September 23, 2023

The Intersection of West and East

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A Conversation with Saudi Thinker Saad Al-Bazai on Renaissance, Modernity and Translation

Saad bin Abdul Rahman Al-Bazai (born 1953) is a Saudi thinker, critic, translator and lecturer in comparative English literature at King Saud University in Riyadh. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from King Saud University in 1974, a Master’s in English literature from Purdue University in Indiana in 1978, and a PhD in English and American literature from the same institution in 1983. His doctoral thesis focused on “Literary Orientalism in Anglo-American Literature in the 19th Century”.

In addition to his academic work, Al-Bazai is well-known, both in the Arab region and internationally, as a critic, thinker and translator. For five decades, he has worked tirelessly to serve humankind and Arab culture through involvement in a vast range of intellectual, literary, critical and translation endeavours, and he shows no sign of slowing down. His approach to expanding knowledge and understanding through immersing himself in diverse philosophies and schools of thought, and reformulating his thinking in response, shows itself in the uniqueness of his writing, and in his cultural and intellectual work. Furthermore, he recognises the importance of translation, its value, and its role in fostering openness and cultural exchange among peoples.

Al-Bazai has held a number of prestigious positions. These include membership of the Saudi Shura Council (on which he has sat since 2009), editor-in-chief of the English-language Riyadh Daily newspaper, editor-in-chief of the second edition of the Arab Encyclopedia, membership of the Scientific Council of King Saud University, presidency of the Literary Club in Riyadh, and membership of the board of the International Funds Supporting Culture at UNESCO. He has participated in more than 50 regional and international conferences and forums, chaired the judging committee for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (known as the Arabic Booker) in 2014, and has published articles in a number of Arabic and English-language newspapers and magazines.

He has also authored more than 15 books in Arabic and several in English. His 2007 book Al-Mukawin Al-Yahoodi Fi Al-Hadarah Al-Gharbiyah (The Jewish Component in Western Civilization) sparked widespread debate and garnered significant attention from readers. His other titles include: Moqarabah Al-Akhar: Moqaranat Adabiyyah (Approaching the Other: Literary Comparisons), Istiqbal Al-Akhar: Al-Gharb Fi Al-Naqd Al-Arabi Al-Hadeeth (Receiving the Other: The West in Modern Arabic Criticism), and Qalaq Al-Ma’rifah: Ishkaliyat Fikriyyah Wa Thaqafiyyah (The Anxiety of Knowledge: Intellectual and Cultural Issues). In addition, he has produced more than 70 published articles and peer-reviewed papers in Arabic and English. In 2017, Al-Bazai received the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts and Literature for his work in the field of literary criticism.

We are privileged to present an exclusive interview with such an esteemed thinker and critic. The full transcript follows below:

Q- From your doctoral thesis on Orientalism in European literature to your 2022 book Ma’alim Al-Hadathah (Landmarks of Modernity), you seem to be continuously engaged in the quest for intellectual discovery, renewal and enlightenment across a wide range of disciplines. Looking back now, how do you characterise your vast and impressive body of work?

I continue in my effort to develop a more thorough and positive critique of Western civilization. By that I mean a critical analysis of the values and concepts that informed its development without falling into the trap of simply ignoring the great achievements that the West has offered the world over the centuries. At the same time, I remain devoted to Arabic culture, exploring its relations with the Other, particularly the West, and encouraging better understanding and more meaningful ties to non-Western cultures in Asia and Africa.

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