To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Murat Nemet-Nejat: The Idea of "Eda" in Turkish Poetics

Due to the fortuitous convergence of historical, linguistic and geographic factors, in the 20th century – from the creation of the Turkish Republic in the 1920's to the 1990's when Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium turned from a jewel-like city of contrasts of under a million to a city of twelve million – Turkey created a body of poetry unique in the 20th century, with its own poetics, world view and idiosyncratic sensibility. What is more these qualities are intimately related to the nature of Turkish as a language - its strengths and its defining limits. As historical changes occurred, the language in this poetry responded to them, flowered, changed; but always remaining a continuum, a psychic essence, a dialectic which is an arabesque. It is this silent melody of the mind -the cadence of its total allure - which this collection tries to translate. While every effort has been made to create the individual music of each poem and poet, none can really be understood without responding to the movement running through them, through Turkish in the 20th century. I call this essence eda, each poet, poem being a specific case of eda, unique stations in the progress of the Turkish soul, language.

In The Task of the Translator Walter Benjamin says that what gives a language translatability is its distance from the host language. Eda is this distance.

The otherness of eda has three aspects, thematic, linguistic and metaphysical, together forming its core, essence:

a) Thematic: Istanbul, Mistress - Constantinople, Ward of The Virgin Mary

Istanbul, the city of unspeakable beauty; the city of stench, crooked streets, endless vice; the long coveted prize of the Islamic Ottoman Empire; the vulnerable, beloved, cherished spiritual center of Eastern Christianity; the site of the rational, tent-like simplicity of Turkish Imperial architecture; the awesome interior space of the Hagia Sofia; the European and Asian city; the city of crossings and bridges and double crosses; the city gorgeous to the eye, even more beautiful in its secrets; the city of spiritual yearning and impulse murder; the city of disco bars whose basement forms a Byzantine palace; the city of violet water; the city of trysts; the city where place names gain fetishistic value; the city where life and history are cheap, and they are both everywhere.

The paradoxical nature of Istanbul is the obsessive reference point of 20th-century Turkish poetry. Almost no poem is untouched by it - its shape, its street names, its people, objects and activities, its geographic and historical locus. As the city evolves, the poetry responds, trying to re-organize, make sense of the changes. This interplay between city and language resonates spiritually, erotically, politically, philosophically.

b) Linguistic: "am am a sea vermin, so human goose the block of ice on which i fly is" [souljam]

Turkish is an agglutinative language, that is to say, declensions occur inside the words as suffixes. Words need not be attached to either end of prepositions to spell out relationships, as in English. This quality gives Turkish total syntactical flexibility. Words in a sentence can be arranged in any permutable order, each sounding natural.

The underlying syntactical principle is not logic, but emphasis: a movement of the speaker's or writer's affections. Thinking, speaking in Turkish is a peculiarly visceral activity, a record of thought emerging. The nearer the word is to the verb in a sentence, which itself has no fixed place in the sentence, the more emphasis it has. This ability to stress or unstress -not sounds or syllables; Turkish is syllabically unaccented- but words (thought as value-infested proximity) gives Turkish a unique capability for nuance, for a peculiar kind of intuitive thought.

Eda is the play of ideas through the body of Turkish. Not only is it the poetics of Turkish poetry in 20th century, it is the extension of the language itself, the flowering of its inherent potentials.

The otherness of eda is the distance which separates Turkish from English. English is an amazingly plastic language in terms of analytic thought, must spell out the relations between objects, between thoughts. A word like "from" or "to" predetermines the words which must precede and follow it. English permits a thought to be sayable only after being analyzed, socialized, objectified. This is the mystery of its rigid syntax after the Enlightenment. It resists, syntactically ostracizes -by being unnatural- pre-analytic thought, encouraging, recording the objective, tradition, socialized thought.

Eda is the alien other. What is this alien ghost, the way of moving and perceiving which must enter and possess English? It is Sufism, the Asiatic mode of perception which contains an intense subjectivity at its center. The pre-Islamic origins of Sufism is in Central Asian Shamanism. Turkish was the language of that area; its grammar is the quintessential Sufi language.

Before going any further, Turkish has no gender distinctions, either he or she or it. Though one may assume that the specificity of the situation would make it clear, this is not quite so. In Sufism (and the poetry of eda) the distinction (any distinction) does not truly exist; "it" (a bird, for example) is a link between the divine (he/she/it) and human (he/she), with the constant possibility of movement among them. Pronouns are fungible, conceptionally their references unstable. Suppose an English sentence where the pronoun (so gender and reference specific) shifts in the middle, lopsiding the syntactical balance.

[c) Metaphysical: Sufi Contradictions and Arcs of Ascent and Descent

In its pre-Islamic origins, Sufism unifies contradictions, more precisely, perceives, intuits experience before its splits into opposites. The Islam introduces a mathematical language into this intuition. God, the lover, and the human lover are one, turning to and into each other, through a process both violent and loving.

Arcs of Descent and Ascent describe this process, movements from the unity of God to phenomenal multiplicity and the reverse, from multiplicity to unity. These movements are simultaneous, not sequential -two aspects of one divine essence. The supreme moment in Sufism is the sudden shift in perception when a state (in its multiple senses) of exile, of accelerating multiplicity and distance, is experienced as yearning, a re-unifying movement, yearning, towards home, God. The shift is in perception, that is, in the mind. Everything, every object in existence, particularly physical love, move towards this moment. That is the radical subjectivity - love as objective subjectivity- at the heart of Sufism.

Sufism embodied in eda is different from Mevlana Jalaloddin Rumi's, with which the West is more familiar. Rumi's supreme process is ecstasy, reached through wine and dancing. On a linguistic level God and the speaker remain distinct, "You" and "I." Sufi union with God is expressed philosophically, metaphorically, harmonically.

In the Turkish tradition the supreme Sufi act is weeping, the dissolution of the individual ego by suffering through love, loss, the liquid of tears. What is ecstatic in eda involves a blurring of identities, in pain, at the same time, moving from object to object, unifying them in a mental movement of yearning, dance of dispossession. Wine has to be bought; tears are for free. No gendered pronouns, no stable word order, Turkish is a tongue of radical melancholia.

Distinctions dissolve into union. Here is the paradox of simultaneity in the arcs of descent and ascent. A waking state enters another's dream, and vice versa, creating a continuum. The objective becomes subjective. Physical desire ends in spiritual satiation. Weakness is also an expression of power. Pain is also pleasure. The Istanbul harbor with its crossing boats is a site of extreme beauty, paradise, and Styx, a separator and joiner of Europe and Asia, etc. The central sphere in eda is the moon, the prevailing light, moonlight: visible dark.

In its essence, this poetry has no metaphors (but creates spiritual stations of which Istanbul is the center) because no distinctions. Every image is a station, a physical sight in a spiritual progress of reincarnations, of yearning. Images and thoughts collapse towards each other, in love: "The rough man entered the lover's garden/It is woods now, my beautiful one, it is woods," says the 16th century poet Pir Sultan Abdal. What is the garden? The lover's pubic hair or a divine garden, "it"? Who is the "rough man"? The speaker, the speaker's lover or a third? To whom, by whom are the words uttered? In Turkish Sufism consciousness (love) is not a matter of "You" and "I"; but a triangle: you, I and he/she/It.


[The foregoing is the start of Murat Nemet-Nejat’s remarkable gathering, Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry (Talisman, 2004), which establishes “eda” as a marker of poetic process much as Lorca’s duende or the Japanese concept of yugen had ignited similar interests in the century now behind us. The rootedness of mysticism in language is central to the poetics in question, a point he hammers home with great intelligence & passion.]