El-Ahram prints a short interview with Naguib Mahfouz in which he discusses literature, religion, and politics. Here’s the first Q and A:
Salmawi: A foreign critic wrote that you predicted over half a century ago that the religious trend would emerge as the dominant force on the political arena. This is because you made the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) character in The Cairo Trilogy have children, whereas the leftist character was left childless. In Children of the Alley, the one who wins at the end is Arafah, who critics interpreted as a symbol of knowledge, in the sense that science rather than mysticism wins at the end. Where do you stand exactly between these two opposing views?
Mahfouz: These are the views of the critics. By its very nature, an artistic work can be interpreted in more than one way. Here lies its value, but none of these interpretations holds the ultimate truth. Critics are still writing interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays and pre- Islamic poetry, although such works were written centuries ago. I believe that interpretation, as opposed to analysis, often tells us more about the critic than the work in question. Often the critic would view the work through his own concepts, and not grasp, necessarily, what it’s really about.
It’s an interesting take on criticism, but leaves me a bit skeptical. It would have been cool if he’d gone into the idea of “the ultimate truth”. Does anyone- reader, writer, or critic- really have the ability to grasp it? Does it even exist?