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Forms of social commentary in The Cairo and USA trilogies


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Ontl, Alen. (2016). Forms of social commentary in The Cairo and USA trilogies. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature. [mentor Grgas, Stipe and Mujić, Munir].

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This thesis belongs in the field of crosscultural literary studies. Its aim is to set a framework for the interpretation of literary procedures in literary works which belong to different cultural systems, which display certain formal and thematic guidelines and which deal with some kind of social or political commentary. The theoretical framework within which these procedures will be considered is the theory of open and closed systems. We will show how the cultural and political system in which the authors wrote influenced the choice of rhetorical and literary methods and procedures. The main thesis is that an open system conditions the use of experimental methods in Dos Passos, especially intermittent narration, procedures using montage, intertextuality and linguistic experimentation. On the other hand, the closed system in which Naguib Mahfouz wrote determined the selection of traditional practices and narrative procedures, strong symbolism and narrative uniformity. Through the analysis of the political comments of these works we will show how literary procedures are associated with the broader cultural space and the position of authors in a particular literary tradition and political system. Since these two authors belong to different literary traditions, it is important to situate them in the proper literary context and show what influences, if any, they worked under. In the case of Dos Passos, we will situate his social chronicles in the context of a tradition of critical realism that started with writers such as Theodore Dreiser, Jack London and Frank Norris in the 1890s. In the case of Naguib Mahfouz, the literary context is somewhat different, because the novel as a genre is unknown in Egypt until early twentieth century. Mahfouz occupies a unique place in the history of Egyptian literature, being at once an originator and culminating practitioner of the genre of social realism in novel form. In the case of both writers, it will be shown that their unique place in their national literatures is reaffirmed by the fact that no writers continued the genres or practices which they employed. Dos Passos’s experimental narration still stands unique in the history of American literature, while a new generation of Egyptian writers have a problematic relationship with Mahfouz, whom they consider a pioneer, but against whom they also rebel and write in new genres, from a more modern perspective. By all accounts, these two literary works may carry the title of the Great American Novel and the Great Arabic Novel. They deal with the complex social relations in two different societies. My original contribution to knowledge and to the discipline of comparative literature lies in the fact that no comparative study of these two works has been done in more than half a century since their publication. This is a fact which is especially noteworthy considering the complex political and other relations of these two cultural spaces in recent history, as well as the fact that it is hard to find two literary works that speak in more detail about the complexities of these societies.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: open and closed systems, critical realism, political commentary, allegory, symbolism, colonialism, political space, ironic social commentary and social realism.
Subjects: Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Grgas, Stipe and Mujić, Munir
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2016 09:43
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2016 09:43

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