To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Murat Nemet-Nejat: A Few Thoughts on Fragments

[Written as an afterword to Nemet-Nejat's The Spiritual Life of Replicants, a long poem which itself constitutes Part VI of a seven-part work The Structure of Escape. It will be published shortly by Talisman Press.]


The poem The Spiritual Life of Replicants is infused with Sufi ideas, and this infusion results in a poetry which consists of movements of thought in a visual field. The reader experiences the movements as he or she is ensnared by them reading the poem. The thought patterns are arabesque, circuitous, tangential, reflecting the Sufi sense that reality is not stared at directly; but it can only be touched, glimpsed at reflectively, as fragments, the way, for instance, the reality of the wind can be seen (or heard) in the traces it leaves on the movements of branches. In this way the infinite - the invisible, the music of silence - descends to visibility.

The primary struggle for the poet in The Spiritual Life is to create a spectacle in which words, language can act freely, following impulses inherent in them -basically, each page becoming a scene in which, in different constellations, words enact their drama. The primary unit in this enactment is the fragment. A fragment is like a lyric poem or an epigram in length, but is devoid of any lyric persona (no lyric I), replacing it in the poem with the “mechanical eye” of a lens. In the process, the distinction between human and non-human, organic and non-organic, thought and sensation disappear, enabling fragments to move “across party lines.”

Fragments are thoughts afloat.

Fragments function almost completely without metaphors. They are replaced by gestures. A gesture is a sensory observation, a riff of thought which is complete in itself; in this completeness, it lures the reader into itself (every love starts with attraction), making the poem possible. Nevertheless, a fragment also desires complementation by opening up to and reacting with other ones. In this interaction, fragments create the very field of energy, the spectacle within which the drama of language occurs. This paradox reflects the Sufi consciousness where the human is embedded in its physical being -and the chains of its language - and burns with the desire for a greater union.

Walter Benjamin states in one of his fragments, “Language has made unmistakably plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.” Given that The Spiritual Life is the buried city, written at a specific time in the past with specific constellations of fragments, the reader is put in a special place. He/She can not remain passive before this medium, but must start digging from his/her place in the present. Constellations may move and rearrange themselves. Nevertheless, hopefully, as a result, the poem - itself a fragment - will open itself up, being complemented, by the community surrounding it.


A poetry where meaning has turned into pure motion created by the movement of the eye on the printed page, a spiritual filmic language…”

Eda is a poetics of Sufism embodied in the structure of the Turkish language. This linguistic quality - thought not as statements, but thought as a linguistic tissue - is achieved in Turkish primarily through its syntax:

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.

(M.N.-N., Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, Talisman Publishers, 2004, pp. 5/6)

The “I” experiencing phenomena and phenomena themselves disappear and unite in an animistic synthesis. The “I” becomes the “eye” merging with it in an open-ended weave of language.

The same dissolution occurs also in Sufism. Sufism is the dissolution -even destruction- of the self in ecstatic suffering.

If one considers The Spiritual Life an attempt to translate the flexibility of Eda, the spiritual universe of Sufism into English, one sees the antagonist the poet must encounter: the nearly absolute inflexibility of the English syntax. English turns into a prison within which Eda must move and, more importantly, from which it must escape. The spectacle-ization of the poem in The Spiritual Life, fragments becoming basic poetic units, is the path to achieve that goal.

Placed in proximity in fluid, tangential combinations, fragments misfit together, rather than perfectly synchronize. The jagged connections energize the reader to jump across, therefore making the reader an active participant in the creation of meaning in the poem. The reading often involves his or her eye tracing the mechanical eye - a panning lens - buried in the sinuous, meandering movements of the poem. In this interaction between “human” and “machine” - “silhouetted by the dark matter of words” - thoughts dissolve into space, into motion and light.

[A small section from The Spiritual Life of Replicants will appear in a later posting on Poems and Poetics]

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