The return of Dr. Dahesh – Sayed Mahmoud


Posted in: Tuesday, July 27, 2021 – 9:40 PM | Last update: Tuesday, July 27, 2021 – 9:40 PM

In the eighties of the last century, a phenomenon called the pavilion of the Dr. Dahesh Foundation drew the attention of visitors to the Cairo Book Fair. At that time, I was standing with many boys waiting for gifts distributed by the pavilion officials, and there were large “posters” and posters of a mysterious man, along with some books on magic and the paranormal. It kept arousing our teenage imaginations, and after that, Dr. Dahesh remained in the memory as a mystery referring to those distant years.
A few days ago, writer Sameh Al-Jabbas visited me with his new novel “The Association of Selim Al-Ashi Haters” (Dar Al-Ain 2021), which all revolves around Dr. Dahesh, through an imaginary novelist who restores his biography, and creates for it the contexts that make him a representation of an integrated phenomenon in which what is artistic intertwines with what is A politician inside Lebanon, who at the time was bearing many questions of Arab modernity politically and culturally.
Salim Al-Ashi, whose biography is based on the investigation of the novel, is a young man who turned into a legend in his time because of what he was doing of hypnosis and then necromancy and became a prophet and a guide to his followers, and called himself the astonishment because what he did contributed to the astonishment of people in his time and produced many books that were prohibited from circulation In Egypt and the Arab countries, some of them have been translated into French and English.
The novel raises many questions about its artistic ambition to restore a personal biography that stands between reality and fiction, but what really excited me is related to the author’s effort in formulating a narrative collage that builds relationships between Dahesh’s texts and other writers such as Tawfiq al-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz and Youssef al-Sibai, and he remained concerned within the large-sized novel by highlighting the value of Correlations,” or narrative reproduction, in addition to the fondness for text reproduction processes, and here is the most important game that recalls what the prominent French critic Roland Barthes was putting forward about “the novelist” as a means of codification, employment and attention to the daily life of people, and everything that happens in life, to create “writing.”
The novelist that Barthes practiced in his texts is not linked to specific themes, or to the process of telling a story, but to the way of cutting reality. As indicated by an article translated by Lotfi Mansour by Emmanuel Berry, a method that Sameh al-Jabbas perfectly practiced.
The idea of ​​“the novelist” means, above all, what is outside the novel, and this is exactly what the novel wanted to pay attention to in the “meta-narrative”, that is, before writing and what is outside it, where one can read a real drama of the person as a response to confronting the problem of stereotype, and traffic From fiction (as a horizon) to meta-narrative (as a successful practice).
The writer used an impressive archival material that required him to completely devote himself to the process of researching various sources and information vessels, then he carried out a reformulation process for this archive and excluded from it materials that weighed his subject or those that did not fit his ambition to rebuild the past, and because looking at the past is basically the historian’s business, it does not meet Usually the novelist’s passion, whose game he prefers to play, is to doubt this past in the first place, and to convey this doubt to the reader’s mind and provoke him to continue in the reading game, which is also a seduction.
In this ambition, the writer usually seeks the form of the novel that is being made, and in this way you can know more about the novel than just looking at it as a subject already made up by others.
According to this perception, Sameh presented himself as a character within the text with a full presence in the way of breaking illusion and appeared in his fat and flesh as an Egyptian writer chosen by an institution to write a novel about Dr. Dahesh and sign a contract in which he adheres to strict rules and conditions, the most important of which is his residence in the house of Salim Al-Ashi, the founder of Dahesh? It is a house that seems from the narrative context to be the house of curses.
Al-Jabbas succeeded in creating a novel with a rare suspense in the Arabic novel, and besides it, he produced complete knowledge without losing the element of entertainment and pleasure, which is an effective element in the production of this type of novel.
And part of the writer’s intelligence is related to his presence in the text. He is an Egyptian writer who writes a biography of a Lebanese personality. What provokes him originally is related to the field he came from, so he worked for a long time on the presence of Dahesh in Egypt and asked if he had followers in it? I also took care of the Egyptian creators’ handling of ideas about reincarnation, magic and the paranormal that come from the other world and overlapped with texts by Tawfiq al-Hakim, Youssef al-Sibai, Naguib Mahfouz and Abdel Hakim Qassem. Memory dropped them.


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