Abdel-Moneim Tallima: Remembering an influential Egyptian literary critic

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 16 Mar 2017

The late Abdel Moneim Tallima

The late Abdel-Moneim Tallima, who died last week at the age of 80, was not just an influential and important literary critic, but was dedicated to a social mission aimed at both understanding the world and changing it.

Tallima authored numerous books, schooled large numbers of students and supervised many academic projects, and travelled the world frequently on various scientific missions.

Until his death, he hosted weekly literary discussion meetings in his home for over five decades.

The late critic, born in 1937, graduated from the Arabic Language Department at Cairo University in 1960 and received his MA in 1963 in a thesis on Egyptian political poetry from the Orabi Revolution of 1882 until the 1919 Revolution.

He received his PhD in the theory of poetry in modern literary criticism in 1966

He also earned a diploma in pedagogy and a BA in classical literature (Latin and Greek).

His academic endeavours took him all the way to head of the Arabic Language Department at Cairo University.

After the publishing of his pivotal book An Introduction to Literature Theory in 1973, he authored An Introduction to Literary Aesthetics in 1978; The Arabs’ Approach to Writing Biographies 1983, and Naguib Mahfouz in 2001.

He also contributed chapters in several books and introductions to dozens of studies and essays that were not published in book form.

Tallima also republished the 1926 controversial book by the late literary giant Taha Hussein On Pre-Islamic Poetry with a new introduction.

The book was banned shortly after it was published, as Hussein faced accusations of casting doubts on basic tenets of Islamic theology.

His lectures and discussions, which he held at his home every Thursday evening in an open forum attended by generations of both writers and students, were not recorded. He believed in direct, live, open and democratic discussions.  

As a matter of fact, his critical efforts, both theoretical and applied, formed a school of criticism whose pillars are on based on Marxist aesthetics on the one hand, and celebrating the value of science as well as the close relationship between art and literature and the movement of history and society on the other.

In An Introduction to Literature Theory, Tallima discussed the concept of alienation in society, celebrated the freedom of the literary creator and his independence.

According to Tallima, literary criticism is part of social criticism, because he considered literature both a portrait and a mirror of society.

His academic, political and critical contributions also spanned the cultural sphere.

Tallima faced a number of hurdles in life, including a punitive transferral from his job as a university professor to a desk job at the Ministry of Housing during the crackdown by the late president Anwar El-Sadat on all opposition in September 1981.

He was also jailed on two occasions for his political activities and beliefs.

Tallima received the State Merit Award in the Arts in 2004.

The American University in Cairo celebrated his critical works last year. At the event at AUC, he acknowledged that he learned about the Arabic lexicon from theology historian George Qanawati (1905 – 1993), the renewal of religious thought from Islamic thinker Sheikh Ali Abdel-Raziq (1888 – 1967), the interaction between literature and society from renowned philosopher Zaki Naguib Mahmoud (1905 – 1993), and literature’s doctrines and styles from literary critic Mohamed Mandour (1907 – 1965).

Finally, instead of saying farewell to the late critic, the government must bear the responsibility of republishing his works, including his unpublished MA and PhD theses.

Shortly before his death, Tallima said in newspaper interviews that he was about to finish two books: The Moon on its Wall, a semi-autobiography; and I Knew Them as Men and Women, But did I Know Myself?, which explores his relationship with a number of personalities that contributed in shaping his world outlook.

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