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Sons and Lovers and the Mirage: Recognition, Melodrama and Psychoanalysis in Mahfūz’s al-Sarāb

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This essay provides a commentary on one of the less celebrated novels of Najīb Mahfū z,al-Sarāb (The Mirage), one of a series of tragic melodramas he wrote in the 1940s. Uniquely in Mahfūz’s oeuvre, this novel explores an “Oedipal” relationship between the narrator/protagonist and his mother; it is a relationship that blights the man’s married life. What Aristotle identified as anagnorisis—a movement towards startling disclosure—is a common feature of Oedipal narratives; the anagnorisis in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex being the most famous example (and Aristotle’s favorite instance of tragic disclosure). In general, and across genres, anagnorisis provides narratives with familiar, sometimes comforting, shape; it can also provide an interpretive portal onto the meaning and values revealed by a narrative. It tends to provide closure, especially in melodrama, and often purveys a sense of certainty (though in contemporary or experimental fiction that complacency is often misplaced: incertitude, ambiguity and difficult knowledge are just as often revealed). The commentary below concentrates on three aspects of al-Sarāb alluded to and the relationship between them: recognition, psychoanalysis and melodrama.

Affiliations: 1: New York University


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