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Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Iconic Arab thinker Georges Tarabichi dies at 77

Tarabichi is best known for his five-volume book entitled ‘Critiquing the Critique of the Arab Reason’

Mohammed Saad , Thursday 17 Mar 2016
Georges Tarabichi
Georges Tarabichi (Photo: Public Domain)
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Renowned Syrian thinker Georges Tarabichi died late on Wednesday 16 March at the age of 77, leaving behind a huge legacy of contributions in more than 200 authored and translated books that were a critical part of Arab thought and debates on Islam, modernism and rethinking Arab reason.

He enriched the Arabic literary world with his translations of the gems and seminal works of Western philosophy.

Tarabichi was born in Aleppo to a religious Christian family in 1939 and graduated from Damascus University with a BA in Arabic and a Masters degree in education.

He worked for one year as a director for Damascus Radio in 1963, later moving to Lebanon. After the Lebanese civil war broke out in the 1970s, he settled in Paris until his death.

The author of The Problematics of Arab Reason is best known for his project presenting a critique of the 'Critique of Arab Reason,' a project that took over 20 years of work and was published in a five-volume book titled 'Critiquing the Critique of the Arab Reason.'

In the book, he engaged in a dialogue with attempts to rethink Arab thought, focusing on the works of Moroccan thinker Mohamed Abed Al-Jabiri's distinction between "irrational Sufi Eastern reason" and "rational Maghrebi (Western Arab) reason," personified by prominent Maghrebi thinker Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) – a thesis that Tarabichi worked hard to refute it in his book The Unity of the Arab Reason.

Though he critiqued Al-Jabiri's works, Tarabichi always spoke of his debt to Al-Jabiri, saying that he "transferred my thinking from the Western ideology to the Arab and Islamic legacy (…) He enchanted me with the problematic issues he raised (…) I wish if I had continued writing everything I wanted to write about his project during his life (…) it is disturbing to be in a dialogue with someone who departed this life (…) He moved me from ideology to epistemology ."     

Syrian thinker Yassin Al-Haj Saleh mourned the death of Tarabichi, saying "Georges Tarabichi is dead, the Syrian thinker, the copious writer and translator in a wide range of fields and one of the masters of our generation."

The chief editor of Al-Qahera, a cultural newspaper issued from Cairo, Sayed Mahmoud, described the death of Tarabichi as "one of the great losses for my generation, who was fascinated with his books and his articles in Al-Hayatt newspaper."

For Mahmoud, Tarabichi intertwined literary critique with psychoanalysis.

He argues that Tarabichi's works on Egyptian literary giant Naguib Mahfouz are crucial to understanding Mahfouz's works.

"His relationship with Al-Jabiri and debates over Arab thought were an authentic contribution to Arab culture, and I adore his reading of the works of Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi, where he exposed the failings of her literary discourse," Mahmoud said.

In an amusing article published in 2012 upon the request of Ma'rifa Magazine, Tarabichi wrote a list of "15 failures" in his life. The first was being born to a "normal" family, the second was having a name that indicated his religious background.

The list also included his failure to fluently speak French in spite of all his translations from French to Arabic, as well as his failure to become "rich" despite his authoring and translating 200 books.

"I never liked being rich for the sake of being rich," he said. "I wanted to have a humble income that allowed me to give my full time to writing instead of having to write journalistic articles here and there and to be able to afford a life."

The last failing, he wrote, was to list a 15th failure of his.

Tarabichi translated many of the iconic books of European philosophy, including the works of Hegel, Sartre, Freud and Simone de Beauvoir.

He was influenced by Freud and Marx and applied their methods and analysis in his reading of Arab literature.

He was also the first to translate Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Last February, he wrote a lengthy article entitled 'Six Stations in My Life.'

He said in the article, which is more like a short biography, that "while I'm at the end of my life, and after six decades of accompanying the pen, whose company I preferred over any other – except for my wife and daughter – I find myself pausing and returning to six stations in my life that had a conclusive role in writing what I wrote and determining the direction I moved in, and even translating what I translated."

In the article, Tarabichi also reflects on his religious upbringing and exiting that very Christian phase of his life to know more about Islam, and to know about Freud, Marxism and leftist thought, his relation with Al-Jabiri and his recent writings. 

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