Tawfik al-Hakim and the Social Responsibility of the Artist

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My life has been reduced to dry ink cast upon paper.
I do not know how much longer it is to last, but I do
know that there is nothing left on the horizon before
me to augur contentment or a happy ending. Nothing
is crueler to one who has been given the gift of life
than that he should feel, towards the end, that his life
has been not so much a boon as a penalty, and that he
has not been able to do his duty for the good of his
country or of the people[1]

With these words, al-Hakim opens a consideration of the polemical relation between the artist and society. He also draws our attention to the difficulty this artist faced in fulfilling his mission. He was convinced of the duty of the artist to dedicate his writings to the good of his fellow human beings.

Looking at al-Hakim’s long life, which spanned two generations, we can see that his writing career passed through different distinct orientations. Those writings include a large number of articles and essays on varying topics. However, the major literary works were in the field of drama. Over the last phase of his career, al-Hakim showed a new fondness for experimentation, both in dramatic form and technique, and drew upon inspiration from Brecht, Beckett, Ionesco, and others.

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