Dreams – a Naguib Mahfouz collection – is now available in English and French translations, and there is more to come. Mahfouz is still publishing an average of three new dreams per month in the Cairo-based magazine Nisf Al-Donya. A French publishing house is seeking permission to print a new edition of Dreams including recent episodes. And Dar Al-Shorouk, the official publisher of works by Mahfouz, is issuing a new edition of Dreams containing the full 200 published dreams. The last edition of the collection, now out of print, contained only 150 dreams. Many visitors of Mahfouz ask him about that work. Recently, a journalist from El Pais, the major daily newspaper of Spain, asked Mahfouz about the reason he turned to this kind of writing.
Mahfouz: I started writing very short stories years ago, and Dreams is a continuation of this kind of writing. You may say that Dreams is a natural development of what I had been writing before. Some say that Dreams is an elaboration on Asdaa Al-Sirah Al-Zatiya (Echoes of a Biography), which also contained glimpses of my life. As for the definition of Dreams, this is the job of critics. I, for one, can't really say.
Some of the dreams, short as they are, conform to the conventional structure of the story, in the sense that they have a beginning, middle and end. Others represent a specific moment, mostly fraught with emotion. Others still are just mental images. This is why I don't refer to the episodes as stories or thoughts or anything similar. I call them dreams because this is what they really are.
They were inspired by actual dreams. This formula suits my health, for I cannot write for more than half an hour a day because of the impairment in my arm that resulted from the 1994 attempt on my life. After that attack, I stopped writing for a while, until my therapist advised me to go back to writing as part of my physiotherapy. I began by writing the names of my friends and their telephone numbers and such things. Then as I became able to write once again, I started writing Dreams.
Also Dreams suit me as a source of inspiration. My eyesight is too poor for me to read – I need people to read for me. My hearing is also poor, and I use a hearing aid now. Just before you came over, my hearing aid fell and we spent some time looking for it. Had we not found it, we wouldn't be having this conversation now.
For all of the above reasons, I am no longer in a position allowing me to react with emotion to anything I see, hear or read. This is why I am relying now on what I hear and see in my dreams. Each segment of – is born out of an actual dream.
Journalist: But these dreams are like gems – valuable not because of their size but because of their purity and translucence.
Mahfouz: I don't just wake up and write an account of a dream. I work on it for a long time, introducing the things that turn it into a literary form. A dream is just a starting point, a source of inspiration. But at the end of the day, it is the writer who is responsible for the content of his work.
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