Fuad Rifka was born in Syria in 1930 and moved to Lebanon with his Christian parents in the 1940s. He studied philosophy in Beirut and obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Tübingen in 1965 with a dissertation on the aesthetics of Martin Heidegger. Since 1966, he has been teaching philosophy at the Lebanese American University Beirut. In addition, he has spent numerous semesters as a visiting lecturer and scholar in the USA, Great Britain, Italy and Germany.
Up to now, German philosophers have held a prominent place in his syllabus. His ardent interest in German poets and thinkers came about accidentally more than forty years ago at the Beirut Goethe Institute, when he discovered an English edition of Rilke´s ´Duino Elegies´. This volume of poetry was to have such a lasting influence on him that he developed the urgent wish "to translate German poetry into Arabic, in order to make it known throughout the Arab world".
Rendering contemporary poetry into Arabic has also been the declared aim of the group associated with the avant-garde poetry magazine ´Shi’r´, which Rifka co-founded with Yusuf al-Khan, Adonis, and others in 1957. ´Shi’r´ aimed at nothing less than the liberation of the classical Arabic poetry from its subjection to strict rules of form and content, and the admission of freer, more experimental poetry.
The first volume of Rifka´s own poetry was published in 1961, followed by further poems and essays, as well as translations from German and English. In 1993, a translation of the Bible was issued in which he had participated. This translation resulted in a volume of 365 Bible stories for children retold by Rifka.
Throughout his lyrical work, Fuad Rifka perpetually searches for the ´absolute poem´. He radically abstains from ornamentation. In short, concise lines he conveys both his love of nature and his sense of transitoriness. Using deliberately simple language, stripped to its essentials, he attempts to penetrate the depths of meaning beyond actual words. Or, as Rifka himself puts it: "In all my poetry I have been writing on one single poem – to achieve greater and greater clarity."
In 2002, "Das Tal der Rituale" (t: The valley of rituals) was published, the dual language selection of his poetry of the last fifteen years. For his Arabic translations of German poetry including Goethe, Hölderlin, Novalis, Rilke, and Trakl, Fuad Rifka was awarded the Friedrich-Gundolf-Prize in 2001 by the German Academy for Language and Poetry, which also selected him for membership one year later. Fuad Rifka lives in Beirut.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)
Friedrich Gundolf Prize of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung
German Federal Cross of Merit on ribbon
International Festival of Literature Berlin
Interview on Qantara
At Home in German Thought