Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Chinese Translations of The Arabian Nights

Rui Zhang, a student at Boston University, has been kind enough to share with the blog her paper on the Chinese versions of the Nights and their variances. Rui recently took a course at BU on the Nights taught by Professor Margaret Litvin.

I've uploaded the paper to Scribd. To read it full screen click the button in the top right corner of the document 'toggle full screen.'

Chinese Translations - Final

Friday, September 18, 2009

what time were the tales told

The question of when the stories of the Nights were "officially" told by "Shahrazad" and who she them to who seems contentious and different in most every version of the Nights and is an interesting aside that I notice as I'm studying them and perhaps will come back to if time warrants in the future.

In the last section of Burton's Supplemental Nights vol. 1 which mostly seems to contain stories from the Breslau edition of the Nights Burton writes in a footnote:

"1 The Bresl. Edit. (xi. 318-21) seems to assume that the tales were told in the early night before the royal pair slept. This is no improvement; we prefer to think that the time was before peep of day when Easterns usually awake and have nothing to do till the dawn-prayer" (250).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Murukami & the Nights

A friend gave me a copy of Haruki Murukami's book Kafka on the Shore which is a great read if you haven't read it or any Murukami. It was a gift because the friend enjoys Murukami (not because of the references below).

The main character (Kafka Tamura) is a teenaged boy in contemporary Japan who, among many other bizarre events, runs away from home and spends time reading all day in a small private library in the suburbs.

Sometimes when you study something you see it everywhere just because you are reading things into things or are trying to fit everything into your thesis (when you study psychology you swear you have all of the mental illnesses you read about or when you read Marx you see everything as a class conflict...! for example).

But what if it really is everywhere?

In Murukami, Kafka begins browsing the library's collection, reflecting in a sense the larger literary points that the narrative weaves:

"When I open them, most of books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages - a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.

Finally I decide on a multivolume set, with beautiful covers, of the Burton translation of The Arabian Nights, pick out one volume, and take it back to the reading room. I've been meaning to read this book" (36).

- Kafka then engages with a character named Oshima and they talk about hermaphrodites (something Burton also brings up several times throughout his Nights) before Kafka returns to his book.

"Back in the reading room I return to 'The Tale of Abu-l-Hasan, the Wag,' but my mind wanders away from the book. Male/male, male/female, and female/female?" (37).

This means that Kafka is reading Burton's volume one of his Supplemental Nights, and no, I'm not that nerdy, I just happen to have read this story yesterday, and yes, it is all strange coincidence.

What is interesting (among many other things) here is that the narrator refers to the story title that is not the Burton title. Burton's title of this story is "The Sleeper and the Waker." In a footnote in his main Nights Burton does mention the story by this exact title but it is in reference to Lane:

"Lane (ii. 352) here introduces, between Nights cclxxi. and ccxc., a tale entitled in the Bresl. Edit. (iv. 134) “The Sleeper and the Waker,” i.e. the sleeper awakened; and he calls it: The Story of Abu-l-Hasan the Wag. It is interesting and founded upon historical-fact; but it can hardly be introduced here without breaking the sequence of The Nights. I regret this the more as Mr. Alexander J. Cotheal-of New York has most obligingly sent me an addition to the Breslau text (iv. 137) from his Ms. But I hope eventually to make use of it."

(this footnote comes in Burton's 271st Night)

I wonder what the case is here, is Murukami being clever by putting the Lane title in the Burton book? Or is it a mistake? If anyone has the original Japanese and can tell me if the title of this story is "The Story of Abu-l-Hasan the Wag" in Murukami's book please let me know, though I can't really see the English translator of Murukami choosing this title if Murukami wrote "The Sleeper and the Waker."

Later, after a few episodes in his own adventure, Kafka returns to the book:

"I head off to the reading room and back to Arabian Nights. Like always, once I settle down and start flipping pages, I can't stop. The Burton edition has all the stories I remember reading as a child, but they're longer, with more episodes and plot twists, and so much more absorbing that it's hard to believe they're the same. They're full of obscene, violent, sexual, basically outrageous scenes. Like the genie in the bottle they have this sort of vital, living sense of play, of freedom, that common sense can't keep bottled up. I love it and can't let go. Compared to those faceless hordes of people rushing through the train station, these crazy, preposterous stories of a thousand years ago are, at least to me, much more real. How that's possible, I don't know. It's pretty weird" (53).

This is a nice passage and one can't help but imagine the author's voice seeping in through his teenaged character giving voice to, on some level, what reading and stories are all about, let alone in the frame of Burton's Nights, especially reading as a teen and/or young adult, moving away from the childish and yet still dragging it with you (or it dragging you) into adulthood and more serious concerns.

There are a few more references (though the whole book is on many levels Murukami's rewrite of what he says Burton's Nights are above):

"I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a movie fadeout, the real world evaporates. I'm alone, inside the world of the story. My favorite feeling in the world" (54).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some Grub Street Reflections

Robert Mack's edition of Arabian Nights' Entertainments allows the reader to see the Nights how they looked to the first English readers as it is a (slightly) edited version of the first "Grub St" English edition which started appearing in England between 1706-1721.

(for a brief history of the Nights see the link - "What is the Arabian Nights" on this blog)

What strikes me as interesting so far is the frame story and how much emphasis it places on the reasons for Scheherazade wanting to marry "Schahriar" (as he is spelled here).

She seems particularly concerned with the future fates of her fellow townswomen, maybe more so than I recall any other version.

The background of Schahriar's unique marriage situation is explained as such:

"The rumor of this unparalleled barbarity occasioned a general consternation in the city, where there was nothing but crying and lamentation. Here a father in tears, and inconsolable for the loss of his daughter; and there tender mothers dreading lest theirs should have the same fate, making the air to resound beforehand with their groans. So that instead of the commendations and blessings which the sultan had hitherto received from his subjects, their mouths were now filled with imprecations against him" (10).

And Scheherazade comes to the rescue:

"I have a design to stop the course of that barbarity which the sultan exercises upon the families of this city. I would dispel those unjust fears which so many mothers have of losing their daughters in such a fatal manner" (10).

She later says "If I perish, my death will be glorious, and if I succeed, I shall do my country an important piece of service" (11).

Burton's edition has these reasons but they are backgrounded behind the necessity of Scheherazade as being next in line due to the lack of any other living marriageable young women:

"and mothers wept and parents fled with their daughters till there remained not in the city a young person fit for carnal copulation" (14)

and Scheherazade wants to "save both sides from destruction" (15), not just the townfolk, putting more of an emphasis on the innocence of Shahryar, that he was acting in some ways rationally given the betrayal of his wife (vs. the Grub Street edition which doesn't give him that much play)...

Another thing that is interesting to me is the set up of the storytelling, in Grub St. Dinarzade wakes her sister up before dawn in order to hear the rest of the story, when dawn comes Scheherazade stops (and promises to resume for her sister the next evening if she lives). Schahriar takes a backseat to the whole thing, kind of creepily listening in the dark and secretly being interested in the stories (vs. being the or a main person who listens and can't wait for the rest of the stories, as is more popularly portrayed).

Burton's has Scheherazade telling stories for the enjoyment of both her sister and her king: "'Tell on,' quoth the King who chanced to be sleepless and restless and therefore was pleased with the prospect of hearing her story" (24).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ali baba book cover

JC has provided the details of this nice looking version of Ali Baba, the book, he says "was published by J.M. Dent & Co. Aldine House, 1895. Illustrations are by H. Granville Fell. It is part of the Bainbury Cross Series of childrens books. It's a small book,9x15 cm, only 63 pages but it has a nice cloth cover with the blind stamped illustration on it. Inside are a number of full and half page illustrations."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“Quest of Scheherazade” update

The Nights related Hollywood (live-action, not animated) film “Quest of Scheherazade” was scheduled to have retired actor Sean Connery in it, which may have changed according to Phil Butler (see link after quote).

"Earlier reports that Sean Connery is to team up with Orlando Bloom and Bollywood’s hottest female lead Celina Jaitley may not be true, but it sure would be nice if they were. Last October, Jaitley said that Connery and Bloom were both signed to star in the upcoming, and highly anticipated “Quest of Scheherazade”, which was scheduled to begin shooting back in January. No official word is out as to who actually will star in the film besides Celina, but Wikipedia and other sources suggest a remote possibility.

Connery, who is by the way this writer’s all time favorite actor (well besides the Duke), has been in retirement since 2003’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Connery, who lives in the Bahamas, has not even heard of the project according to his representative Nancy Seltzer. I have actually been stressing wondering how Connery has been, since we have not heard from him in so long, but the same reports I am reading confirm his health is actually very good. As for Jaitley, this film will be her first excursion into Hollywood. She is reported to be slated to play an Iranian princess is the film, which with the two other actors mentioned, would be a box office hit from the start."


Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations in English on Arabic-Western Literary Relations, 1902-1997

Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations in English on Arabic-Western Literary Relations, 1902-1997

This list is compiled by the University of Indiana and is a pretty interesting read just to see the sort of angle everyone is taking on the subject of the Arabic/Western literary relationship. Several of the dissertations are Nights related.

Here is the list:

From their website:

"This work lists 433 doctoral dissertations that were written in English on the broadly defined topic of Arabic-Western Literary relations. It attempts to consolidate materials that are otherwise scattered throughout a number of sources. In most cases, the original documents were not reviewed, but every effort was made to be as comprehensive as possible and to verify the accuracy and completeness of each entry. In order to keep the size of the bibliography manageable and its scope and coverage reasonably comprehensive, it was decided to exclude non-English and non-doctoral level theses. In fact, without the development in recent years of online databases that provide reasonably comprehensive coverage of all English language doctoral dissertations, this project would not have been feasible for a single author to undertake in a short time span."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Arabian Nights Themed Improv Comedy

Missed this one but maybe they'll have a repeat performance?

19th August, 2009 -
The Party Quirks take you to the magical and mysterious land of arabia, with a thousand tales and sand dunes riding the comedy camel all the way! Keep your lamp-rubbing hands ready!!

The "Party Quirks" are a comedy troupe in Pakistan.

Thanks to Irfan for passing this on!

More on the troupe: