Saturday, September 1, 2007

جـــــنـــيــة فـي قـــــــارورة" لابــــــراهــــــيــم فــــرغـــــلـي تـــضـــــع يـــــدهـــــا عــلـى حـــــــدود غــــــيــرمنظورة


مقال لبنى الأمين
النهار اللبنانية يونية 2007
بعيداً من الطابع السحري او الاكزوتيكي الذي يمكن ان يحيل عليه عنوان مثل "جنية في قارورة"، يلجأ المصري ابراهيم فرغلي في روايته الصادرة اخيراً لدى "دار العين" في القاهرة، الى كتابة تحاول رصد تفاعل الواقع المجتمعي المصري مع بعض ما يطرحه العالم المعاصر من اشكاليات ترغم الافراد على اعادة بلورة مفاهيمهم ومنظوماتهم الاخلاقية والنفسية والعاطفية. في زمن العولمة وانتفاء الحدود بين البلدان والمجتمعات والافراد، يضع فرغلي يده على حدود غير منظورة تتحكم بأفكار الأفراد وعاداتهم وسلوكياتهم، متسببةً بشرخ هائل وفصام قاسٍ بين ما يعلنونه من افكار تحررية وعيش يحاكي الذهنية الغربية، وما هو راسخ ومتجذر فيهم ولا يكشف عن نفسه الا في لحظات الخيارات المصيرية.هو فصام سنعيش تعقيداته مع البطلة حنين، المصرية التي نشأت في فرنسا وعاشت فيها، الا ان موت والدها وحياتها الجامحة المفتقدة كل بوصلة توجّهها صوب الاستقرار والأمان، سيجعلانها تقرر العودة الى وطنها الام علّها تجد هناك ما ظلت تبحث عنه عبثاً في فرنسا: ذاتاً واثقة من هويتها وانتمائها. يتابع الكاتب تطور نموها العاطفي والجنسي، من قبلاتها الاولى الى اقصى لحظات جموحها، مروراً بالفترة التي ظنّت فيها ان لديها ميولاً سحاقية، مضيئاً على نوع من الازدواجبة في شخصية هذه الفتاة الخجولة والهادئة والمنكسرة في البيت وفي حضور والدها. اما خارج "الرحم" الابوية، فتطلق العنان لنزعة استعراضية، كما تسميها، ولجموح في التصرفات. وفي كل مرة يكون سلوكها مدفوعاً ببحث مرتبك عن استقرار عاطفي لا تجده.واذ يرتسم شيئاً فشيئاً تاريخها الشخصي، يكشف السرد عن شخصيات اخرى تدخل حياتها وتخرج منها وتبدو جميعها محكومة بالفصام نفسه، وإن بدرجات واشكال متفاوتة.في الجزء الثاني من الرواية المؤلفة من ثلاثة اجزاء، وفي موازاة قصة حنين، يتسلم السرد صوت قادم من عالم آخر (نفهم من خلال الغلاف الخارجي للرواية انه صوت عماد الذي كان الصوت الاساسي في رواية سابقة للكاتب هي "ابتسامات القديسين")، يقيم مقارنات بين الواقع الارضي الموهوم وحقيقة هذا اللامكان الذي ينتمي هو اليه، ويأتي ليطرح اسئلة الانسان الكبرى حول الوجود والمعرفة والاخلاق متحدثاً عما يسمّيه "جوهر الحقيقة"، هذا الذي لا يسع الاحياء ادراكه.باستثناء عوالم عماد السحرية، تحمل معظم شخصيات الرواية خطابين ووجهين وسلوكين يأتي تناقضهما الصارخ ليصبّ في رسم بانوراما معولمة عن انسان اليوم الذي تتحكم فيه اصولية مضمرة تظهر من وقت الى آخر لتطيح، بضربة قاضية، كل البناء التسامحي المعلن. وهي اصولية قد تكون دينية او عرقية او جنسية او وطنية، يغذّيها جهل تام بالآخر الذي مهما تبلغ العلاقة به من مراحل متقدمة تظل علاقة سطحية قائمة على احكام مسبقة وصور نمطية متطرفة. هكذا ستنتهي منذ بداية الرواية قصة الحب التي تجمع حنين بديفيد، الفرنسي اليهودي الذي سيقرر ذات يوم انه "يريد ان يكمل دينه بالذهاب الى ارض الميعاد".الا ان حنين تتميز عن الشخصيات الأخرى بأنها لا تكفّ عن طرح الاسئلة واعادة النظر في المسلّمات والافكار. حتى والدها المتوفى لا ينجو من اعادة التقويم هذه. فاستناداً الى جزء من مذكراته فضّل اخفاءه عنها، ستشكك في أنه رغم تجربة زواجه هو المسلم بوالدتها المسيحية ظل تسامحه سطحياً ومصطنعاً: "هل يمكن ان اكون تعرضت للتضليل وظننت ان ابي مثالي ومتسامح لأنه احب امي وتزوجها على ديانتها، بينما هو يحتفظ في اعماقه بنموذج المتعصب المتخلف؟". هذا السؤال وسواه سينتج منها صدام حاد بين مثاليات حنين والواقع المحكوم بازدواجية قد تبلغ حد النفاق، مما سيجعلها تتخبط في متاهة لا تعرف كيف السبيل للخروج منها: "يبدو انني جننت، ولكن ما المانع في الجنون والعالم نفسه يعاني الاختلال؟ فهل سأكون انا العاقلة الوحيدة في هذه المتاهة؟". من خلال اطروحة الدكتوراه التي تحضّرها حول العلاقات الجنسية وتأثرها بالمستوى الاقتصادي للمجتمع المصري، ستعاين حنين عن قرب بعض مظاهر هذه الازدواجية على غرار سلوكيات، من مثل ترقيع غشاء البكارة او التحرش الجنسي، او ازدياد عدد الفتيات المحجبات اللواتي لا تمتنع غالبيتهن عن ارتداء "البناطيل الضيقة التي تغطي الارداف الكبيرة المدملكة المتمايلة يمنة ويسرة بلا رادع"، وذلك كجزء من ميل عام الى ذوبان الخيارات الشخصية في سلوكيات جماعية تفقد تدريجاً مسوغاتها الاولى ومعانيها الاصلية. فها هي تفاجأ بابنة عمتها نسرين التي تحجبت فقط لأن كل صديقاتها فعلن ذلك.كما سترصد عدم ارتياح الفتيات في اجسادهن وشعورهن الدائم بأن ثمة من يتلصص عليهن. واذ نراها تغوص في مدوّنات مصرية لفتيات يكتبن عن حياتهن الجنسية بحرية وتحرر تامين، لكن خصوصاً بنضج ووعي يصعب ايجادهما في الواقع، تكشف عن مجتمع افتراضي نشأ على هامش المجتمع الواقعي ويكاد يتحول بديلاً اكثر صدقية منه. وفي طريق بحث حنين عن ذاتها، مستندة الى مرجعيات ونقاط استدلال ادبية وفنية وسينمائية، نستعيد كذلك معالم العاصمة الفرنسية من شوارع ومقاه ومعالم مختلفة، تبدو اكثر وضوحاً مما سيكشف عنه السرد حول القاهرة والمنصورة. الا ان بين صورتي هذين المكانين، تبرز صورة اخرى لمدينة زجاجية طالعة من احلام حنين لتعكس حلم الشفافية المطلقة، فلا يعود هناك فرق بين الداخل والخارج، بين المعلن والمضمر. مدينة تشكل النقيض لـ"تلك الصناديق الاسمنتية (حيث) نتنفس بالكاد، ننام ونقضي حاجتنا، ونمارس الحب بسرعة لنلحق بدوائر الحياة التي تنتظر خروجنا لتستهلكنا". في النهاية، سيصل سعيها الى طريق مسدود تكشف عنه علاقتها بعلي الذي يحمل كل تناقضات الرجل الشرقي المعاصر ويشكل في رأيها نموذج "انصاف المتفتحين".ولن يكون قرارها بالعودة الى باريس الا نوعاً من الاقرار الضمني بأن مجتمعاتنا لا تزال غير مؤهلة لاستيعاب حاجة الافراد الى مساحتهم الشخصية وحريتهم الجسدية والجنسية كما الفكرية والعاطفية.

Mauvais Genie


Breaking taboo is not enough


Ibrahim Farghali

Breaking Taboos Is Not Enough

Ibrahim Farghali is one of six authors from the Arab world invited by Germany's Goethe Institute to work as city chronicler for a month. In his portrait, Frederik Richter talked with him about Hermann Hesse, Günther Grass and censorship in Farghali's home country Egypt

Ibrahim Farghali was just 24 years old when as a fledgling journalist he interviewed Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. His yearning for literature had become so overpowering that, just one year after completing his unloved course of studies in his small hometown of Mansoura, he moved to the big city of Cairo.Today, in addition to his job as critic for the state-owned daily paper Al-Ahram, Farghali is also a writer himself – and he needs every bit of his passion for literature to contend with the difficulties faced by a young author in an Arab country.
Farghali, now 37 years old, developed his literary leanings at an early age.Keeping the distance from literary circlesHe grew up in the gulf nations of Oman and Dubai, where his father had found work. Farghali had a hard time making friends with his classmates at school, so he immersed himself instead in the world of literature. He wrote his first poems at age 14.

Even today, he still keeps his distance from the circles of intellectuals and writers that regularly meet in the cafés of downtown Cairo to discuss current political and cultural affairs. It's all just a bunch of gossip, Farghali says. He claims that not one good idea for his books ever came out of his participation in such conversations.In his works to date, Ibrahim Farghali has explored a variety of themes. In the short-story collection "The Ghosts of Feelings" he attempts to explore the relationship between Egyptian men and women, who come from utterly disparate backgrounds. Again and again, he tells the same story, but from a different perspective. By doing so, Farghali is trying to demonstrate how limited our understanding of people really is.Since he had never been to Germany, Farghali knew Stuttgart only from photos and from reading up on the city's history on its homepage. That's all he wanted to know ahead of time, so he could keep an open mind and just let the city have its effect on him.But he nevertheless thinks it must be very difficult to be forced to write something every day. He wants to do things differently from his colleague José Olivier, who as official city chronicler of Cairo compiled his impressions of the city in the form of fleeting scraps of text. Cairo was hardly recognizable in these text fragments, in Farghali's view, which is why in Stuttgart he intends to use a mixture of journalistic and literary style."The Glass Bead Game" and contemporary EgyptDuring this stay in Germany, Ibrahim Farghali would definitely like to visit the house where Hermann Hesse lived. That author's style and timelessness were what impressed him most of all in German literature.
He has read "The Glass Bead Game" over and over again, a book that for him perfectly captures what it's like to be in Egypt today.By contrast, he finds that Günter Grass' style and historical themes are no longer of contemporary pertinence.German literature has not made many inroads into Egypt thus far. Because of the country's colonial history, primarily French and English literature has been translated into Arabic. With his visit to Germany, Farghali hopes to finally learn something about the youngest generation of German writers.

Farghali himself is part of this generation. But on the Arabic literary scene, which is shaped by strict hierarchies, new voices have a hard time being heard. Especially when, like Farghali, they abstain from running roughshod over Egyptian society's moral and religious taboos in order to attract attention to themselves.Farghali by contrast dwells in the realm of quiet tones – and does so without compromise. A state-run publisher demanded that he remove all sexual overtones from his manuscript for "The Ghosts of Feelings" before publishing it. But since that was out of the question for Farghali, he has no choice but to put up with the vagaries and lack of professionalism of the few remaining independent Egyptian literary publishers.Ibrahim Farghali has published two novels and two short-story collections so far, but has yet to earn even one Egyptian pound for them. It's also up to him to see that his books get distributed – and they are therefore hard to come by anywhere outside the few bookshops in downtown Cairo.
Frederik Richter©
Qantara.de 2004
Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida


New writings:
Of twins and troubles

- Ibtesamaat Al-Qiddiseen (The Saints' Smiles), Ibrahim Farghali, Cairo: Miret for Publication and Information, 2004. pp164 - Ain Al-Qott (Cat's Eye), Hassan Abdel-Mawgoud, Cairo: Miret for Publication and Information, 2004. pp106
Two new books from Cairo's most active independent publisher confirm the suspicion that, notwithstanding the compulsion to break out of the prevalent moulds of narrative composition, it is the influence of Latin American magic realism that conditions much of what is currently being written. In their last two novels, Ibtesamaat Al-Qiddiseen (Saints' Smiles) and Ain Al-Qott (Cat's Eye), respectively, both Ibrahim Farghali and Hassan Abdel-Mawgoud are practising a form of fantastical writing more like the work of Gabriel-Garcia Marquez -- say -- than anything they have previously written. It is true that, in both young writers' work, the tendency to imbue more or less realistic narrative with aspects of the incredible has always been present.
But while it is also true that the imaginative dimension of such writing has tended to perform an intellectual function -- sexual depravity as a metaphor for loneliness, for example, or an impossible plot development acting to reflect the irrationality of day-to-day life -- only now, it seems, has the practice of observing the ordinary through surreal eyes burgeoned into structured, almost formulaic generic writing. Discussions of the influence of magic realism on contemporary Arabic writing often centre on how a literary style that emerged in a different culture is adapted to Egyptian reality. And perhaps this aspect of a many-sided issue provides an adequate cue for a reading of the present books.
Farghali's book opens with a description of Hanin's return from a French boarding school to Mansoura -- her and the narrator, Emad's, home city. Everything initially seems ordinary except for one small detail: the reader is soon to discover that Emad -- a friend of Hanin's father Rami and the frustrated lover of her aunt Nadia, Rami's twin brother, who now receives her -- just happens to be dead. As the 20-year-old Hanin meets her aunt, embarking on a journey of discovery in which she finds out more about her father, aunt and supposedly dead mother, more than she ever thought possible -- the story takes on the guise of a complex family drama in which Emad plays the dual role of past participant and present narrator. The mystery of Hanin's mother's whereabouts invests the action with a degree of suspense that helps sustain interest.
As the plot thickens Emad disappears, and it is Nadia and Rami who take over the narration as the book draws to an end. Nadia speaks of her indissoluble attachment to Rami, her twin brother, providing her own account of Emad's story and revealing Hanin's secret: that she is in love with a Jew who wants her to live with him in Israel. Rami divulges part of the detail of his life following the disappearance of his wife, revealing his anti-Israeli feelings. In the end, however, the narrative closes on the same ordinary note. Neither is the mystery revealed nor does the reader find out about the future course of the characters' lives.
Within the context of magic realism, Farghali, faithful to his roots in social realism, is at bottom commenting on current social issues like Egyptians working abroad, Muslim-Copt relations (Hanin's mother is Christian) and the Arab Israeli conflict. Abdel-Mawgoud, by contrast, seeks inspiration in Egyptian folk heritage, evidencing a complex love-hate relationship with his Upper Egyptian roots. The name of the hero of Ain Al- Qott, the narrator's twin brother, is Qott (Cat), and he was so named because he came into the world half a minute after his twin brother, due to the prevalent belief that the younger twin metamorphoses into a cat by night. The present Qott really does become a cat, however, and it is this more than any other fact that drives the narrative forward.
Other stories make up a deeply absorbing panorama of village life in which Abdel-Mawgoud's psychological insight comes to the fore: the guard Hannawi's conspiracy with the mayor to cast the barber Boutros and his wife out of the village; the affair Sanneya, the wife of the civil servant Salah, is having with the driver Abbas; Hennawi's involvement in doctoring the elections; the inferiority complex suffered by Ustaz Sabri, the geography teacher, who lives in the poorest district; and the revolution the latter leads, putting an end to the oppression suffered by the poorer villagers...
Through the complications resulting from Qott's nightly observations of village life -- secrets he tends to divulge by morning -- Abdel- Mawgoud manages to tell a number of interesting stories and put forward a complete picture of contemporary village life, while at the same time investing his narrative with a charming fairy-tale dimension and thus avoiding any vestige of melodrama in so doing. In this way the text incorporates the prevalent, and palpably unrealistic beliefs of the villagers into the process of understanding their life -- a form of magic realism that is even more obvious than the one practised by Farghali.
Taken together, the two novels testify not only to the younger generation of novelists' ability to weave strands of the impossible into a homegrown realistic tapestry, but to a growing awareness among the practitioners of literature of the need to invest what they have to say about society or the psyche with readability -- a need that the Latin American example caters to in as many ways as there are authors who use it.
Reviewed by Youssef Rakha

all those genies


All those genies

Reading Ibrahim Farghali, Rania Khallaf thinks gentle sex

Jinniyah fi Qarora (Genie in a bottle), Ibrahim Farghali's latest novel, published last week with Dar Al-Ain, follows in a direct line from Kahf Al-Farashat (Butterfly cave, 1998) and Ibtisamat Al-Qiddissin (Saints' Smiles, 2004) -- mixing realism with myth making to the extent of being labelled his generation's magic realist. It is an idea Farghali shrugs off with remarkable poise, emphasising his interest in both peope and fiction.
The 119-page volume may indeed be read as the second, more accessible installment of Ibtisamat Al-Qiddissin, in which Haneen, the heroine -- the daughter of a Christian mother and a Muslim father -- provides a kind of guage of religious tolerance. In Jinniyah fi Qarora, rather, it is Haneen's personal life that comes to the fore, and she provides a guage of identity. "A whore," the novel opens, punching the reader into engagement. "No, I am not a whore." Born to Egyptian parents, Haneen was born and grew up in France, and her sense of self is caught up in the contradiction. Sex is persasive throughout, and it falls in with the central image of a (female) genie in a bottle. At one point during love making Patrique, one of Haneen's numerous lovers, appears to be regrouping to haul himself out of the bottle in which he is trapped, "burned in his own lust". Haneen's own escape from the bottle is a metaphor for finding love, true love -- a lover who will rescue and liberate her.
The issue of religion resurfaces within the framework of identity when David, a religious Jew who though raised in France has decided to settle in Israel, appears to be that person. This is a somewhat naïve expression of the issue of integration between Arabs and Israelis, but Farghali insists the relationship "only reflects the chaos that controls her sex life". Such chaos, reflected in group sex among other "perversions", raises questions about female liberation as a pretext for legitimising the traditional sins and in so doing further controlling the female body. To be, in her own words, a whore is a destiny cannot escape: a poignant moment occurs when she imagines stripping with her girlfriend Nataly before an audience of men. They are confused, indiscriminate, gaping, and in so being the embody the chaos of which Farghali speaks -- a chaos that, in its deeper guise, emanates from the core of her identity.
It is well possible to enjoy Jinniyah fi Qarora having not read Ibtisamat Al-Qiddissin, but the disembodied voice of the dead young man Emad, whose autobiographical notes his friend Rami has kept, maintains a sense of continuity. Emad is Farghali's most overt attempt at magic realism to date, and his presence reflects that of death in the lives of the living -- a fascinating, unknown realm of whose existence Farghali's characters are unfailingly aware. Thus a metaphysical monologue in which Emad sepaks of his existence in another, more progressive world based on the sublime value of knowledge occupies a huge portion of the second half of the book; and when Haneen comes back to Egypt on a scholarly visit, Emad's spirit reappears to guide the way to her mother, who had unaacountably disappeared on giving birth to her. This has the effect of slowing down the reading, following Haneen's vivid and brilliant sexual narrative, but it serves as a reminder -- something Farghali is keen on asserting -- that the book is an exercise in "theoretical" imagination.
The central image of a genie in a bottle finds theoretical expression in the idea of people living in glass buildings, something Haneen things of with longing: then, besides the maximum transparency that would save her so much trouble, she could find out where her mother is. Not that Farghali is unaware of the effect of this on the reading: "It's a way of impeding the flow of the narrative in an attempt at that difficult mix between theory and fiction. My target," he says, "is language. What I'm trying to do is create a new language that can speak of the odd, the unreal, in perfectly realistic tones." Does he have a personal connection with "the other world", howeve? "It has to do with my growing up in Dubai and especially Oman, where the culture is saturated with stories of phantoms and djinn -- to be found in the desert, which makes up most of the city, indeed -- and elements of witchcraft are just part of everyday life. It was perfectly normal, for example, to talk about encountering a man with a goat's legs while crossing the street. And it is something that evidently stayed with me."
In the second part of the novel, Haneen returns to Egypt to research a PhD on the norms of sexual relations in the Egyptian society. Peeping out of the window of her hotel room, she is astonished by the number of veiled women on the street, and wonders whether they enjoy full penetration or make do with oral sex to preserve their virginity. Eventually her research yields a clearer vision of her country, unavailable to her prior to it -- insight.
One thing the second section does not suggest is an answer to the questions raised at the end of each of the first part's seven chapters, voiced by Haneen. Is it Farghali's intention that they should play an artistic role in the progress of the narrative? Does he mean to reinstate the role of the author in society by directly raising issues? "They are mere questions suggesting certain themes," he says. "They start out being part of Haneen's quest for truth." A Western, liberal woman, Haneen shows all the contradictions of the Egyptian middle class. In fact, whether or not Farghali is aware of this, the novel is a massive step forward in the arena of portraying women's sexual life and her relations with men in Arabic literature. The most brilliant part of the novel is Haneen's conversation with Ali, a young Egyptian man whom she has met in Egypt and fallen in love with. To her he embodied the strength and charm, as well as the duplicity, of the Eastern male. A witty, humorous conversation reveals the differences between West and East -- irreconcilable contradictions. Eventually Haneen finds solace in the monasteries of Wadi Al-Natrun, where she sees the face of her mother reflected in the eye of a nun. At last she goes back to France, deciding never to look back.
C a p t i o n : Jinniyah fi Qarora (Genie in a bottle)
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Love Power..Well or fantasy?

Al-Ahram Weekly 9 - 15 May 2002
Ashbah Al-Hawas (Phantasmal Sensations) Cairo: Miret, 2001. pp80 Author: Ibrahim Farghali

Reviewed by Marie-Thérèse Abdel-Messih



Short story writing has gained strong popularity among Egyptian writers and readers at the turn of the century. Unlike mid-century realist writers who matured the form, fantasy realism has become the vogue among some young writers of the 1990s. Ashbah Al-Hawas (Phantasmal Sensations) is the second collection of short stories by Ibrahim Farghali. Since his very first collection, Bi-itigah Al-Ma'aqi (Looking within Eyeballs, 1997) he has decided to go against mainstream realist fiction by showing the dialectical relationship between the real and the fantastic. It is followed by Kahf Al-Farashat (The Butterflies' Cave, 1998) a novel written at an earlier date during his stay in the Gulf. The desert has played a major role in shaping expatriate literary culture. Expatriate writers are constantly travelling from the heavily populated metropolitan cities to the desert. For some expatriate writers, the desert is a void, for others it arouses fantasies that may be re-combined in the real. The desert has nourished Farghali's imagination, as its caves encode the fantastic or the unknown within the present. In his latest collection, Ashbah Al-Hawas, as in most of his works he undermines the conventional notions of causality and motivation characterising realist short story writing. At a time of upheaval, realist fiction writers have been trying to establish an art that can put chaos into order. Mainstream fiction has always been basically conservative even when critical, since its realism implies supposedly immanent structures. It would only address "serious" issues marginalising whatever disagrees with the community's values. The feminine is encoded as either passive or dominant / the modern woman. Conversely, the younger writers have expressed their reluctance to adopt the contradictory morality prevailing. Farghali uses the fantastic to uncover moral degeneration in inhibited social relationships based on fantasy-bonds. In his stories the reader is positioned as spectator to quotidian male-female relationships that most of the time end melodramatically. Chance is the sole motivator in all the stories, as the love affairs alternate between bestiality and romance, the lyrical and the sensual. The chance cycle may cover a lifetime or an evening, and the narrative shifts within different time sequences. The same cycle of events may be repeated in another story from another character's viewpoint. The stories mostly end with personal transformation. It is either a mental transformation or a metamorphosis. There is no marvelous intervention, but the real and the fantastic exist in a symbiotic relationship. The thematic concern in the stories focuses on male-female intimate relationships, a subject long denied by the conservative cultural milieu, sex being tabooed as the "other" of the sacred. In the stories, Farghali configures the female body as a site of contradiction that creates chances for proximity and/or estrangement. Even when metamorphosed it does not represent an element of mystery but is taken as a given. In "Mariam: the Cooing Lady," Mariam, the deserted woman is transformed into a hideous owl. This does not surprise the reader. The story opens at a climatic pitch after midnight, reverberating with the sounds of howling ghosts, croaking owls and soft incantations proceeding from the nearby mosque. The disconcerting sounds are later domesticated when their source is found out. The reader is at ease with the fantastic yet bewildered at the males' natural disposition to treat women inconsiderately. Love becomes a combat, an act of violence leaving bruises on the female body. When touched, the bruises connect her with unknown forces, phantoms that satiate a desire that has never been appeased. In "Phantasmal Sensation," again the abject woman is unresponsive to the male touch and chooses to fantasise intimate relations with a phantom. Like all the stories in the collection it subverts the bids for power underlying all common male-female relationships. The transformation of the abject woman into a spectral being is a movement from self to other in protest against oppression. The male transformation is usually in the form of a withdrawal due to estrangement. The male figure is always a sexual exile. He is in constant craving for the woman but never content. Estrangement is experienced after each aborted love story. "Gin Tonic" and "Screw Driver," recount the same event from male and female viewpoints respectively. In "The Green Room" the male voice comments on both stories in relation to a new contact with a woman in Paris. The stories are autonomous but revolve around analogous experiences emphasising the cyclic pattern of life swinging in a constant wave oscillating between fulfilment and deprivation. The subjects are dominated by repressive moral constraints determining their lives. Such constraints are supposedly a safeguard against bestiary, but they actually transform the subjects into voracious beings. The fantastical encodes the external disorder and becomes the inevitable condition of being. The result is incomprehensibility leading to self-reproach or victimisation of the other. The stories usually parody the melodramatic endings of the boy-girl love story in popular fiction. The melodrama invites the reader to identify with the protagonist, a process that subverts any liberatory concepts. It makes it difficult for the reader to feel distanced from the event allowing for oppositional readings. Notwithstanding, the recurrence of the same event in several stories emphasises the contradictory process of experiencing, which makes for multiple readings. In "The Green Room," what has previously seemed incomprehensible in the boy-girl relationship becomes comprehensible in the light of a new relationship. If incomprehensibility has earlier led to the lovers' estrangement, estrangement between the lovers in another relationship may lead to understanding. In "The Green Room" both partners are lonely strangers meeting by chance in Paris. However, they manage to recreate an illusion of happiness, to actualise the passion represented in the spectacle they have attended together. "Three Candles" narrates the encounter in Paris through the female viewpoint. Paris becomes a site of licence and fulfilment for both. Significantly their fulfilment is partial; the couple being away from home and their displacement makes future encounters unfeasible. Their present chance encounter appears phantasmal but the woman avows that she has never before stood on more solid ground. The texts deflect metaphorical conceptualisations, and the meanings to be drawn remain suspended. It is not solely restricted to a social criticism of conflicting moral codes, but also touches on the archetypal, revealing the continuum of eroticism and aggression. Love and hate, joy and pain are not opposites; there is only more passion and less passion. Revelations or reconciliation can never take place with the subjects constantly pushed towards estrangement. Meanwhile, to live in love and peace is one of the persistent contradictions, an ideal impossible and unnatural. It is high time to uncover what has been blocked from consciousness for long. The stories represent emotional conflicts long repressed. However, the ahistorical nature of their major topic, individual love, does not subdue their subversive impulse. The stories reveal the intricate intersection of nature and culture. Sex cannot be reduced to a mater of social convention nor can the self remain unrestrained by society. If sex is one of the forms of power, the question the stories leave us with is how to contain the will to power?
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Saintly models

In progress: Saintly modelsProfile by Youssef Rakha - Ahram Weekly

Ibrahim Farghali is a writer and journalist. Since graduating from the Faculty of Commerce, Mansoura University, he has worked at Rose Al-Youssef (1991-94), the Omani cultural magazine Nizwa (1994-97) and several departments of Al-Ahram (since 1998). He has published his work in Al-Fann Al-Sabie, Akhbar Al-Adab, Adab wa Naqd and many other magazines and periodicals. Since last returning from Oman, where he spent a significant part of his childhood, Farghali has produced three volumes of fiction: Bittijah Al-Maaqi (Towards the Eyes, 1997), Kahf Al-Farashat (Butterfly Cave, 1998) and lately Ashbah Al- Hawaas (Ghosts of the Senses, 2001); the latter, whose main theme is sexual relations, appeared just after the banning of three, allegedly pornographic General Organisation for Cultural Palaces publications -- an occasion referred to as the "three novels crisis". Other than the two projects I'm working on, intermittently, there is really very little to speak of. I married last summer and my daughter Laila is already a major figure: she commands a great deal of my attention. Then there is the daily, journalistic work: nothing terribly interesting there. Every week I read books in preparation for the Tuesday Books page of the daily Al-Ahram. I can't say I enjoy reading in this rushed way, by force as it were, though Ezzat El-Qamhawi's recent Al-Aik fil-Mabahij (Trees of Joy) did prompt a deeply felt response, its slight verbosity notwithstanding. At Rose Al-Youssef I did straightforward political reporting, nothing else, but even the culturally-oriented press proves frustratingly conventional as a job; and it tends to take up far too much time. One of the two projects is a novel, yes. Ibtisamat Al-Qiddisin (Saints' Smiles) is my provisional title, but I'm still thinking. It's about Muslim-Copt relations; sometimes -- you mention Ashbah Al- Hawaas -- it pays to be topical, though for me it is never a popularity-generating mechanism. The stories in Ashbah Al- Hawaas had been written long before the crisis, of course, but it was a nice timing challenge; and it was reassuring to find a publisher (Mohamed Hashim's Miret) willing to take the risk. The real challenge, however, was how to be bold, even explicit, without being in any way vulgar or losing sight of the reader. Themes included mutual misunderstanding between men and women; and four of the stories in the collection recount the same events from two corresponding viewpoints. There was also this idea of intimacy between two people from two entirely different socio-cultural backgrounds, how they might interact at this level, what they might say. You will notice, though, that if anything the actual sex either does not happen at all or remains incomplete. I've been working on Ibtisamat Al-Qiddisin, on and off, for a very long time. Laden details keep emerging, taking control and prompting various kinds of research are propelling me in new directions. Some events take place in Mansoura, for example. Some scenes happen in churches there. A lot of priests and things. Now in the area there are two principal towns, Mansoura and Talkha; and the usual leisure practise for many of the inhabitants of Mansoura is to cross the river to Talkha and look back on their city from there. "Mansoura from Talkha" is thus the usual perspective. And during my research -- one logistical problem, you see, was that every so often I had to get there and stay for a few days; thankfully that part of my research has been concluded -- it was interesting to reverse that perspective, looking, instead, at Talkha from Mansoura. You'd be surprised how many memories this process of rediscovery generated, and how much inspiration for the novel. All I have to do now is to sit down and finish writing the book. It sounds blissfully simple... Whereas a short story overtakes you all at once -- laying its own foundations and forming, as it were, immediately -- a novel builds up over time. In a story there tends to be absolutely no plan, but when you write a novel you have a general theme and you seek it out as you write, discovering more and more details as you go along. You look around you and the idea changes, the bits and pieces come together in ever newer ways and it might end up being something totally unlike what you started out with. Whether it's a short story or a novel, though, I always work with the reader in mind: I feel I have an obligation to the reader, whose interest I must never let go of. Maybe the topical bent is merely a reflection of this concern: wanting to capture the reader's interest and maintain it till the very last sentence. Which should never be confused with being vulgar or blasphemous or scandalous in order to generate attention. It is in the second project that this open-ended approach to writing a novel finds expression. Again, from the practical viewpoint, one should never begin a new project until the old one is complete. But you can't help these fluctuations of attention -- forcing you into one or another direction despite your better judgment. Already I've published a chapter of the new book -- in the last issue of the alternative literary magazine Al-Kitaba Al-Ukhra, under the title Tuqous Awwaliya (Preliminary Rites). I was thinking the title for the whole thing would be Aqni'at Al-Ra'ia (The People's Masks) but I'm not at all sure. That chapter depicts a sort of fancy-dress party in which the masks develop into disturbing dimensions of the characters' identities. The book is focussed on this idea of illusion vs. reality, lying vs. the truth and multiple identities. As far as I can see it's going to be a multi-genre endeavour, with long passages devoted to the concept of the artist's model -- another long-standing interest of mine -- and others that will draw on my own experience. But the "I" of the narrator plays no part in the transition from one mode to another. The stress will remain on fiction, on this being an essentially fictional text: all the various, diversely dramatised strands of the aforementioned cluster of themes should emerge seamlessly out of the process of invention itself -- of producing fiction. I'm equally embroiled in both projects at the same time. I wish I could finish one of them, that would be such a relief. Eventually, I'm sure, one of them will take over entirely and so force me to complete it.