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The literature of the corrupt city and the bitter reality .. Do the Arab novelists really write about the "end of the world"?


In his 2008 novel "Utopia," the late Egyptian writer Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq imagined the division of Egyptian society into two classes, one of which lived in a very rich city surrounded by fences and guards on the northern coast, and the other lived in extreme poverty in slums fighting for its residents for food.

Although the literature of the corrupt city (dystopia) - where a corrupt and frightening fictional society lives without moral virtues - has been known in the Western world for a long time, at least since the publication of George Orwell's novel (T: 1984) in the mid-1950s, the last decade has known Arab spread For this kind of literature in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

In her report, published by the British Middle East Eye website, author Lina Munther said that the literary works depicting scenes of a state run by a bureaucracy are so severe that patients with critical conditions must wait in line for official permission for the doctor to treat them, or The spread of a mysterious disease that forms the face in the form of a mass of flesh leaving only two holes from the nose to breathe, and other stories. Such works give a general impression of how some Arab novelists treat the current situation in which they live.

The writer says that Arab writers - who have been disappointed by the failures of the Arab Spring and from renewed indulgences in chaos and authoritarianism - have created a new literary movement in recent times, adopting a classification of corrupt city literature to understand the nightmares that we live in today.

"In fact, these books were adopted by the English-language media, and it also embraced the idea that all of these books were born from the post-revolution scene, and although they deal with future societies, they use metaphorical methods to talk about the current bitter reality of the" Arab world " .

Egyptian literature
The writer points to the association of contemporary corrupt city literature with Egyptian writings to a large extent, and Zina al-Halabi, an assistant professor of Arabic literature at the American University of Beirut, says that even when it comes to Egypt, "It would be incorrect to attribute all of these (pessimistic) writings to the revolution, as If it was a great explosion, and none of the aforementioned would have existed before it. "

Al-Halabi notes that the roots of the current wave of corrupt city literature from Egypt go back a century, to a time when Arab writers - such as the Lebanese Jerji Zidan and the Egyptian Hafez Mahmoud - were trying to imagine the features of an ideal and virtuous society.

The translator and novelist Nael Al-Toukhi Zina Al-Halabi shares the same opinion, and the author of “Women of Karantina” shares with other novels such as “Using Life” by Ahmed Nagy and “Mercury” by Mohamed Rabei in writing literature for the corrupt city to express their frustration with the current conditions of Egypt.

Of these three novels, Mercury's novel only has the feature of darkness that is usually present in this literary genre, and this is shown in the future image that Rabie developed for Cairo as a divided city, the eastern half of which is chaired by an authoritarian group called the Knights of Malta. Much of the novel tells Ahmed Atarid, a policeman who spends his time killing people in a systematic way from a sniper tower, and describes their agonizing stage in painful detail.

Scary saga
On the other hand, the tone of the novel "Using Life" is light and cheerful even though it ended with the end of the world, and the novel caused Nael Al-Toukhi to be imprisoned for nine months, not because the authorities objected to his speculation about a possible conspiracy from above, but because a layman advanced Complaint against the content of the sexually explicit description of the novel.

As for the novel “Women of Karantina”, it appears as an epic, but Al-Toukhi is not satisfied to classify his novel as a novel of literature of the corrupt city, where he says, “I have two problems with this matter. The first is something that Western critics do, because all they have to see are Arabic novels that have been translated To English, but they do not know anything about Arabic literature except for that which has been translated into European languages. "

Al-Toukhi continued, "The second, because they always link the revolution to the world of bitter reality, as if they were looking for evidence of the impact of the revolution on modern Egyptian literature. They found what they were looking for in the word (dystopia), that is, the literature of the corrupt city."

Instead, the author assumed that what these books share, instead of their perceptions of "corrupt city literature", is that they all stem from "getting rid of the fear of eating politics or political events through literature", moving away from the literature of the 1990s, especially when he was Writers do not attempt to touch in their works and writings on politics.

From this basis, writer Lina Munther added, this new set of Arabic literature stems from common circumstances, especially as the frustrations themselves reached their climax through the courageous act of taking to the streets to demand a better life and a better society. Perhaps these circumstances are what also prompted the book to start talking about current events, to imagine alternative or future worlds.

Lost in translation
In an earlier interview with Al-Jazeera Net, the Iraqi writer Ahmed Al-Saadawi, author of "Frankenstein in Baghdad", said that his experience of the reality that took place in Iraq during 2003 and beyond until the outbreak of civil violence in 2006 is what motivated him to write.

The English version of the novel - in which Saadawi mixed science fiction with an exciting criminal story - reached the long list of the Man Booker International Prize in the United Kingdom, while winning the 2014 Arabic Novel Award.

The novel deals with the story of Hadi Al-Atak, who lives in Iraq and pastes human remains from the victims of the explosions in Baghdad in the spring of 2005 together, and sews it in the form of a new body in which the soul can be dissolved, so that a new creature that Hadi calls "Al-Shisma" (that is, I do not know his name) rises, and the authorities call him the criminal X. ”Others call it“ Frankenstein. ”

Al-Saadawi stated in his previous dialogue that he sought to shed light on "a specific section of the life that we lived as a society subject to the power of violence and terrorism."

"I wanted to focus on the ability of fear when it swells to make the mightiest of monsters, whether they are virtual monsters that do not exist on the ground, or people who, because of the smell of blood, eventually turned into monsters. Fear, mistrust from the other, credibility of rumors, and a rush to support violence are a way to solve The problems made the civil war a logical matter, and in order for us not to reach these limits, we must analyze and contemplate, not forget and cover this sad memory. "

Although author Lina Munther considered that the novel does not fall within the literature of the corrupt city or "history of the future", especially since its events take place in 2005 after the American invasion of Iraq, she considered the failure to introduce this kind of contemplative imagination in Syria as interesting.

Given the interest these books have received in the English-language press, they constitute a movement, or perhaps a broad wave of new publications, that indicate a shift in contemporary Arabic literature.

According to the statement of Ghinwa Hayek - Assistant Professor of Modern Arab Literature at the University of Chicago - by Middle East Eye, "Part of the fascination in the English-speaking world because of this pictorial imagination is due to the fact that it reflects in one way or another the people's perceptions of what the Arab world is, as a place full With chaos, authoritarianism, and violence. "

Source: aljazeera

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