In what may seem a response to the attack on his lecture in France, writer and novelist, Alaa Al-Aswany, delivered a lecture on the importance of arts and literature, lashing out “those extremists, who hate the imagination and have no taste of arts,” in his first public appearance in Cairo after his return from Europe.
Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi disrupted a conference of Al-Aswany at the Arab World Institute in Paris on 17 October, forcing him to flee the hall and chanting against the military and Al-Aswany personally, who backed the ouster of Morsi 3 July.
Art is the key
Al-Aswany signed his most recent novel, Nady Al-Sayarat (The Cars Club), at Shorouk Bookstore in Zamalek, and instead of discussing the novel with his audience as planned, spoke about the importance of arts and the imagination, asserting that literature is inseparable from current events, as “literature is the key to understanding the world around us, as it recomposes our daily life in a more profound, beautiful and signifying sense.”
For Al-Aswany, much of our daily lives is trivial and it’s not necessarily beautiful, significant or profound. Here comes the importance of the arts. “The arts recreate our daily life — recreate reality, removing the trivial and banal layers and adding the sense of imagination. The literary equation consists of the real with its surplus, the imagined, and this is how a writer works.”
Al-Aswany, who spoke in a quiet tone and did not mention the Muslim Brotherhood in his lecture, directed vehement criticism against “those who underestimate the arts and literature and only enjoy the sensual pleasures; those who feel pleasure when they have sex, eat, drink or wash themselves with cold water on a hot day — they can’t understand anything that does not touch their primitive senses.”
The author of The Yacoubian Building said that extremism is always related to sexual obsession, giving the example of Muslim sheikhs who deem accepted and praised the marriage of 13-year-old girls, “if they can bear sexual intercourse,” Al-Aswany mocks them and their logic, saying: “To know that you can bear something means that you should try it first. This is a broken logic to justify marrying young girls.”
“Imagination is they key to understand the world in a more profound way, but extremists and those who have no taste for literature and the imagination don’t realise this. They’re drowning in their sensual pleasure, and you can’t make them understand a work of art or make them enjoy a piece of music. It’s beyond their reach,” Al-Aswany said.
Al-Aswany added that those who have no taste of arts, never read what they criticise, citing the example of the extremist who stabbed the late Egyptian Nobel laureate novelist Naguib Mahfouz in the neck in the 1980s and was about to kill him. He said during interrogation that he did not read any Mahfouz work, but only heard the writer defamed religion.
Al-Aswany added that some of these same people would have liked Mahfouz if he had been a carpenter or a mechanic, where they could find practical advantage from him.
Bad speaking habits
The award-winning author also criticised the common Egyptian culture of speach, saying that many Egyptians speak more words than they mean and use senseless terms and words that can neither be translated nor found in a dictionary.
“In my own writings, I try to avoid banalities. Every sentence is necessary in my texts. You can’t remove one word without feeling that there’s something wanting,” he said. “A sector of Egyptian people is suffering a kind of stupidity, and by stupidity I mean the failure to connect causes with their results. Some people can’t don’t have any sense of causality. If you told them 1,2 they would tell you 11,12. This is stupidity,” he said.
Al-Aswany spoke next briefly about the assault in Paris, describing those who attacked him as a group of people unable to appreciate art.
The Cars Club
Al-Aswany finally gave a glimpse into his new novel: “It took me four years to write this novel, which is about the making of the first automobile in the world and the first car in Egypt, and how Egyptians fell in love with cars ... then I speak of the establishment of the first automobile club in Egypt,” he explained.
Al-Aswany said that the French edition of the novel is expected to come out in February 2014, and that the English version will be released in the following September. He noted that the English version was delayed because he had to change translator.