1999 年 14 巻 p. 163-196
The aim of this paper is to re-examine the novels of Najib Mahfuz (1911-) in the light of urban space. Most of the novels and short stories of Mahfuz have their settings exclusively in Cairo, the capital city of Egypt where he himself was born and brought up. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard, indeed, rightly assert that "the aesthetic of the city" is the subject of Mahfuz's work. When we examine the existing studies of Mahfuz's novels, however, we find that the main focus is on socio-political and religious interpretations of Mahfuz's work and "the aesthetic of the city" is only partially touched on. In fact, most of them tend to be contented with repeating rather worn-out cliches that Mahfuz is a chronicler of the 20th century Cairo etc. In this paper, therefore, I will concentrate my attention on what could be identified as urban aspects in Mahfuz's novels and try to grasp Mahfuz's city from as broad viewpoints as possible. Contrary to the common perception, I believe, Mahfuz's novels do not contain so many descriptions of the landscapes of the city; rather he uses the real place names of Cairo as symbolical signifiers which have acquired various meanings through history. We can say, in this sense, that Mahfuz depends heavily on the real Cairo as a historical product and that his main interest is almost always in the historical aspects of the city. The city loaded with its many histories and complicated relations between city dwellers of various origins and vocations often shows itself as an oppressive space in Mahfuz's novels. This we can see in his overwhelming use of 'eyes' in his novels. While we encounter these eyes everywhere in Mahfuz's city, the places where the characters can be liberated from them are limited to the peripheries of the city or the roofs of the buildings. In Mahfuz's novels, the dichotomy between Nature and Civilization is not represented by 'the country/the city' but by 'the desert/the city'. The eastern desert of Cairo at the foot of the Muqattam hill is often called al-khala' or 'the emptiness' in Mahfuz's novels. Al-khala' is an open space as against the closed space which is the city. Moreover, it functions as a timeless place against the historical city. The graveyard lies symbolically between the desert and the city as a border between Nothingness and History.