A Pioneer of the Short Story

Mohammad Subhi Abu Ghaneemah (1902 – 1971) belongs to the generation of pioneers amongst the writers of the twentieth century in Jordan. This generation saw the light towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th and played a vital role in the cultural, political, and social renaissance of the Eastern Arab countries during the first half of the last century. It is worth noting at this point some of the main characteristics that are in common amongst this generation before we go into a detailed analysis of one of the short story collections which he wrote, Songs of the Night, which is an honest expression of the period that these pioneers lived in.
One of the most notable characteristics of this generation is that it belongs to the high period of the growth and development of the middle class as a strong social stratum in the Middle East. One impact of this fact is that Abu Ghaneemah, like many renown thinkers and writers of his time, took special care in acquiring a rounded base of knowledge: he studied the Arab heritage, as well as western culture. Using these tools he managed to walk into a wide horizon of cultural and scientific creativity. Like others of his time such as Taha Hussein or Al Aqqad or Al Mazini, he was a story-teller, novelist, critic, journalist, etc...

Abu Ghabeemah also added to his personal experience a dimension that was not present amongst many of the intellectuals of his generation, namely, his immersion in the daily life of the people as a practicing doctor and a renown politician who spent most of his years in the ranks of the opposition. Moreover, he remained for over a quarter of a century the symbol of the opposition in his country and its undisputed leader. His opposition did not arise from empty ideologies as much as a general direction that is governed by his vision of what constitutes national interests, regardless of whom he will stand up against or with.

Abu Ghaneemah belongs to the generation that believes in the positive revolution, the revolution that means regeneration and struggle for change towards the better, towards achieving more justice for the individual regardless of his sex, cultural achievement, or social or ideological affiliation. His is a romantic soul that is inspired by the romantic aspirations of the people.

His first collection of short stories, Songs of the Night which was published in 1922 is considered the first collection of short stories to come out in Jordan, a country that was not defined geographically or politically until the advent of Prince Abdullah bin al Hussein (later to become King Abdullah I) to this area in 1921. This means that the political entity called Jordan had only been in existence for one year when this first collection was published. This explains the absence of a clear image of what the Jordanian society is like in the stories of this collection. The society in these stories is of a cartoonist nature, and the stories in general lack a disciplined space. What we find in these stories is not diversity but rather dissonance and a lack of a clearly defined identity. The characters are divided between the city, village, and desert, both Arab and non-Arab. All of this can be understood if we take into consideration that the writer did not base his work on a national character that has not been formed yet (after centuries of the Ottoman rule). On the contrary, he was aiming for characteristics that belong to a human being regardless of where he is, characteristics that belong to the self of the creator. This takes us back to the main starting point for Abu Ghaneemah and writers of his age: their romanticism and the monopoly of the spirit of the age. Romanticism can be found in every line, starting from the dedication of the collection that reads:

"This collection is dedicated to the spirit of the martyr Prince Aref Ash Shihabi. Whenever I remember you, oh great hero and freedom fighter, I recall with your beautiful smile the following duties: that I should never forget... and I should always strive for what you strove for, and die like you died... and shed year after year my purest tears in the wake of that morning when you screamed that great scream in the face of death breaking down the fortress of injustice and destroying the throne of oppression!
And here I am, like in that morning, doing my duty, and presenting to you my purest tears in songs of the night."

The dedication is based on a “promise”, and the promise for the romantics is not just an expression to be taken lightly, it is a set of connotations that reflect a number of basic concepts in human interaction. This “dedication” of the book is also full of passion, character, nationalism and humanity. The introduction of the collection which follows the dedication is also a reflection of Victor Hugo’s words: that the will that liberates the human being is the same will that liberates the word.

Since 80 years, and before Jordan was a clear political entity, a literary voice arose to say: “these are my emotions, style, and opinions, and I have the right to express them. If students of language try to look for linguistic excellence then they will not find it, and if the lovers of (aesthetics) look for beauty in the words they won’t see it, and if the worshipers of classical Arabic look for its expression and don’t find it, then let them all be content with the facts, and know that they are songs... only songs.”

Today, such an introduction might seem traditional and outdated, but for that period it carried the seeds of a new literary genre that expressed the revolt of the individual on the traditional literary norms and set the stage for a new style in writing that is based on the individual feelings and experiences and not on the traditional classical norms of writing. The word (according to Abu Ghaneemah) is closer to the human being and to real human issues, and filled with emotions and suffering, rather than mere rhetoric.Serene Huleileh

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