Modern Intellectual History 17 (2):443-466 (2020)

Two years ago, without any apparent explanation, a little-known Egyptian scholar translated Jean-Paul Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew into Arabic. Widely acknowledged as an experimental and highly influential theory of anti-Semitism in the 1960s, Sartre's text had already had a profound, yet indirect, influence on an entire class of left-wing Arab intellectuals who used it in order to figure out their relationship with the colonizer; that is, with their Otherness. Though these intellectuals read Anti-Semite and Jew in French, it still remained one of Sartre's very few works that had never been translated into Arabic. How so? Addressing this question, this article offers a genealogy of non-translation that revisits the accumulative process by which Sartre's text acquired the status of a haunted and, hence, untranslatable text. Situated at the juncture where anti-Semitism, Zionism, and revolutionary Arab politics intersect, the text became entangled in the ethical politics of the conflict and, after the 1967 war, became associated with the collapse of the Arab revolutionary project and with Sartre's betrayal of the Arab cause. Thereafter, the work of leftist intellectuals who had drawn on Sartre to reject anti-Semitism was forgotten, and an anti-Semitic sentiment that rejects the original message of Anti-Semite and Jew slowly settled in. Beyond dissecting the process by which a text becomes haunted, this article also states the need for an original theorization of anti-Semitism that is culturally specific to the Arab world rather than derivative of European experience.
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DOI 10.1017/s1479244318000173
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