I’ve happened on a nice blog in the last few days, called Arabic Literature (in English), which is well worth a look. My eye was caught by a splendid, very short, piece about a man – Elliott Colla – who started life as an American Republican Christian Zionist, learned Arabic for his work and found himself seduced by the language, educated by Palestinian friendships and driven to translate. He was, as he puts it, ‘deprovincialised’ by the process. Colla is no longer a Republican and no longer a Christian Zionist.
I like deprovincialisation as a metaphor for the process of growing-up. We all start life as provincial, as receptacles of received wisdom, Nature’s little conservatives – and we change at different speeds. There are rebels, born questioners, who deprovincialise themselves explosively, often in anger, spurning what their parents, teachers and elders tell them. There are those for whom it takes longer, a road from the provinces to the city that is full of surprises, reconsiderations, rethinkings and flashes of insight. And there are those – far, far too many – who languish all their lives in the provinces of the mind, unprepared to think, unwilling to listen, terrified of change, mired in self-righteousness. We all know many of them.
The second group, those who have to struggle to deprovincialise themselves, are the interesting ones. They look honestly at themselves and the attitudes and assumptions they are born into, and they ask questions. Slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes with the sharp shock of re-birth, they reach unexpected and uncomfortable conclusions. Often they write about what they have found, leaving their work as signposts on the road from the provinces to the metropolis. Elliott Colla is one of them.
And while on ArabLit (as it calls itself) and scanning the back posts I also found this useful short survey of Moroccan literature in translation.