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The implication is clear and the analogy is brilliantly used to ridicule the Egyptian educational system and the method of mugging and vomiting the material onto examination papers that is so prevalent in Egypt. His belief for a liberal educational system whereby theories are not only mugged but also applied, where students are encouraged to give conflicting opinions and critique existing works is supported by his desire to “mix freely with the ulema and [take] something from them all, so that he [can gather] together a vast amount of assorted knowledge which was [confusing] and contradictory” (Hussein, 52).
From a universal stance the book provides a very real glimpse of a human accomplishment. Unlike other texts and movies Hussein does not glorify his accomplishment. The difference in Hussein’s ordeal in comparison to the ordeals of other heroes is that his failures and accomplishments are not absolute, which makes it more real and more human, therefore it is easier for many of us to relate to. The manner in which he “inwardly [bemoans] his fate… feeling resentment…
heartfelt grief – when he hear[s] his brothers and sisters describing things about which he [has] no knowledge at all,” (Hussein, 16) does not make Hussein a very likeable character. One would expect in a story like this the hero would overcome such difficulties with perseverance, however surprisingly enough Hussein somewhat glorifies his repeated failures and describes his confrontations with his father upon a failure with intricate detail. “…
and it was certainly a fatal day, in which for the first time our friend tasted the bitterness of failure, humiliation, degradation and hatred of life… His father came to meet him, bade him…. [and] then asked him to recite… this request fell on him like a thunderbolt… His father prompted him by telling him some of the words which followed, but in spite of this he could not proceed at all… Our friend stood ashamed while the perspiration poured forth” (Hussein, 26-27).
The interesting question that could then be posed is why would Hussein ridicule his own behavior and what could the global audience learn from this portrayal? I believe Hussein in describing his childhood in this particular manner wanted to show a piece of literature that illustrated the realities of life; a literature that people cannot retreat to escape the harsh setbacks of life and be inspired of the hero’s ability to face and conquer setbacks.
This though brought to mind a song that has a particularly contrasting genre compared to Taha Hussein’s An Egyptian Childhood. Sung by a pop group called Chumbawamba and titled “Tubthumping,” the band complains about the miseries of life throughout the entire song as did Taha Hussein throughout the novel, but whenever things seem low and dreadful they switch to the chorus which goes as follows: “I’ll get knocked down but then I’ll get up again and then you’ll never beat me down.
But then “I’ll get knocked down again but then I’ll get up again and then you’ll never beat me down. ” This chorus as in Taha Hussein’s autobiography provides the global audience with a message regarding the nature of life; it implies that miseries are part of life in addition to failures and it is how many times one “get[s] up again” despite knowing that he will “get knocked down” will determine how well one will be able to deal with his miseries, which is the reality of our lives.
A surrealist movie such as Un Chien Andalou that is initially created for individuals to interpret them as they see it cannot be explained in terms of it being culturally specific or universally appealing, since the authors do not have a message they wish to convey – their message is for the individual to derive their own message from viewing the movie. However, the tools used to create this movie – the characters, symbols, paraphernalia and themes can be explained as being culturally specific or universally appealing but only at a manifest level, since the latent content is prone to subjectivity and bias.
Unlike in An Egyptian Childhood whereby Hussein had to conform to societal values the young lady in Un Chein Andalou could portray individualism. The ease, in which she made the decision to choose one man over the other during the beginning of the movie, illustrated her command and will to do what she desires without being restricted by societal constraints as Nnaemeka experienced in Achebe’s Marriage is a Private Affair.
Moreover, that specific role being played by a woman, historically viewed in Victorian Europe – the director’s main audience – as an inferior class, not only drove the point of individualism home but also implied the uprising of women and the need for more gender equality. The two priests that were holding the man back from committing adultery and how they failed to stop him from pursuing his erotic desires illustrated the church’s fading authority and the weakening foothold of religion in Europe.
The culturally specific interpretation that could be derived from these excerpts is the rise of individualism, whereby every individual has the freedom and choice to believe, accept or reject any idea, belief and value they wish to do so, since they are no restrained by any external factors including religious constraints. This is precisely the case in Europe and the western world, where teenagers are encouraged to leave the household at a young age to pursue their own life and make their own choices.
Generally speaking their parents, values and societal pressures have a minimal role in their lives since the freedom they are given surpasses these constraints and this leads to many youngsters making bad choices that lead to desperate measures as illustrated in the shocking scene that initiated the movie. On a macro-level the eternal themes of life, death, lust and love are thrown up at various points throughout the movie. Scenes where ants crawl out of a hand, a woman being sexually assaulted by a man and a serene utopian gardens help convey these eternal themes; however, there exists no framework on which to attach these emotions.
Despite all this, I believe that Un Chien Andalou does not require such deep analysis, being much more a film which should be purely experienced, it achieves that which Buel and Dali aimed for which is something what nearly all great films do: to teach us more about ourselves. “Girls became girls once more and boys boys” (Achebe, 104). I wish to extend on Chinua Achebe’s quote to illustrate a world where in fact girls can be girls, Arabs can be Arabs, Christians can be Christians and humans can be humans.
A world where everyone’s outlook broadens, globalization continues, specific cultures remain intact and respect and self-affirmation is born in each individual whereby they innately believe that the girl, Arab and Christian next door in indeed an important part of this universe. Bibliography Achebe, Chinua. Girls at War and Other Stories. New York: Anchor Books, 1972. Hussein, Taha. The Days. Trans. E. H. Paxton. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1997. Un Chien Andalou. Dir. Salvador Dali and Luis Bunel. 192