The sixties generation and beyond
The previous chapters have described the development of the Arabic novel and short story through overlapping phases in which a number of distinct trends can be identified: a historical novel, a romantic trend, a realistic trend, and a later 'social realistic' approach that mirrored the emerging political realities of the Middle East in the period following the Second World War. As has already been seen, this last-named approach, with its distinctive catchword of 'commitment' (iltizām) was a comparatively short-lived phenomenon, for even by the late 1950s, the initial naïve optimism induced by the 1952 Free Officers' Revolution in Egypt was beginning to wear thin. This disillusionment can be seen as one of the two main characteristics evident in the series of novels produced by Najīb Maḥfūẓ between 1961 and 1967, the other being an increasing appetite for experimentation in terms of formal structure; and it is indeed these two very characteristics that provide the main impetus for many of the new generation of novelists.
Although the sense of disillusionment that characterises much Arab prose writing (and poetry) from the end of the 1960s has often been held to spring directly from the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967, the seeds of that disillusionment in fact date from considerably earlier. Indeed, although it was undoubtedly the Six-Day War that most obviously crystallised Arab feelings of political and cultural impotence during this period, most literary critics give the credit for producing the first work of the new trend to a work that actually first appeared in 1966 – Ṣun‛ Allāh Ibrāhīm's (1937–) novella Tilka al-rā'iḥa. Be that as it may, it was not long before a group of intellectuals, predominantly but not exclusively Egyptian, began to come together, driven by a common sense of purpose, to publish their output in a new literary and cultural magazine, Gallery 68, eight issues of which appeared between 1968 and 1971; the magazine was edited by, among others, Edwār al-Kharrāṭ (1926–), himself one of the most innovative writers of his generation. Generally known as the 'generation of the sixties',1 many of these writers shared a number of characteristics, both of attitude and experience: most were politically 'committed', but usually in a more outspoken way than the more optimistic generation of al-Sharqāwī, and