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Colonial modernity and urban space: Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo

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This article explores the spatial dimension of colonial modernity in Naguib Mahfouz’s 1947 novel Midaq Alley. I begin by discussing the way in which modernity reconfigures urban space in Cairo so that the radical disjunctures and discontinuities it initiates become encoded within the topography of the city itself. I then address the impact this reconfiguration of space has on the inhabitants of Midaq Alley, forcing them to engage with modernity as a concrete presence in their daily lives. In other words, to use Mikhail Bakhtin’s terminology, modernity in the novel takes on a chronotopic quality – fusing time and space, history and geography – and as a consequence, those characters who aspire to move from one temporality to another are required to do so by following a particular spatial trajectory. They must traverse a number of significant boundaries and interstitial zones, before entering those chronotopic sites whose function it is both to signify and shape colonial modernity: in this case, specifically, the brothel and the bar.
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Keywords: Cairo; Midaq Alley; Queen Farida Square; colonial modernity; literature; urban space

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nanyang Technological University

Publication date: 01 June 2014

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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