Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Mamdouh Adwan: Don Quixote of the Word

Damascus: street life
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Youssef Sharqawi

In a world that no longer feels its tragedies, Mamdouh Adwan has had to clash with “life windmills” on many battlefields. He had to fight in a world that started to lose its humanity and shift to “animalism”. Adwan clashed daily with a world that did everything to free the tormentor inside it. With his struggle, he sought to create absolute justice. Adwan was neither a salesman nor a politician.

For that reason, he did not accept having partial justice. Rather, he was a man who celebrated madness and defended it. For him, the flaw was that “we are a nation devoid of true madmen. In our lives, there is something that makes us mad. We need the boldness to be mad and the courage to admit madness. When no one gets mad, it means that our feelings have dulled and that tragedies do not shake us. Madness for some people is a healthy indication of a healthy nation that doesn’t tolerate insult… Healthy people didn’t keep their sanity because they do not feel. Rather, they kept it because they are working, or will work to wash away the insult.”

Born in Kairoun near Masyaf, Mamdouh Adwan is the Don Quixote in our idiot, rigid world. His madness is of a particular kind. As he describes, it is a “hypersensitivity to what is going on in the world.” When Adwan saw that it was not ok to keep silent about what was happening, he went out confronting the world. He clashed with the world despite knowing that he would not be able to defeat it. Don Quixote had his assistant Sancho with him. As for Adwan, he fought with one weapon: the word. According to him, the word “is not well-read, and has no platforms or delivery channels.” Adwan sees Don Quixote in himself much more than that madman who fought with his spear because he remained persistent despite everything that is happening to use the weapon of the word. As a man, Adwan kept growing his knowledge to deepen his view of the world. He saw himself as a smaller Don Quixote.

However, he continued confronting the world with poetry, novel, theater, article, TV drama, and translation. If he was able to act and draw, he would have been happier. He was fighting seventy hours a day. This is how it seemed to the observer; a man who was busy defending the humanity of humans. As time passes, the man does not avoid death. Rather, he prepared for it and adopted the speech of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Although his optimism was not generous, he was immune to frustration. At least, being quarrelsome was better than being submissive and weak.

While he was clashing with the world, he was complaining. He complained about this world’s constant call to turn us into wild animals. For him, humanity is a rubbery and confusing word. Adwan raises the following important question: “Are we, tormentors?” He displays how the world frees the tormentor in us through cinema, drama, governmental oppression, religious and political authority, or social legislation. He compared writing to screaming; screaming produced by his hypersensitivity to what is happening in the world: “I scream, and I must be free to scream. A person who does not scream when he feels pain is dead. What they call screaming is for me touching the wounds. I cannot feel my hair and cheek while pretending to be treating a stab in the loin.”

His screaming was his way to defend the madness that we should have. For him, madness is a natural condition amid the unfamiliar phenomena that occur in our lives in our cruel world. The only weapon that can be used to defend the stolen dreams of the human, is madness. The resistance a human exerts to defend these dreams comes in a form of madness:

“The Man had a beautiful dream, but the cascade of circumstances opened a wound in this dream. Now and then, the man wakes to this catastrophic loss. He realizes his need not to turn into an animal. When he resists, his resistance takes a form of madness.”

For this, Adwan fought and quarreled. He is probably the only poet who did not begin his poetry with a flirtatious poem. Rather, he wrote a political poem to defend our lost dignity, because as he says “when the sword rules, dignity is lost.” In life, he was no different from poetry. He dared to shout publicly at the National Progressive Front conference in 1979. He said then: “The people neither believe the political systems, nor the battle data about the number of martyrs, nor the temperatures.”

He condemned the media that might create deceitful temperature reports and hide the existence of cholera. He criticized officials, the absence of acknowledging errors policy, and rampant corruption.

Adwan had two fatal diseases: heart disease, and cancer. Nevertheless, death remained an obstacle for the projects, which he is not afraid of:

“Everyone fears death, but this does not occupy my mind much. Death does not mean anything other than stopping projects for me. I fear that I will die before writing everything in my head. I love life and am attached to it. I feel as if I am watching something in life. However, it is a strange thing!”

Because of the injustice he had suffered in his life, he probably lamented himself, in a poem lamenting Don Quixote. In that poem, he asks Sancho to continue, in the face of delusions, mills, and lying tyrants, where (no) is the most beautiful of the language words:

How to create poetry when homeland traders make noise?
How in the presence of the snapping wolves?
How poetry might coexist with salvers?
How to have poetry that celebrates Flowers, the smell of land,
And the dreams of humans?
Age dried up
Nothing remains in my body but illness
Nothing remains around me but enemies
Get up, Sancho!
Nock your bow
Release your arrow
And don’t follow it with your eye
As for where the arrow hits
There are enemies
None remain but the enemies
Draw your sword
Hit how you want
You are facing illusions and mills
Nothing in front of you except lying tyrants
I didn’t clench my hand for some gain
But I clenched over burning coal
I stole the fire
Still, my heart eludes my questions
Beating with answers
The heart remains the guide
Still, (No) between the language words is the most beautiful!


[1] The spectra of Mamdouh Adwan – A selection of dialogues, Dr. Mohammad Saber Obaid (Arabic).
[2] Defending Madness – Mamdouh Adwan (Arabic).
[3] Another Madness – Mamdouh Adwan (Arabic).
[4] The Animalization of Man – Mamdouh Adwan (Arabic).
[5] Profile: Mamdouh Adwan, the Bohemian Rebel, Al-Akhbar Newspaper (Arabic).
[6] Mamdouh Adwan, Syrian Researchers (Arabic)


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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