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Translating Justice: between Al-Farabi and Derrida

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Hiba Ghanem
Publication date2/07/2015
Number of pages246
Awarding Institution
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Inspired by Derridean deconstruction, contemporary translation studies hold that translation is a process of transformation that is characterized by indeterminacy. However, little attention has been given to the political aspects of that transformation. By exploring this aspect, this thesis argues that translation is a transformation within sovereignty from a divine to a more secular model that is guided by justice. By offering a comparative reading of Derrida’s and the medieval Turkish/Persian philosopher’s, al-Farabi’s, works on sovereignty and translation, it holds that the switch in the paradigms of sovereignty from a Derridean kingly cape to an al-Farabian imam implies a change in the dynamics of translating sovereignty that is aesthetic in nature.
The research starts by exploring the political and theological implications implicit in the translation of sovereignty as expounded in Derrida’s ‘Des Tours de Babel’. Adopting Derrida’s image of the kingly cape turned into a wedding gown, it argues that the translation of sovereignty is an aesthetic shift from a divine-kingly model to a more secular one. The thesis, then, explores traces of this shift within al-Farabi’s model of the Virtuous City where the weeds, dissenting citizens, contest the imam’s logocentric sovereignty in an affective and imaginative medium. Both models will be shown to highlight a reverse structure within the ceremonial aspect of power, which Agamben denotes as ‘acclamation’ or ‘glory’. Acclamation’s reverse role in the translation of sovereignty, the thesis argues, best figures in the political cartoons on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. These cartoons illustrate how contestation becomes a creative event of redefining sovereignty that is negotiated in terms of language and image. The Egyptian protestors demonstrate how language escapes the fatalism of its role in mediating meaning to acquire the role of poetic mediation in linguistic play. In poetic mediation, the thesis argues, sovereignty is translated within a collectively-shared imaginative construct that a creative form of justice guides.