Two days ago, Dr. Siza Qassem passed away from our world at the age of 89, after spending most of her life in the service of Arab criticism and culture. She was one of the most prominent and important names among contemporary Arab critics who specialized in the study of comparative literature, whether contemporary or traditional.
Siza Qassem was not just a literary critic, but she was a strong voice for cultural and political awareness. She expressed her opinions courageously and rationally, and presented her critical analyzes of literature and culture in light of current challenges.
Siza Qassem has often defended the question of method and the Arab human being’s right to knowledge. She believes that the falsification and concealment of knowledge, and the imposition of the perspective of the prevailing ideology on society through what she calls cognitive suppression, are among the fundamental problems that Arab society suffers from, and therefore the burden falls on literature to Expose this falsehood and reveal the truth.
That is why, in her critical works, she condemned tyranny, tyranny, oppression, and social injustice, calling for the democratization of rule and the realization of human humanity. She had critical courage that did not subject her to the worship of cultural idols, and she raised her voice in the face of everyone, threatening to break the limit of silence, and denouncing the silence that is equated with participation in crime.
Low production and abundant harvest
Siza Qassem did not present many critical or intellectual works. She was not preoccupied with quantity as much as she was preoccupied with the human concern for literary works to express man’s hopes and ambitions, and to open for him on the horizon a window in which he could find salvation. Therefore, all of her works came as a revolution in their field, demolishing the old and building it up. New on its ruins.
Her doctoral thesis was on “Realism in the Egyptian Novel… Research on Naguib Mahfouz’s Trilogy.” It was a strange and unique matter at the end of the seventies, as how could a comparative academic study based on only one work be approved?
Just as her thesis disrupted academic traditions, it was a breakthrough in critical visions of Arabic literature, as she wanted to draw a picture of Egyptian reality and history from below through a magnified vision.
In this study, for the first time, she examined the influence of the Nobel writer Naguib Mahfouz in his famous trilogy on three Western schools: the French realist school, represented by Honoré de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert, the naturalistic school (naturalism), represented by Emile Zola, and the school of English Edwardian novelists such as Goldsworthy and Bennett. .
As for the book “The Reader and the Text,” it discussed the subject of reading, the reader, the theory of reception, and the value of the text, its connotation and meaning. It put a set of questions on the literary anatomy table: Does the text have value in itself, or does this value reside in its writer, or is the reader the one who bestows such value on him? Or more precisely, what is the nature of the relationship between the reader and the literary text?
From this approach, Dr. Siza Qassem sought to address the issue of reading in its cognitive origins between the reader and the literary text, starting from an accepted idea that says that language is the faculty that distinguishes man from other creatures, so how does man receive it? How is meaning transmitted from a source to its recipient? Or how do humans understand each other?
Heritage and identity
Her heritage book on Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi and his work “The Dove’s Ring in Familiarity and Alif,” which was the subject of her master’s thesis in 1971, is about our relationship with heritage, as she believes that there is no longer sufficient interest in major heritage texts.
The books she produced and the new curricula she worked on, and her introduction to issues that were completely new to our societies, made her production express creative topics. This is mainly due to her familiarity with Western and Arab cultures, and her great knowledge of Arab heritage, which made her fully aware of the ego in the face of the other, and that what What we have may be much better than what we import.
But the passing of Siza Qassem is a shock to the Egyptian and Arab cultural circles, as her books, ideas, and critical visions stand as leading cultural signs, and her students, colleagues, and friends competed to talk about her, and here we meet with those who were closer to her, and more understanding of her works.
Pioneer of the stream of consciousness
The first to announce the news of her passing was the critic Tariq Al-Numan, who was like a son, student, and friend to her. He said, “Since I knew her, she has represented for me a humanitarian and academic text full of sublime, beautiful, and sophisticated values and principles represented in seriousness, sincerity, perseverance, perseverance, mastery, and not compromising on… Scientific and academic values in any form, and not mixing scientific value with personal interest or courtesy, whatever the relationship individuals have to them and whatever love you have for these individuals.”
Al-Numan continues, “The follower of Siza Qasim’s critical discourse will be drawn to this rich diversity between the different spaces of Arab culture, from the ancient epistolary prose discourse, as in the treatise of Tawq al-Hamamah by Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi, to the contemporary novelist discourse, as is evident in her highly distinguished study, “The Construction of the Novel,” in Naguib’s trilogy. Mahfouz and comparing them with all this huge number of Western novels and all these novelists: Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Zola’s The Hammer and the Prey, Forsyth’s Saga of Goldsworthy, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Virginia Woolf’s Madame Daloy as representatives of the stream-of-consciousness novel.
Its effort did not stop with the pioneers of the stream of consciousness, but rather moved to religious discourse, and interpretation specifically by interpreters and rhetoricians such as Al-Tabari, Al-Zamakhshari, and Al-Rummani, and Qur’anic scholars such as Al-Zarkashi and Al-Suyuti, to the historical discourse of Al-Tabari, Al-Masudi, and Ibn Khaldun, and the theorization of the concept of news in the Arab heritage.
Al-Numan refers to the diverse analysis of models of contemporary narrative discourse between novels and short stories, as is evident in all those very in-depth and intense studies in her book “‘Arabic Novels… A Comparative Reading’,” and to her great efforts in the fields of contemporary poetry, and to the theories of semiotics (the science of Signs) and reading space and time in pre-Islamic poetry.
Al-Numan adds, “It is not hidden from scholars her great effort in theories of reading in hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) and in Arab heritage, as is evident in Al-Shuraishi’s explanations or readings of the Maqamat, to the discourse of the image and the plastic arts, as is evident in her book “The Reader and the Text… The Sign and the Significance.” “, and in her reading of Margot Villon's pictures and paintings about Nubia, to semiotics and its most recent achievements, to silence as a discourse that has its own codes, to the comparison between the discourse of madness between Erasmus and Al-Naysaburi's The Sanes of the Insane, and arriving at the relationship between history and the novel.
Dr. Siza Qassem has many important translations in linguistics, including literary theory and semiotics, and she edited the first and most important book published on semiotics in the Arab world, which is the book “An Introduction to Semiotics…Systems of Signs in Language, Literature, and Culture.”
Founders of modernist culture
The thinker and critic Nabil Abdel Fattah Siza Qassem describes her as one of the founding generation of contemporary modernist culture in Egypt and the Arab region, and that is why her passing was a source of sadness and shock to many of her students, colleagues, and close friends.
Abdel Fattah adds to Al Jazeera Net that Siza Qasim is one of the most important critics of comparative literature in Egypt and the Arab world, and this is due to the fact that she combined deep knowledge of the essences of French and Arab cultures, her methodological knowledge of heritage and modern Arab literature, and her deep knowledge of knowledge in comparative literature, especially in the field of theoretical studies. And applied science and its various developments in the literary field, which is clearly evident in her important study with Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, “Introduction to Semiotics,” and her book, “The Reader and the Text.”
These amazing knowledge and developments were evident in the “linguistics” revolution, which constituted a major shift in critical, political, and sociological studies, which is one of the advantages of Siza Qasim’s critical mind, so that in this way she became an example that has no counterpart in faculties of arts, just like those of Jaber Asfour and Abdel Moneim Talima. And her teacher, Suhair Al-Qalamawi.
Abdel Fattah confirms that Siza Qasim presented in her thesis to obtain a master’s degree a pioneering and new study on the book “The Collar of the Dove in the Alif and the Elif” by Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi, in which she followed a comparative analysis with its counterparts in Western literature, as well as her thesis to obtain a doctoral degree on “French Realism and the Arabic Novel.” This is what appeared in her book “Building the Novel”, and this book was said by Naguib Mahfouz to be one of the most important books that dealt with the trilogy (Qasr al-Shawq, Bayn al-Qasrain, and al-Sukkariyya) with study and analysis.
Brave critical address
Abdel Fattah continues, “Above all the profound literary and critical excellence, Siza was characterized by human kindness and literary courage with her students and colleagues, and despite her belonging to the upper class in Egypt before and after 1952, she had a moderate vision of societal affairs, and was biased toward the weak classes of society in all its forms. Her courage was not limited to social reality, but extended to critical discourse and its objectivity.”
Her fine Arabic and French cultures, in addition to her proficiency in the Spanish language, had a clear influence on her charming and interesting language, which is characterized by terminological and stylistic precision, according to Nabil Abdel Fattah.
The last breeds of gold
As for the translator and critic Mona Anis, she describes her friend Siza Qassem as one of the last great intellectual critics, and that she is distinguished by depth and multiple knowledge. She was born in the third decade of the twentieth century, grew up in the midst of a pressing French culture, and obtained a Bachelor of French Arts in the fifties, and yet she wanted for herself to Being the daughter of her cultural environment, both locally and internationally, she focused her graduate studies on Arab culture, and chose Al-Andalus and Ibn Hazm and his book “The Collar of the Dove” as the subject of her thesis. She joined the Arabic Language Department at the College of Arts again, and obtained a master’s degree in Arabic after French.
Anis asserts that “Dr. Siza is from the lineage of great critics such as Abdel Moneim Talima, Abdel Mohsen Taha Badr, Suhair Al-Qalamawi, Dr. Al-Ahwani, and all the professors of the Middle Ages at Cairo University, and their professor, Dr. Taha Hussein, and even if she is in the Arabic Language Department, she flies with two wings in the sky.” Arab and Western cultures.
Her important study of Naguib Mahfouz’s trilogy, with which she obtained her doctoral dissertation, remains one of the most important works written about the Western schools of Foucault and Derrida, through a deep criticism of the trilogy and its comparison with generational novels in Western culture, such as Thomas Mann and other generational novelists in Europe.
The model of the apostolic intellectual
Dr. Ferial Ghazoul, professor of criticism at the American University in Cairo, and a student and friend of Dr. Siza Qasim, told Al Jazeera Net, “Sisa Qasim, my colleague and sister, embraced me when I came from Baghdad to Cairo to teach at the American University in the Department of Comparative English Literature, and Siza, with her mastery of languages and intellectual depth, was a cultural activist.” “With distinction. Together we created an outstanding academic journal that continues to flourish to this day thanks to Siza Kassim.”
Ghazoul added, “Ciza also included me in her project and book on semiotics and semiotics, introduced me to Egyptian intellectuals, and made me feel a sense of belonging.” She added, “Siza Qassem is a model of the apostolic intellectual who brings together others and directs them toward a comprehensive human culture. May peace be upon her and her rare model.”
Interpretation of the Qur’an and aesthetics of the language
Muhammad Shair, editor-in-chief of “Literature News” and the closest journalist to Dr. Siza Qassem’s mind and her window through which she views the literary situation in Egypt, spoke to Al Jazeera Net, saying, “Two days before her passing, Siza Qassem wrote praying that she die without pain, and her wish was fulfilled after Slight fatigue, she entered the hospital for hours and then left.”
Shair added, “I did not deal with Siza as just an honest critic who added a lot to the curricula of Arab literary criticism, but she was more than that. She was always supportive of everything new and a guide to what I should follow. She was like a mother who never stopped giving.”
He added, “She opened her home a lot to many young people, guiding them without guardianship, and supporting them without any goal other than that love and knowledge, and I was one of them. She drew my attention to many things in Naguib Mahfouz's experience, and to modern approaches in Western culture or what she called new ideas in the world.”
Shair confirms that “she had many hopes in the field of science and knowledge, and her last wish was to interpret one of the surahs of the Qur’an to show its linguistic aesthetics, but it seems that her last dream did not come true… May peace be upon her with the amount of love she left in the souls of many.”