KHARTOUM (SUDANOW) - The third edition of Qatar’s Katara Prize for Arabic Novel last Thursday celebrated the memory of al-Tayeb Salih by opening an exhibition entitled ‘Al-Tayeb Salih, The Genius of Arabic Literature’. The exhibition presented a biography of the Sudanese novelist who was often described as the genius of the modern Arab novel by literary critics.
Critic Majzoub Aidarous, Secretary-General of Tayeb Salih International Award took part in this year's third session of Katara. This participation comes in the context of his critical follow-up of all forms of the Arab art innovations and as part of his responsibility of running the Award which has scored a good fame in the Arab circles.
SUDANOW interviewed Aidarous to speak on the ingenuity of Tayeb Salih as he has uncovered in reading the works of Salih and in meeting him personally, and on the tremendous leap in the Arab narrative writing.
SUDANOW: How do you preview your participation in this year's Katara celebration of the Arab Novel?
Aidarous: Upon receiving the invitation for participation in the Katara Award celebration this year, I was overwhelmed with numerous feelings which included a feeling that the Katara Award for this year would be a commemoration of Tayeb Salih, a symbol of an author who tightened the relations with the state of Qatar both through his service with the Qatari Ministry of Information and his supervision of the UNESCO Bureau of the Arab Gulf states. A positive aspect of the participation will be the introduction of the Qatari experience in running the Award and the transfer of the Sudanese experience of running the international Award of Tayeb Salih, whih is sponsored by Zain Telecom, because we integrate rather than contest with our brothers.
Q: Why has Tayeb Salih been chosen as the character of the celebration of the third session of Katara Award?
A: The choice was appropriate as Tayeb Salih is an Arab and international innovative symbol. This celebration signals several denotations the most important of is that Tayeb Salih managed to break several barriers. In Sudan he came to Khartoum from a village in the Northern State and forced his presence in the capital of the country shattering the myth of inferiority of the periphery to the center. He managed to place the Sudan on the Arab map of innovation despite the fact that the major Arab cultural capitals were Cairo and Beirut at that time, though those two cities were credited for the printing, publishing and distributing the works of Tayeb Salih and they were centers for the Arab criticism that drew the attention to Tayeb Salih. Through the translation of his works into the major languages of the world, Tayeb Salih managed to reach the internationalism and his works became topics of criticism worldwide and were read by millions of people of varied languages, faiths, beliefs and leanings. Thus he contributed to spreading the Arab literature to an extent that none of his contemporaries might have reached.
Q: How can Tayeb Salih's ingenuity be explained?
A: His ingenuity is manifested in his rich feelings of the warmth of the Sudanese countryside, of his multiple humanitarian relations, the linkage of the rural human being with the River Nile and other elements of nature besides his comprehension of the constants and changes of the Sudanese life. All these factors led to the diverse viewpoints of criticism of Tayeb Salih innovations.
Q: What do you mean by the phrase 'diverse viewpoints of criticism'?
A: Some critics have categorized Tayeb Salih works as post-colonization innovations while others, like late Dr. Isam Bahy, considered him as part of the journey to the West in the modern novel. Yet other critics regarded Tayeb Salih as a genius one who embodies the relationship between the ego and the other. (See the valuable study that was presented by Dr. Saeed Yagteen in the scientific forum on Tayeb Salih International Award.) There are articles by Tayeb Salih that shed a glistening light on remote horizons he gazed at. Once when he was asked about the Sudan relationship with the Arabism, Salih replied in Sudanese Arabic: "We are Arabs and it is up to anyone who does not recognize our Arabism."
Q: Can you explain your statement that Tayeb Salih has made a breakthrough in the Arab novel?
A: The important breakthrough by Tayeb Salih was surmounting an impasse the Arab novel reached at the time when unique novelist Naguib Mahfouz dominated the Arab cultural arena setting a ceiling that was difficult to reach. Salih, however, opened up a new course for the novel with which he proved to possess an ability of inventing new unusual techniques for the Arab novel writing.
In this respect there are two factors that must be pondered- one was related to his employment of the Sudanese local folklore and the ancient Arab heritage, his thoughtful readings of the Arab poetry, particularly poetry of Al-Mutanaby. One can notice in his writings the method in which Sudanese grandmothers narrate tales to lull children into sleeping, besides using the style of the important book of "A Thousand-and-One Nights" which pursues the technique of relating a tale within another tale.
The second factor was his employment of the theatre and cinema techniques. Salih began his service as a teacher of an intermediate school in the city of Rufa'ah on the east bank of the Blue Nile in central Sudan. In that school he prepared and produced theatrical plays for the pupils, including one based on the novel of Distyovisky. He skillfully used the Sudanese Arabic dialect which was difficult to understand in other Arab countries. Salih also made use of the cinema techniques of the flashback and montage. We should not forget that Salih was in charge of the drama section in the BBC where he introduced a smart ploy of employing and playing with the time, taking the reader from one place to another between London and the village that lies on the bend of the River Nile.
Q; what accomplishments did the Katara Award scored for the Arab culture and the Arab intelligentsia?
A: The Katara Award has, during a short period, managed to spread out widely as demonstrated by the great numbers of the contestants in the Award which is set for the Arab novel with its different patterns. It has provided an opportunity to the Arab innovators to contest in a cordial and amicable environment. It also provided them with an opportunity of transferring the winning novels into theatrical works and television serials so that they can reach an audience that is greater than the readership. The Award also brought together Arab literati and critics from various Arab countries in the cultural quarter of Katara. It also introduced a good tradition of honoring great literati as we have seen in commemoration of Naguib Mahfouz and Tayeb Salih this year.
Q: How do you view the present reality of the Arab novel compared to the subsidence of poetry in the cultural arena?
A: It is noticed that the Arab novel has, in the last decades, rivaled poetry and has earned preference and demand by the readers. We have noticed this in the Arab book fairs and in the wide criticism of the novels in Sudan and other countries. This is attributed to several reasons the most important of which is that its scope is so wide that it can absorb other literary norms and can make use of the techniques of such arts as the theatre, the cinema and painting.
The novel has, through the great efforts which have been exerted since the 1960s, experienced experimentation and modernization, unlike the poetry which has its origins deeply rooted in the Arab culture with traditions that cannot be easily surpassed. We have seen the suffering of the poets of the metric verse, although this pattern of poetry is based on the prosody rules of Khalil, as well as the suffering of the poets of the prose poems for recognition of their experience in some cultural circles. In contrast, the novel is of a broad spectrum that enables the novelist to embark on adventures of searching for a new form and style, making use of the experiments of others. We have noticed that a number of the great novelists tend to use poetic narration.
Q: How about the connection and integration of the Arab awards?
A: In the Arab world we are in need of more coordination and integration between our cultural institutions because the culture is almost the sole field in which the Arab nation is unified. And without getting entangled in the complexities of politics, we can say that the awards which cross the artificial borderlines can remove the psychological barriers between the writers and the readers and can enable us to exchange experiments. They also offer chances for the Arab intellectuals to get together in the forums that are organized by the institutions which supervise the awards. This advantage alone is of a great value, enabling us to gain experience and knowledge which cannot be reached in absence of those institutions and awards. Participation by an Arab writer residing on the Atlantic coast with other colleagues on the shores of the Gulf or with others in the diaspora in the Americas, Australia and Europe provides a hope for the inevitability of cultural communication between each Arab country and its regional and international environment.
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