Nine Parts of Desire: Translating Arab American Theatre into Arabic

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On the evening of May 13th, Dr. Dalia Basiouny, Adjunct Associate Professor of Drama and Criticism at October 6 University, has delivered a talk entitled Nine Parts of Desire: Translating Arab American Theatre into Arabic. The talk was part of the “In Translation Series,” and took place in the Oriental hall of the American University in Cairo to a wide audience acclaim. Dr. Basiouny was invited to deliver this talk in recognition of her bold, gifted and meticulous translation of Heather Raffo’s play 9 Parts of Desire into Arabic. Dr. Basiouny’s work on the play started very early on during the time she resided in Manhattan, New York where she was introduced to Raffo. Strong bonds of friendship grew between Heather Raffo, an American playwright from Iraqi origin and Basiouny that later led to their artistic cooperation. Basiouny played an active role in mentoring Raffo in matters that pertain to Islamic religious observances that bestowed a sense of enrichment and authenticity to the work. The play features nine female protagonists that stand for nine different representations of Iraqi women “being torn into many different pieces,” as Raffo herself comments on her work. Such roles were often played by a single performer, Raffo herself primarily as she managed to delineate these women’s subjectivities across a spectrum of subjugation. The play reflects on questions of identity and how these women’s lives and their myriad dialects and accents, intersect with happenings in Iraq in the wake of the Anglo American intervention. Iraq has drastically changed and so did the play to accommodate the shift of awareness that war brought to Iraqis and to the Arab world. Confrontational to say the least, the play represented an overdue wake up call for American Politicians to deal with the moral issues of war; a question that Raffo has constantly declined to respond to. Dr. Basiouny elaborately traced the different stages the play progressed through to reach the 101 version in question. She reflected on the challenges she faced during the process of translation namely her choice of linguistic register. Her choice of classical Arabic as a linguistic medium was contested but was later deemed a wise decision in order to ensure broader readership of the work. She also introduced some of the characters in the play through brilliant rehearsal reading done by two of her students in both Arabic and English. The lecture was further enriched with a relatively detailed question and answer session that exceeded 20 minutes in which members of the audience have shared their comments with Dr. Basiouny as well as their enthusiasm and appreciation of her informed translation. The session was very well attended by faculty and students from the American University in Cairo, Cairo University and 6 October University. Dr. Basiouny’s work is not only a labor of love but also a product of ardent application and adamant belief that communication across cultures is possible.