Libmonster ID: UK-1270


Doctor of Philology Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

Naguib Mahfouz modern Egyptian fiction, Keywords: "Dreams of the Healing Period". "Echoes of Autobiography"surrealismSufism

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), an Egyptian novelist and Nobel Prize winner (1988), wrote his last book "Dreams of the Healing Period" (Ahlam Fatrat al - naqaha, 2005) in a hospital shortly before his death.

So the first question that comes up when reading a book is about its title. What kind of" healing " can a person talk about in the ninety-fifth year of life, who has almost lost his hearing and vision, has poor control of his right hand (in 1994, a young religious fanatic stabbed Mahfouz in the neck, the writer's right hand remained paralyzed for a long time) and hardly hopes to leave the hospital? Obviously, the author did not mean the restoration of physical strength - they were clearly fading, but put a different, metaphorical meaning in the word "healing".

The book consists of 146 small texts, ranging from a page to several paragraphs. As they were written, individual "dreams"were published in the journal Nisf addunya ("Half the World"). The artist Muhammad Hogga was inspired by these "dreams" to create paintings that were later presented at a special exhibition: 96 oil paintings in the manner of various avant-garde and modernist schools, mostly surreal.

One of Mahfouz's close friends, Zaki Salim, who considers the writer to be his teacher, saw Sufi content in many of his dreams and interpreted them from this point of view.

We will try to trace how and to what extent the "Dreams of the healing Period" are connected with real reality, with surrealism and Sufism.

Naguib Mahfuz was well aware that he was writing his last book, writing because he could not help but write, because serving literature is the meaning and high mission of his whole life, and the day when the desire to write leaves him will be the day of death. He was, of course, glad of the slight improvement in his physical condition that allowed him to return to work. And the meaning of the word "healing "is most likely connected with the writer's intention to renounce earthly worries and addictions, to gain clarity of" inner vision " and, without looking back at external circumstances, to sum up not only his own life, but also the period of Egyptian history in which his life fell.

The second question concerns the writer's choice of genre form in which he embodied this "last" word.

Mahfouz himself explained the reasons why he chose the genre of "dreams "as follows:" When my vision and hearing were weakened, it was as if a thick curtain had fallen around me, shutting me out from the world. I could no longer read, talk on the phone, or watch TV. I couldn't enjoy walking, go to the Hussein Mosque, meet people, visit places that have memories. When a person breaks away from the world, he turns his gaze inward, begins to sort out the past. And the dream replaces reality for him. I see in my dreams events that were and were not, things that I once read in books, poems that my memory retains. Sometimes I wake up and remember well what I saw in my dream.

page 68

I immediately write it all down, because dreams are a very fragile matter, they are quickly forgotten. What is recorded in the book "Dreams of the Healing Period" is either dreams that I have seen, or fragments of dreams to which I have added something, or dreams that I have imagined. " 1

From these words it follows that Mahfuzov's "Dreams..." are mainly based on memories - about places, events, people, poems preserved in memory and impressions from books read. Memories whimsically transformed in dreams, but thought out, built up in the mind of a waking artist who was looking for the right, precise words for them, and only after that written down on paper and turned into concise texts, then consistently plot-based, self-sufficient, even anecdotal, which do not need explanations, then seemingly illogical, sometimes fantastic, which can lead to the death of a child. they can be understood only if you know the biography and creativity of the writer. These texts sublimate the experience of a lifetime-the living "memory of the heart" and the sad "memory of the mind".

The genre of "dreams" (manama, hulm) has a long and rich tradition in world literature, including Arabic. Already in the" Biography of the Prophet Muhammad " by Ibn Ishaq - Ibn Hisham (VIII-IX centuries), among the elements of fictionalization of the text, there are prophetic dreams, in particular dreams predicting victory for Muslims in the battle of Badr. They are seen by representatives of both warring parties-both pagan-Meccans, and Muslims-Medinans, and Muhammad himself 2.

In one of the later (the first mention of it dates back to the beginning of the XVI century) Arab folk novels "The Life of Sultan al-Zahir Baybars"3, whose hero, the Sultan of Egypt (1260-1277), became famous for his successful struggle with the crusaders, Christian characters often see the Prophet Muhammad in a dream, urging them to convert to Islam. There were also special collections of manamat. Especially the genre of dreams was in demand in Sufi poetry and prose.

The most common motive of dreams was the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad, some holy righteous person of Allah or an authoritative Sufi, instructing the dreamer on the "true path", healing from illness, predicting fate, recommending a tariqa to join, advising him to write a useful, instructive work. At the very end of the eighteenth century, the leading Egyptian historian al-Jabarti, in his obituary of the Sufi Sheikh Mahmud al-Kurdi, whom he calls "a recognized creator of miracles and amazing signs"4, cites several dreams described by al-Kurdi in his writings. The Prophet appeared to the Sheikh almost nightly, and sometimes he saw Allah himself.

Defining the genre of his work as ahlam (dreams, reveries), Mahfouz emphasizes the artist's right to imagination, the transformation of reality into allegorical or metaphorical images that require the reader to make mental efforts to decipher them, to penetrate the meaning, which is often ambiguous. The genre form also gives grounds for interpreting the book of "Dreams..." in a Sufi or surreal way.

By the nature of his talent, by virtue of his mindset and philosophical education, Mahfouz is primarily a novelist, having written more than thirty novels. But in the last years of his life, he did not write novels - he was no longer strong enough, there was no topic - "or even expected," according to Mahfouz.

"I am used," he told his constant companion and devoted murid, the distinguished writer Gamal al-Ghitani (b. 1945), " to writing about society. Take, for example, a corrupt official. Every time I think of a character of this type, Mahgub Abd ad-Daim 5 comes to mind, and I say to myself: I have already written about him. Only the scale of corruption has changed, and bribes are now measured in the millions. The essence remains the same - to get to the top at any cost. " 6

But in addition to novels, Mahfouz's creative legacy also includes collections of short stories, one-act plays, and screenplays. And he persistently searched for new narrative forms. A great worker, for whom the constant creative renewal, the desire to be on the level of the century and at the same time preserve his own face, was a matter of prestige - not only for himself, but also for the prestige of all Arabic literature, Mahfouz studied all his life: he delved into the history of world literature and closely followed all that emerged in it in the new trends. He mastered and "tried out" in his novels and short stories a wide variety of visual means, styles and techniques of literary writing-from Arabic medieval to Western modernist.

Having an inexhaustible creative imagination, preserved until the last days of his life, Mahfouz "digests" everything borrowed from world literature in such a way that one can often only guess about its "sources". Critics and researchers of Mahfouz's work have repeatedly complained about this, finding out which of the great ones influenced him in one way or another. And Mahfouz took and used everything that suited him, while remaining himself, expressing his own vision of the world around him. This vision changed because the world changed and the historical conditions and prospects of his native and beloved country - Egypt-changed, but the changes did not actually affect the essential moral foundations of his worldview.

Mahfouz's worldview and philosophical views were formed at a time when acquaintance with Western culture and science, enlightenment, the reformation of Islam and the renewal movement in literature shook the foundations of dogmatic faith, and many Arab writers-Christians and Muslims - were imbued with the ideas of individual knowledge of God, the search for "God within man".

Mahfouz grew up in a traditional Muslim family, where he observed daily rituals and attended the Hussein Mosque to participate in Friday prayers-

page 69

active prayer was an integral part of the way of life. His school teachers of Arabic language and literature were sheikhs, graduates of the oldest Muslim spiritual university al-Azhar (they had a preferential right to teach these subjects in schools).

The first three novels of the writer based on stories from ancient Egyptian history are written in the language of the Koran, Quranic traditions, hadiths and medieval Arabic poetry. Influenced by the events of the revolution of 1919, while participating in school demonstrations (this participation was encouraged by teachers-sheikhs), he became imbued with the spirit of Egyptian patriotism and reverence for the" leader of the nation " Saad Zaghlul.

Mahfouz's philosophy course at the university included mainly the works of Western European idealist philosophers, of which Bergson was the closest to him, especially his idea of the connection between creativity and the individual's ability to intuit knowledge, which to a decisive extent determined Mahfouz's choice of the profession of literature. While working on his master's thesis "The concept of beauty in Muslim philosophy", he also read the works of al-Ghazali7. He was greatly impressed by reading the works of the "leaders of thought" of his youth, the Egyptian "renovators" Abbas al-Akkad, Salama Musa, Taha Hussein, who introduced the Egyptians to the achievements of the West in various fields of knowledge. In his understanding of the world and history, the spiritual and moral aspect always remains dominant.

Mahfouz imagines the history of the evolution of the human community - as evidenced by his creative legacy-as the development by successive generations of people of the ideas and views of their predecessors, the transformation of "innate beliefs" into ideological, political, and sociological "beliefs". Mahfouz recognizes the importance of the "flatbread" as an incentive for social behavior, advocates the establishment of "justice" in society, but rejects, following the idol of his youth, the adept of Fabian socialism S. Musa, violent methods of social reconstruction (in this matter, he also appeals to Dostoevsky - in the novel "The Thief and the Dogs", 1961 8). And like Taha Hussein, he is a rationalist who recognizes the great power of reason, scientific and critical methods of understanding reality, and Darwin's theory of evolution. Categorically rejecting the idea of the "absurdity" of human existence, he opposes it, along with reason, and Darwin's teaching - as a source of" historical optimism "(in the novel" Chatter on the Nile", 1965). The desire to reconcile," reconcile " science and faith is one of the constants of his work.

Naguib Mahfouz was by nature a reserved and cautious man, never a member of political parties, although from a young age he sympathized with the Wafd, the party of the Egyptian "middle class", the main force of the Egyptian national-bourgeois revolution of 1919-1923.

In his novels, Mahfouz captured almost all the stages of the history of Egypt in the XX century, consistently "tracking" the evolution, correlation and confrontation of the main trends of social thought, ideological and political, and leaving critics to argue which of the heroes - a socialist, an Islamist or a liberal - the author himself sympathizes with. In his frequent publicistic appearances, Mahfouz invariably observed "political correctness".

Many times Mahfouz thought about writing an autobiography, but never realized his intention, because the "obligation of truth" in a work of confessional genre seemed to him a dangerous and almost impossible requirement. Nevertheless, Mahfouz's entire work is permeated with autobiography, and not only because it somehow reflects the writer's spiritual quest and socio-political views between the lines-through the system of images, the structure of novels, plot twists-but also because in many works he returns, each time offering a new artistic version-about events and facts of his personal life that are particularly significant for him.

Through the stages of Mahfouz's creative biography, one can trace the entire history of the evolution of Arabic literature in the XX century. He is a romantic in three of his historical "Pharaoh" novels of the first half of the 1940s, and a realist-life writer in a series of "Cairo" novels of the second half of the 40s-first half of the 50s. His philosophical novel-parabola "Sons of our Street" (1959)9 represents the first experience of "Arabization" of the modern Arabic novel-the work is stylized as a medieval Arab folk novel-siru (biography of the hero).

In the early 60s of the 20th century, Mahfouz completely changed the "traditional" realistic style that he had developed over the previous two decades, abandoned the function of an omniscient author, often delegated the role of narrator to individual characters with their subjective vision of current reality, and wrote in the style of an internal monologue, which is not proper for direct speech. Trying to discern the features of the society emerging in Egypt after the 1952 revolution, to see its future, to determine its own attitude to what is happening in the country, Mahfouz makes extensive use of allegory, symbolism, and allusion. Novels offered the possibility of their various interpretations and invariably caused a variety of literary and critical responses. There were also disputes about the form of the works, and especially acute ones about their content, moral, philosophical, religious, and political.

In his declining years, he increasingly turns to his past, to the life he has lived. And he writes the book "Echoes of autobiography" ("Asda as-Sira al-zatiyya"), which he did not immediately publish after some hesitation - the book does not quite satisfy him - in 1995. At first, Mahfuz wanted to call it "Reflections", but changed his mind, deciding, as he said:-

page 70

malu al-Gitani in his usual way-slightly laughing at himself that "the book does not pull at this, and I am not Descartes!" 10

The book contains 227 short texts-from a page to a single phrase-that are exactly the" echoes " of an autobiography. It is not the episodes of childhood, adolescence, or adulthood that are described, but the impression they made, which left an indelible mark on the soul and memory. The death of a grandmother is a child's first encounter with death. The girl who hugged him to comfort him in grief is the first contact with the"feminine warmth". Looking at old photos gives rise to regrets about the transience of life, the idea that happiness is only a short dream. The same echo is evoked in the soul of the meeting with the old woman, who was once his first woman.

The memory of the marriage is conveyed by the parable of the " free sparrow "who" bought " oats and found himself in a cage, but does not regret his former freedom, when his beloved is next to him, feeding him from his hands. Reflections on what is life and what is death, what is love, earthly and eternal. Mahfouz's eternal lover was typified by an aristocratic girl who lived in a palace not far from his home in the al-Abbasiyya quarter. He saw her only a few times, but he remembered her all his life, and the story of this love, in different versions, is embodied in many of his novels.

The second half of "Echoes of Autobiography" (109 texts) is an independent cycle, united by the image of Sheikh Abd Rabbi at-Taih (lit. A misguided servant of his Lord).

A calligrapher friend takes the narrator to a cave in the desert where the sheikh's followers used to gather. They conversed with each other, talked and sang songs so enthusiastically and selflessly that "they were called drunkards, and the cave -"wine shop". The narrator spent the night with them, and "they entered my heart without an intermediary." He asked the Sheikh to accept him in the tariqa.

"The sheikh asked:

"What draws you to us?"

- I am completely disillusioned with life and I want to run away from it.

"Love of life is the core of our tariqa, and flight is our enemy.

And I felt like I was on my way, leaving the parking lot of hesitation."

("When we looked into each other's eyes").

In this "Sufi" style, Mahfouz tells about his entry into the circle of writers who regularly gathered in Cairo cafes, about gaining confidence that literature is the only correct and possible choice for him. Reports on the authorities ' dissatisfaction with these gatherings ("In heaven they are irritated by indecent actions and disgusting smells." "Complaint"). About how each of the friends hoped that he would be "lucky", but only he, the narrator, was really "lucky" (The Nobel Prize appears in the form of a beautiful naked woman who appeared in a cave, who came up to him and covered him with a wave of her loose hair, which made everyone unspeakably happy. "A blessed memory.")

Most of the texts are composed of the wise sayings of Sheikh Abd Rabbi at-Taih and his answers to the students 'questions concerning the same "eternal" topics - life and death, love and "perfection", memory and oblivion, faith and disbelief. The meaning of the sheikh's name - The Lost One-refers to the idea that every person is prone to err and that his judgments should not be taken as the ultimate truth. The narrator behind the image of the sheikh (he acts as a disciple, but sometimes speaks in his own name, which reflects the real state of affairs - over time, Mahfuz himself becomes the head of the literary "tariqa"), as if asking for leniency from the reader if he does not agree with all his thoughts. However, the sheikh admits that he still has not got rid of the disease of "complacency" ("Disease").

The sheikh is often reproached with too much love for life and its joys: for women, food, poems, songs, and knowledge. But he sees in these joys "the grace of the Almighty." And if the righteous blame the world, it is only for its " depravity." To the question, "How can such things happen in a world created by the Most Merciful and Merciful?" the Shaykh answers, " If he were not the Most Merciful and Merciful, they would not have happened." ("Mercy"). "Life seems to be a chain of collisions, tears and fears, but it has a charm that captivates and intoxicates"("Charm"). Human life is short - it is only "one heartbeat". At the same time, eternal life - the change of centuries, the vicissitudes of fate, much knowledge, the care of loved ones - is unbearable. As for "perfection", it is, in the words of the sheikh, "a dream that lives in the imagination, if it turned into reality, no one living would be happy" ("Perfection").

Sheikh at-Taih describes the "most ideal" of the people he knew as follows::

"A kind and generous person has always served people, honored Allah. On his hundredth birthday, he got drunk, sang, danced, and married a twenty-year-old virgin.

And on their wedding night, a company of angels appeared, and they fumigated him with incense from Mount Kaf."

The Epicurean image of the "most ideal" person correlates with the cult of creative "masculine power" that was very significant in Mahfouz's early work, he recalls the head of the family, Patriarch Abd al-Gawad from "Bein al-Qasrain", a joker and a merry man, a lover of music and singing in the company of friends, insatiable in his love for women, but always a devout Muslim. And although he is a harsh master at home, tyrannizing over his wife and inspiring fear in his children, even his elderly mother-in-law admires his son-in-law, believes,

* Here and further translated from the Arabic by V. N. Kirpichenko.

** Mount Kaf-a fabulous mountain located "at the end of the earth".

page 71

that all other men couldn't hold a candle to him. To the personality of Mahfouz himself, who also loved fun, music and singing in the company of friends, this image can only be applied if we add to it those features of asceticism and "workaholism" that distinguished the writer in everyday life.

Through the mouth of Sheikh Mahfouz, he continues his argument with atheistic existentialism, which he started in the novel "Sons of our Street", where Nietzschean thesis about the death of God was opposed to the distant prospect of forming a "God-like person" who carries in his soul an "ideal" that synthesizes the social - knowledge of the world through science, active activity for the benefit of society - and moral self-improvement. The Sheikh narrates:

"A man came to me and said: "Don't believe it... You are only the son of blind chance and the struggle of the elements... I came without a goal... you'll leave without a goal... It's like you never existed."

I answered:

"Your father once believed in things that you can't believe. And I lost my peace and happiness " ("Don't Believe").

And he confirms his faith with the statement: "Only a stupid unbeliever is more stupid than a stupid believer"("Stupidity").

But faith for him is inseparable from reason. Referring to a verse of the Qur'an, the Shaykh states: "He opened the door of infinity when He said:' Then will you not understand?'"Mind").

Love in all its forms - for life, for women, for the "eternal" beloved, for " beautiful words "(literature), for fun in the company of friends - is the source of Sheikh Abd Rabbi at-Taih's optimism in life. Love and faith in the fact that human life is not meaningless, and a person should, relying on knowledge and experience, honestly performing his life's duty, understand the meaning of being more and more deeply.

The book ends with the text "Joy":

"On the night of the festival, we gathered in the cave, all as one.

Outside, cold winds blew and roared.

And the souls of all those gathered were filled with tenderness, intoxicating as a song.

And Shaykh Abd Rabbi at-Taih said::

- Health to all those who have fulfilled their duty in the market( life), who have defied their sorrows.

We modestly lowered our eyes and listened to the old shepherd's pipe.

The sheikh continued:

"Look at the cave entrance, don't look away.

Hearts fluttered and strained in impatient expectation of joy, and the mind saw it and the soul heard it."

The narrative is based on reality, but this reality is metaphorized and described in Sufi terms. In medieval prose and poetry, which embody Sufi concepts, traditional words and images are given a special meaning accessible only to initiates, their purpose is to describe the mystical path of a Sufi to knowledge-intuitive, heart-of God, to convey the experiences and emotions experienced by him on this path. Achieving ecstasy through drinking wine, comprehending the divine truth, the Absolute, in a state of intoxication are images that constantly appear in Sufi literature. So is the image of the Beloved that the Sufi seeks to connect with.

Mahfouz's "cave", where members of Sheikh al-Taih's tariqa gather, symbolizes a cafe, a meeting place for Cairo writers, "wine drinking" and "singing songs" - talking about literature and reading their works by authors. Separation from society, ignoring the surrounding reality by members of the "tariqa" is strongly condemned. At the same time, using the term "tariqa" (community of Sufis), Mahfouz emphasizes not only the high purpose of literature, but also the special gift of artistic "vision" inherent in talent.

It seems that in this case, the "Sufi style "is a way of creating an image of the spiritual world not just of a person, but of a person-an artist who seeks to capture the fullness and beauty of the world in a word and formulate his moral imperative - the fulfillment of a writer's duty" in the market of life", among people and for people.

The major mood of the book becomes clearer if we take into account the time of its writing-after receiving the Nobel Prize (1988) and before the attempt on the writer's life (October 1994). The award confirmed that the choice made by Mahfouz in his youth - selfless service to literature-was correct, he achieved international recognition for his works, and raised the prestige of Arabic literature in the world. The knife of a religious fanatic, a symbol of blind hatred for the free word, has not yet sunk into him, has not permanently deprived him of the opportunity to write. Mahfouz had reason to be optimistic.

(The ending follows)

Al-Ghitani Gamal. 1 Al-Majalis almahfuziyyah (Conversations with Mahfuz). Cairo, 2006, p. 54.

2 See: Foreword by A. B. Kudelin to " Ibn Ishaq-Ibn Hisham. Life of the Prophet. The Great Battle of Badr. " Translated from Arabic. and comments by A. B. Kudelin and D. V. Frolov, Moscow, 2009.

3 Russian translation of the abridged one-volume edition by V. Kirpichenko. Moscow, 1975.

Abdarrahman al-Jabarti 4 (1754-1822). "An amazing history of the past in biographies and chronicles of events", vol. II (Egypt on the eve of the Bonaparte expedition, 1776-1798). Translated by Kh. I. Kilberg. Moscow, 1978, pp. 98-103.

5 Mahgub Abd ad-Daim is a character in Mahfouz's novel New Cairo (Al-Kahira Aljadida,1945), an unprincipled careerist whose motto is "religion + science + philosophy + morality = ugh!"

Al-Ghitani Gamal. 6 Edict. soch., p. 308.

7 Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid (1059-1111) - Muslim theologian, philosopher, and mystic. He considered knowledge of God to be an irrational act of individual ecstatic experience.

8 "Thief and Dogs" - Russian translation by E. Stefanova, Moscow, 1964.

9 "Legends of our street" - Russian translation by V. N. Kirpichenko. Moscow, 1990.

Al-Ghitani Gamal. 10 Edict. soch., p. 310.

** This formula is repeated 24 times in the Qur'an.


Permanent link to this publication:

Similar publications: LGreat Britain LWorld Y G


Jack DowlyContacts and other materials (articles, photo, files etc)

Author's official page at Libmonster:

Find other author's materials at: Libmonster (all the World)GoogleYandex

Permanent link for scientific papers (for citations):

V. N. KIRPICHENKO, THE TESTAMENT OF NAGUIB MAHFOUZ // London: British Digital Library (ELIBRARY.ORG.UK). Updated: 12.09.2023. URL: (date of access: 15.04.2024).

Found source (search robot):

Publication author(s) - V. N. KIRPICHENKO:

V. N. KIRPICHENKO → other publications, search: Libmonster Great BritainLibmonster WorldGoogleYandex


Reviews of professional authors
Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet
Related topics
Jack Dowly
London, United Kingdom
34 views rating
12.09.2023 (216 days ago)
0 subscribers
0 votes
Related Articles
Catalog: Other 
26 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: History 
30 days ago · From Jack Dowly
return. but how?
Catalog: Geography 
38 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Military science 
40 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Economics 
41 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Other 
43 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Sociology 
43 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Political science 
43 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Political science 
44 days ago · From Jack Dowly
Catalog: Economics 
44 days ago · From Jack Dowly

New publications:

Popular with readers:

News from other countries:

ELIBRARY.ORG.UK - British Digital Library

Create your author's collection of articles, books, author's works, biographies, photographic documents, files. Save forever your author's legacy in digital form. Click here to register as an author.
Library Partners


Editorial Contacts
Chat for Authors: UK LIVE: We are in social networks:

About · News · For Advertisers

British Digital Library ® All rights reserved.
2023-2024, ELIBRARY.ORG.UK is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of the Great Britain


US-Great Britain Sweden Serbia
Russia Belarus Ukraine Kazakhstan Moldova Tajikistan Estonia Russia-2 Belarus-2

Create and store your author's collection at Libmonster: articles, books, studies. Libmonster will spread your heritage all over the world (through a network of affiliates, partner libraries, search engines, social networks). You will be able to share a link to your profile with colleagues, students, readers and other interested parties, in order to acquaint them with your copyright heritage. Once you register, you have more than 100 tools at your disposal to build your own author collection. It's free: it was, it is, and it always will be.

Download app for Android