3 - 9 June 1999
Issue No. 432
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Pandora's boxI have followed the debate concerning For Bread Alone, by Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri, which was removed from the curriculum at the American University in Cairo, supposedly for the explicit sexual scenes it contains. I believe that a work of art must be evaluated according to artistic criteria alone, not according to moral or social principles. If a work of art appears to us as immoral, this is no doubt because of the seriousness and truthfulness that art demands, not because its author seeks to incite deviant behaviour. Literature is literature, and nothing else.
This is why I disagree with Professor Galal Amin in his attack on For Bread Alone. He should have evaluated the book as Choukri's autobiography -- in other words, in terms of its honesty and truthfulness. I admired Saad Zaghlul's honesty, for instance, when he admitted in his memoirs that he was an inveterate gambler; one can only be impressed by this nationalist icon's willingness to lay himself bare to scrutiny, and to hide nothing, from himself or from others.
Such honesty in itself is eminently moral. Writers who admit to everything show courage, not depravity.
It is absolutely inadmissible that a book or a painting be banned because it is supposedly base. If we were to start condemning works on moral grounds, we would be unable to stop. Anyone can decide that a particular work is artistically poor -- such matters are entirely relative, and cannot furnish a pretext to judge and condemn art. We can, at most, give our opinion: it is not our right to prevent others from doing the same.
Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.