What fascinated and haunted Farah Antun so much about Friedrich Nietzsche that he dedicated a series of newspaper articles to introduce this philosopher to an Arabic-speaking audience between 1906 and 1909? And what was Nietzsche’s afterlife among 20th-century Arab intellectuals? Why did Ernst Bloch find it expedient to invoke Ibn Sina in his critique of Dialectical Materialism of 1973, “Avicenna and the Aristotelian Left?”
These two sets of questions are part of a larger research project that investigates the way Critical Theory – broadly defined – was affected by 20th-century developments in the Middle East, most notably in Palestine, and how the 20th-century German intellectual tradition influenced intellectual currents across the Mediterranean. Drawing on my previous work on “Kafka and Arabs” (2012) and “Arendt and Arab political Culture” (2013), as well as colleagues’ work on the Arab Darwin (M. ElShakry, 2015), Freud (O.Elshakry, 2017), and Sartre (di Capua, 2012, 2018), I propose to read European and Arab intellectual history in one dialectical framework of cultural mobility and multidirectional translation to ask where, how and when did such diverse thinkers as Nietzsche and Bloch, among many others pass in and out of intellectual circulation in the Arab world.