Sunday, April 22, 2012

Revising a Book Chapter as a Short(ish) Talk

I'm giving a talk on Thursday at the Kevorkian Center here at NYU that will hopefully (in the newly-approved sense of the word) lead to my becoming affiliated with the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. It's the first time that I'm giving a talk based on a longer work that I've had to cut down and re-edit as a talk rather than being purpose-written as a talk based on a smaller project, or even just a talk based on something written that was just about the right length. The talk's not short — 45 minutes! — but it's still less time than one would need to simply read aloud a whole chapter of a book aloud.

And that's what the longer work in question is: the first chapter of the book I am writing roughly based on my dissertation work. That chapter concerns a study of three texts in which the progenitor of a translation workshop writes about reading the Hebrew Bible in Arabic translation. The text that I discuss second in the chapter is the one that is most exciting to me; it's freshest in my mind and it's also the least studied of three very understudied texts. And so I thought I'd pull it out and present that text. But as I started to do that, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to present that text without doing more rewriting and reframing than I have time for between now and Thursday. My first, brief reaction was to see this as a failure — of my ability to explain my work to a more general audience succinctly, to edit my own work, what-have-you. But all of a sudden, I realized that, while this was a problem for the talk, it was actually really good news as far as the book is concerned. It means that each section of the chapter builds upon the previous one and that the whole chapter coheres: that you can't just pull out one chunk and have it stand on its own. The argument is complex and requires all the pieces to be in place.

The talk will be fine. And finally, I'm feeling cautiously optimistic about the book, too.

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