National Allegory and the Parallax View in Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm’s Maṣīr Ṣurṣār

by Robert Farley

Egyptian playwright Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm’s 1966 play Maṣīr Ṣurṣār (Fate of a Cockroach) has been widely understood by most critics to be a juxtaposition of two separate plays, one centered around a miniature cockroach kingdom, and the other a human married couple’s apartment. This paper challenges this separation by emphasizing the relationship between these seemingly distinct worlds and by investigating their subtle relationship through interactions, interpretations, and linguistic and symbolic continuities. Furthermore, this paper argues on a theoretical level that this structural phenomenon provides an innovative way to allegorize the nation through its presentation of two private narratives with the singular referent of the Egyptian national narrative. Because the two distinct narratives remain irreconcilable but coexistent, the notion of parallax—as a merely apparent shift in the object caused by a change in the observer’s perspective—provides a useful frame to understand a more complex and tenuous relationship of the private and the national in the national allegory.

“Come along – wake up! It’s time for work.”[2] Echoing the ethos of the Nasserist regime (1952-1970), the King Cockroach’s imperative opens Maṣīr Ṣurṣār by rallying us to emerge from our slumber to “work,” to engage as laborers in Egypt’s production-based materialist economy well underway by the play’s publication in 1966. The play undoubtedly operates as a national allegory, wherein the smaller private narrative of the work represents the larger national story. But what happens to this relationship between private and national when a work consists of two entirely separate narratives as does Maṣīr Ṣurṣār? Indeed, the play can be and has been read as two plays put together, with the first act occurring within the world of cockroaches and the remainder taking place in the human realm.[3] It would be necessary in this case to understand how two private stories might work both individually and together to convey the national story of Egypt. Parallax, as an apparent shift of an object caused by a change in the observer’s perspective, provides a useful frame with which to understand the way two private stories relate to the national. Through Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm’s Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, I interrogate the possibilities of a parallactic link between the private and the national in national allegory and the capacities of this link to portray the inescapable tension between the nationalist rhetoric of the state and the popular nationalism of the multitude. Meanwhile, I elaborate a dialectical method for reading through national allegory which will draw out the political and poetic implications of the parallactic link.

Linking the Private Story and the National Story

It would first be useful to present one of the foremost influential works on the subject of national allegory. In his seminal article, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” Frederic Jameson implores us to read all ‘third-world’ literature as national allegory. He polemically states that, “All third-world texts are necessarily, I want to argue, allegorical, and in a very specific way: they are to be read as what I will call national allegories, even when, or perhaps I should say, particularly when their forms develop out of predominantly western machineries of representation, such as the novel” (69). While his sweeping claim was the point of much criticism, national allegory still provides a useful framework for interrogating the relationship between politics and literature. As a play from the ‘third world’, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār falls under the conditions set forth by Jameson’s claim. In what follows I will use national allegory as the starting point for my analysis; although, I will depart from it only periodically in order to open up a deeper interpretation which can, upon returning to it, contribute to a stronger overall national allegorical reading.

The most important concept within Jameson’s argument is the special relationship between the literal text and the referent external to the text. Gil Hochberg successfully teases out the link between the ‘national story’ and ‘private story’ in Jameson’s conception of national allegory. She locates the crux of Jameson’s argument to be the contrast between the radical split between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’ in western culture and its connection in nonwestern cultures: “Jameson describes the national allegory as a link between two separate stories, or to be more precise, as a link between two stories perceived in ‘western eyes’ as separate: the ‘private story’ and the ‘national story’” (35). It is exactly this link between the private and the national that is here subject to interrogation, namely in the event—as is the case with Maṣīr Ṣurṣār—where the existence of a singular private story is at best questionable.

Maṣīr Ṣurṣār consists of two entirely separate private stories: one belonging to the cockroaches of the first act, the other belonging to the humans of the second and third. The first act features the self-appointed administration of a cockroach society inhabiting an apartment bathroom; the King, Queen, Vizier, Scientist, and Priest debate primarily about the ongoing ant problem that has recently claimed the Vizier’s son as its latest victim. The act ends after the King, led on by the Scientist, finds himself stranded in the lake/bathtub. The second act shifts gears to the human world, that of the apartment inhabitants: ‘Ādil, his wife Sāmya, and the ‘cook’ Umm ‘Aṭiyya (who is actually a maid). ‘Ādil wakes up to find a cockroach (the King from the first act) in the bathtub hopelessly struggling to climb out. Because of his obsession with the cockroach, ‘Ādil constantly thwarts attempts by Sāmya to kill it. She calls in the Doctor to try to cure ‘Ādil of what she considers a psychological problem. Throughout the bickering, the group is eventually distracted enough to ignore Umm ‘Aṭiyya’s entering the bathroom to clean, which results in the death and subsequent wiping away of the cockroach.

Two Worlds, Two Narratives

The Cockroach as an Allegory of the State

To truly understand how disparate these two worlds are portrayed in the play, we can look at the primary basis of what constitutes a ‘world’ according to Heidegger. A world is constitutive of those relationships and ‘ontic objects’ into which a person is ‘thrown,’ only to appropriate them by perceiving them in terms of his or her own existence and utilizing it for self-realization (Habib 715). The drastic difference between the first and second parts consist of an entirely new set of characters as well as a shift in language to refer to those ‘ontic’, material objects in the apartment. The courtyard of the first act is the bathroom floor of the second and third; likewise, the lake in which the King falls is also the bathtub where a cockroach is found. Thus the two worlds of Maṣīr Ṣurṣār involve two independent sets of relationships as well as sets of perceptions of ‘ontic objects’, and it is these worlds that constitute two different private stories that comprise the national allegory.

The first act opens with the King’s aforementioned imperative to get up and work, which leads to his squabble with the Queen. As story continues, the Vizier, the Scientist, and the Priest arrive in sequence to contribute to a discussion revolving around the ant problem. Their petty bickering and absurd logic lends a comedic element that serves simultaneously as a pointed condemnation of the post-1952 regime, its projects and failures. Perhaps the most poignant moment featuring this critical satire comes shortly after the King, Queen, and Vizier come to the conclusion that the cockroaches can better forestall the ants by mimicking them in their ability to organize in columns, the Scientist enters to contribute his observations regarding past instances of cockroach mobilization:

Scientist: Yes, I once saw – a very long time ago, in the early days of my youth – several cockroaches gathered together at night in the kitchen round a piece of tomato.

Queen: Tomato?

Scientist: Yes.

King: An extraordinary idea – this matter of a tomato!

Vizier: We begin from here.

Queen:  And you say that science cannot solve the problem?

Scientist: What has science to do with this? That was no more than a general observation .

King: This is the modesty of a true Scientist. The idea is, however, useful. If we were able to get a piece of tomato, then a number of cockroaches would gather together round it.

Scientist: The real problem is how to get hold of a piece of tomato.

King: How is it, therefore, that we do sometimes get a hold of a piece?

Scientist: By chance.

Queen: And when does sheer chance occur?

Scientist: That is something one cannot predict.

King: You have therefore arrived at solving one problem by presenting us with another.

Queen: Suggest for us something other than tomatoes.

Scientist: Any other type of food puts us in the same position, for though we can find food we are unable to make a particular sort of food available.[4]

The choppy dialogue, the tomato obsession, and most importantly, the logic of deferment (of “solving one problem by presenting us with another”) all serve to articulate the lengths to which the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) under Nasser had degenerated into an absurd bureaucracy unable to come to terms with its own shortcomings. The tomato here comes to represent a number of failures. The material failure to produce food is a direct indictment of the agrarian reforms carried out shortly after the July coup, wherein land was reallocated in a seemingly socialist measure and much of it underproduced or went unused. The intellectual inability to move from the material tomato to the concept of food or any other motivations for mobilization demonstrates a failure to move from material specificities to conceptual universals. The tomato then functions as a symbolic exemplar of the multiplicity of layers of political critique featured in the first act.

The group continues to debate the ant problem while often going off on tangents and returning to the discussion until the Scientist ultimately distracts the King by enticing his interest in the lake. Looking for anything “more useful than talk about fairy tales and fanciful projects,”[5] the King disregards the question at hand of the ants and embarks with the Scientist to go see the lake, into which the King falls at the end of the act and eventually dies at the end of the play. The lake distraction is ostensibly referring to Nasser’s large-scaled Aswan High Dam project; the lake itself in the play could very well be a direct analogy to the state-owned Lake Nasser reservoir into which the water surplus was redirected after the dam’s construction. Seen in this light, al-Ḥakīm’s critique introduces what he sees as yet another failure of the post-1952 government in its distracting itself with various projects of industrialization at the expense of more pressing and critical issues.

However, to achieve the full effect of the political edge of this first act involves exploring interpretations beyond the immediate meanings provided by national allegory, which means we must temporarily bracket the allegorical reading. Obviously, interpreting anthropomorphized cockroaches outside the logics of the allegory relegates us to a realm beyond that of realism. Tsvetan Todorov allots three categorical possibilities with which a text designates such elements: marvelous, uncanny, and fantastic. The marvelous consists in comprehending the anthropomorphized cockroaches as such, that is, unnatural or supernatural. The uncanny appropriates the supernatural as a component of the natural, often by some kind of perceptual error (e.g. considering the cockroaches an illusion). Between these two, the fantastic rests upon a hesitation between rationalizing the supernatural as such (marvelous) or as something natural (uncanny) (Todorov 25). The first act of Maṣīr Ṣurṣār does not lend any such rationalization in either direction, and in this way it can be located in the hesitation of the fantastic. This is, of course, only if we maintain this line of thought of the allegory in absentia, which is the precondition for the taxonomy elaborated here.

Now, a fusion of the allegorical and the literal reading can open up new questions of the text, because we are now able to allegorize the hesitation inherent in the fantastic. Although Todorov would disagree in the contradiction, I would like to attempt a kind of synthesis of the political allegory and the fantastic by allowing for both the literal and the allegorical meanings to exist at once. The tension between the literal and allegorical meanings in relation to the fantastic is elaborated here:

If what we read describes a supernatural event, yet we take the words not in their literal meaning but in another sense which refers to nothing supernatural, there is no longer any space in which the fantastic can exist. There exists then a scale of literary sub-genres, between the fantastic (which belongs to that type of text which must be read literally) and pure allegory (which retains only the second, allegorical meaning): a scale constituted in terms of two factors, the explicit character of the indication and the disappearance of the first meaning. (Todorov 63-4)

Although the coexistence of the literal and allegorical meanings compromise the Todorovian sense of the fantastic (for he seems to only allow a kind of spectrum where one exists at the expense of the other), it is entirely possible for the fantastic itself to serve as an allegory. The conception of the fantastic, as teetering on the border of uncanny and marvelous, is essentially a hesitation with regards to the laws of possibility. This hesitation read in light of the various failures of the RCC allegorizes its experimental undertakings to nationalize Egypt. The hesitation is indicative of a new regime attempting to find its footing, lacking confidence but appearing otherwise. Conclusively, we have arrived at the private story of the cockroaches in the first act of Maṣīr Ṣurṣār allegorizing the state’s articulation of post-1952 Egyptian nationalism, which contrasts heavily with the popular nationalism of the multitudes evident in the realm of the human.

The Human as an Allegory for the Multitude

The latter two acts of the play shift gears entirely from the world of cockroaches to that of  humans. The second act opens similarly to the first, focusing on the couple ‘Ādil and Sāmya waking up to begin their day. Contrasting the imperative in the first, the second act begins with the interrogative from the wife: “You’re up, ‘Ādil?” ‘Ādil continues on to explain how he awakens by himself without the use of an alarm clock.[6] The dialogue between the married couple consists of constant reiterations like this of ‘Ādil’s independence from external objects and even his relationship with Sāmya. From the very beginning, ‘Ādil exudes an ethos of rebellion on the domestic plane; he even repeatedly affirms Sāmya’s explicit question as to whether he is rebelling when he prevents her from entering the bathroom: “Have you raised the flag of rebellion?”[7] His affirmation of his independence borders on ridiculous, but allegorized on the national level, ‘Ādil represents the resistance characteristic of popular decolonization movements, characteristic more of the 1919 revolution than the 1952 coup. The absurdity of the context of ‘Ādil’s insurgency begs the reader to interpret Maṣīr Ṣurṣār through the lens of national allegory.

As we did with the first act, a temporary bracketing of the national allegory can uncover new meanings behind the text. Revisiting Heidegger’s philosophy, ‘Ādil’s resistance can also be read as an endeavor toward self-actualization; his involvement with his world consists of disregarding the everyday by neglecting work and hygiene, in order to focus on the cockroach. He spends the majority of scenes two and three contemplating the cockroach, while intermittently staving off threats from Sāmya to kill it. His identification and obsession with the cockroach presents us with a kind of portrait of a philosopher quietly ruminating on the meaning of life, battling those material factors that come to him more as nuisances than anything else. When ultimately the cockroach is killed and wiped away, ‘Ādil confronts his own finitude, which for Heidegger is the key to the human attaining knowledge of itself as a whole, a “being-towards-death” (Habib 716). Here then we may uncover a hidden message of hope within the text. While the death of the cockroach forces ‘Ādil to confront his ephemerality, he is now able at the end of the play to acknowledge a responsibility to actively construct his self in relation to his world. In this way and in the private space of his apartment bathroom, ‘Ādil journeys towards the shedding of his inauthentic existence.

Returning to the national allegorical reading in light of ‘Ādil’s philosophical undertaking, we can allegorize the private search for authenticity on a national level. Certainly there exists in any decolonizing movement the task of the nation, especially of writers, to find an authentic voice outside the bounds of colonial rule. Among other things, they are faced with a series of choices to make about their practices; questions arise regarding the use of forms, genres, styles, and language associated with the colonizer. At this level it is possible to read ‘Ādil’s hopeful ending—his angst qua opportunity for authenticity—as a promising message for the Egyptian people at the time: that its then-current angst would lead to its coming into being.

The Parallax View

Now that we have established two entirely separate private stories with individual links to the national, we can interrogate the parallactic link between the private and the national. It is important at this juncture to present a major text concerned with parallax. In his book The Parallax View (2006), Slovoj Zizek elaborates on Kojin Karatani’s notion of parallax as a metaphor:

The standard definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective,” due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stances, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently “mediated,” so that an “epistemological” shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an “ontological” shift in the object itself. Or—to put it in Lacanese—the subject’s gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its “blind spot,” that which is “in the object more than the object itself,” the point from which the object itself returns the gaze (17).

The difference between the two perspectives involved in parallax is so great that the object in view seems to have changed or shifted to the point of resembling something utterly ‘ontologically’ dissimilar. Viewing the relationship between private and national stories through the parallactic frame allows us to see the two private narratives in Maṣīr Ṣurṣār as two ‘observational positions’ wherein the allegorical referent, or object, is the national story. Understood in this way, the shift from the private story of cockroaches to the private story of humans between the first two acts is not a shift within the national narrative, but rather a repositioning of perspective in relation to it.

I want to restrict my analysis to the points of Zizek’s text relevant to the subject at hand. One: the gap between the two observational positions is irreconcilable. And two: the political deployment of the parallax gap (he also discusses philosophical and scientific modes) consists of “the social antagonism which allows for no common ground between the conflicting agents” (Zizek 10). In what follows, I will evaluate the way al-Ḥakīm’s play manages the parallax gap between the two perspectives of cockroach and human.

Evaluating the relationship between the two ‘private stories’ in Maṣīr Ṣurṣār (the parallax gap) will further develop the parallactic link in national allegory; this entails an interpretation from each perspective of the other. From the cockroach perspective, the humans are understood as multiple and separate sublime forces that resemble those of nature. For example, when the Scientist is explaining the disastrous occurrences when many cockroaches are assembled in the same place, he points toward supernatural forces: “This has today been confirmed from a scientific point of view. If a number of cockroaches gather together in one place, and there is a bright, dazzling light, mountains that have neither pinnacles nor peaks move and trample upon our troop, utterly squashing them. At other times there teems down a choking rain that destroys every one of us.”[8] He later debates the Priest as to whether these phenomena are natural events understood by scientific fact or the gods’ “miracle[s] from the skies.”[9] Whether they are explained by the cockroaches through science or religion, it is clear to the reader that the trampling mountains are the people that live in the apartment (‘Ādil, Sāmya, Umm ‘Aṭiyya) and the ‘choking rain’ is insecticide. The cockroaches deify and fear the humans, even praying to them. The first interaction of the two private stories in Maṣīr Ṣurṣār occurs from the perspective of the cockroach world and exhibits a hierarchical relationship mimicking that of man and the divine. Thus, the allegory of the cockroach world standing in for the state’s articulation of nationalism seems to be from this perspective subject the human world, standing in for popular nationalism. Al-Ḥakīm here insists in the power of the multitudes over the government. However, to get a deeper understanding of the parallax gap between the two private stories entails evaluating both perspectives, and so we move on to the humans.

From the ‘Ādil’s perspective, the cockroach is a point of contemplation and obsession as we saw above. Additionally, ‘Ādil holds it in a much higher regard than he does people, as a hero even. While convincing the Doctor that he has not gone mad, ‘Ādil describes the cockroach with a sense of distant admiration:

Doctor (pointing at the cockroach in the bath): That?

‘Ādil: Yes, that hero.

Doctor: Hero?

‘Ādil: Indeed a hero. Imagine yourself in a deep well with walls of smooth marble and that you found it impossible to get out despite having made exhausting efforts to do so, what would you do?

Doctor: I’d give up of course.

‘Ādil: But it hasn’t given up.

Doctor: By no means – I see it repeating its attempts dozens of times.

‘Ādil: Even hundreds. Since early morning I’ve been occupied in counting up the number of times.

Doctor: Is that what you were engaged in since this morning?

‘Ādil: Yes, I wanted to know when its struggle would come to an end.

Doctor (looking into the bath with real interest): As of now it looks as if it will not give up yet.

‘Ādil: Indeed. We’re tired from watching but it’s not tired from trying.

Doctor (continuing to watch it): What hope has it of escaping?

‘Ādil: No hope of course.

Doctor: Unless you were to intervene and save it.

‘Ādil: And I will not intervene.

Doctor: Why not, seeing that you admire it?

‘Ādil: I must leave it to its fate.[10]

‘Ādil is concerned with the cockroach, but he keeps his distance. He chooses not to intervene in its fate and yet admires its persistence. His feeling for the cockroach is ultimately ambivalence. Furthermore, the disconnect between the two occurs on the level of language,  made explicit later on when the Doctor explains that the cockroach could very well be screaming, but it is so tiny that it is impossible for the human ear to detect his voice. This ambivalence from the human perspective operating along the parallax gap allegorizes the multitudes’ reluctance to action even when the promising Nasserist regime of the 1952 coup had degenerated into hopeless. On the other hand, the distance between them begs the question if there is any possibility that the gap could be resolved.

The vast difference in these viewpoints’ perceptions of each other demonstrate the irreducible parallax gap between the two ‘private stories’. The cockroaches and humans in al-Ḥakīm’s play—allegorizing the state and the people—are living the political parallax gap, the “social antagonism that allows for no common ground.” In fact, the play dramatizes this irreconcilability in the ultimate interaction between the cockroach and human worlds, when the cook Umm ‘Aṭiyya kills the King by simply performing her duties around the house. She not only kills, but wipes the cockroach out of existence. The King was not simply ‘trampled by the mountains’ nor did he fall victim to the ‘choking rain’. Rather he was erased from history without a trace. For al-Ḥakīm, such is the fate of Nasser’s dictatorship. The only way to ‘reconcile’ the parallax gap is through its utter eradication: via the erasure of the cockroach’s/state’s observational position. Furthermore, this resolution comes from the only laborer in household, Umm ‘Aṭiyya. Thus the actual work erases the utterance, “Come along – wake up! It’s time for work,” signaling a triumph of the real material labor over the flat rhetorics of the worker-savior in the state’s articulation of nationalism.

Now, it is possible to forego all of the preceding analysis and allegorize Maṣīr Ṣurṣār‘s disruption and lack of unity as simply a representation of the abrupt and sweeping changes resulting from the 1952 revolution. But to do so would be to ignore essential meanings within the text. Politically, it would trivialize the irreconcilable social antagonism drawn out by parallax to simply a shift in the national story; it would maintain a monolithic view of the ‘national story’. Poetically, it would reduce the play to an unremarkable dramatization of the shift rather than an articulation of the complexities and difficulties of merely an apparent change. Furthermore for critics, it would involve a focus so heavily drawn to the form of the transition that it would be ignoring the substance surrounding it, resulting in a kind of buffet-style interpretation where national allegory is only applicable to convenient elements.

Al-Ḥakīm even warns us of the dangers of slipping into interpreting the parallactic link between the private and national as simply a shift in the national story. First, to do so would to presume that instead of two private stories of the cockroach and human, there is only one that experiences a shift itself. In this view, the story of the humans is merely a continuation of the cockroach story of the first act. To combat this slippery misconception, al-Ḥakīm dedicates a portion of the dialogue in the third act to distinguish that ‘Ādil is in fact not the cockroach as the Doctor’s psychiatric diagnosis proclaims (166-7). He warns of the dangers of creating a simple equation that the cockroach is the human. Instead, he maintains the cockroach-human distinction to preserve the parallax gap between them.

In light of the parallax view, the abrupt shift in the reader’s perspective between the first two acts of Maṣīr Ṣurṣār is not a shift in the private story of national allegory, but indeed an entirely different private story. Together, these two stories are linked parallactically to the external referent of the national story. Politically, al-Ḥakīm is demonstrating the importance of recognizing the existence of multiple perspectives: in this case, the state’s version of nationalism in an antagonistic relationship to the nationalist ethos of the people. Poetically, he provides an entirely different approach to writing the nation. Paul Starkey mistakenly understands al-Ḥakīm’s play as, “remarkable for little other than for being one of the most blatant examples of the tendency to a lack of unity in al-Ḥakīm’s plays” (215). But his writing off the play as a simple example of artistic preference reflects an unwillingness to interrogate this lack of unity in any kind of critical way. By doing so here, I have shown not only the artistic prowess of al-Ḥakīm to express the complexities of the Egyptian nation under Nasser in the year prior to the Naksa. but also the versatility and depth of reading through the lens of national allegory.


Arabic Appendix

(١) الملك: قومى استيقظى! … حان وقت العمل … (الحكيم ١)


العالم : نعم … رأيت مرة … منذ زمن طويل جدًا … في مطلع شبابى … بضعة صراصير اجتمعت ليلا في مطبخ حول قطعة من الطماطم …

الملكة : الطماطم؟ …

العالم : نعم …

الملك : فكرة مدهشة … مسألة الطماطم هذه! …

الوزير : من هنا نبدأ …

الملكة : وتقول إن العلم لا يستطيع حل المشكلة! …

العالم : وما دخل العلم هنا؟! … هذه ليست أكثر من مجرد ملاحظة عادية …

الملك : هذا من تواضع العلماء … ولكن الفكرة على كل حال مفيدة … إذا استطعنا أن نأني بقطعة طماطم فإنه سيجتمع حولها عدد من الصراصير …

العالم : المشكلة الحقيقية هى كيف نعثر على قطعة الطماطم؟ …

الملك : وكيف إذن نعثر عليها أحينًا؟ …

العالم : مالمصادفة …

الملكة : ومتى تأتى المصادفة؟ …

العالم : هذا شيء لا يمكن التنبؤ به …

الملك : أنت إذن جئت تحل لنا المشكلة بمشكلة …

الملكة : ابحث لنا عن شىء آخر غير الطماطم …

العالم : أى نوع آخر من الطعام يضعنا في نفس الوضع لأننا نجد الطعام … فلكننا لا نستطيع أن نوجده … (الحكيم ٢٣-٢٥)

(٣) الملك: . . . إن هذا على الاقل شيء أفيد من الكلام في موضوعات خرافية ومشروعات وهمية! . . . (الحكيم ٥٣)


سامية : »ملتفتة إلى زوجها« استيقظت يا عادل؟ …

عادل : طبعا …

سامية : هل رن جرس المنبه؟ …

عادل : لا طبعا … قمت من تلقاء نفسى كالعادة …  . . . (الحكيم ٦٥-٦٦)

(٥) سامية: رفعت راية العصيان؟! …

(٦) العالم: أصبح هذا مؤكدًا اليوم من الوجهة العلمية … إذا اجتمع عدد من الصراصير في مكان، وكان وهح الضوء ساطعًا، فسعان ما تتحرك جبال ليس لها قمم ولارءوس، فتدوس جماعتنا وتسحقها سحقا … وفى أحيان أخرى ينهمر علينا رشاش مطر خانق يبيدنا عن آخرنا … (الحكيم ٢٧)

(٧) معجزة من السماء (الحكيم ٦١)


الدكتور: »يشير إلى الصرصار في الحوض« هذا؟! …

عادل : نعم … هذا لابطل …

الدكتور: بطل؟! …

عادل : بالتأكيد بطل … تخيل نفسك في بئر عميقة … جدرانها من المرمر الأملس … وأستحال عليك الخروج معد محاولات مضنية … ماذا تفعل؟! …

الدكتور: أيأس طبعًا …

عادل : انه هو لم ييأس …

الدكتور: حقا … أراه يكرر المحاولة عشرات المرات …

عادل : بل مئات المرات … لقد جعلت همى منذ الصباح أن أحصى العدد …

الدكتور: أكنت مشغولا بذلك منذ الصباح؟! …

عادل : نعم … أردت أن أعرف منى ينهى كفاحه! …

الدكتور: »ناظرًا ياهتمام حقيقي« حتى الآن يبدو عليه أنه لن ينتهى قريبا …

عادل : فعلا … تعبنا نحن من المشادة، ولم يتعب هو من المحاولة …

الدكتور: »متابعا النظر« أى أمل له في النجاة؟! …

عادل : لا أمل طبعا …

الدكتور: إلا إذا تدخلت أنت وأنقذته …

عادل : وأنا لن أتدخل …

الدكتور: ولم لا؟! … ما دمت معجبا به …

عادل : يجب أن أتركه لمصيره … (الحكيم ١٧٢-١٧٣)


Works Cited

Al-Hakīm, Tawfīq. Fate of a Cockroach and Other Plays. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1980. Print.

—. Masir Sorsar. Cairo: Maktabat al-Ādāb, 1966. Print.

Badawi, M. M. “A Passion for Experimentation: The Novels and Plays of Tawfiq al-Hakim.” Third World Quarterly 10.2 (1988): 949-60. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. A History of Literary Criticism and Theory: From Plato to the Present. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Print.

Hocberg, Gil. “National Allegories and the Emergence of the Female Voice in Moufida Tlali’s Les silences du palais.” Third Text 14.50 (Spring 2000): 33-44. Print.

Jameson, Frederic. “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism.” Social Text 15 (1986): 65-88. Print.

Starkey, Paul. From the Ivory Tower: A Critical Analysis of Tawfiq al-Hakim. Ithaca: Ithaca Press, 1988. Print.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006. Print.


[1] All English citations from Masir Sursar reference the published Denys Johnson-Davies

English edition, however I have made some modifications to preserve certain nuances in the Arabic. Citatio indicate the Arabic edition, followed by the Johnson-Davies translation,

and the appropriate reference to the Arabic original available in the Appendix. I have used

the following editions: Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Ādāb, 1966) and Fate of a Cockroach and other plays, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1980). Arabic transliterations are based on the IJMES guide to transliterating Arabic.

[2] Al-Ḥakīm, Masir Sursar, 1; Fate of a Cockroach, 2; Appendix, 1.

[3] M. M. Badawi says, “The Fate of a Cockroach is a strange work, consisting of two plays which are meant to be juxtaposed; the grotesque political world of the first play—a fable marked by the savagery of its political satire—provides the context for the absurd human relations of the second play” (Badawi 958). Paul Starkey says, “the work can almost be regarded as two plays stitched together” (Starkey 215).

[4] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 23-5; Fate of a Cockroach, 11-2 (Translation Modified); Appendix, 2. I opt for  “Scientist” and “Vizier” over Johnson-Davies’s “Savant” and “Minister,” respectively.

[5] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 53; Fate of a Cockroach, 22; Appendix, 3.

[6] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 66-7; Fate of a Cockroach, 27; Appendix, 4.

[7] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 68; Fate of a Cockroach, 28 (Translation Modified); Appendix, 5. I have replaced Johnson-Davies’s more natural “You’re rebelling?” with “Have you raised the flag of rebellion?” to accentuate the nationalist inclinations of ‘Ādil’s diction.

 [8] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 27; Fate of a Cockroach, 12-3; Appendix, 6.

 [9] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 61; Fate of a Cockroach, 25; Appendix, 7.

 [10] Al-Ḥakīm, Maṣīr Ṣurṣār, 172-3; Fate of a Cockroach, 68; Appendix, 8.