Theses Doctoral

Shifting Ground: Spatial Representations in the Literature of the Sixties Generation in Egypt

Ramadan, Yasmine Aly

This dissertation examines the representation of space in the fiction of seven members of the sixties generation in Egypt. Focusing upon the novels of Jamal al-Ghitani, Muhammad al-Bisati, 'Abd al-Hakim Qasim, Baha' Tahir Yahya Tahir 'Abdallah, Ibrahim Aslan, and Sun'allah Ibrahim, I contend that the representation of urban, rural, and exilic space is a means to trace the social, political, and economic changes of the post-colonial period in Egypt. This exploration is framed by the theoretical work of Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre and seeks to show that the "spatial shift" that has occurred in the humanities and social sciences can enrich the understanding of the contribution of this literary generation. Emerging at a time of instability and uncertainty, the writers of jil al-sittinat (the sixties generation) moved away from the realist techniques of their predecessors, displaying new innovations in their work, in an ongoing struggle to convey their changing experience of reality.

This shift away from realism can be registered in the representation of urban, rural, and exilic space and speaks to the writers' growing disillusionment with the post-colonial project in Egypt, in the years following the 1952 Revolution. Chapter One traces the emergence of the writers of the sixties generation onto the literary scene in Egypt, presenting both the aesthetic innovations with which they were associated, and the socio-economic and political context of which they were seen to be both a part and an expression. This chapter also pays attention to the "anxiety over categorization" that the appearance of this generation seems to have caused, an issue that has been overlooked by critics in the field, and which reveals a great deal about how power and authority is negotiated within the literary field in Egypt.

Chapter Two moves to the focus upon literary texts, exploring the representation of the urban space of Cairo in the novels of Ibrahim, al-Ghitani, and Aslan. The three novels reveal a move away from the realist depictions of the popular quarters of Cairo, or of the alley as a cross-section of society; the novelists represent "new" spaces within the capital, or "old" spaces in new ways, showing the way in which the relationship between the individual and the state is based upon surveillance and control, providing virulent critiques of the regimes of Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir and Anwar al-Sadat. Chapter Three turns to an examination of the Egyptian countryside as it appears in the novels of Qasim and 'Abdallah, arguing that the move away from socialist realism resulted in the re-imagination of the village as mystical or mythic space. This chapter places these novels within the context of the agricultural reforms intended to improve the lives of the rural population, and that dominated political discussions in the decade of the fifties and sixties. Both novelists present villages that are separate from the rest of the country, calling into question the possibility of revolutionary change.

The fourth and final chapter ends with the move beyond the borders of the Egyptian nation; the novels of Tahir and al-Bisati signal a shift to Europe and the Arab Gulf which appear as the spaces of political and economic dislocation. These novels are read in light of the transformations that resulted in migration, and that call into question both national and regional forms of belonging. This dissertation expands the understanding of the literary contribution of the sixties generation by bringing together the discussion of stylistic innovation and thematic preoccupation, while also insisting upon an approach that reads the production of the generation against the socio-economic and political changes that took place in the decades after their emergence on the literary scene.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Al-Musawi, Muhsin Jassim
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 24, 2012