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The Emergence of the Sixties Generation in Egypt and the Anxiety over Categorization

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AbstractIn September 1969 the Egyptian literary journal al-Talīah began a feature entitled “Hākadhā yatakallamu al-udabā al-shabāb” (“This Is How the Young Writers Speak”), that sought to understand, analyze, and categorize the emerging literary generation in Egypt. Consisting of a questionnaire that targeted over thirty artists and a series of articles by prominent critics, the feature precipitated fierce debates about the significance of what came to be known as jīl al-sittīnāt—the sixties generation—in Egypt. This article examines the emergence of this generation as documented in the pages of the journals of the time. Here I build upon the work of Elisabeth Kendall and Richard Jacquemond, presenting this feature as an example of what I call the “anxiety over categorization” that dominated literary discussions during this time. These discussions were as much about categorization as they were about the negotiation of power in what Pierre Bourdieu has called “the field of cultural production.” The emergence of a new generation of writers seemed to pose a threat to the established figures in the field, raising questions about whether or not aesthetic innovation was strictly the domain of the young. I read the al-Talīah feature against the work of the new writers themselves, as displayed upon the pages of Jālīrī 68. The latter, a short-lived but highly influential avant-garde journal, was created to cater to the literary production of the new generation, and privileged publication of their work over a categorizing discourse. In tracing the generational debates that took place surrounding the emergence of the sixties generation, this anxiety over categorization reveals how power and authority are negotiated in the literary field in Egypt.

Affiliations: 1: Wellesley College, URL:


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