapes of speeches recorded from actual meetings. Eventually, we had to go into the booth and face the bugbear, the daunting challenge. At first, our seniors and betters kept company with us to the extent possible inside the booth. They monitored and guided us throughout the different stages of training.

Finally, we had to fend for ourselves, to stave off that monster known as stage fright. Overcoming stage fright is an interpreter’s nightmare, especially in the course of the initial phases of his interpretational formation, where he is frequently faced with zugzwang.⁸ Phasing out that type of fear requires scholarly fortitude, daring intellect as well as bold personality. Fear is an indivisible part of our life. It never peters out until doomsday. We should not allure ourselves into believing that gainsaying it will help eliminate it. What hobbles an interpreter’s output, enervates him to the extent of paralyzing his thinking is fear of coming up with awkward constructs and unintelligible units of the target language, which may trigger mordant criticism and questioning of his eligibility and professionalism. To grapple with this harrowing challenge, preserve his professional pride, an interpreter needs that sort of courage which Mark Twain defines as "resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." If fear⁹ is allowed to take control of an interpreter while performing his duty, it will be incapacitating, sapping and most likely, it will end up undermining his self-esteem. Fear puts the person in an uncompromising position once it sinks in because it causes panic, attracts attack of all sorts, mostly unpredictable. Stage fright emanates from absence of experience, lack of practice, paucity of exposure or a combination thereof.

A would-be interpreter must possess basic indispensable implements to help him carry out rendition into the target language soundly and smoothly. He, first and foremost, needs self-confidence to stay the course, to be resilient, to be a long-breath fighter, to remain calm, cool, collected and composed. An interpreter needs to have the gravitas to have a good sense of the self. Stage fright continues to hound an interpreter for an extended period of time. No matter how long or how solid an interpreter’s practical experience is, he ought to acknowledge that his professional build-up or rendition-al molding is an open-ended process. There is no end in sight to new technological advances and scientific inventions, social turmoil, economic fluctuations and upheavals on the political landscape. These factors engender fresh concepts and new terms come to the fore to describe them. Vocabulary begets vocabulary in the same manner as unprecedented events with unknown consequences take root and spread like wildfire. An interpreter must be up to date with variables on international arena. He also must be ready for any hidden eventuality. Every society has its own specificities that distinguish and sit it apart from others. This necessitates conceptual adaptation and linguistic alignment to cope with present day fast changing realities.

The same thing more or less holds true for interpreter/translator’s absorption of the foreign language(s) he acquires and uses as a medium of communication. Each of these languages has its own unique qualities. Arabic, like Chinese, is considered exotic. It has no semiotic¹⁰ or semantic¹¹ resemblance to any of the European languages. Rather, it has its own sacrament, a sacrosanct characteristic with mysterious signification. Translators and interpreters alike have the professional duty to unravel that mystique, to demystify that aura of mystery or the mystical power intrinsic to it. This conviction will help them cope with its inner workings, level with its linguistic intricacies and ingest the shades of meanings lurking therein. In this case there is no need to kill either the message or the messenger. This perception works as a safety valve against the commission of varied errors and misconceptions.

Working under pressure is yet another intractable challenge which requires self-confidence to surmount. Yet, excessive confidence, even if it lasts long, does not pay in the end because nothing should be taken for granted. Working under pressure signifies a major difference between interpretation and translation. When a translator is faced with a ruthless deadline, he works under stress. Conversely, an interpreter is invariably pressed for instantaneous delivery of a message that does not brook any delay. Thus, he can safely be said to be working under distress. Stress is good because it serves as a tensely motivating factor to speedily fulfill a purpose. Distress, on the other hand, is no good. It is (di = 2, double or dual stress). An interpreter has to be optimistic, not to get scared of his audience. He has to be rest assured that they are not there to get him. They are not his adversaries. Rather, they are an elite group who view him with utmost respect and understanding. He must do his level best to keep their trust undiminished, to always rise to their expectations. They want and expect him to give his best, not to stumble at every minor difficulty that comes his way. His domestic cares and personal mishaps are no concern of theirs. They await honest and scrupulous delivery of an intact, by no means emaciated, message.

The training period can be painful to many, especially those whose blunt reflex has not been sharpened appreciably to have them feel at ease when push comes to shove, those who get nervous when they lose track in their hunt for the right term, or their stock of synonyms is numbly inadequate that it does not come to their rescue when the pressing need arises. On the other hand, some view training as a pleasant chore, a fertile ground for those intent upon enhancing their learning potential and meeting tense moments with scholarly sobriety. At any rate, a tough examination constitutes a line of demarcation between an interpreter trainee and an interpreter per se. Close attention is paid to candidates’ resilience, that is steady ability to carry on with the delivery of difficult and wordy speeches, cope with the speed, the tempo, avoid trepidation and shaky output. The board of examiners shows no mercy when it comes to candidates’ commission of contresens.¹² This is considered a tragic flaw, an incontestable eliminator. Two contresenses equal an interpretational death sentence. I used to liken interpreters’ examination to the American driving license test. The slogan I proclaimed then was ‘do whatever you wish, err as much as you may (of course not intentionally) before, and probably after, but certainly not on the test.’ To pass a full-fledged interpretation examination is to pass the Rubicon. However in the end when everything is said and done, contresens is inescapable. Even the most veteran interpreters fall into it. An interpreter who is called in to replace another colleague is usually late and has to start interpreting as soon as he comes in. Exhausted and unaware of the tenor of the meeting, the purport of the items under discussion or the drift of the topics in question, he can easily fall prey to contresens. It is caused by infrequent mental distraction which deflects interpreter’s attention away and leads his faculty of concentration astray. It can very well be the result of the speaker’s heavy accent, horrible mispronunciation or frantic speed.

Moving from training with its informal nature, mock meetings, semi-absence of accountability, one-on-one guidance by superiors, positive criticism and decent counseling by senior proctors, who chaperone trainees, the irksome challenge ingrained in the profession takes a different tack altogether. From now on, an interpreter services actual meetings, works for real audience and the client is willy-nilly the boss. The challenge bifurcates into two aspects in the main, pedagogical and professional. At the pedagogical level, the standards of learning, that is, knowledge (know-how, expertise), understanding (ken, experimentation) and skill (expertness) come into play. A well-versed conscientious interpreter must be cognizant of the topic(s) under discussion through studying the documents, acquainting himself with the terminology, listening to the news and watching ongoing events all around. He further must display requisite skills: ability, springing from expertise, practice, aptitude and the like. He is duty-bound to demonstrate distinction and competence in performance, expertness, the capacity to extract succulent juice out of stinking smoked fish. In addition, understanding the surrounding atmospherics of the convocation, empathy with booth-mates, alertness to the difficulties of other colleagues in the other language cabins, picking up relay from him as well as catering to the needs of his customers are indivisible ingredients of the vexing challenges he encounters and the evolutionary process he passes through.

Concerning the professional dimension, it is equally significant, if not more in demand for the smooth functioning of the work at hand. Professionalism is the essence of the profession. One has to be punctual, helpful, available to assist his booth-mates in case they get stuck over a term, an expression, a proverb, need few drops of water to lubricate a dry throat, be accommodating, take over when they ought to prepare a difficult text, or fix an awkward translation, pay due homage to both genders, arrange documents and put speeches in order, jot down numbers and acronyms.

- Another considerable challenge encountering interpreters at the beginning of their career is whether written statements being delivered should be accessible to them in the booth. Initially, such written material is deemed to be a source of confusion and an encumbrance because performing sundry functions simultaneously leads to dispersal of attention. This, in turn, overburdens interpreter’s mental capacity, foments tension which is germane to the process already. To overcome this challenge, the interpreter has to put on his listening ears, open his strained eyes, concentrate his mind, watch the accuracy of delivery, combining sight translation and simultaneous interpretation. Working without the text puts an interpreter in a single mood or frame of mind. He is in no two minds about what he is doing. But experimentation with the text turns out to be a most reassuring experience. It gives the assurance that nothing much at all will be lost or skip the notice of the performer. Once used to it, the interpreter will barely sustain mental stress or physically avoidable exhaustion. The written matter becomes an auxiliary implement that assists interpreters to come to grips with the velocity, the jet-propelled speed thrown upon them occasionally from the floor. It also helps them decipher the heavy accent of certain non-natives, or even native speakers with whom they are not familiar. The written text spares interpreters the agony of unpredictability, the panic of going afield, off the beaten path, especially when the speech teems with figures and numbers as well as ambiguous phraseology, which they are not inured to. Furthermore, it enables them to well prepare speeches abounding in recondite figures of speech, poetic verses with esoteric allusions and nebulous concepts beforehand. Thus, they will not be caught by unpleasant surprises. They will have a respite to breathe a sigh of relief and can extricate themselves from the inconspicuous labyrinth of abstruse terms and expressions.

- Another challenge common to both interpretation and translation is that of terminology, rather the standardization thereof. This is more the turf of translation circles than being the purlieu of interpretation, despite their interchangeable characteristics. For most topics debated inside or outside the United Nations, nomenclatures, or specialized listings of terms are issued, for a variety of topics ideally in the six official languages. This laudable effort deployed by translation services does not negate individual interpreters’ undertaking in the field, particularly when there is delay in the issuance of such compartmentalized glossaries. Published documents are not amenable to alteration. Yet, interpreters are not bound by the literal or prolix product completed by translation services. Interpreters may deviate from the letter of the translated hard copies, but they have to abide by their spirit. When working in the booth, they tend to put things in a taut interpretational form. It is permissible for them to pronounce acronyms, numerals and document symbols as they appear in the source language, e g UNDP, DESA, GA, ECOSOC, doc ST/AI/220a. Along the same lines, uttering the initials of countries’ names e. g. USA, UK, UAE, BiH or dropping the multiple adjectives with which the main epithet of the country is littered, e. g. Libya, instead of the Libyan Arab Socialist Greater Jamahirya, makes a big difference in terms of time budgeting. Interpreters are permitted not to be too formal when it comes to countries and global bodies as long as they have authenticated acronyms that match their official denominations. This is necessitated by the nature of their profession as well as the pressures they fall under.

It so happens at times that the simplest terms prove elusive when they are direly needed. In this case, short of getting succor from a booth-mate, an interpreter finds himself forced to resort to synonyms. This spares him spur-of-the moment embarrassing desperation. It enables him to take liberty of a variety of diction residing at the back of his mind as a way out of the dilemma or the loss he finds himself temporarily at. It is within his right to cull and pick from this collection of words carrying the same or nearly the same implication as those eluding him when he is pressed for them. The adverse impact of this is that he may end up sacrificing a degree of accuracy at the altar of approximation. For instance, words like refuse, reject, turn down, decline, lexically carry the same connotation. They denote non-acceptance of something. Usage-wise however, they stand at loggerheads with one another. We refuse to do something, turn down an offer, decline an invitation, and reject an object directly. It is not unforgivable for an interpreter under untenable pressure to, for instance, say we refuse your decision to have us pay compensation. It conveys the perfect sense that the speaker is negating an action taken by way of imposition. Nobody can take him to task for non-compliance with grammatical structure as long as the sense is transmitted unscathed Take care of the sense, and the sentences will take care of themselves. Take care of the cents, and the dollar will take care of itself.

In interpretation, there is no room for hesitation, indecisiveness, lingering doubts, second guessing, tardy speculation or transcendental meditation. Procrastination is doubtless at the interpreter’s own risk. It can very well hobble his delivery. When it comes to enigmatic questions to be interpreted instantaneously, an interpreter is at a disadvantage. The best he can do when delivering what I may call inexplicable deliverables¹³ is to enter a mental footnote or resort to loan translation, simply to engage in literal translation of concepts historic, social and cultural background of which he is unacquainted with. Yet, the extemporaneous juxtaposition of synonyms in the target language will render that part of the message meaningless. A translator, on the other hand, does not face such a pressing challenge. He can jot down an expository footnote explaining the background behind such unfamiliar references and esoteric inputs. On-the-spot untranslatability of certain inscrutable allusions should not be viewed as a dysfunctionality of interpretation, in so far as it is a facility accessible only to translation. No allowance ought to be made for coming up with a poorly translated text or for not coming to terms with obscure linguistic constructs. The dictates of interpretation militate that an interpreter get used to performing in a stressful, if not strangulating, lebensraum. Translators have plenty of time to mull over their stuff. Yet, interpreters do not have the luxury of a relaxed atmosphere. Translators can leisurely access dictionaries, the web search engine, references, colleagues…

Viewed as a creative doozy¹⁴ and a highly demanding profession, interpretation is not for timorous buck-passers, or subdued defeatists given to pessimistic resignation. Rather, it is to be undertaken by the daring, the venturesome and the aggressive. It is not confined to structured settings. It adds a touch of style, a flair which varies from interpreter to interpreter to enrich rendition. It is for those who unhesitatingly call a spade a spade in no uncertain terms. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago, the shifty, the mercurial, vigilant rascal, described once in Newby’s novel The Picnic at Sakkara¹⁵ as the worst character in the English literature could have been an outstanding interpreter, but a mediocre translator, if at all. Interpretation is not for the hesitant, the timid such as Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, that meditative scholar of Wittenberg, or the diffident, the pusillanimous as Tess of the D’ Urbervilles, a downtrodden helpless countryside factotum and a victim of social convention and abominable class self-righteousness. Both Hamlet and Tess taxed the patience of spectators and readers alike, despite the latter’s warranted empathy with

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