How to Talk About Things

It would be appropriate to start with a quotation from Rumi: However you know a lot, the things that you can tell are limited to the things that the listener can understand.

That summarizes the whole problematics of interpersonal communication, but still–as each person believes that he or she can tell–let’s try again. I was invited to speak about Albert Camus’ The Stranger at a private ladies book club. I knew one of the participants: she is a great lady working at a non-profit and a member of board of directors of another. When I came across her at a Jazz concert at the New York Youth Symphony, we briefly talked about Camus and Existentialism. There I told her that I was working on my thesis subject the similarities and differences between Existentialism and Sufism. A few weeks after that I received an email from her inviting me to join their session on The Stranger and talk about Existentialism and Sufism. I said, it would be my pleasure and it was a pleasure.

I went to a very nice building at the Upper West Side [I have been told that the famous gangster Frank Costello was shot in the lobby] and entered the apartment. I was the only male and the only person below fifty, which was great. Then we started to talk about the book, what happens to Meursault and how he falls out of existence, how he detaches himself, etc. Then I was expected to begin speaking, which would lead the way to Existentialism and Sufism, starting from reflecting to what each one has said so far and then elaborating on that to a point where I could start speaking. By the time, I almost began my topic, I recognized that [I should have recognized that a long time ago] the people I was talking to does not have as much knowledge about the topic. That was the moment I rerouted my content and context. There I got stuck. Then restarted a while after in another simpler manner, which I wasn’t very used to doing. On the other hand, it is already hard to talk on philosophical ideas in a second language. There you can see that there were various layers of lingual, ideal, cultural and existential boundaries among each other, which seems to be unalterable–which ironically overlaps with the topic of The Stranger. Once again not only I have felt the difficulty of interpersonal communications, but what the outsider stands for. But, that doesn’t mean that i couldn’t talk about anything at all, indeed it was a very fruitful and delicate discussion. The only thing is that I know what I have inside, but I couldn’t put all of them out to my audience the way they would be able to hear them. In simpler English sentences, not Turkish not academic not gibberish. I am content with the things that I have said, but unsatisfied because I could have given them more. This dilemma of communications will exist as long as we do exist.

This, once again, puts forward the importance of declamation and rhetoric within the sphere of communications. This is one of the reasons [why we had the discussion about Hitler] why Obama is the President of the USA and McCain not. One must be able to express what he thinks, not only know it. That again takes us back to Camus, within his utter simplicity was able to explain extremely difficult state of being to a vast number of people. That also is the dilemma of the academics, who spend their lives becoming experts on ideas and concepts, which they lack the ability to explain to the common man. Or at least get the other’s interest and empathy on what you say: attract their attention.

But, another thing: what is this common man anyway? That’s another day’s topic. I will try to deal with the expatriate intellectuals and how they are received at home and abroad: Orhan Pamuk, Marjane Satrapi, Khaled Hosseini, etc.

Foreword and Introduction by …

I have begun to read a contemporary Turkish writer’s magnum opus, which was ironically became known 13 years after it was granted the first prize of a novel contest by TRT [Turkish Radio and TV, administered by the government] and its first publication. He has mostly been disregarded within the intellectual-academic spheres, because what he did in his writing was a satirical critique of the intellectual mind in Turkey: the positivist, quasi-European, supposedly rationalist but stuck in-between the values that he wants to internalize and the inevitable external effect of existence. This novel is called Tutunamayanlar [refered to as The Disconnected in Wikipedia, but a better translation of the name of the novel is given in UNESCO’s website as The Losers, which gives the spirit of the novel a lot better than the former], it is–as said in a contemporary online dictionary–“the explanation of losing [disconnecting] in 718 pages.” This novel discloses a new species within human existence: disconnectus erectus, a being that lacks the ability to “hold on to” [tutunamayanlar literally means, the ones who cannot hold on to something] the conventional way of being and therefore slips from the surface or sinks into depths under that surface. In other words, I can put it as The Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevski, minus the audacity, indiscreetness and pretentiousness; plus insecurity, lack of confidence and self-esteem. Because, allegorically speaking Dostoyevski is depicting a man that is already underground, that is to say, he has already sunk into or slipped from the surface, but Atay depicts this act of slipping, sinking. The process of going under, in Nietzschean terms.

This novel hasn’t been translated to any language at all. This is very sad to say that one of the biggest contemporary modern Turkish novels have gone unnoticed and unappreciated by the international bibliospehere, whereas romantic Orientalist bourgeois intellectuals, namely Orhan Pamuk,  is translated into more than 50 languages so far, plus a Nobel prize and a distinguished place among New York intellectual hinterland. This doesn’t mean that Pamuk does not desereve those or he is not knowledged enough to talk about things, in contrary he is the kind of person that is actually depicted in Atay’s writing. The bourgeois intellectual, who looks at his own world with a stranger’s, a Westerner’s, eyes and encircled with that romantic nostalgia of Exotic-Oriental world, once there has been.

But, these are all another day’s topics, what I would like to talk about is something else: forewords and introductions of books by translators, other writers, intellectuals, academics, etc.

The foreword of The Disconnected is written by Omer Madra and the second foreword–or an article about him–follows by Enis Batur, both are controversial intellectuals, who are known to row against the current, as did Oguz Atay. They both issue Atay’s approach to forewords and introductions of the books that he had read, here is an excerpt that Madra quoted from Atay’s writing:

‘His Life and His Works’. I never give up reading those again and again. I come across ‘His life and his works’ in each book that I read by the author. Once again, then I read once again. I pretend not to have read ‘His Life and His Works’ before: in order to get excited about it once again. But, it is really tiresome for me to see that there is no harmony among writers. At least, the ones who write the forewords should meet once in a year and agree on certain principles. The situation today is regrettable. You read that one writer hardly gathers words. He is unable to put sentences together. Thus spake Uncle Foreword. He says that the author gets in front of the blackboard; he writes, erases, struggles. And he does all these in twilight. Whenever he finds the sentence that he is looking for, he runs and turns on all the lights. Whenever I am about to espouse the maestro’s habits, I fumble into another foreword. This foreword says that the author wrote like a waterfall. The man, he just can’t get enough of it: he would write hundreds of pages, if only you left him to it. (…) I get confused who to serve to. I find it hard to be their servant. One runs away from the society, the other can’t stay alone for a single moment. Finally, the government will intervene in this thing. They will let them know their place. They [the foreword writers] do not have the right to poison us like this. [my translation]

I will write more about him, after I read the novel. I have read his second novel, Tehlikeli Oyunlar [Dangerous Games], which was unbelievably talented and witty. And this one is supposed to be even more whirling within that dementia and finally, leaves you at the bottom of dark depths of being.

I just wanted to say a few things before hand, as it is the custom, to say a foreword or make an introduction to books. This novel must be translated to English, I hope it will be soon.

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