BJØRNSONFORELESNINGEN Bjørnsonforelesningen 2007 Yasar Kemal: Thoughts on Art and Nature Høgskolen i Lillehammer Translated by Ragip Duran. Yasar Kemal and Ragip Duran Høgskolen i Lillehammer

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Religion & Spirituality

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BJØRNSONFORELESNINGEN Bjørnsonforelesningen 2007 Yasar Kemal: Thoughts on Art and Nature Høgskolen i Lillehammer Translated by Ragip Duran. Yasar Kemal and Ragip Duran Høgskolen i Lillehammer / Lillehammer University College 31th of May 2007 Dear Friends, Here, standing before you, I will go back to ideas that I express each time I find the opportunity to express myself anywhere. I know that it may be tedious to repeat certain ideas all the time. I wish I had more exciting ideas, that I could create brand new ideas... The world is a cultural garden with a thousand and one flowers. Until the onset of armed imperialism, cultures have nourished each other everywhere, and so have civilizations. I would like to cite the example of the Mediterranean. This is a place where a thousand and one flowers blend. The Mediterranean Region has a cultural diversity rarely seen elsewhere in the world. People who come from all over the globe naturally bring their culture along so that today s world civilization was born in the Mediterranean. Even those cultures that have never migrated to the Mediterranean have also contributed to the formation of this seminal culture. When we look at history, we can see how transportation has created miracles in particular, transportation in the Mediterranean: the invention of the oar and the sail led to an exchange of cultures among peoples who came from all corners of the world and settled on the shores of the Mediterranean, contributing to the creation of a new world. Høgskolen i Lillehammer Now our world is in trouble. We are rushing toward an age in which a single culture is poised to prevail. This will deprive humanity of its human dignity. Let us try to imagine what humanity will look like under the domination of a single culture: humanity will be hostage to a single flower, to a single color, to a single scent... and to a single language. There is a primitive conception of man, more or less a legacy of the Renaissance: while the superior man brings to the primitive man his language, his culture, his favors, he does not in the least care about the fact that those so-called primitive people are being deprived of their creativity and their daily bread. Millions of primitive people are dying from hunger and the lack of health care. The superior man simply turns his back on this state of affairs. Perhaps one day these deprivations will draw the attention of the superior man, but it will be too late since people are no longer the people we think they are. People have changed immensely, to a degree that we simply cannot imagine; they have become a different kind of human being. They deliberately destroy themselves. Of course, this is nothing new it has a long history behind it. We know so many different ways of killing ourselves! What I wish to dwell on is something else. These people load explosives or dynamite in a car or on a lorry, and then they jump into it, drive to the marketplace or center of a city or a town where they can murder as many people as possible, and then explode their bombs and kill a great number of people. It seems to me that this will not stop here. It will spread like wildfire. I do hope from the bottom of my heart that what I m saying will turn out to be wrong. Why not choose to set the world right in a natural way instead of like this? Given the technological possibilities of our epoch, we certainly can return the world to its natural state. Never has our world known such limitless possibilities or been confronted with such impossibilities, and yet we all have to live in this world with all its complexity. In my novels, a fundamental theme is how humans face new conditions and how nature is transformed as society changes. This aspect of human experience has always fascinated me. In my land of the Chukurova, the forests, the swamps, and the reed beds disappeared in a few years as if a magic wand had been waved over the land. This was the work of the introduction of the tractor in The immense swamp of Akchasaz, which I wrote a novel about, was drained all at once to make way for cotton fields and eucalyptus plantations. Men changed the course of streams, and the vegetation and the swamps were transformed. Høgskolen i Lillehammer Nature s destruction is a great danger to humanity. With changes in the ecosystem, our own natures change too witness the unbalanced people who have appeared. The people of the Chukurova plain that I once knew no longer have the wholeness of former times. Traditions and customs changed very quickly, both for bad and for good for example, in my region, people used to practice the vendetta, but after the arrival of the tractor that tradition disappeared. I have never been a pessimist. The human species, which is afraid of the dark, invents for itself myths and dream-worlds so that it can continue on its way, and whenever it feels hemmed in, it finds the means to save itself. Modern technology has brought us to the situation we are in now, but it is also technology that will allow us to escape from this situation. For every forest gone, for every river destroyed, technology can restore them to life. For me, the greatest danger we risk is the loss of our values and the possibility that they cannot be restored. Of course, these values are meant to change; but to disappear entirely with nothing to replace them? Humanity s great value is its creativity; will the severe erosion of human values mean the draining of this creativity? This is the impoverishment that frightens me most. As for literature, I started reciting when I was a child. My village was in that part of the Mediterranean we call the Chukurova and that was known as Cilicia in antiquity. Cilicia is one of the world s most fertile lands. My village was founded by Turcomans who had been forced to settle after an uprising in Folk poets and bards used to come to our village as they toured the entire Chukurova region. I started reciting like them when I was in elementary school. Later, when I was fourteen or fifteen, I started collecting the elegies that women sang over their dead. I grew up in a land where the remnants of the epic tradition survived. My masters are those who passed on the oral literature of my country. But Stendhal, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Dickens are also part of my roots. Can a contemporary novelist write in ignorance of Faulkner or Kafka or the classics or the masters of both East and West? I don t think so. They ask me why I write novels. I don t know, I say. Perhaps I couldn t say even if I knew. If there is one thing I know or at least believe, it is that I come from the line of epic bards. I came from the language of epics and tales and knew the power of language. I was a folklorist in my youth. That helped me a lot in my work. Wouldn t you agree that in Faulkner s work the traditions and customs of his land have their place? In Kafka s writing, there are traditions of two millennia of Jewish wandering, where fear and anguish Høgskolen i Lillehammer have perhaps become an inevitable tradition. Isn t he imbued with his Jewishness? If not, where do those impenetrable shadows come from in his work? Don t medieval traditions survive in varying degrees in the countries of contemporary Europe? We carry traditions in our blood, so to speak. Men are attached to the values they have created in their homelands. Humanity does the same with its attachment to the values it imposes on itself and that we label universal. In spite of the rapid deterioration of our world, our attachment to these primordial values will survive; for good or ill, we always resist the new. Alain Bosquet once said during our long conversation, that in the Western world, from childhood onward, mystery and imagination are quickly pushed aside to make room for logic and realism. It is hard for me to accept the customary manner of associating childhood with imagination, or to separate mystery and imagination on the one hand from logic and realism on the other. The reason is simple: childhood in my land was not a separate state from the world of adults; there wasn t a stage of childhood as you know it. Perhaps I can better explain myself through some examples. As I already said, singers of epic tales often came to our village, and men and women, young and old, we all gathered together until early morning to listen to them. There was no distinction between adults and children when it came to these epic songs. There was no separate genre for children s stories. If there was a separate domain, it was in the games that children invented for themselves. Because there was no separation between the world of the child and the world of adults, I have trouble defining where the child s imagination ends and the adult s begins. As far as I am aware, I haven t felt any great change in my imagination from childhood to today. I have always sought to explore the mystery of humanity, and the most important part of my venture has been that quest. As far as the power of my imagination during childhood, I created an endless dream for myself. How can a man who has ceased to dream have any hope? Isn t the hope born of dreams one of the greatest human values we can cultivate? Can we survive without the creation of hope? Doesn t the mystery of life, together with the hope we create, allow us to conceive of the immortal? Isn t there a part of this dream and this mystery in what you call realism? What is realism? Isn t everything re-created by us? Aren t dreams, as well as what we call substance, objects? Who created them if not we ourselves? Aren t substance and imagination inextricably bound together? Where does substance begin and imagination end? Where is the boundary, and at what point does the imagination cross over? I believe that whatever the time, condition, or place, the mystery of the human race the dream-worlds we Høgskolen i Lillehammer have created will continue their reign over the universe we call reality, and the boundaries between substance and imagination will become even more blurred. I have met many people in my life, and many of them have served as models for my characters; but all my characters are my creations through my work as an author. Naturally, I wish to follow reality, but that isn t the central quest in my work. Instead, I wish to create an imaginary world and a story, and to do something different: I wish to create this realm of the imaginary through words. There are great stars in Turkish literature. Sait Faik was one of them. He was the master of my generation. One day he said, Come, let s state what we want to bring to literature. Let s, I said, and he started. One: he who reads my books couldn t commit a murder and would be an enemy of war. Two: he should stand up against all exploitation, and should allow neither degradation nor assimilation nor would he exult at assimilation. Those who read my books should know that those who destroy a culture will suffer the destruction of their own culture and humanity. Those who read my books should stand by the poor. Poverty is the disgrace of humanity. We kept listing all the evils, and the list grew and grew. There was no end to the wrongs and the oppression. Finally we said, We are only two writers; our books cannot do away with all those wars and cruelty. They cannot, I said. I know, said Sait, that our books will not be standing alone. There is Nazim Hikmet. Those who read us will read him too. There is Melih Cevdet, I continued, and Orhan Kemal. And then we remembered many, many writers, and many, many books. I have always believed in the power of the word. The word is one of the most important values created by man, the great magic that binds us so powerfully to life. And the novel is the most powerful of the verbal arts. In any novel, the reader re-creates the novel from beginning to end. If there is an olive tree in the novel, the olive tree in the reader s garden takes its place in the novel. A valley is the valley he knows, and if he knows none, then he creates it and places it there. A novel lives on because of this process of creation. Can there be any reader who Høgskolen i Lillehammer hasn t re-created the Iliad or Don Quixote? Or The Overcoat, however bitter an experience that may be? In our times, novelists are in trouble because it is the novel that most warns us against lies, against oppression, against all evils. The novel tells man that he is human, and then allows him to create this fact, this truth. As for me, I didn t begin to write novels for these reasons: much later I realized that I was on the right path. You want to know who you are, where you come from, and where you are going. Homer says in the Iliad that human beings are the only creatures who are aware of their mortality and who suffer because of this. And human beings are also the only creatures who seek immortality. The Gilgamesh epic was sung by the Sumerians who lived in Mesopotamia between 3,500 and 2,000 BCE. Of the many reasons this epic survives to this day, an important one must be that Gilgamesh found the cure for mortality and lost it to a serpent. Folklore research tells us that a language that has handed down an epic must have had many epics. The pain of death spares no one. Poems on death may well exceed those on love. It is not only Gilgamesh who sought and lost his chance for immortality: in the heart of each one of us there lies a Gilgamesh. In the Chukurova where I grew up, we had Lokman the Physician, the legendary sage known as the father of medicine. Wherever he went, flowers and herbs called out to him to tell him what they could cure. Lokman went from land to land handing out his healing remedies, and in the mountains, in the valleys, in the villages, in the towns, he was awaited eagerly. The day came when Lokman grew old. Every illness has a remedy, why not death? With regret that he had not sought the water of life, Lokman went to sleep under a tree by a water source. Some voices woke him up from a deep sleep, and he heard a sweet soft voice say, I m the cure for death. The voice grew more and more enticing. In the spring under the rock facing him, there was a light, blindingly bright. Flying with sheer joy, he reached out to the light, and once he held it, his whole body caught the light, he grew young, and he started running down the mountain. Followed by all the villagers who saw him, he reached the Misis bridge, took out the cure for death and an intense light came out. No more death, said Lokman in a trembling voice, and all of sudden a wing came down from the skies and struck Lokman s hand. The light of immortality fell into the water and all was in deep darkness. In every part of Anatolia, we find a Lokman each one quite different. Lokman hears that the flower of immortality, the water of immortality, the herb of immortality is in a valley in the Taurus Mountains. Lokman goes to the valley and talks to each Høgskolen i Lillehammer flower, to each spring, to each bird, to each bee, to each ant, to each butterfly. He talks to the wind that blows, the dawn that breaks, the rain that pours. The flower of immortality talks to no one but Lokman: I m the flower of immortality, I m immortal. Come close, Lokman. Lokman runs to the flower and breathes-in the fragrance, and lights shine in his eyes and the world becomes a different world. Lokman is overwhelmed with joy, and that moment of joy is so very sweet that the world becomes a paradise. Lokman wants to breathe-in the fragrance again, knowing full well that the spell will be broken if he does. He breathes-in with deep joy. And thus is the spell broken. Mankind creates myths, hopes, dreams, and love, and with them builds a refuge from death and poverty and pain. This is the basis of my novels. Karajaoghlan, the great Turkish poet of the 16 th century and my compatriot from the Chukurova, says in a poem: Three griefs have I that never break apart: One is separation, one is poverty, one is death. And my main grief is with nature. All my life nature has been a close companion. The Chukurova is the endless plain where I was born, the Tauruses are the mountains where we spent five summer months each year. In the Taurus mountains, the forests, the flowers, the clouds, the springs, the fruit, they are all legendary. No forest scent is like those of the Tauruses. Life in the Tauruses is a joy. Unfortunately, the Taurus forests are depleted as fast as many other forests of our world. Our world is being depleted, many animals have become extinct, many trees, many insects, many birds Next is the human being, I was about to say but I can t bring myself to say it. This is no way carry on, Humanity will make its peace with nature. May those who read me not be pessimists. It s good that we came to this world, that we lived and saw, isn t it? What if we hadn t, and not seen all this beauty. Yasar Kemal Lillehammer, Norway May 31, 2007 (Translated by Ragip Duran) Høgskolen i Lillehammer
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