Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Degrees of clarity

Naguib Mahfouz Some people say that art and literature are becoming increasingly obscure. Many paintings, for instance, and many musical compositions, seem accessible only to the specialist.

This complexity may be due to many factors. One is the difficulty of the thought process itself, in cases where a writer seeks to convey a particularly elaborate idea to the reader. In these cases, the reader must make a special effort to understand the work, perhaps reading it more than once, or resorting to critical or analytical commentaries of the text. This is only natural for those who are not used to reading demanding literature.

The same can be said of music: if you are listening to Beethoven for the first time, you must read studies of his symphonies in order to absorb their many nuances. In other words, the impression of obscurity or complexity here must be attributed to the audience itself, if it is unaccustomed to difficult art, which demands sustained concentration and a measure of background knowledge.

There are other cases, however, in which complexity is the fault of the writer, and not an inherent feature of the story or a deficiency in the reader. Here, the writer is incapable of conveying an idea with the necessary clarity. This is often a question of insufficient technique, which hinders fluency of expression.

Of course, there is the third factor, the worst of all, in which the writer intentionally envelopes his or her work in obscurity, in the belief that readers will be impressed by anything incomprehensible.

Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.

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