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Mahmud ʾAmin al-ʿAlim: Between Politics and Literary Criticism

Mahmud Ghanayim
Poetics Today
Vol. 15, No. 2, Cultural Processes in Muslim and Arab Societies: Modern Period II (Summer, 1994), pp. 321-338
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/1773168
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1773168
Page Count: 18
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Abstract

The subject of this article is the Egyptian critic Mahmud ʾAmin al-ʿAlim (b. 1922). In 1955, along with fellow critic ʿAbd al-ʿAzim ʾAnis, al-ʿAlim published a collection of articles entitled Fi al-Thaqafa al-Misriyya. In 1989, the third edition of this book appeared, and in his new introduction, al-ʿAlim stresses his firm adherence to the same positions on literary criticism that he had taken in 1955. However, when I investigated this question, I found that some changes had in fact occurred. These changes can be assigned to the following four categories: (1) In the course of his activities in literary criticism since 1955, al-ʿAlim has introduced elements that were not part of his original frame of reference, as set out in the first edition of his book, especially with regard to his understanding of literary form. (2) It appears that originally central ideas have moved toward the margins for al-ʿAlim over time. Thus, the importance of external influences (e.g., the author's political convictions) has diminished in relation to purely literary considerations in al-ʿAlim's evaluation of a given literary work. (3) Several definitions are preserved in form only, while their meanings have acquired different connotations, as illustrated by al-ʿAlim's understanding and use of his central term "theme." (4) Al-ʿAlim's critical study of the work of Sunʿ Allahʾ Ibrahim, Thulathiyyat al-Rafd waʾl-Hazima, shows that, in recent years at least, al-ʿAlim has not adhered to his theoretical principles in his applied criticism. All of these examples clearly demonstrate the development of, and changes in, al-ʿAlim's literary criticism. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that al-ʿAlim did not abandon the Marxist approach, with its focus on the dialectics between form and theme.

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