Lecture: Khayri Hammad and Hannah Arendt in Cairo: Translating Liberal Thought in Revolutionary Times – by Professor Jens Hanssen

Studies on Egypt and the Middle East in Germany

Jens Hanssen on Khayri Hammad and Hannah Arendt

Jens Hanssen on Khayri Hammad and Hannah Arendt

How do ideas travel through space and history? Which thoughts and concepts have been exchanged and transferred between Europe and Arab countries? Are these concepts received in different ways regarding the cultural and political context? Which role does translation and the translator play in transferring ideas? Professor Jens Hanssen from the University of Toronto discussed these questions in his lecture on “Khayri Hammad and Hannah Arendt in Cairo: Translating Liberal Thought in Revolutionary Times”, which took place on the 17th February 2015 at the Goethe Institut Cairo. The event was jointly organized by the Cairo Office of Freie Universität Berlin, Goethe Institut Cairo, Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and the German Science Center (DWZ).

The focus of the presentation was a translation of Hannah Arendt’s famous book On revolution, written in 1963. The Cairo-based Palestinian writer Khayri Hammad translated the book into Arabic only a year after it was published in English and a year before Arendt’s self-translation into German. The lecture explored the interactions between these texts in the context of President Nasser’s 1,000-Book Project and made inferences about the wider currency of liberal thinkers like Arendt in contemporary Arab thought. “I found fascinating that Arendt used a different language for her writings whether they were published for a German or American audience. Context matters!”, said one of the fifty visitors, following a lively debate between the speaker and the attendees. “The barrier of language still plays an important role and hinders the exchange of ideas. There is a need of more translations from Arabic to foreign languages and the other way around”, concluded a student on literature after the talk. The debate was chaired by Dr. Florian Kohstall, head of Freie Universität Berlin Cairo Office and Stefan Winkler, coordinator of the German-Arab Transformation Partnerships Program from the Goethe Institut. Prof. Stefan Leder, the director of the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) introduced the lecture.

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Discussion with Florian Kohstall, Jens Hanssen and Stefan Winkler

Professor Jens Hanssen teaches Arab Civilization, Mediterranean and modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Toronto. He is currently co-editing the OUP Handbook of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African History and two volumes on Arab Thought beyond the Liberal Age. His present research focusses on the intersections between German, Jewish and Arab intellectual histories. It has yielded two articles so far, “Kafka and Arabs”, and “Hannah Arendt and Arab Political Culture”. He is a former associate of the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB). Two articles related to his presentation can be found here:


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