The Rise of Eastern Literature?

For all of Edward Said’s complacent dismissals of Eastern backwardness as imperialist-driven, novelist Ayfer Tunç argues that Turkish writers are perfectly capable of rising above the interminable clash of Occident with Orient:

… we’ve come to find it hard to believe in our own quality. This is because the history of our republic is the history of our complex about the West. We imported from the West, but we couldn’t believe we could send anything back in the other direction. This is the issue at the heart of our literature. But I’m keen to believe that young writers from this country can overcome this complex.

I don’t doubt it. Western values don’t need to be isolated to the West; literature can rise about the local and explore the universal.

If, of course, there’s the market to buy it.


Another Tragic Moment: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath as Teenager

Sylvia Plath, aged 15. From here.

Take a look at this photo of the young Sylvia Plath: who knew that the author of The Bell Jar could ever have seemed so happy? Photos can be terribly deceptive, but still. The contrast with the writer is astonishingly tragic:

I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam a new leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

It’s not even a binary decision to die; despite Plath’s worryingly glamorous suicide, the poem here expresses psychological trauma, collapse. Plath would “rather” be dead. It’s a matter of preference, of taste, rather than of despair. It’s never simple, is it?

Poverty’s Death Throes?

African slums

Although I stand by my criticisms of BBC Comic Relief’s embarrassing superficiality, here is some positive news from Oxford University about diminishing rates of absolute global poverty:

Some of the poorest people in the world are becoming significantly less poor, according to a groundbreaking academic study which has taken a new approach to measuring deprivation. The report, by Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative, predicts that countries among the most impoverished in the world could see acute poverty eradicated within 20 years if they continue at present rates.

I’m on an optimism high; humour me. I’d like to add some thoughts from a recent conversation I had with a fellow blogger: he rightly pointed out the progress that has been made in the last century is quite astonishing, if we note that “charities” under imperialism were rarely anything more than petty aid from missionaries. The emergence of secular charity shows how readily the once religiously-centre void was filled – a cheery merit to humanism. Poverty today is, for most, on a far less bleak scale to that which former aid workers faced.

But it’s excellent, I think, that although in another century things will almost certainly be improved we’ll still be trying to make them better. Generations do not judge conditions by the past but by inequalities within the present day, between fellow nation states and their collective class systems; and so the tendency, which I should probably emphasise with a little more caution than I am, is towards constant improvement. (Until a perfectly equal socialist utopia? Maybe not… but, still, progress!)

I reckon this news gives substance to that – hurrah!

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

I love Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It’s simplicity is incredibly complex. Or is it?

Watch on YouTube:

Part 1/2

Part 2/2

Optimism and the Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula (click for larger image)

When I see a photo like this my impulse is a pessimistic one: to say that against a cloud bigger than our minds could ever comprehend we don’t matter. Not at all!

It’s our very perspective that brings us to that conclusion, one which invites us to subvert it. Take another look. We’ve seen those clouds before – the lines as malleable as they are intricate, the ghoulish blend of black into green through which modest lights pierce. And they’ve been found on earth in their own forms, be it the aurora borealis or that piece in the Tate or a field: it’s a description that after all fits into the English language. This thought that a gas cloud 26 light years wide can be captured and compared with what we see everyday is, I think, an optimistic one: although we shouldn’t forget how incredible the universe is, it should not be used to make us feel tiny and insignificant.  We define it!

How promising.

(About the Orion Nebula from Slate here.)

The Story of Zahhak: Kurds and Newroz

The Story of Zahhak


Newroz is the Persian new year, celebrated on 21st of March; but it’s also very important to the Kurds of Syria and Turkey. I love the story behind the festival – it puts Easter to shame, that I can tell you:

Zahhak was an evil king who conquered Iran and had serpents growing from his shoulders. Zahak’s rule lasted for one thousand years. During this time, two young men were sacrificed daily and their brains were offered to Zahhak’s serpents in order to alleviate his pain. However, the man who was in charge of sacrificing the two young men every day would instead kill only one man a day and mix his brains with that of a sheep in order to save the other man. As discontent grew against Zahhak’s rule, a nobleman planned a revolt led by Kaveh (also known as Kawa), a blacksmith, who had lost six sons to Zahhak. The young men who had been saved from the fate of being sacrificed (who according to the legend were ancestors of the Kurds) were trained by Kaveh into an army that marched to Zahhak’s castle where Kaveh killed the king with a hammer. Eventually Kaveh was instated as the new Fereydun king.

There’s some great symbolism behind it, too:

For this reason, it is traditional to end quarrels, forgive debts within ability and overlook enmity and insults. It is a time for reconciliation, when forgiveness and cheerfulness are the dominant sentiments. Newroz celebratory table contains specific meaningful elements. First, there must be a mirror, which reflects the past and shows the future so people can make reasonable plans. Next there must be candles which the flame hark back to the sacred nature of fire in the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Iran, and personify the light, sanitary and energy of a righteous life. Upward moving of the flames state the progressing and improving of life’s quality and style.

The original spirit and actions of Newroz is struggling and resistance to overcome tyranny. It is a symbol of a popular solidarity to get strength and more power to end up injustice and oppression by overthrowing the evil tyrants, and then the oppressed people to enjoy the glorious new day.

Newroz in its deep rational concept does not just belong to the Iranian nations; it is a model and possession for all oppressed people in the world, to get freedom, democracy, gender equality, religious tolerance, and civilized prosperity, freedom of expression, individual dignity and national integrity. Newroz as a cultural meaningful traditions phenomenon is a historical symbol of liberty.

I believe this is from Qamishli earlier this week:

I love the Bronte poem! A great insight into Whitman’s personality (as though his poems weren’t enough).


“Samples of My Common-place Book” — Walt Whitman (from Specimen Days)

I ought not to offer a record of these days, interests, recuperations, without including a certain old, well-thumb’d common-place book,[18] filled with favorite excerpts, I carried in my pocket for three summers, and absorb’d over and over again, when the mood invited. I find so much in having a poem or fine suggestion sink into me (a little then goes a great ways) prepar’d by these vacant-sane and natural influences.

 Samples of my common-place book down at the creek:

I have—says old Pindar—many swift arrows in my quiver which speak to the wise, though they need an interpreter to the thoughtless. Such a man as it takes ages to make, and ages to understand. H. D. Thoreau.

If you hate a man, don’t kill him, but let him live.—Buddhistic.
Famous swords are made of refuse scraps…

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