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The Provincial and Beyond in Selected Saudi Literary Works

حمل الدراسة من المرفقات Abstract This paper sheds light on a selection of literary works representing two different stages of development in

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افتراضي The Provincial and Beyond in Selected Saudi Literary Works

حمل الدراسة من المرفقات


Abstract

This paper sheds light on a selection of Literary Works representing two different stages of development in the history of Saudi literature: the 30s and the 70s, to show that while the Literary production of the early generation of writers pioneered by Siba’i, Bogary Awwad and others reflect a strong attachment to the local environment, such men of letters were tremendously concerned with change that can only come at the expense of disappearance of certain conventions and traditions. The call for radical changes in the Literary scene became stronger as the second generation of writers of the 70s witnessed remarkable social, economic and cultural transformations in the Kingdom which necessitated that the Literary production should adapt itself to new circumstances in response to a set of fast external changes. This explains why the short story of Ibrahim An-Naser of the 60s and Alwan of the 70s was primarily concerned with the impact of social change on the lives of people in rural and urban regions. As the country experienced a kind of tension between two opposed ways of life: the traditional and the modern (the rural and the urban) which accompanied the years of sudden affluence, the Literary scene witnessed a similar tension between the traditionalists and the modernists. The paper argues that Saudi literature in its early stages remained confined within local limits because it maintained its traditional aspects, it preserved heritage, defended certain ethics and values and was instructional in tone and tenor. But in spite of its locality and traditionality, there were staunch advocates of change as Siba’i and Awwad who laid the cornerstone for the second generation’s penetration of the walls of the provincial. The paper shows that the early generation of writers were aware of their limitations. Hence their shaky attempts in short story writing have not qualified them to transcend regional limits to gain an outside recognition. But the generation of the 70s, pioneered by Muhammad Alwan and others, were successful in their attempts to go Beyond the boundaries of the provincial. They demonstrated that Saudi literature is qualified for exportation as they managed to keep pace with the contemporary, move toward innovation in the form and content of the short story and show creativity in their new approaches to commonplace themes. The paper also sees the strong connection between transcending the limits of the regional and the inevitability of a shift away from the traditional and toward the modern and contemporary in the nature of the Literary production. It is only when contemporary Saudi literature relates to a wider and more comprehensive human experience that its transcendence of the regional can be possible.

المحلي وما وراءه في أعمال أدبية سعودية مختارة
الملخص

يسلط البحث الضوء على أعمال أدبية مختارة لأدباء سعوديين يمثلون فترتين مختلفتين من مراحل تطور الأدب السعودي في الثلاثينات والسبعينات حيث نلحظ التصاق الأدب في مراحله الأولى بالبيئة المحلية في كتابات السباعي والبوقري والعواد وغيرهم إلا أن ذلك الارتباط بالمحلي لم يحل دون المناداة بالتغيير الذي أدرك البعض من رواد الجيل الأول أنه لا يتم إلا على حساب اختفاء بعض التقاليد والأعراف. وقد ازدادت قوة تلك الدعوة لأحداث التغيير في الوسط الأدبي على يد أبناء الجيل الثاني في السبعينات عندما لوحظ بأن المملكة تشهد تغيرات اجتماعية واقتصادية وثقافية جذرية والتي استوجبت أن يكيف الإنتاج الأدبي نفسه مع الظروف الجديدة استجابة لتلك التحولات الخارجية السريعة. وعليه فان القصة القصيرة عند إبراهيم الناصر في الستينات ومحمد علوان في السبعينات ركزت اهتمامها على مدى التأثير الاجتماعي على حياة الناس في القرية والمدينة وما تبع ذلك من توتر بين نمطين من أنماط الحياة. وفي الوقت الذي مرت فيه البلاد بتوتر أو صراع بين الحياة التقليدية والجديدة الذي صاحب سنوات الطفرة، فان هناك صراعا" أو توترا" مشابها" قد حدث في الساحة الأدبية بين التقليد والتجديد. ويسعى البحث ليبرهن أن الأدب السعودي في مراحله الأولى بقي منغلقا" أو محصورا" في حدود المحلي لاحتفاظه بهيئته التقليدية محافظا" على التراث ومدافعا" عن القيم والأخلاق في إطار تعليمي في فحواه ومغزاه ونبرته. إلا أنه بالرغم من تقليدية الأدب ومحليته، فقد وجد المدافعون الأقوياء عن التغيير أمثال السباعي والعواد الذين وضعوا حجر الأساس الذي مكن لجيل الأدباء في السبعينات من اختراق جدران المحلي. وبالرغم من إدراك الجيل الأول لإمكانياتهم المحدودة حيث أن بدايات كتابة القصة القصيرة كانت مجرد محاولات في مهدها لم تكن لتمكن أو تؤهل الأدب السعودي من كسر حاجز المحلي بعد ليحظى باعتراف خارجي، إلا أن الجيل الثاني في السبعينات قد تمكن على أيدي أدباء رواد أمثال محمد علوان وغيره من أن يحيل إلى واقع ما طرحه الجيل الأول من نقاش وجدل حول أهلية الأدب السعودي للتصدير. ويخرج البحث بنتائج أهمها أن الجيل الثاني قد نجح في محاولته لتجاوز حدود المحلي وذلك بعد مجاراته للمعاصر وتحركه نحو التحديث والتجديد في شكل ومضمون القصة القصيرة وإظهاره للإبداع عن طريق النظرة المتجددة لكل ما هو مألوف واعتيادي. كما يرى الباحث بأن هناك علاقة وطيدة بين تجاوز حدود المحلي وحتمية التحول من النظرة التقليدية إلى التجديدية والمعاصرة المفروضة بطبيعة الحال على نوعية الإنتاج الأدبي، وعليه فان تجاوز حدود المحلي مرهون بمدى ارتباط الأدب السعودي المعاصر بمعطيات التجربة الانسانية بكل شموليتها واتساعها.




Introduction

This paper attempts to look at a selection of Saudi Literary works, primarily some short stories, written at two different historical periods to see how such works, particularly the ones written at a later epoch, have managed to break the deadlock of the Provincial and somehow at a new stage in their development they moved toward innovation and change and consequently transcended the limits of the Provincial or the regional. The paper argues that while the call for change can be traced to the Works of major Literary figures such as Siba’i, Bogary, Awwad and others who were conscious of the fact that certain traditions had to disappear with the passage of time as they hindered movement and slowed down progress, such a call became stronger as the country witnessed remarkable transformations in all sectors in the early 70s or so. While some Literary men of the early generation were aware of their limitations and were concerned with the suitability of Saudi literature for exportation, the early and somewhat shaky attempts to penetrate the walls of the regional materialized at the hands of the generation of the 70s. What started with a mere discussion of whether Saudi literature suited the aspirations of the outside market or not by the early generation was in fact turned into a reality later on as if the second generation put into deeds and actions what began with mere words. Hence the early generation is still given credit for laying the foundation for the second generation’s penetration of the limits of the regional.

The paper also argues that transcending the boundaries of the regional can only be accomplished if the Saudi Literary production adapted itself to new circumstances in response to a remarkably new set of changes observed at the social and economic levels, and if Saudi writers were capable of keeping pace with the contemporary which requires radical changes in both the content and form of any Literary genre. It is only when literature moves toward innovation and creativity and shows ability to look at things in a totally new way using different appraoches and techniques that it receives an outside recognition. Its suppressed voice can then be heard and appreciated. In the light of all this, the change in the contemporary Literary scene was therefore seen as a necessity for the generation of the 70s. It went hand in hand with the great social, economic and cultural changes that Saudi Arabia had been through during the years of development. It was also inevitable that Saudi literature would witness a gradual break from the traditional and a movement toward the modern and the contemporary. Such a break was undoubtedly accompanied by a shift in the nature of the written Saudi literature. The paper therefore looks at early Saudi literature as regional or local in the years of experimentation and trial. But the literature of the 70s which addresses issues closely related to the contemporary scene seeks to transcend Provincial limits through a connection with a wider human experience. The paper also compares the Literary production at two different periods in the history of Saudi literature to see how the rising generation of writers of the 70s have been successful in their attempts to go Beyond the boundaries of the local through their treatment of the growing problems of social change that rapid modernization has created in rural and urban societies. A comparison is made between the short story at its early years of development and its later years of maturity and growth at relevant points in the course of the discussion. Reference to some English Literary Works is also made at appropriate junctions throughout the paper.

The Literary Scene in the Early 30s

Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to offer a commentary on the Saudi Literary scene at its early years of development before any comparison between the short stories of the 30s and the 70s is made. Such a commentary should also precede the discussion of the Literary Works under study. In his assessment of the Literary production of the early generation of Saudi writers, Muhammad Surur As-Sabban (1316/1898 -1392/1971), a patron of Saudi Literary youth, writes in the introduction of a book on Hijaz Literature (1926) that he

feels that the Literary value { of what is included in the book} may be worth
nothing in the Literary market, it may be the object of scorn by some; while
it may be received with sympathy and encouragement by others (1).

It should be noted that As-Sabban was one of the most eminent men of Makkah particularly during the latter years of the Hashemite ruler, Al-Husayn Bin Ali’s reign in the Hijaz. He was influential enough to represent the people of the Hijaz and inform the Hashemite ruler that he had to abdicate. When the late King Abdulaziz took over, As-Sabban held a number of very prominent positions in the government. But his administrative positions did not divert his attention away from literature. On the contrary, he was a driving force behind the revitalization of the Literary movement in the Kingdom and he gave men of letters full-hearted support. He was the first man to establish a printing press in the Kingdom and the first Literary figure to publish a book on Hijazi literature (2). In his evaluation of the literature of his time, he is modest to realize the narrow circle around which it revolved and the small world around which it centred its focus particularly if we consider that Sabban hopes that by publishing the book “a true renaissance would bring to the Hijaz and its people their buried glory and the dignity that they deserve”(3). Sabban’s opinion reflected the mentality of his age, if not the line of thinking of the traditionalists in whose eyes, revival can only be achieved through the retrieval of the past. While one wonders how a renaissance that looks into the future can occur by a recourse to the past, Sabban’s attitude showed that the early generation’s conception of literature was very parochial indeed as it linked itself to the preservation of heritage, the reformation of society, the defense of certain ethics and values and the maintenance and continuity of traditions.

However, even among the early generation of Saudi men of letters, there was an oppositional call on the other side pioneered by Muhammad Hasan Al-Awwad (1902-1980) in particular, a staunch advocate of change, who rejected a blind imitation of predecessors and called for

contemporaneity in our tongues, our thoughts, our defense of our pens and
our habits provided that we are not westernized, we do not go to an xtreme
and look with contempt at whatever is ancient. In brief, we become
moderate, and not westernized in our contemporaneity. Moderation is the
soul of balance in everything (4).

Tension Between the Traditionalists and Early Modernists

While one senses the tension between two antithetical ways of life and two opposed approaches to literature in Awwad’s statement though the scale weighs heavier in favour of innovation and desire for change, Awwad prepares us for what may turn at times to be a fierce struggle, if not confrontation, between the traditionalists’ and the modernists’ views toward Saudi literature; taking us to the past heritage with the first group or moving on to a new era with the second. However, one should look at the attitudes of both Sabban and Awwad as representing both the traditionalists and the early modernists. As this paper shows, the tension between these two groups is an on-going one and may never be resolved. The differences in perspectives in the Literary scene over the definitions and the connotations of a variety of terms such as change, heritage, traditions and contemporaneity have their parallel in differences in viewpoints over two modes of life that seem to be at war with each other in liberal and open urban communities on the one hand and a more conservative and closed rural communities on the other. This major issue will be discussed in more detail in our analysis of some of the Literary Works of Ibrahim An-Naser and Muhammad Alwan where the tension between two different ways of life is at its peak. As has been illustrated, such a tension has always existed between the traditionalists and the modernists who also differ in their assessment of the Literary production of any given period. One may compare Sabban’s early remarks related to his evaluation of the Literary scene of the 30s, as an example, to Yahya Haqqi’s assessment of the writing of Muhammad Alwan in the preface to Bread and Silence (1977). Such a comparison reveals how Saudi literature in its early stages was confined within regional limits while the Saudi Literary scene of the 70s, as will be elaborated later, witnessed huge transformations which qualified it for a leap Beyond the Provincial since it won an outside recognition and acclaim.

Though As-Sabban admitted that the Literary production of the generation of the 30s was still in its infancy, his modest evaluation of it paved the path for a more constructive criticism of the contemporary Literary scene. In his study of the critical evaluation of the writings of the early Saudi pioneers, As-Sasi feels uneasy regarding what he terms an emotional and general assessment of Literary Works rather than an objective and more specific one in those early years of experimentation (5). But irrespective of the degree of precision and focus required for a Literary critic who lacked the polished talent at such an early stage of development of Saudi literature when Literary men were merely experimenting and trying their best to get their Works published, the evaluation of the Literary production had a bearing on raising its subsequent standard. Furthermore, it engaged some Literary men in hot and bitter debates, if not skirmishes at times, which were relatively fruitful and valuable in the Literary sense in the long run. But such bitter debates were not without their side-effects as they engendered ill-feelings and tension between some figures like Muhammad Hasan Awwad and Abdul-Qaddus Al-Ansari, as an example, over the latter’s publication of a novella entitled The Ointment of Feigned Forgetfulness (1933)(6). However, the skirmish between Awwad and Ansari revitalized the Literary scene as both men drew advocates to their side and opponents against them.

The above discussion shows that tension has existed between the advocates of change in Saudi literature and the traditionalists who are primarily concerned with the preservation of heritage and the continuity of a set of traditions bequesthed to the younger generation by their venerable forefathers. Such a tension between the old and the new is dramatized in Abdullah Oraif’s article (1917-1975) entitled “My Friend Between Two Eras”(7). Oraif is aware of the inevitability of change in coming years. Hence it is preposterous to expect a friend who has become educated and who has been exposed to a highly cultured milieu to be the same old man with the same unchanged ideas, outlooks and vision because he is on the threshold of a new era, and his lifestyle is naturally different from his predecessors’. Though Oraif is amazed that his friend has changed so drastically to the extent that he thinks that he is a different person, he is sending the message that an intellectual may suffer estrangement from his own people because he deviates from the norm and introduces ideas which do not show social conformity. He becomes the outcast of Alwan and the troublemaker who disrupts the social fabric and shakes beliefs in well-rooted traditions. Oraif’s article directs a gentle satire at the traditionalists who are opposed to change and who accuse those who have changed their perspectives and become enlightened of fickleness and disloyalty to inherited values and long-standing conventions. Like Alwan later, Oraif dramatizes the impending conflict between the intellectual and his common folk though he does not display the high degree of artistry and sophistication in his dramatization of the tension as Alwan does. One reason for such a difference is that Oraif was writing at the 50s while Alwan was writing in the 70s. Hence more maturity and depth is shown in the latter’s treatment of the conflict. One senses the big gap between early years of experimentation and later years of growth once a comparison between the two Literary figures’ treatment of the same topic is compared. This comparison also shows that there is a noticeable difference between the local and what attempts to transcend the limits of the local. But the two men of letters shared the vision that a rise in the level of education was bound to cast aside worn-out traditions and old lifestyles.

An Early Call for Change: Melibari and Siba’i

The above discussion shows that Literary men from different periods may share common goals. There were moments in the history of Saudi literature when men of letters who belonged to the generation of the 30s and the 70s joined hands and directed gentle or severe criticism at old customs and traditions and unanimously called for a gradual break from imprisoning manacles of the past. However, several factors determined what each generation saw as a necessity in terms of its liberation from the legacy of the past. For the early generation of the 30s, such a liberation is achieved once “the bundle, the wicked, stupid bundle of custom and tradition” is discarded(8). Such a view is expressed by Muhammad Al-Melibari (b.1930) in “Poor, Oh! Chastity” where Mona’s brother, Hisham, can “in the **** of custom and tradition” mistreat his sister, deprive her of her right to choose an eligibile suitor and keep her as a maid in his house. Once she is married, the brother loses control over “Mona’s share of the inheritance from their father. He [is] afraid that if Mona married, her husband might inherit her share of the income from the Tawafah. Hisham [wants] to keep it all for himself”(9). Melibari is therefore highly critical of traditions which keep the woman as a mere object to barter with and a valuable assest that adds more to the family’s wealth. In that case, customs become the means to tighten control over women and in Mona’s case, “her rights [are] exploited”(10) under the mask of social conventions which confirm the avarice and moral corruption of an authoritative and domineering masculine society. While one can easily supply sufficient evidence that the early generation of Saudi men of letters were exposing social frailties and shortcomings particularly in their treatment of female issues and the problems of arranged, if not forced, marriages in the Saudi society, it may be appropriate to refer to Ahmad al-Siba’i’s (1905-1983) short story entitled “Auntie Kadarjan” as it bears a striking resemblance to Melibari’s story. While Siba’i’s story captures in a very fascinating manner the lifestyle, customs and traditions of Makkan people at a very significant stage of historical development before the discovery of oil and before a lot of the ancient traditions of the people of the Hijaz had to fade away, the story probes into the Arab mentality which has taken certain conventions for granted, and consequently the call for change has to come at the expense of the obliteration of such deeply-rooted traditions.

It looks as if Arabs ever since antiquity and until modern times can never wipe out the disturbing thought that once the daughter is married, her share of the inheritance is automatically going into foreign hands. In fact, one reason why women are not given the rightful share of the inheritance allotted to them according to the Islamic law is that tribal societies prefer to keep their properties intact. While the share of men in the estate division is expected to remain within the boundaries of the tribe, the share of women, once married to outsiders, is bound to go to other tribes. This dispersion of wealth leads to disputes and creates problems among neighbouring tribes. According to Al-Jabiri, some tribes “deny women their share of the inheritance to keep away from disputes”(11). In the light of this explanation, one can understand the line of thinking of Kadarjan’s father who assumes that he has every right to rob his daughter of her right to marry. Whether he likes to keep her because she is still a child in his eyes, or he anticipates that he needs her “to look after him in his old age”, the ugly and repulsive side of such a materialistic mentality is revealed when he justifies his excuses of rejecting possible suitors on grounds of his dread that “a stranger [will] get hold of his property”(12). After the father’s death while Kadarjan is “still in the bloom of youth”, she was entrusted to the guardianship of a cousin who is no different from Melibari’s Hisham. In fact, he is even more tyrannical as he punishes her for having refused him as a suitor. Once he plays the role of the guardian and attains a position of power over her, he “repaid her with the same obstinacy, refusing, ..., anyone who sought to become engaged to her”. But her salvation comes when “Shaikhat al-Hujjaj” proposes her secret elopement to the judge who will “tie the knot” and join her in marriage to one of the Indonesian pilgrims who paid her a visit and stole “longing glances at her”`(13). Kadarjan welcomed the suggestion as it was her way out of the new locks on the chain imposed by a greedy and whimsical cousin. Though the story ends in disappointment as the expected suitor never returns to take her away with him, it is striking that in both Melibari’s and Siba’i stories, the picture drawn of the people of the Hijaz is that they live in a cosmopolitan society where a strong religious and cultural bridge is extended between them and the people of Indonesia, India and Malaysia. Interestingly enough, this strong bond that ties the people of the Hijaz to the Far East is emphasized in Amal Muhammad Shata’s Tomorrow I Will Forget (1980), considered as the first Saudi novel by a female author. The novel revolves around the story of an Indonesian woman ****d Taima who got married to a Hijazi youth during one of his business trips. It documents an important feature of Hijazi social lifestyle when the Hijaz and the Far East were connected through trade, marriage relationships and travel.

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The Provincial and Beyond in Selected Saudi Literary Works

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