(Freedom and revolutions in Naǧīb Maḥfūẓ’s “Karnak” café: A model of literature of resistance to power)
in La rivista di Arablit, a. II, n. 3, giugno 2012, pp. 32-46.
Written in 1971 and published in 1974, al-Karnak is one of Naǧīb Maḥfūẓ’s most explicitly political novels. The story is set in the social and collegial space of a Cairene coffee shop, illustrating the collective tragedy of mass arrests that took place during the 1960s. Published a few years after the transfer of power to president Anwar al-Sādāt, the work has been seen as a political critique against the Ğamāl ʿAbd al-Nāṣir era. This short novel does, however, encompass a broader meaning going far beyond the limits of its time and space determinations, as it raises a number of questions on ethical and political issues, such as the effects produced by the collapse of authority on civil society and the relationship between the individual and the notions of justice and institutional power. The purpose of this essay is to explain that al-Karnak is a hybrid work merging two genres, i.e. narrative prose and theatre, in which Naǧīb Maḥfūẓ uses characterization and dialogue so as to shatter the time-space dimension in order to create a parable that invites the reader to re-examine the set of rules governing authority and society.
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