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The Charles Bernheimer Prize Citations 2005

2005 Prize Winner:

Shaden M. Tageldin. Disarming Words: Reading (Post)Colonial Egypt's Double Bond to Europe. (Berkeley 2004, Co-chairs Lydia H. Liu and Muhammad Siddiq)

Dr. Tageldin's dissertation draws on many core strengths of Comparative Literature studies. Probing the language of texts written in diverse cultural traditions, pursuing her inquiries in three different national archives, juxtaposing texts in new relationships that challenge dominant views and then theorizing the driving force behind those relationships, she sheds fresh light on the complicated transactions of empire-building and resistance to empire.

French, English, and Arabic texts dating from Napoleon to the mid-twentieth century come under her scrutiny, and she reads them with a keen appreciation of idiom, context, ambiguities, and cultural connotations. Rejecting impositionist models of colonial encounter, with their focus on the colonizer's discourse, she develops instead a dynamic paradigm that emphasizes the response of Egyptian writers and translators to proffered examples of European culture. Fascination as well as hostility is involved, love as well as hate. Citing numerous Egyptian and European texts that use sexual imagery to express the meeting of colonizer and colonized, Dr. Tageldin theorizes a psychodynamics of colonial seduction that works through stages of attraction, repulsion, emulation and covert aggression, and that culminates in a linguistic ìcopulationî of inextricable - but still unequal - cultural identities.

Beginning with a Napoleonic proclamation calculated to lure its audience into sympathetic identification with the French (a proclamation whose Arabic translation depicts the invader as a true Muslim rescuing Egyptians from foreign rule), Dr. Tageldin follows the evolution of this seductive relationship throughout succeeding generations of writers and translators. Sexualized imagery is not restricted to British and French rhetoric of conquest. Arabic texts celebrate the attractions of European literature at the same time that they interrogate its relationship to Egyptian cultural identity. A maqama narrative by the scholar and poet Hasan al-cAttar describes an Egyptian protagonist who becomes erotically attracted to a group of young French soldier-scholars who quote Arabic poetry, and he begins to imagine himself in their position. Dr. Tageldin shows that the translator Rifaca Rafic al-Tahtawi conveys French literary tradition to Egyptian readers in an Arabic that is increasingly ìexchangeableî with French; and that Muhammad al-Sibaci, prolific translator of English literature and admirer of Thomas Carlyle, helps to naturalize European world views as part of Arabic thought. She argues further that the success of this cultural seduction - symbolized by the Europeanized Egyptian women of Lawrence Durrell's Mountolive and Najib Mahfuz's Midaqq Alley - also foreshadows its failure: it prepares a new stage of postcolonial literature in which the earlier colonial seductions are recognized, understood, and surpassed.

Disarming Words: Reading (Post)Colonial Egypt's Double Bond to Europe introduces new material and a fresh perspective into important questions of literary and cultural history. Her topic is timely and significant, and she has carried out her project with verve and originality.

2005 Bernheimer Prize Committee:
Sarah Lawall, University of Massachusetts
Katie Trumpener, Yale University