Anna Ziajka Stanton is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic Literature at The Pennsylvania State University. Her current book project interrogates the multivalent processes of her own translation praxis to open up a critical zone for rethinking the figure of the Arabic/English translator, present and past, through the theoretical intersections of ethics, affects, and philosophies of embodied reading. She is also interested in mapping how 21st-century Arabic literary prizes are reshaping the ways that contemporary Arabic novels emerge into, and circulate within, today’s world literary marketplace. Publications include “A Whole Imaginary World: The Incomparable Fiction of Waguih Ghali” in the Journal of Arabic Literature (2015) and the English translation of Lebanese author Hilal Chouman’s novel Limbo Beirut (2016).
Adab as Theory: Toward a Corporeal Ethos of Reading
This conference asks us to theorize adab in its many permutations and usages, trans-historically and in full recognition of its interdisciplinary assemblages as a word that conjoins literature and manners, the poetic and the ethical. To bring theory and adab into conversation in this way generates new possibilities not only for the study of the latter, but for literary theory as a set of critical apparatuses figured to help us think literature within a variety of philosophical and formal frameworks. If adab could be refashioned as a theoretical hinge for exposing certain previously overlooked elements of literary texts and the routes through which they circulate, what would it reveal? What new epistemological constellations would be rendered intelligible through the induction of this Arabic signifier into the canon of literary theoretical terminology? To consider a text as adab, I propose, is to explore how this text operates at the boundaries between literature and proper comportment, between the aesthetic and the affective. Thus unsettling the division between the linguistic and the physical, a theory of adab invites us to attend to how a singular work of fiction habituates the reader into modes of being and behaving that enact ethics through embodied practices, à la the Aristotelian notion of ἦθος (ethics) as human potentiality materialized in certain (correct) human activities. Moving away from the equation of taʾdīb with tahdhīb (educating, refining), “adabization” (taʾdīb) is recast as a mode of becoming receptive to the ethical possibilities that literature offers, not as part of a civilizing project of intellectual cultivation but as a series of irreducibly corporeal events that a theory of adab interrogates and makes visible.