I believe that it is more difficult to discern if a film adaptation of The Arabian Nights is “good” or “bad”, especially compared to literature. In Dramatic Literature, when analyzing a script we always ask what we call “the Passover Question”. Traditionally on Passover, a child asks “why is this night different from all over other nights?”. In turn, when approaching a script, we must ask, “why this play now?” and why is this play important for this moment?”. I found this much easier to achieve when reading literary adaptations of the Nights. In trying to understand the significance of that piece, I could refer to the historical time-period of the novel or the past of the author. However, for the movies, I cannot answer the Passover Question. It seems that major motion picture studios created many of these films simply for the entertainment value. In that sense, I struggle to gain a comprehension of whether an adaptation is good. Can I consider a movie adaptation of the Nights to be successful if it simply entertains me?
While reading Damascus Nights, the significance of the numbers intrigued me. Numbers are an obvious theme in the novel because, the fairy tells Salim that he will get his voice back “if you receive seven unique gifts within three months, then a young fairy will take my place and stand by your side” (25). From that moment on, the novel is obsessed with the number 7: his seven friends take him on seven journeys, encourage him to drink seven different types of wine and ultimately tell him seven stories. We see a similar reliance on numbers, particularly seven, in the Nights as well. For example, Sinbad goes on seven journeys. From its original title, One Thousand and One Nights, I know that the numbers in the text are not accidental. For example, in an Arab context, “one thousand and one” means more than the ordinal number, it means infinity. So, I then looked to Damascus Nights, to uncover the hidden meaning behind the numbers. The number 7 has great significance in Islam. For example, in Mecca, pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times.
I know the Islamic significance of seven is too great to be accidental but I am struggling to understand what role it plays in a novel originally written in German. Does he just choose seven because it has Arab significance or is the audience suppose to understand something about the story on a greater level because of the number 7? Does it add some divine authority to the novel? Does it provide cultural authenticity? Also, why does the fairy only give Salim 21 words? – seems fairly random. As I continue to think about Damascus Nights, I am still pondering these questions.
In the debate, we discussed the difference between translations and adaptations. As team Haddawy, we treated the word “adaptation” with a sense of disdain and slight superiority, as authenticity was our leading principle for understanding the Nights. Now, in class, we have moved on from translation to adaptation. These adaptations are particularly tricky for me because I struggle with how to look at them at a critical angle.
This begs the question for me: What makes a good adaptation? Does one judge an adaptation by its commitment to the original work, particularly in its styles and themes? Or should one forget about the original work when reading the adaptation> Initially, part of me felt that authenticity is also important in analyzing adaptations. Therefore, when I read the castle of AlHambra and Rip Van Winkle, I could not stop searching for direct connections to the Nights. I found certain Nights themes in these adaptations, such as magic (particularly underground passageways) and wealth. However, once I read the stories with this approach, I felt a void. I realized I had not completely appreciated the work because I was focusing on something beyond its scope. I now know that when I finish reading other adaptations including Damascus Nights, I will analyze it as its own work first and then, after I finished that, I can look at it in terms of the Nights. I no longer want to fit the work into a mold I’ve created.
Firstly, I enjoyed the debate immensely. It was definitely one of my favorite Arabian Night’s classes! While I entered the debate process knowing that I would have a strong understanding of Haddawy’s translation, I did not expect to learn so much about my predecessors in the process.
One of the most difficult parts for my team was narrowing down the aspects of Haddawy’s translation that made it superior. We only had about five minutes to defend his translation, so we could not waste a second of it. Therefore, we had to pick a common thread that guided our argument: we chose equivalency and neutrality. In turn, it was very interesting to see what our fellow debaters viewed as the predominant aspect of their translation that made it valuable.
For example, for Galland, it was interesting that the group discussed his desire to make the Nights accessible for a Western audience. My original impression of Galland was that he Europeanized the Nights for commercial purposes. However, it was interesting that the group really drove home that he formed his translation in this way to introduce the West to the East. In this sense, I began to see Galland’s translation as well-intentioned. We still live in a world in which the West thinks its the center of civility and culture. I can only imagine this idea was heightened in the 18th century before any real semblance of globalization. Therefore, introducing the West to culture and entertainment that was not their own most likely opened some eyes. For that, I commend Galland.
So, while I don’t think the debate really changed my mind. It definitely gave me a sense of appreciation for each of the translators.
I admit, of all the translations, I found Lane most difficult to read for a number a reasons. To begin, I read his introduction first, so I had a bad taste in my mouth when I approached his work because I felt that he misunderstood the purpose of the Nights. I initially thought that Lane’s aim to teach Westerners about Arab culture (or how he perceived it) was misguided because the Nights was created to entertain. In addition, I found most of the introduction incredibly pretentious and sometimes tedious.
Therefore, I read “The Story of Jullanar of the Sea” with a less than open mind, which I now regret. I wrote off his complex word choice as just part of his snobbery. However, through our class discussion, I began to have a soft spot for Lane. Mainly, when I compared his work to that of Galland’s. In class, we discussed the fact that for many centuries the West fetishized the Middle East as a fantastical and barbaric place. Galland wrote in his dedication that he translated the Nights with diversion in mind. As a result of Galland’s commercial intensions for translating the Nights, he can sometimes fall into the Western trap of fetishizing the East.
I now feel that in translating the Nights, Lane made a honest attempt in understanding Arab culture. Even though the results are sometimes far from perfect, the reader can tell he tried to immerse himself in many aspects of the Middle East, even some of the less sexy parts, such as the language and Islam. I began to appreciate that in his introduction, while he did so pompously, he did alert the reader to the fact he tried to translate the Arabic as accurately as the language would allow. With this in mind, I began to lighten up and analyze Lane in the context of when he wrote his translation. This was a time, before the globalized world, when little information about the East was available to Westerners. Therefore, I commend Lane for making his readers know that the culture is inseparable from these wildly entertaining stories.
Reading and analyzing Chraibi’s article helped me gain more respect for Galland’s work on the Arabian Nights. Many of the other others we read dismissed Galland’s version as corrupt and inauthentic. In Jorge Borges’ article, he said Galland’s translation of the Nights is the farthest from the original. Originally, I agreed with these skeptical sources
However, Chraibi began to break down the sources of Galland’s nights. He showed that Galland’s stories do come from an authentic Arab source, particularly from Pharaonic Egypt. He also discussed Hanna, the Syrian Monk, who told Galland these stories. However, more importantly, Chraibi notes that, other than traces from other literary traditions, there is no written Arab source for Galland’s stories. Therefore, it truly was Galland’s creation.
This idea gave me more respect for Galland because, for the first time, I saw him as another contributor of the Nights. The Nights does not belong to anyone in particular. In fact, it has its traces in the Indian oral tradition. In fact, what makes the Nights so special is its overlap of cultures. Therefore, while Galland’s stories do not exist in the original manuscript, I believe that it still has its place in the story of the Nights. Primarily because no one can answer the question of who owns the rights to the stories.
In every page of One Thousand and One Nights, the text worships language. After all, words act as the most fundamental building block in creating a story and many characters in One Thousand and One Nights only survive on the condition of narrating a captivating tale. However, viewing the Nights simply as a series of folktales does a disservice to the text. From the evident care instilled in each word, it becomes clear to the reader that various translators and scribes that contributed to the Nights intended for it to be read as a work of literary merit. Tracing humor in the Nights emphasizes the text’s literary nature because the authors embedded a lot of its comedy into the language, such as in “The Story of the Porter and the Three Ladies” when during the bathing scene, the revelers laugh about the precise wording of genitalia. However, with this view, “The Story of the Hunchback” initially seems in discord with the tone of the rest of the Nights because the humor is hugely physical. Once I traced the progression of the humor in the “The Story of the Hunchback”, I saw that the active nature of the comedy does not act as an entertaining diversion from the text. Instead, it serves as the physical manifestation of prevailing literary trends in the Nights, particularly repetition and reliability of narrator. Therefore, even the most physical of comedy serves to underscore the text’s greater literary intentions.