Critic and university professor Lamia Shammat to ‘Sudanow’:
- The local critical scene is still facing difficult and growing challenges.
- Women’s writings express the manifestations of women’s awareness.
- The prose poem refuses to cut its wings and to be conformed to the ready and rigid molds.
- The philosophical weight of the educational process has shifted to support the learners.
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Critic and university professor Lamia Shammat has a project of criticism that combines authenticity and modernity. She is a prominent figure in the cultural sphere. She has many contributions in many platforms, as she publishes her writings in “The Guardian” and in the Arabic and Sudanese newspapers. She was recently invited by the Sudanese Club in Oman to a seminar under the title “Narrative Stylistic Techniques: the Short Story as a Case Study”. She has previously published a book entitled “Reflections and Testimonies” that contains critical readings in creative texts of several writers alongside a book on the short story entitled “The Short Short Story”. Sudanow interviewed her about her experience and issues of present day culture:
SUDANOW- Lamia Shammat and the act of writing, why was it the choice? Is it because of the nature of your studies or because of the experience of life? Is writing an expression of the author's crisis?
SHAMMAT- Writing is a life option. It has the capacity and depth that enable it to absorb and reproduce all life and cognitive experiences with its emotional, psychological and intellectual stock. Therefore, it may remain the other bank of the green and wide-open spaces which promise gifts, despite the exhausted imagination and the heavy move between the borders of language and the fields of expression and signification. Therefore, with lot of courage, there are some who define writing as showers that wash the soul, whether it comes as a merciful precipitation or as a violent blow or as a persistent attack. In all cases, it has the capacity to sew the holes of the self.
It is also a wild opportunity to escape from the daily and ordinary, to avoid the monotonous, flat and stable every day, and to rearrange details while striving to humanize the ungrateful reality.
Q- Is the short short story, as a literary genre, a modern alternative to the short story and the novel?
A- The short short story, with its special stylistic code and sensitivity, its experiential horizons and exuberant rhythms, its linguistic density and its semantic fertilization, represents a field of skillful aesthetic play and sophisticated artistic achievement, which employs its expertise to preserve the narrative work and to create a technical tight and dense artistic construction.
For all this, the short short story is seen as a formidable creative cry in the face of the rigid separation of the literary genres, and a courageous struggle against the hedges and guarded borders, and the closed and concentrated forms.
This is what gives the short short story a heavy presence in the scene of literary creativity. It expands its space and horizons steadily and gradually, because it naturally comes from causes, necessities, transformations, social and life changes that give it its different existence. This existence is not necessarily conditioned by shifts in ideas such as encumbering or omitting at the thresholds of narrative imagination.
Q- Novelist and critic Issa al-Hilo predicts the death of the short story faced to the explosion of the novel?
A- I still believe in the closeness and neighbouring of literary genres that feed and nourish each other. Each one has its different form, aesthetic potential, and the circumstances of its existence, as well as its right to be unique, and propose a different aesthetic adventure. This evokes Lukács’s important argument that any creative style depends on the absolute need to express an intrinsic, supernatural content emanating from the heart of its existential moment and its special humanistic dimension.
On the other hand, the current novel’s wave, according to the vision of our professor Issa al-Hilo, necessitates thinking and scrutinizing creativity from the angles of reading, tasting, and criticizing instead of focusing on quantity at the expense of quality. Here, in contrast, we can recall the anxious views of critic Mahjoub Kabalou about the reality of the Sudanese novel, which, he believes has not moved from the ‘pre-novel’ era, described as the novel bankruptcy. Thus, we can say that the difference in creative and critical views and opinions offers diversity and difference, and therefore more ease and compassion.
Q- How do you evaluate the critical scene in Sudan?
A- Needless to say that criticism is an integrated system of knowledge stuffed of visions, methods and tools. As for the local critical scene, it still faces difficult and growing challenges. It must choose from the methods and tools what would enable it to read the text in all its charms, aesthetics and influences without turning these methods into school jargon and knowledge barriers. Criticism must also strive to reach the incessant creative production in all its manifestations, be they poetry or narration or any aesthetic work, and try to provide serious readings in the new experiences and promising pens in various fields of creativity. Besides, criticism must go along with all that is recent and changing in all its currents, orientations, sensibilities, experimental capacities and aesthetic loads.
Q- Have women's writings been able to reflect women’s reality in Sudan?
A- Women's creativity is undoubtedly an intimate aesthetic engagement that goes on to develop and accumulate its collection within the human cultural product in its broad cosmopolitan horizon. It is shaped by life possibilities, experiences, interactions, questions and transformations. Thus, it does not stop attempts to detect and search in the memory and in the different layers of the psychological and emotional archives, to express and reflect the manifestations of women’s awareness, and the indicators of development and renewal of this awareness. It seeks to master how to express the uniqueness of its rituals, its daily vocabulary, its preoccupations and concerns, as well as to invest its encoding, differentiation and stylistic equivocation, and its visionary ciphering, to voice its existential questions.
This abundant creativity is still continuing, since Malikat Al-Dar to Estella Gaitano and Nahid Mohamed al-Hassan as an explanation of the self-cry that emerges from the obscurity of negation and reduction to the brightness of the intense presence.
Q- Has the prose poem been an alternative to vertical poetry and free verse poetry in the Arab world?
A- The prose poem was destined to face harsh reprimand and aggressive defense of the traditional model. Elements such as pretension, slippery, and ambiguity were attributed to it, while it refuses to cut its wings and to be conformed to the ready and rigid molds.
Still, in return, it was able to overcome the campaigns of reprimand and abuse, and to defend its right to present its aesthetic potential beyond the boundaries of fencing and reserve, so that it expands its possibilities of experimentation and to take full advantage of its right to embark on a horizon of artistic and aesthetic adventures exploring new undiscovered paths and uninhabited lands, and to go on developing its sensitivity to adapt to the social and cultural contexts, and to model with the temperament of its existential moment.
Q- According to your follow-up to the Sudanese novel in the recent era, to what extent did this novel benefit from modern techniques of narrative writing?
A- The development of knowledge and human sciences, of the modern psychological, social, philosophical and linguistic discoveries, has a direct and indirect impact on the narration through a combination of innovative techniques that contribute to the accumulation of the experiences of the narrative discourse and the improvement of its stylistic and aesthetic preoccupations, the variety of narrative methods and the methods of constructing its coherent and multi-layered architecture. It also contributes to the construction and synthesis of characters and to the arrangement of the narrative scene by a set of cinematic techniques. For example, the composition of scenes depends on the use of the skills of reduction, editing, flashback, cutting and fragmentation, and the use of various imaginative paradoxes to break the linearity of time and to establish a place that may appear to be a limited geographical space, but it expands intellectually and morally to become a universal human space in which we feel the presence of characters through their words and actions, and the manifestations of their sensations and consciousness. In addition to the importance of the linguistic exploits that work to adapt language to its maximum potential in order to serve the narration and to reconstruct its semantic horizon.
Q- What about the experience of estrangement and its impact on the critic and the writer in general?
A- Estrangement is a state of mind rather than a geographical one. It is an existential experience that is shaped as we want it to be, either anguish and closure, or a stimulating and productive interaction that seeks to take advantage of the view from a balcony that would allow for a wider and more ambitious vision, so that it can be turned into a voyage of exploration. This can be possible if we deal with the experience in an unimpaired humanism innocent from established prejudices and ideas about the self and the other.
Therefore, I prefer to live the estrangement as a journey that introspects its experiences and circumstances, just as in the good narration, when the place is not purely a container of people and events, but a projection of sense and memory on the moment and place with all its contents, and a detection of the interactions of the ego with its conditions and its existential environment.
Q- Through your experience as a university professor, to what extent do the educational curricula go along with modern criticism?
A- There is a tremendous shift in educational curricula across the world, and it is still struggling to make its way to some of our planet's secluded places or excluded if you want. According to this transformation, the philosophical weight of the educational process has shifted to support the learners, not only through offering them knowledge but also by providing their personality with its own growth factors, to increase its efficiency, to develop it and to strengthen its awareness, with a focus on moral and emotional support for the acquisition of more knowledge and skills, and the development of fertile imagination, freedom of thought and expression, energy to project creative initiatives, and the ability to dismantle and analyse problems and scientifically predict their consequences and alternatives.
All these factors implicitly participate in the expansion of the fields of modern criticism. They help to sharpen and develop tools of detection and analysis, with the purpose of shaking and removing the artificial walls, celebrating diversity and encouraging the multiplicity of readings and interpretation.
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