Holt, Elizabeth M.

Robinson Crusoe's Watch

This article reads Buṭrus al-Bustānī’s 1861 translation of Daniel Defoe's 1719 Robinson Crusoe into Arabic in Beirut alongside Karl Marx's contemporaneous critique of the popularity of Robinsonades among British political economists. Al-Bustānī’s translation of Robinson Crusoe sought to synch Arabic up with a global age of double-column bookkeeping, the telegraph, the steamship, and the newspaper, and in turn supplant the Indian Ocean stories of Sindbad the Sailor among Beirut's merchants. The latter story cycle constitutes Arabic literary capital appropriated, enumerated, and rendered exchangeable by the new novel form in the serialized English press of the mercantilist era. In Capital, Vol. 1, in the chapter “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,” Marx represents Robinson not as a well-armed slave trader, but rather as endowed with only a watch (unbeknownst to Defoe), paper, pen, and ink. With these tools Marx's Robinson enacts the theory of value in the time of factory labor and the incomplete abolition of slavery. Al-Bustānī—like Faraḥ Anṭūn forty years later—confronts this unevenly syncopated, up-to-the-minute temporality in Arabic, as imperial finance reshapes the resources of the Eastern Mediterranean and migrant laborers depart its shores to work in textile mills in Argentina, Brazil, and the United States.

Full text

Alle Publikationen