1. “Poetic Indulgence: Memoirs, Identity and Language in Mehmet Yashin” by Tim Kay
2. “On Mehmet Yashin’s ‘The Hours of Deportation’ ” by Rıdvan Arifoğlu
3. “Writing Through Osmotic Borders: Boundaries, Liminality and Language in Mehmet Yashin’s Poetics” by Rosita D’Amora
POETIC INDULGENCE: MEMOIRS, IDENTITY
AND LANGUAGE IN MEHMET YASHIN
By Tim Kay
More often than not, any reading of literature in Cyprus readily dwells on the political categorisation of author based on their political views. This can be accepted as commonplace in such a politically charged environment. But I feel this is a form of prejudice that can blur the reading of the “critique”. And even though writing is a process involving a “creator” and a “critic”, which means interpretations can be valid in their own terms, reading inbetween the lines is also about studying the way we actually “read”. I believe this is what I was striving for when writing this paper - Chapter 1 of my thesis.
I did not read Yashin to prove his meaning, but in his oeuvre I had the opportunity to exploit the blurring of identity. His constant spectral manoeuvre and fluidity is what I have read; depoliticising the identity that is already fragile itself. Whatever your political view, it is necessary to see that it is all a construction, a metanarrative that can be (mis)appropriately deconstructed. But writing is a double-edged sword, a broken mirror – lethal to the writer, unless he is an apparition – there now, gone the next, slipping.
Their identities (assuming they believed they had them) had, at best, grown over their faces like iron masks. He shed his own identity at will, studied it, put it away, put on another one, in which he studied himself again, as watchful as ever, always finding himself guilty in one way or the other. His identities were forged not from the iron of a steadfast lifetime but from extremely light, virtually experimental and interchangeable materials, and they had not become second nature to him; although they were merely hypothetical, like molecular models scientists construct, he would find himself in each one of them. Everyone was undeniably … to him. (1)
Mehmet Yashin’s, the specular exile (2), poems are at once insurgent and avant-garde in terms of theme, structure and language. The most significant aspect of his poetry is the manner in which language is used while manoeuvring away from a final totality of common sense and a unified form of personal (as well as national) identity. In order to achieve this effect, the narrator(s) of his poems have an apparition- (3) like form, continuously playing or “fixing” their imagi–nations –complimenting the theory of Benedict Anderson that nations are “imagined communities”. Correspondingly, the style of his poetry is eclectic and hybrid; the language is sporadically tripled (to Turkish, sometimes with the Turkish Cypriot dialect, English and Greek) with a punning effect. He intends to create a sense of blurring within these texts for the purpose of deliberately complicating his communication with the reader. Even the term exile is not a precise term for Yashin who disturbs the past (his youth in “homeland” Cyprus) with the multiple cultures he has inherited in Cyprus, Athens, Istanbul, London and New York. The post modernity of the metropolitan cities have further blurred the parameters of national identity within the poet as the different languages interrupt one another without his consent. The concept of being local is continuously exposed to the interpretation of the globalizing poet himself through the multiple cultures he has inherited. These poems do not hold a key to a great knowledge of the exile. At the same time, they provide comfort neither for local nor global readers. Like the rhizome of Deleuze and Guattari, they enter the mind of the reader through enigmatic associations, endlessly deferring meaning which liberates Yashin from conventional analyses. In other words, they inherit the scent of exilic disturbance as well as the slyness of a multicultural, self-decentred poet.
Could one address oneself in general if already some ghost did not come back? If he loves justice at least, the “scholar” of the future, the “intellectual” of tomorrow should learn it and from the ghost.… they are always there, spectres, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet. They give us to rethink the “there” as soon as we open our mouths, even at a colloquium and especially when one speaks there in a foreign language… (Derrida) (4)
Yashin’s poetry addresses national and “authentic” identity from a deconstructive perspective. He distances himself from any kind of association with common memories of the past which may form the traditional bases of a national consciousness preferring a ghost-like existence for his narrators, who sometimes return to their past to reinvigorate their own imagination as suggested by the title of his poetry book To Repair a Daydream (Hayal Tamiri, 1998), with specific cultural settings (such as ‘homes’ that were once in a multicultural and multiethnic town or village) or to show that they are not caught in the singularity of one language, one culture and one common history. The characters in these poems are usually from disparate communities and they share certain experiences and despondent or content moments with the narrator implying that heterogeneity has existed throughout the youth of Yashin (5).
In the poem titled “A Ghost” (“Bir Hayalet”), from To Repair a Daydream, this theme of invisibility is most clear, as it explains the secret return of a narrator to what was once his ‘home’. The quote at the beginning of the verse, from an 8th century BC gravestone in Idalian (6), is a direct critique of a certain group of writers.
(…) because they wrote “May the wars with Hellenic cities end”,
most of the Phoenician inscribers
were killed by their own warriors–
The remainders, however, lead a life of death threatened with death (…)
(lines 1-4) (7)
Interestingly enough, there is a paradox in the origin of this epitaph as it is from the archaic town of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. The corpse lying in the earth of Idalian may be an inhabitant of this town who was considered one of those writer-traitors who denounced war with the Hellenic cities. As the town belonged to Aphrodite, there is an association with love that reflects a certain power of love inside the writers for that earth. The reason for the writer’s demise is his patriotic feelings, which he could not prevent from being poured onto the piece of paper, like blood poured for the sake of truth, onto the earth. From this perspective, however, it is not clear what this citation refers or is aimed at yet; but what is clear is that the narrator has either been threatened or is being ironic about certain writers and poets. Nonetheless, structurally it exemplifies an elegy of and for this poem.
The poem, after the citation of the eulogy, begins with a definitive sentence expressing the lamentation of the narrator. This seems to portray the return of the writer’s ghost.
Only as my own ghost can I return to my home.
Projecting out of misty mirrors. I do not have too much time.
I open the windows, in the dark, starlight
fills up myhouse. The curtains are being shaken,
the sheets covering the bookshelves. I must dust
the family photographs. By breathing onto the glass.
It is quite feasible that the spirit, which has returned home, belongs to the dead inscriber in the grave, as one of the ‘betrayers’. But is this a literal death? It seems unlikely because, first of all, it returns or comes into existence from a reflection ¬– in the misty mirror – whose reflection could this be? After the entrance of the spirit, the employment it undertakes is one of repairing (which refers to the title of the book, To Repair a Daydream). The windows of the old house (or home?) are being opened up for the ventilation of fresh air; the curtains and the sheets covering the bookshelves are being cleaned from dust; the family photographs are being cleaned, and so on so forth. The act of returning serves the purpose of fixing the house that was once a home to a family, which no longer lives there.
There remains the point that the entrance into the house is at night since “in the dark/starlight fills up [the] house”. Corresponding to the notion of fixing imaginations, the spirit does not assume the role of a ghost in the sense of belonging to a dead body but, on a more psychic plane, to an intellect that has been left homeless; in more precise terms, to that part of the mind, which involves memory and identity. This spirit is that of the mind. It has repossessed that area of past experiences that now dwell in the unconscious. It is that ghostly, mystical crystallisation of remembering which simultaneously renders the fabrication of the past into a narrative of subjective identity. And since the temporal setting of the poem is night, there remains the possibility that the whole restitution is a dream, or even a chimera.
In the final lines of the verse, the motif of the poem becomes more politically oriented with vituperative attacks on the hegemonic forces, which ‘protect’ the nation(al).
The Avenging Angels of this house whose multilingualism has been silenced
receives an oath to write, from all who enter.
(From all these wars. From everything that is national. Even from language.) May the ants-dust naphthalene spread like magical words. I sweep the floors. And locking the doors I disappear, again, without being illusive to anybody.
A ghost… They cannot have me assassinated. (lines 12-18)
The multilingual house is autobiographical because Yashin’s home was in a neighbourhood where Greeks, Turks, English and Armenians lived or their languages were spoken. Therefore, due to the effect of this environment the members of the family were bilingual if not more. Three members of this family are writers (Neşe Yaşın, his half-sister and father Özker Yaşın). The intriguing aspect of these lines reveals an anathematic approach to language. It is included into the list of condemned regularities, along with wars and nationalism (8). Even language must be revenged for the blood it has caused to be spilt, with its share in the discourse of nationalism. But spontaneously, the poem itself reveals the paradox of this anti-language allegation in just the previous line: “The Avenging Angels of this house […]/receives an oath to write, from all who enter” (lines 12-3). The means of avenging the death of the house will be through writing; language is the primary tool of those who enter the house. And the house is probably now only entered by those who once lived there, the family members. Nevertheless, there remains a haze of suspense after such a manifestation by the narrator, which should keep the reader aware of any kind of unexpected language practices. This hypothesis also refers to the trilingualism in some of Yashin’s poetry, which may in fact be a realisation of just that.
The theme of returning home, a childhood and a past as a ghost reoccurs in the poem “Dead House” (“Ölü Ev”) from an earlier collection titled The Chairman (Sözverici Koltuğu, 1993). The foremost aspect, which draws the attention of the eye, is the structure of the poem. The singularity of the lines exposes a slow beginning that takes timelessness as the point of focus.
The white emptiness remaining from the wallclock
The walnut table which has forgotten the time
The finger prints that are being cleaned with dust
The keys that are lost
The post box whose key hole has rusted
The deep sleep of the old woman who has put her false teeth into water
The image forged by this passage, alongside timelessness, is one of silence and desolation. As in the previous verse, “A Ghost”, the silence of the return is related to sleep and longing. But the tranquility in these lines is similar to that before a storm. For what is to follow is a stream of consciousness, where the narration continues without a punctual break. This discharge reveals the unconscious desires and memories of a home that no longer exists. It, therefore, takes the form of a storm after a prophetic silence.
And this typewriter which wrote my father’s first poems, this house which my mother fell into with love and died – enslaved at every war, filled with bullets, burned, the dowry in the Ottoman chest plundered – and mirrors, mirrors, that have seen all the women of the family complete’naked, covering their faces with sheets – and the rosebushes all whose flowers other than the wild pink smell have dried up – the time hidden by my great grandmother in the white lace covers – this small ghost who returned to the place it was killed – the long silent shadows of the cut Cypresses – and now all the members of this house watch the mid-night from photographs echoing with the hysteric-laughter of war – a man with a fez who has forgotten the reason for laughing is looking from behind the window – and the house contemplates why my life was spared by those who have killed all those belonging to me – and the lights suddenly come on in the kids room where this poem is being read (lines 8-21)
Although the war has devastated almost all of the mentioned objects, they are rediscovered in this stream of consciousness in a more complete and virtual form than they otherwise were or could have been. For example, the narrator’s father’s typewriter, the Ottoman dowry chest, the house and the remaining items have become more consequential. It is no longer the father who wrote the poetry but the typewriter. The house is more of a mausoleum for the narrator’s mother than anything else. The house itself, on the other hand, has been raped many times during the war, which is metaphorised by “the dowry in the Ottoman chest [being] plundered”, because a dowry is kept by those who are not married and, therefore, within the Ottoman culture, are most commonly chaste. The act of spoliation or plundering a chest is an act of male violence, a penetration into a virgin’s symbol of purity as well as of hope and maidenly anticipation, the most valuable possession. This preciousness also corresponds to what was once inside the house, the family, which was lost due to the destructive nature of wars, along of course with the hopes and expectations. The time of then is hidden in the “white lace covers” by the grandmother of the house which connotes yet another purity of the past where “this small ghost” returns to “the place it was killed”. Cypress trees that have been cut still engender a shadow as though they were complete. This is a reflection of another kind of sexual vehemence, a castration, elucidating how the symbol of male power in the historical family house was negated by an even stronger male force, that of war, but the shadow of it somehow remains. Imprisoned within the photographs, the family members now watch the “midnight” (since nothing is complete without the narration) with the fear of the “hysteric-laughter of war”. As a consequence, the family’s existence becomes artificial, since the house ponders on the thought of isolation due to the assassination of those lives that were once inside it. This murder is an allusion to the lines of the previous verse, “A Ghost”, where it is unveiled that the writers are forced to lead a life of curse, being metaphorically dead, under the threat of the soldiers (all the family members from mother side are also writers, except for Yashin’s mother who has literally passed away). The climax is that unexpected moment when the lights are put on, specifically in the room where the ghost had died – the child’s room. The nightmare has ended, the midnight has been disturbed, with a light (perhaps the re-ignition of hope in the present).
The finale of the poem is a return to the beginning which never was from the start. Commencing without a temporal context, and only with “[the] white emptiness remaining from the wallclock” (where the simile is actualised in the combination of the two words, ‘wall’ and ‘clock’), displays the blankness and meaninglessness of time and space (with the barren whiteness where the clock was before). For time and space are finalised by death. “Dead House Dead House Dead House/Nothing other than poetry/could have returned me to this house” (lines 22-4). If the stream of consciousness, and the whole memory of home, exists solely in this art work, then it is justifiable to assert that this particular mode of art is the imagination of the narrator(s). Returning to, or reconstructing the past is not a physical experience but a psychological one. Occupying a non-temporal and non-spatial entity, which is the imaginative, poetry matures through an individual enterprise, certainly through the agency of the poet. History, conversely, is not treated as “real” but a fantasy brought to life with the language of an art work which implies that the narrator’s history does not belong to a collective, shared community (9) (other than his family) but is individual, with nothing to remember but personal memoirs. The distancing from a closed community also displays mistrust in the generalisation of intimate thoughts and feelings. Overall, the narrator seems to be insinuating that not all people share the same treasures, especially if one is a poet (although he does not pose as an elitist). What can add to this is the reading in the previous poem, the oath of avenging language, alongside nationalism and wars.
In both the poems, the mentioned objects appear as artefacts “[…] a product or effect that is not present in the natural state (of an organism, etc.) but occurs during or as a result of investigation or is brought about by some extraneous agency” (emphasis my own, OED). The phrase not present would propose that the objects are no longer immediate but are mediated through the narration, which is the amalgam of memory and language. They are products of the imagination, since everything has been killed that once belonged to the house. The investigation, then, is rendered an archaeological as well as an artistic search or inquisition of the past. Both the former and the latter agencies have a less cause and effect reasoning than a conventional approach to a subject and not a historical one. The space returned to by the ghost is isolated to a particular degree. Yashin’s ghost/spectre stratagem signifies the extraneous agency that brings forth the account of these objects. The metaphoric space is set in an art work which distances itself from a certain reality, since the poem is announced, at the very end of itself, to be an act of imagination and not an “innocent” recital of what may be called an “everyday experience”.
The Revenge on Language
Yashin’s prose poem, “The Petition” (10) (“Dilekçe”), begins with the description of its subject. This is a wish of going or leaving. The destination is explained, with a sudden transition, in Greek.
My only wish: To Go. Στο Κατο--Μακρια (11). Only one motorcycle. And suddenly thistles. Those purple flames [or blades] η ομορφη (12). Without ever stopping myself, where I feel myself free. (lines 1-2)
The sudden transition from Turkish to Greek in the first two lines could be a denotation of a movement from the North of Cyprus to the South (temporarily assuming that each language is a symbol of its nation within the context of Cyprus). This is also an entrance into the discourse of the Other (13), if the Turks and Greeks are accepted as each other’s “Other”. Both of these readings have a common aspect. The reader is taken by surprise. The narrator takes the form of a chameleon. He changes his medium (the language) in the connection with the external world as he enters into alternative cultures. He slips free from the burden of national belonging into a multi-cultural space which he feels he belongs to. Consequently, he shatters the firm boundaries of national identity. The reader is disturbed by the narrator’s questioning of the act of reading that is being performed at the point of perception and cognisance. The ‘victim’ of his critique - only if s/he knows at least two of the languages used - is left to decide in which does the narrator gain an identity; as a citizen of his/her country or a member of his/her culture? The answer to this vertiginous assumption is dubious. A probable outcome of such a contention is not to derive results or syntheses but rather to daze and problematise.
In terms of the narrator, however, the subject’s desire could be a penetration into the unconscious. Lacan argues that the unconscious is structured like a language. This structure, he further illustrates, can be realised as the Möbius band (14). Although an abstract assumption, the unconscious of the narrator seems to have been molded with three different languages (if not more). As the poem illustrates, the selection of each language is made to appear quite spontaneous, displaying the poet’s comfort in and with these languages, as well as his multiculturalism. Under such circumstances, he has emancipated himself from the subjugation of the superego – the psychological entity overcharged with the imagi–nation. Thus, the language shift at the beginning of the poem undergoes a similar kind of overturn. It begins in Turkish, turns unconsciously into Greek and then English, and ends on the reverse or opposite side, once again in Turkish (as in the following quote which is the continuation of this one). In other words, one language is connected to its ‘other’ through the narration. The symbolic association is, at this precise moment within the gap between two ‘disparate’ tongues, deferred and the formative construction of sense is temporarily prolonged. This protraction is the moment where the liberating momentum of the narrator takes place. He becomes disconnected from ethnic, national and/or monocultural affiliations. There is no longer a material border dividing the languages (or nations) but a psychological infringement into the forbidden boundary of the unexplored Other. He is enjoying the language of cultures with which he is familiar from early childhood.
Trespassing the boundaries between languages is also a challenge to the classic definition of metaphor by Aristotle (15). Cheyfitz points out the quandaries of this term, arguing that it is based on out of date binaries which still govern Western thoughts.
Within Aristotle’s theory of metaphor,… a theory that has exerted and continues to exert, whether explicitly or implicitly, a controlling force on the way Westerners think about language, the figurative becomes the foreign, or strange; the proper becomes the national, or normal. Thus, within this context, a language becomes foreign to itself. At the same time, the division between the proper and the figurative can govern the division between foreign languages, with the national language becoming the proper language, and the foreign, the figurative. Here it is worth remarking that the word kuria, which Butcher translates as “current or proper,” has among its most immediate senses those of authority and legitimacy. (p.36)
It is possible to question the foreignness of the languages in this poem, and the legitimacy with which they function. What is “native” and what is “foreign”? Can a metaphor exist within such trilingual discourses or is it necessary to dissociate one from the other two? Under such enigmatic circumstances, it is a hopeless endeavor to attempt any kind of justification of the nativity of a language, since a common language is problematic. It is foreign to itself.
As the narration changes back into Turkish the narrator asserts the means of his escape, “a motorcycle”. This is a symbol of freedom, a common notion in contemporary popular culture. It can also be a metaphor for the mechanised and robotic state of the human mind in the sense that thinking is in fact controlled more by authorities than people themselves in cultures (in other words, through institutionalisation of language). These contradictory and ambiguous readings are not surprising, as the narrator is bringing together many subjects that seem to have been contradictory for many years. The following image is the object of obstruction: the “suddenly [appearing] thistles. Those purple flames η ομορφη”. Figuratively, these extremely prickly plants can be seen as barbed wires used to prevent the entrance of a subject into a certain area. On a more political level, this could be the obstruction between two countries, as in the sense of a border, or it could be the restriction of a person in his/her own territory of the self outside cultural homogenization. In all cases, they signify a forbidden territory. It is not one to be afraid of for the narrator because he sees these plants as purple flames/blades of beauty (there is a pun on the word “η ομορφη” as it is analogous to the name of a famous town in the west of Cyprus, known in Cypriot [both Turkish and Greek] dialect as “Omorpho”). There is a twofold cultural reference at this point as the thistles are both common in Cyprus as well as “the heraldic emblem of Scotland” (OED). With this particular fact in mind, they become a symbol of both countries which share the space of being a “minority”, because they were colonies of the British Empire and are still in complex and baffling political relationships with the historical legacy.
The English phrases used in the succession of the verse are either euphonic or onomatopœic, which contributes to the cultural multiplicity of the poem. In the phrase, “where I feel myself free”, the words begin with soft and harmonious letters, such as ‘w’, ‘f’ and ‘m-s’, and echo pleasantly within the context of the surrounding languages (not to mention that the selection of vocabulary from Turkish and Greek are at least as obliging). The second and last section written in English also has a similar effect. This time, the result is onomatopœic and in harmony with the encompassing Turkish. “My feet are leaving me as though a rainbow like a fresh-water-fish in water after a shedding of light. Whispering only with the sea pebbles naked-fleshed only”. In the phrase, “My feet are leaving me”, there appears a mode of dismembering, as though the narrator is voluntarily becoming physically and mentally fractured (16). In the sense of identity, this resembles the atomization of an organism, as well as a lifting off from the ground. In either case, the unity of an organism is being dissected with this journey which the narrator wishes to embark. The diction of what follows in the sentence complements this voyage within the realm of literature. The repetition of the “sh” sound resembles the splashing of water and names or verbs such as “rainbow”, “fresh-water-fish” the “shedding of light” and “whispering” portray a psychic oasis that the narrator is attempting to retrieve. The sounds procured from the reading of these words enhance the mental space and reveal an almost transcendental energy, since such a figurative scheme suggests an ‘inner’ (into the unconscious) voyage on behalf of the narrator. Furthermore, the euphonic and onomatopœic diction is not limited to Turkish and English but also includes Greek words, as in the line “There the seaside laurels and the field tulips και ολα τα λουλουδια”. There is a stress on the letter “l” in both languages which implies a cultural dialectic within the narration. The overall intent of this style draws attention to the possibility of bringing together disparate tongues in a work of art. It also demonstrates the immunity of the narrator to borders and divisions, thus creating a certain personal lingua (17).
The poem gradually takes a slightly different course in terms of theme and continues with a critique of material values while asserting a more liberal and plural form of existence as opposed to individualistic capitalist values.
Going. And immediately. Half naked roads falling half. And besides what seat is that which will keep me seated permanently with work power. Even if millions were λεφτα (18) it isn’t worth ενα λεπτο (19), not even a single second to spend. Is it not so that home is a blue planet within the seashell. (lines 8-12)
The affiliation of work with power and a seat designates a capitalist space which gives one power but, consequently, an inclination to overpower the weaker peoples and on a more global level, the locals. There is, as in the structure of the poem, a flow preferred by the narrator, even if the result is a lack of excessive wealth and prosperity. Home, on the contrary, is not one where one earns money and simultaneously gains power. It is merely the ‘blue world’ inside a seashell. The preference of green (symbolising the land mass on earth as well as the green dollar bills that have become the symbols of capital) over blue (the seas) in this metaphor demonstrates a more liberal and dispersed understanding of inhabitancy. There is a preference of fluidity over stability, as earth has a more concrete physical and chemical structure than that of water. A further addition to the characteristic of water is that the colour it reflects is not its own but pertains to the skies; yet a more lax substance than what it spreads its colour over. The language used in the poem is copious and flowing, although it is in the form of prose (perhaps the very reason for it being so).
As the poem slowly reaches a climax, it asserts a more liberal thought and understanding of life and personal (humanistic) values. The freedom can be configured from the simile of love with poetry and a symbol of the islands.
And inside me wonders love again like a poem that feels like leaving again. And the fuming scent of thyme on the islands the fuming scent of thyme on the islands… Especially thyme – No no, please accept my resignation Dear Money I will not be able to pay the amount you ask for… (lines 12-5)
Love and poetry are identical in terms of generating a creative gaiety. The zest of this procreation is not meant to remain and become a permanent obligation but rather because love wanders, like a poem that wants to leave - again. Falling in love and writing a poem for the sheer result is not the objective; but the very excitement engendered is what gives the narrator the awareness of emancipation. This liberation stands as an antithesis to the point raised in the previous lines, where “home [is likened to] a blue planet within the seashell”, fluidity and continuous movement are set against the covetousness of capitalist power affiliated with work and domination. Art is what keeps the narrator on the move and nothing, it seems, is equal in worth to the spiritual fulfilment gained from the artistic way of living. There are multiple aspects to the above statement. Work and power are unfortunately not as steadfast, especially with the increase in Transnational and Multinational Corporations world-wide, as a consequence of guerrilla marketing strategies of independent companies. Nevertheless, there is a loyalty that must be maintained toward the company by the employees. The poem is a direct critique of this bond which relates to any values that are invested in financial profit. Even the whole concept of establishing oneself as a sahib over his/her production or artwork is within the scope of the narrator’s criticism. The manner in which nations attempt to certify a language as national is also a similar conformation that creates a Sahibdom. Language is not pure; it can be cheated and/or manipulated for any struggle as a means of power. Those who cannot reach a complete cognisance of this state are sure to be dumfounded by the multilingualism in Yashin’s poetry. Just as no language actually belongs to a nation, it does not belong to the artist either. Hence, Yashin seems to be implying, that no artist can belong to a nation plainly because s/he uses the language of that community.
The references to Cyprus play an important role in this poem which is not surprising, since Yashin embodies them in his own identity formation. Water (the sea, fresh water, and the blue planet), the seashells, the thistles, and the thyme all contribute a local-ness to Yashin’s argument. This is due to the topographical structure of the island, where Yashin was born and spent years of his youth, before leaving Cyprus. An island, besides the literal meaning (being a piece of land that is surrounded with water), figuratively denotes “an individual or a race, detached or standing out by itself” (OED). The narrator’s journey on this island represents a tendency to be detached and, at the same time, to associate himself with the inhabitants of the island.
The concluding separate stanza of the poem, however, reveals the torment of the narrator, from the point of view of someone else, who had hitherto not spoken. “Because he was quickly getting old over there and he had death written (20) while getting high [while his spirit was foundering as he could no longer bare a single poem]” (lines 16-7). This commentary could be the intercession of Yashin the poet, to explain that while the narrator was in this vacuum reached through an almost transcendental medium, he was truly not so happy. The poem does not go beyond being a desire, as stated by the title of the poem, “The Petition”. This excess longing and the occupation of writing this poem seems to have caused the destruction of the poet-narrator. It clarifies the prose-like structure of the narrative, inasmuch as he could no longer “bear” the burden of poetic interaction with the longing which gave way to his end. Poetry no longer signifies bliss but suggests predicament. Since the narrator exists within the poem that was self-written until destruction, he cannot exist ‘without’ (in both the senses: outside it and no longer present) this phantasy. He is imprisoned in his imagin–ings (21), as in all the other poems analysed thus far – namely “A Ghost” and “Dead House”.
The enjambment in the whole of the verse functions as a soft prosaic flow (similar to the stream of consciousness in the poem “Dead House”) into the territory of freedom; an entity with a hybrid identity. This hybridity is not simply an identity that consists of many cultures but instead employs an eclectic approach towards identity. At the beginning of the analysis, the languages were associated with nations (yet in another of Yashin’s poems, “Germ” from To Repair a Daydream, this is stressed rather ironically as “Every city has a language, every language a nationality (except New York)/that I almost died from being a poet” [lines 12-3]). But the poem, “The Petition”, obliterates this nexus. Amalgamating the three languages blurs the nationalities, or the consensus of belonging to a nation, of the languages. As a result of this, the narrator can only be identified through the languages in the text. He solely exists in the intertwining of these languages. Therefore, the self of the narrator does not belong to an immaculate identity of some imagined community with a long immaculate tradition and history but to a concocted self-narrative (22). This is what may justly be called a seditious language-game (23) which demonstrates the neutrality of the power of language. What is implied by this is the power of a nation based on narratives, indispensably formed with a language and print, as well as colonial discourses. In addition, the soft tone of the poem renders a certain fascination with buoyancy. Since the whole verse is a fantasy, the narrative is apt to become as such. With such a destructive effect, the fantasy or imagination can, for those who follow the same train of thought, become a blissful elegy; while for others, it can be a nightmare. The revenge on language, sworn by the spectre-narrator who entered the dead house with the Avenging Angels, has been performed. The ghost has fulfilled his task.
Yashin’s struggle with language(s) is not limited to retaliation. As in his poem, “The Candlestick” (“S[h]amdan (24)”), history itself, in terms of dynastic periods, does not support a national language. It is, in fact, an extremely contradictory force working against this whole idea of belonging.
- and in memory of my Grandmother Hatice (25) Hanim -
Molohiya (26): A sovereign food, fit for the mouth
of the ¬pharaohs. And Polyksenia
applies pure olive-oil onto her (27) body in the
Athens a cauldron, both of us a ladle
for the sake of a single packet of Molohiya… All
this so to remember you dear Alexandria!
So our early youth could return with enjoyment
at least in our fantasies… At candle light
Egyptian work silver sets and the three-armed
the table was set… Rice pilaff, pickled caper
accompanied with almond helva. (lines 1-13)
Historical references are combined with those of food which provides a historical setting and affiliation between the two. Molohiya, for example, is known to be an Arabic dish, specific to this southern part of the Mediterranean. The allusions to Alexandria of Egypt and to Damascus are therefore in concordance with the food. This represents the cross-cultural influence dating to historic occupations in Cyprus. The presence of the Egyptians on the island introduced this meal to the Cypriots, and still remains as evidence of the multicultural influence on the people. But there is not only a reference to the place, Alexandria. Lawrence Durrell’s book which focuses on this region is also of relevance to the subject. As the writings in the Four Quartets evolve around the spiritual quest for the idealised Alexandria, the paradise of the Mediterranean, Durrell hopes to fulfill his artistic insatiability. Hence, this search may be the very instance under the scope of the poem. Molohiya becomes the metaphor for the early youth of the narrator, and the character accompanying him, in search of the small packet which will enable a vision of a nostalgic return to this time.
The name of the second character, Polyksenia, is also a metaphor although it can be the name of a person with whom Yashin has a relationship. From an etymological perspective, the word can be divided into two; the prefix poly and the actual root, xenia (pronounced as “ksenia” in Turkish) the plural form of xenos. Poly (from the Greek word πολυς, or πολυ) translates as “very or much” (28). The root of the word, xenos (also from the Greek, ξενος) registers as “stranger/foreigner/guest or visitor” (29). When both terms are combined, the result can either be “very strange”, “very foreign” or “many guests, “many visitors”. The former translation is more dissociated and distanced from the subject(s), rendering them less personal and alien to the reader. In the former, the term “guest” is appreciative and welcome towards the subject. Therefore, it is a subjective matter of choice which depends on the political perception of the person choosing either version. In any case, it addresses the Egyptians, the Syrians (the Arabs, in short), the Greeks (with the allusion to Athens) and the Ottomans, which are mentioned successively in the poem. The personification of this term, Polyksenia, is significant as the narrator wanders in search of the almost remedy like food which triggers the imagination to return to his youth. Being friends with this character/metaphor also displays the narrator’s advocacy for, and a cognisance of, accepting a multicultural past which predominates the Cypriot heritage.
The presence of these visitors is not just a celebration for the narrator, but a consequence of the configuration of culture, especially that of the Cypriot. What is of mere significance is that, although these miscellaneous cultures have been present on the island, their vestiges are undeniable as opposed to the notion that each epoch is unique.
And candle drops which cannot be removed in any way
from the souvenir covers… I suddenly remembered :
Even after many years of the Ottoman States’ abolishment
“I am an Ottoman subject (30)” she would say
my grandmother who was curtailed from misak-i milli (31)
Ipcizade’s Hatice Hanim
At the city (32) of Lefkosa, from Sarayonu.
For her spirit. (lines 14-20)
“Candle drops”, in line 14, is another figure of speech for the traces of the occupants of the island. Just as a candle melts away as it burns out, a dynasty or culture also disappears over time. But the remains can never be removed, not in writing and not in speech. Although, as Anderson points out in his argument regarding the function of forgetting for the sake of keeping a nation together (33), this cannot be done, the poem rightfully reasserts, as not everybody is willing to agree to forget, and the narrator pretty much claims not to. Furthermore, this impossibility causes sudden remembrance in the narrator’s mind. Echoing in his ears, Haytice Hanim’s words serve as an irony of the human condition in such cases of remembering and forgetting. Even though the Ottoman State is wiped out or dismembered (as in both senses, not being remembered and having been dissected), like the melting candle, in Cyprus, the old lady of Ipc[h]izade (as it was once referred to women, meaning the wife or daughter of x), is unaware that she is no longer the subject of the empire in question. She is not even considered as a part of the ideal republic of Turkey in the National Pact. She still considers herself as belonging to what is now a complete imagi-nation as she continues reflecting upon the cultural inheritance of this annihilated epoch. The primary example to this is the dialect she uses.
Haytice Hanim is not simply a manifestation of a community that is being (perhaps by its own thoughts) deceived. She possesses the signification of maternal heritage and language. Just as a country can be a person’s motherland, a language can also be a person’s mother-tongue. In the previous schema, Haytice is a figure of the fallen empire that was once a motherland for its citizens. Hence, the final line, “For her spirit”, serves the same phrase as “Rest in Peace”. The old woman is the “grand-mother-land” of the narrator whose non-existence no longer obligates a duty for the narrator. The language of Haytice is also extinct by now, as her death has also forsaken the language of the narrator. In both cases, the poem is dedicated to Poly, as well as to the memory of Haytice Hanim. So, in short, it can be taken as an elegy for the end of a purity of national belonging and language that was not so genuine from the start, as illustrated by the multiculturalism of Cyprus. The way is granted to “Polyksenia”, or a non permanent identity (34), over the ashes of what was once considered a mono-cultural community.
Condensing the Analysis
In this paper, the main area of focus has been a selection of Yashin’s poetry from two of his collections, To Repair a Daydream and The Chairman. The reading of the poems – “A Ghost”, “Dead House”, “The Petition” and “The Candlestick” invariably – have two (if not more) notably similar themes: a spectral and imaginative return to a nation-less identity and the destabilisation of language, particularly that which is considered national. In both instances, the narrator’s enterprise is specifically in the deterritorialisation of a structure that is representative of a national, monocultural fantasy. Therefore, he chooses to use the same tool as the institution, that of narrative and language in order to achieve the purpose of deconstructing or diffusing (as opposed to the idea of putting together an identity through print) national identity.
The first part titled “The Apparition”, embodies the analyses of two poems (“A Ghost” and “Dead House”) which have a common subject – a spectre’s memory. In the first of the two verses, there is a demonstration of the concept that writers who desire peace are a threat to a nation. It also links the past with the present, as the narrator can no longer go back in reality but only in language. A similar subject is addressed in “Dead House”, where the home of a family is destroyed through wars. The imagination poses a central proposition in both poems, as it does in almost all of the poems that have been analysed.
“The Petition” is perhaps the most significant of all in terms of a language-game which breaks down the boundaries between nationalities. The longing to leave on a journey into the unexplored possibilities of the self is enhanced by the euphoniousness of the poem, due to its lyrical diction with the incorporation of three languages that have been the Others of each other in the near history of Cyprus. And the last poem, “Candlestick”, is very much like an endorsement of the long-deceased national and monocultural identity, metaphorised by the narrator’s grandmother, Haytice Hanim. Nevertheless, the Cypriotness is not and cannot be concealed in Yashin’s poetry, adding to the flavour of a locality which, in turn, is globalised by the poet.
Through the conglomeration of the three languages and all the allusions to death of national languages and subjectivity, one may be inclined to ask: is this then the end of national language? Actually not, since there is no end, and the exile is meant to be on the move, constantly, to avoid finalising any narrative which may serve as a source for any communal, especially national, assembly. This is, what Homi Bhabha calls, a “strategy of hybridisation.”
According to his essay, “Culture’s In-between”, strategies of hybridisation reveal an estranging movement in the ‘authoritative’, even authoritarian inscription of the cultural sign. At the point at which the precept attempts to objectify itself as a generalised knowledge or a normalising, hegemonic practice, the hybrid strategy or discourse opens up a space of negotiation where power is unequal but its articulation is may be equivocal. Such negotiation is neither assimilation nor collaboration. It makes possible the emergence of an ‘interstitial’ agency that refuses the binary representation of social antagonism. Hybrid agencies find their voice in a dialectic that does not seek cultural supremacy or sovereignty. They deploy the partial culture from which they emerge to construct visions of community, and versions of historic memory, that give narrative form to the minority positions they occupy; the outside of the inside: the part in the whole.
Correspondingly, Yashin is articulating his own version, of course not completely disconnected from that of the ‘national’ community, of history and identity in order to consolidate his minority discourse with power. But is Yashin’s struggle only with nationalism? Although this may seem to be the case from the perspective of the argument made so far, he also manages to destroy any idealisation of a locality (as well as his own local identity) such as that held by a colonial writer. Retroactively, the text of the colonial writer, namely Lawrence Durrell, can be stated to pose as a threat for the hybrid, and vice versa. The choice of a ghost-identity is for this precise reason, to avoid colonial subjugation in terms of understanding the self. If one must conclude, as there is no escape but an end, Yashin’s narrators’ – at times exhausting – manoeuvres may in this context be pictured in the lines of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” (414).
(Reference: Literary Study and Criticism – Modern Turkish Cypriot Literature, ed. M. Bulbulcu, Frebirds, 2009, Istanbul.)
See. Mehmet Yashin, Don’t Go Back to Kyrenia, trans. Taner Baybars, London: Middlesex University Press World Literature Series, 2001, for the poems quoted in this study.
(1) Gregor von Rezzori, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (1983), as quoted in Philip Schlesinger, Media, State and Nation: Political Violence and Collective Identities, London: Sage Publications, 1994.
(2) Abdul R. Janmohamed uses and defines these terms in his article, “Worldliness-without-world, homelessness-as-home: toward a definition of the specular border intellectual”. “Specular” is “[the] border intellectual, while perhaps equally familiar with two cultures, finds himself or herself unable or unwilling to be ‘at home’ in these societies. Caught between several cultures or groups, none of which are deemed sufficiently enabling or productive, the specular intellectual subjects the cultures to analytic scrutiny rather than combining them; he or she utilizes his or her interstitial cultural space as a vantage point from which to define, implicitly or explicitly, other, utopian possibilities of group formation” (443). While contrasting the “syncretic intellectual”, who is “more ‘at home’” within different cultures, it also corresponds with the spectral narrators in Yashin’s poems, since the designation also means, according to the OED, “Of vision: Obtained by reflection only; not direct or immediate”. The narrators are thus reflected through the poems and can only be seen as existing in their half-alive half-dead way. The term “exile” is also ascertained by Janmohamed appropriate to this argument. “The notion of exile always emphasises the absence of ‘home,’ of the cultural matrix that formed the individual subject; hence, it implies an involuntary or enforced rupture between the collective subject of the original culture and the individual subject. …the exile chooses… to live in a context that is least inhospitable, most like ‘home’” (446). Indeed, Yashin is never satisfied with the idea of belonging to a particular culture for every one of them has its own dilemmas.
(3) This word has been adopted for the multiple denotations which are appropriate to define the state of existence of the narrators in Yashin’s poems, the most appropriate of which are the following: “1.c. Appearance in history or before the world. […] 6. A seeming to the eyes or mind, appearance, semblance. […] 8. That which appears; an appearance, especially of a remarkable or unexpected kind; a phenomenon. 9. spec. An immaterial appearance as of a real being; a spectre, phantom, or ghost. (The ordinary current sense.) 10. A deceptive appearance counterfeiting reality; an illusion, a sham” (OED). The final definition (10) is the most befitting of all since it stresses the playfulness of this condition with reality, precisely one of the themes most present in Yashin’s poetry.
(4) Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf, New York; Routledge, 1994.
(5) As in the argument of Keya Ganguly, in her article “Migrant Identities: Personal Memory and the Construction of Selfhood”, the immigrant peoples refer to their own memories to reformulate their own identities in a foreign country (“My arguments center on the proposition that recollections of the past serve as the active ideological terrain which people represent themselves to themselves” [n.p.]). There can be an analogy between Yashin and the Indian migrants in Ganguly’s anthropological research, but only to a certain degree. The migrants undertake this form of reconstructing their identities for the reason of living in a culturally alien environment, which means that “[the] recollections have taken on a special import because they represent the only set of discursive understandings which can be appropriated and fixed; disambiguating the past permits people to make sense of uncertainties in the present” (n.p). Even though this is similar to Yashin’s position, the Indian immigrants are not aware of the artificiality of identity because they can only make sense of themselves within these repaired pasts, which already reveals the fabrication of their identity. As opposed to the migrant articulation of identity, which “…is a domesticated concern, that is to say it is actively played out only in the household domain and within a social context in which the demarcations are between insider and outsider are clear” (n.p.), Yashin’s exilic postmodern approach is aimed at breaking down just such binaries as “insider” and “outsider”. Nevertheless, Ganguly, too, is attentive to the ambiguity of the Indians’ situation, for she later concludes, quoting Homi Bhabha, that “The question of identity, then, is ‘always poised uncertainly, tenebrously, between shadow and substance’…; it is an artifice of representation and is, therefore, never a finished product or an authorised totality” (n.p.).
(6) “Of or belonging to the ancient town of Idalium in Cyprus, where Aphrodite was worshipped” (OED).
(7) The line numbers of this poem as well as others refer to the original.
(8) The association between nationalism and language can be drawn from Benedict Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities, where he argues that modern nations, or in his own words “imagined political communit[ies]” (6), have come into existence through the capitalist development of print. “[The] convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal diversity of human language created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation.… Yet it is obvious that while today almost all modern self-conceived nations – and also nation-states – have ‘national print-languages’, many of them have these languages in common, and in others only a tiny fraction of the population ‘uses’ the national language in conversation or on paper” (46). This would suggest that Yashin at this point personifies language by claiming that it has infact helped the fascism become, if you like, formal.
(9) Mike Featherstone, in his article, “Localism, Globalism and Cultural Identity”, maintains that “Over time the intense sense of involvement and excitement which bound people together tends to diminish, yet the use of commemorative rituals and ceremonies can be understood as acting like batteries which store and recharge the sense of communality. Outside the regular calendar of ceremonies which reinforce our family, local, and national sense of collective identity, it is also possible to draw on collective memories. As Halbwachs reminds us, collective memories refer to group contexts in the past which are periodically reinforced through contact with others who shared the initial experience” (52). The war in 1974 has a definitive effect on the Cypriot communities (both Turks and Greeks) in terms of reinforcing a sense of collective identity. Of course, the accounts of either are not the same but only the way in which they can be used to serve such a purpose. Yashin’s personal memory is a direct denunciation of this mode of maintaining national belonging and communion.
(10) This poem is trilingual, the majority of which is in Turkish and, therefore, the Turkish lines have been translated into English. The Greek words and phrases have been translated in the endnotes and the English have been italicised.
(11) “down/under/below/beneath; far [off/away] a long way”
(12) “of beauty” [also a pun on the name ‘Omorpho’ a major town towards the south-west of Cyprus]
(13) The definition of this term is based on the usage of R.D. Laing, in his book Self and Others. As he points out, “[All] ‘identities’ require an other: some other in and through a relationship with whom self-identity is actualised” (82).
(14) According to the O.E.D, this term is “used […] to designate a surface having only one side and one edge, formed by twisting one end of a rectangular strip through 180 degrees and joining it to the other end”. According to Anthony Wilden, “[the] Moebius strip [is] sometimes employed by Lacan to describe the subject, where the division of conscious and repressed turns out to be the unity of the writing on one continuous side” (235-6). In Yashin’s poetry, the conscious and the repressed are in fact unified, creating a complex discourse where the two cannot be separated.
(15) “‘Metaphor’ (metaphora), Aristotle tells us in the Poetics, ‘is the application of an alien [allotriou] name by the transference [epiphora] either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion’ (XXI. 4–5). …Aristotle develops his definition of metaphor, which rests upon a division of language into ‘current or proper words[s] [kurion onamaton],’ those ‘in general use among a people’… and ‘unusual words [tois xenikos],’ under which, among others, Aristotle places ‘strange (or rare) words [glottan]’ and those that are ‘metaphorical [metaphoran]’… (35-6).
(16) As the narrator’s desire is also considered to be setting on a psychological journey, then he will have discovered, as illustrated by this process of dismembering, a fractured self. In other words, as in those of R. D. Laing, “[when] our personal worlds are rediscovered and allowed to reconstitute themselves, we first discover a shambles. Bodies half-dead; genitals dissociated from heart; heart severed from head; heads dissociated from genitals. Without inner unity, with just enough sense of continuity to clutch at identity – the current idolatry. Torn, body, mind and spirit, by inner contradictions, pulled in different directions, Man cut off from his own mind, cut off equally from his own body – a half-crazed creature in a mad world” (46-7). It is quite likely that the narrator has made the petition based on such a finding as Laing’s, since wo/man has nothing to hang onto but idol worshipping and identity given to him/her. But s/he is not able to discover the “inner-self”, the true kind of self, according to Laing.
(17) This term is adopted based on its meaning as in “any mixed jargon formed as a medium of intercourse between people speaking different languages” (OED).
(19) “one minute”
(20) This word can also be translated as “thus wrote”, because in the original, the word used is “öleyazmis[h]ti”, which can be the phonetic rendering of “öyle yazmis[h]ti”, meaning “he thus wrote”, as well as “ölesiye yazmis[h]ti”, connoting “he wrote until death”.
(21) I use the en-dash to separate “imagi” and “nation” in order place stress on the word two disparate meanings of “nation”. The first is the more common sense, “An extensive aggregate of persons, so closely associated with each other by common descent, language, or history, as to form a distinct race or people, usually organised as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory” and the second, is for its adverbial denotation “(A euphemistic abbreviation of damnation. Cf. tarnation.), Very, extremely, etc.” (OED). Therefore, the imaginings of the narrator can mean too much imagining as well as imagining a nation, which would be rather like Plato’s Ideal Republic, as well as Anderson’s use of the word to imply that all communities are formed and maintained through collective experience and memory with narratives.
(22) This subjectivising of the self through language displays Yashin’s awareness of how identity is defined, as in Stuart Hall’s “Introduction: Who Needs ‘Identity’?”. According to Hall, “Identities are therefore constituted within, not outside representation. They relate to the invention of tradition as much as tradition itself, which they oblige us to read not as an endless reiteration but as ‘the changing same’ (Gilroy, 1994): not the so-called return to roots but a coming-to-terms-with our ‘routes’. They arise from the narrativization of the self, but the necessarily fictional nature of this process in no way undermines its discursive, material or political affectivity, even if the belongingness, the ‘suturing into the story’ through which identities arise is partly, in the imaginary (as well as the symbolic) and therefore, always, partly constructed in fantasy, or at least within a fantasmatic field” (4). Yashin plays with this whole idea, returning to his “routes”, or the possibilities confronting his culture, thus creating an identity within the daydream of his narrators.
(23) The philosophical denotation of this phrase is demonstrated as “a speech-activity or limited system of communication and action, complete in itself, which may or may not form a part of our existing use of language”. The three languages used by Yashin are not alien to some Cypriot immigrants in English speaking countries. While living in Cyprus, before the war of 1974, it was common for people to know both Turkish and Greek, especially for those who lived in bi-communal villages, “Ayios Theotoros” being one (whose Turkish residents later moved to “Aysergi”, now called “Yeni Bogazici”, due to the 74 operation). Since some of these Turks decided to migrate to England or Australia (or were forced by the Archbishop Makarios, the then head of the state of Cyprus), they continued and still continue to use the two languages they brought along with them, adding yet a third one, English. Hence, the use of the three languages is a current phenomenon today.
(24) The title in Turkish could also be a reference to, with meaning “from Damascus”, the capital of Syria.
(25) This is a female name that is formally written as “Hatice” but the insertion of the letter ‘y’ stresses a certain form of local historical dialect that must have been in common vernacular use during the life of the grandmother. This pronunciation, in a way, resembles the Turkish Cypriot accent, circa 1920’s in Cyprus.
(26) The leaves of this plant are used to make a dish, popular in Cyprus and in the Arabic countries such as Syria. The reference here is specifically to the meal.
(27) The gender of this character is not certain, but, because it phonetically resembles a woman’s name, it may perhaps serve better to use this pronoun.
(28) Oxford Learner’s Pocket Dictionary: English-Greek and Greek-English. DN Stavropoulos. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
(30) In the original version, this word is written in a distinct vernacular form as “tabeasiyim”, emphasising the different manner in which Haytice Hanim would speak. In actuality, it should be written as “tabasiyim”, hence, the manipulation with the insertion of the letter ‘e’.
(31) “The National Pact” a nonofficial plan organised prepared by the Young Turks towards the end of the Ottoman period which proposed the national boundaries of the ideal Turkish state. Cyprus was not included in this pseudo map, which explains why Haytice Hanim was left outside of this plan.
(32) This term is also written in a way which resembles the old dialect of Haytice Hanim. Although “city” is pronounced as “s[h]ehir” in contemporary speech, it is presumable that Haytice Hanim would pronounce it as “s[h]eher”, altering the word to more culturally specific dialogue.
(33) In the chapter “Memory and Forgetting”, of Imagined Communities, Anderson claims that sometimes it necessary to forget communal histories in order to extend the life of a community – both in terms of writing and in terms of speech. “Awareness of being imbedded in secular, serial time, with all its implications of continuity, yet of ‘forgetting’ the experience of this continuity – product of the ruptures of the late eighteenth century – engenders the need for a narrative ‘identity’” (205).
(34) In his text, Media, State and Nation, Philip Schlesinger quotes Alberto Melucci’s definition of identity as applied to the West. “‘Identity’ is conceptualised as ‘above all involving the notion of the permanence of a subject or an object through time’” (154). In any case, Schlesinger’s focus is on the same point as Anderson’s, that of permanence. What the narrator points out is that such notions are, in fact, deceitful and there is no actuality of permanence in a person’s identity.
ON MEHMET YASHIN’S “THE HOURS
By Rıdvan Arifoğlu
I have read Mehmet Yashin’s the “Hours of Deportation” with pleasure. I could argue that Kafka and Joyce whom I thought to be non-fusible, ‘non-inter-textualizable’ within Turkish Literature, had become two writers complementing each other in this novel. For example, when forming up Kafkaesque relations in the First Chapter “narrated-author” in terms of a psychological view, Yashin performs this with a Joycian mockery and lingual sarcasm. The two female employees in Part IV remind us of the two aides in Kafka’s novel “Chateau” who were sent to K. by Chateau. These are people looking like each other indistinguishably. While the two aides of K. observe him with very bizarre deeds, on the other hand these two female employees try to keep the ‘writer-written’ under control (or in the queue of Purgatory) with very bizarre superstitions.
I made such an introduction because it is not important that the characters in this book evoke the characters of other books. Our narrated-author is complaining about this anyway. It pitifully suffers a lot from evoking other things and not being able to be a complete “character”. Mehmet Yashin is translating it and it is translating Mehmet Yashin relentlessly. They are approaching each other as a text. While they try to translate each other, the hero approaches Mehmet Yashin with suspicion and he is approaching the hero in the same way, too. Constantly, one of them is having fancy of the other pulling tricks. I think that just like Ahmet Cemal, Mehmet Yashin has been able to write this novel after accepting his writings as a kind of translation. In his book “My Translations from Life”, Ahmet Cemal says, “It is because of that authentic text called life, which frightened me so much that I started translation first with my style of perceiving life”. Cemal adds by saying, “I preferred to read life as not what it was, but from the translations coming from the presses of my own sensation universe.”
Mehmet Yashin’s reference to Stella Ovadia’s “Translation Lives” in the first of his “Poeturka” essays is enough to make him a soul relative to Ahmet Cemal. Not only do I want Yashin’s the “Hours of Deportation” book to be read but also Ahmet Cemal’s “My Translations from Life”, too; especially the “Like a Story...” part.
I will try to analyse Yashin’s novel. However, it is very hard, because the written together with the writer and what is called the narrated-author, separate from each other and then come together like a dragon-tail. The more you try to place yourself as a reader, the more the narrated-author can turn you into a translation and translator. “Go away!” you should say. In addition, it will say, “Go from there to over there!”. Yashin had already said this before in his poem ‘İktidar’ (The Position of Power): “from there to there, from there to there, there there”. How can we trust a writer’s standing there and whose own life is even a translation? Yashin himself told in his poem ‘Savaş Zamanı’ (Wartime): “The life I lived wasn’t foreign, but one of translation − / my mother-tongue one thing, my motherland another, / and I, again, altogether different…”
I want to compare the “Hours of Deportation” with Orhan Pamuk’s “New Life” a well-known novel by Turkish readers for my article at first refers to those who read Turkish. You know the first sentence of “New Life”: “One day I’ve read a book and my whole life has changed”.
The book that is read here (the one thought to be read) is of course Pamuk’s own book, it is “New Life”. Pamuk says what the reader would say, too. We only understand which book Pamuk, or that is to say the writer has read by reading “the book, New Life”. Pamuk was writing this: “Then I thought, I felt that the moment was not also perfect, something was missing”, (p. 54). The missing thing was most probably the writer and reader reading the book at the same moment. It is as if both the writer and the reader say the first sentence of “New Life” at the same time. It is obvious that there is a paradox here. Nevertheless, why does Pamuk take this upon moment’s imperfection? Because nothing else than that moment’s imperfection could be used to constitute the paradox in the Turkish novel until that time, that is to say it was the result of moment’s imperfection in achieving that the thing written (or read) by the writer could be written (or read) by the writer and reader at the same time. Moreover, at that moment, Pamuk equalized the writer with the reader. The moment is imperfect for it has this attribution ability!
“The magnificent life was right here, inside this moment.” (p. 99) After painting each other in glowing colours on page 227, Pamuk and the reader say this: “Besides, the modern toy called novel, this best invention of Western Literature, is not our job anyway.” Therefore, it is meaningful that Pamuk is seen as not being able to writing and the reader hears his own voice. (“Own” here refers to both the first and the third person just like in Turkish-Cypriot (Cyprioturk), that is to say both the reader and Pamuk). That is why Pamuk compresses the two characters of the novel, the novelist and the reader, inside the moment. Uncle Rıfkı benefited from some books when writing “New Life” novel! Uncle Rıfkı is both the reader and Orhan Pamuk. The basic idea taken from Neşadi Akkalem: “We were companions, we were supportive to each other with no conditions.”
“We” must be Orhan Pamuk and the reader. “We” cannot be separated from each other in this book. Orhan Pamuk and the reader must have the accident together.
This must be asked: Why shouldn’t Orhan Pamuk in “New Life” deal with the writer and the reader, writer and the written, Orhan Pamuk and the writer, Orhan Pamuk and the hero, or literate and the writer-reader in a translational way? Why shouldn’t the writer, written, reader etc. be a translation or a translator?
We can argue this: Both Orhan Pamuk and Turkish Literature were deprived of a language that could perform this. In the way how Pamuk dealt with the novel like a scientist, Mehmet Yashin expanded his research area by dealing with it in the same way, too. What is written in Pamuk are both the writer’s and the reader’s writing and reading. In addition, in Mehmet Yashin the translator is both the translator and the translation itself. For this reason, his “Hours of Deportation” the novel starts in Karamanlidika language: This is the first message of our necessity to translate. These lines in Karamanlidika language are like the first sentence of Pamuk’s “New Life”. Karamanlidika language is Turkish written with Greek alphabet (and/or Greek sounding Turkish).
In fact, if we think linear Orhan Pamuk has come backwards from Western novel: he pulled the Western novel to East for it to be thrown as if an arrow put on the bow. The bow must have been pulled backwards a little for the arrow to be thrown forward. See, Pamuk mentions this all the time. The things Uncle Rıfkı tells to the writer and reader on page 249 of “New Life” are similar to talk of Andre Gide with one of the novel’s characters in “Counterfeiters”. Gide writes a book in “Counterfeiters” novel, too. Gide mentions to the novel’s character (George) that he is writing a book called “Counterfeiters,” too etc.
Some writers wrote that Orhan Pamuk was influenced from some novelists including Gide, because he used such old games. However, Pamuk had to pull the novel backwards at these points anyway. Because of this, such criticisms have disappeared inside the paradox that Pamuk has formed. Yashin’s “Hours of Deportation” novel already has the criticism made to Pamuk and Turkish novel, because Yashin’s book is a very different one bringing this paradox forward with a quite different language. It doesn’t have a more Western or Eastern character than Pamuk’s “New Life”. The “Hours of Deportation” is a kind of novel to erase a subject that I think Turkish-Cypriots are usually disturbed by in Turkey, that is to say, east and west always being defined, and becoming a problem. Isn’t the west the translation of east and east of the west? Isn’t it already this translation that everyone lives, everyone can know?
Although they are foil paper that has been wrinkled and reshaped in order to be used in writing, I have to mention some things in Mehmet Yashin’s novel: In the second chapter, Giant Over thrower Drimo Yorgi in Part XXXIV who was also referred to in previous parts, is Saint Yorgos as known, that is to say Saint George. Alternatively, we should say this: Both Drimo Yorgi and the dragon that Drimo Yorgi tries to overthrow and kill by spear is Mehmet Yashin himself (Everyone is the dragon of himself). If we take a look at the poem “The Lord of Laurels” in Yashin’s “It’s Name is in the Missing List” the poetry book, the wit here can be understood better. It is as if the drawing there is especially put into the part of poem written in Karamanlidika language. In the drawing “Saint Yashin” tries to kill himself with a spear on the back of a seahorse. In Part IV of the poem, he says: “If I kill the dragon, I will be the dragon itself / I will kill myself to take upon my power.”
The dragon-tail, which Drimo Yorgi tries to kill, is the tail of heaven and hell on the other hand. Mehmet Yashin has considered this scene, that can be seen in many churches in Cappadocia, as an allegory and put it into the first part of the novel. The most beautiful wall pictures in the churches of Cappadocia are the pictures existing in St. Jean Church in Gülşehir. In the pictures in Late Middle Age Church St. Jean sexual organs were left foreground. Later, the sexual organ parts were scraped off. These erotic religious scenes are like a summary of Mehmet Yashin’s novel. As always, Drimo Yorgi has plunged the spear into the dragon tail here, too. The “Hours of Deportation” is a writing written in Purgatory, exposing some features of post-modern novel in an exaggerated way. A Turkish-Cypriot will see the use of some tales, tongue twisters, and idioms with pain as well as reading this writing easily in a way. It is with pain, because most of these are under invasion. The situations/parts in some sections seem to have been made up as though any particular Turkish-Cypriot idiom or word must have been appropriated in. In some parts; the hero with his skilful language creates the influences of sarcasm upon readers. Because this novel has not become a complete novel, because every novel is a translated one, and because every person has become a translated person, the hero mocks the readers by cherishing their depersonalized characterisations. Cherishing the state of being not understood, the hero uses his language as an instrument in a way as such. Yet, he raises his objection and complaints on not being understood (or not being written about in the way that he had wished). The trio of writer-written-fate occupies a special position in Yashin’s previous writings and poetry. Some parts discussed in “Hours of Deportation” find their nucleus in the other writings and poetry by Yashin. For example, in his chapter XXXX entitled “Yiyiciler” (Eaters/Bribers) recipes and views about some cuisine may be seen. This may show us that Yashin has considered Turkish-Cypriots who have well-adapted to sedentary culture. Despite insistently suggesting this to be a good peculiarity previously, Yashin sees this Turkish- Cypriot sedentary life as a mere phenomenon in this novel. When it is the question of sedentary life, food and drink mainly comes to the first place. Formerly being reproachful and approaching themselves with a sense of pity, the narrated-author drops that reproach: Using the Turkish-Cypriot “straightforwardly”, just like the heroes in Joyce’s “Dubliners” he makes reference to British(-Turks). He sometimes self-mocks despite seeing himself in the positions of the people he refers to. This to a certain degree means childlessness, too.
The fact that the poet self-approaches with a sense of pity is a peculiarity of Post-Eighty Poetry; and, it’s Can Yücel who places well this idea. Mehmet Yashin had gained this feature from that movement. Some of the artists, who had discovered that peculiarity of “Post-Eighty Poetry”, began to go in the opposite direction and began to self-behave with a made up pseudo-ruthlessness. Yashin doesn’t try to be tragicomic. Even when he is to complain about loneliness he looks like a mocking kid, because loneliness is like war loot, too. Yashin can’t go into the state of loneliness. This time he tries to use loneliness; but, he can’t succeed this at all, because he illusions himself with the idea that there are people who are the real owners of loneliness, but not he is one of them. If Yashin doesn’t pick pseudo-masochism he could enrich his Dighenisean manner. You’ll perhaps ask the question: while Yashin cannot make himself listened to his characters in his novels how would he be able to go into a heroic manner like Dighenis? I can’t criticize this, but I would love to say something just like a ventriloquist when I read the book. To me, ventriloquists are the best translators.
Dighenis is Christians’ legendary hero who fights against the Moslems along the fortress, sometimes beyond the frontier, sometimes within the boundary.
In his poem “Ayia Sophia Dome” from his “It’s Name is in the Missing List” says Yashin: “He who is killed dies; those who remain alive suffer but can’t die / bargaining with Angel of Death, on the frontier.”
You can also read “Dighenis and Angel of Death” (p.144) in the chapter “Roman and Byzantine Orthodox Poetry” in Yashin’s “Anthology of Early Cyprus Poetry”. I have recently made the habit of reading this poem and the poem “Dighenis” in Enis Batur’s “East-West Divan” one after another. (This poem is one of the most interesting poems in Turkish.)
Again, read Yashin’s writings in relation to Hours (Horas) in the anthology: “The Hours in Aphrodite’s parade are the goddesses of orderliness; they symbolise peace and calmness” (p.33). They are the three daughters of Zeus and Themis. They liven up the seasons, guard the sky, and do the gods’ jobs. The chapter “The Book of Hours” in his “Hours of Deportation” is the extension of a tradition as such. Calmness in opposition to ecstasy, and order mixed with benevolence brought a book of prayers though it being a little bit advising. On page 172 in “Deportation Hours”, we find some information about Horas (we don’t now who “gives” to whom).
One may suggest that just like his previous books this book, too may depend on the plane of thoughts thoroughly. In the Chapter XXVI, the sentence in parenthesis “My grandmother used to say that there was life after death, which I never believed” highlights the Egyptian side of the Turkish-Cypriots. In addition, this signifies what Yashin wrote about Egyptian Moslems’ ‘makdur’ belief in his essay on Cavafy and Seferis. This Egyptian belief, called ‘makdur’, hypothesizes that everything a person will do from the beginning of his/her life to the end of it, has already been carved on a piece of stone. What his grandmother “said” about “the life after death” originates in that belief. Some of the idioms, sayings, the way they are pronounced and the words that the Turkish-Cypriots, especially the old generation seem to have used to prove this implication. In the poem “Candlestick” from his book “It’s Name is in the Missing List”, Yashin writes “Molohiya (1): Melik’s (king’s) meal, appeals to the taste / of the Pharisee.” Holding on to Cavafy in opposition to Seferis; in other words, holding on just to avoid decline within the centre of the Turkish Poetry must be because of that. The “Hours of Deportation” is a Book of Dead Bodies.” While the dead bodies immortalise themselves through the words they continue to inhale the natural breath of Cappadocia gothic mood. It’s possible to read the allegory of the Turkish-Cypriots when in Karamanlı accent being talked of, thus when Cypriots not being talked of. This originates in the opening lines of John’s Bible: “In the Beginning was the Word.”
Let this be the claim: The Turkish-Cypriots are always loyal to the opening lines of the Bible. Mehmet Yashin, too must be sensing this. “Well, in whichever way a person talks of his/her life his/her life continues in that way” (p.122). “If you repeat a word forty times it turns out to be true” (p.123). Those types of beliefs make their presence felt vividly among the Cypriots; and they even sometimes exist as different entities, different personalities. Even citizenship may be granted to those beliefs (I’m joking!).
The sentence mentioning the Karamanlidika accent on p.236 accentuates the interrelationship of the two languages in Cyprus: “because we are Islam, though come from Christianity / we are Christians, but come from Islam” and “with all the individuals of our ancestors in two of the religions, we implore to one predecessor” 19. In the initial chapters that recall of the century’s gothic novels, while Yashin forces his imagination he sometimes benefits from the hero. This is, to a degree, because of striving to “find a way to get away from being written in their language” (p.50). “What if they conquer me, too? The novel character, Mehmet Yashin or the translator is haunted with such “gothic” illusions. Instead of first exploration then conquest, he precautions “Them” to first explore and only explore.
It seems to me that the similar relation that the Turkish-Cypriots have with the Bible in their spoken language can be seen only in Edip Cansever in Turkish Poetry. This relation in Cansever seems to be the outcome of a conscious manner. Few other poets, (especially ‘Second New’ poets) seem to have carried out this naturally. I can say that I would prefer this artificiality in Edip Cansever.
Apparently to keep silent was the uncreated form of the world
The uncalled Jacob II
If I say the world is not the world
If I say not is not
before I said he would return
Ventriloquist is in reality a good translator. To me, it seems that Edip Cansever and Mehmet Yashin seem to be ventriloquists (or just puppets) who sometimes read holy books. In Romain Gary’s novels “Les Mangeurs d’Etoiles” (Star Eaters) and “Gros Câlin” (The Great Indolent), which I had coincidentally read one after another, the ventriloquist speaks as a hero who has been expelled by his puppet; more appropriately, the puppet of the ventriloquist is speaking: “I loathe ventriloquists, they all are parasites.” How can we trust them? It is as much difficult as to show the non-speaking as speaking and speaking as non-speaking: what if we could see both speaking! Mehmet Yashin wanted to see. Everyone in his novel has been dubbed. As Gary says in his “Gros Câlin”: “At times, we seem to be living in a dubbed film; everyone is moving their lips. However, this doesn’t correspond with the uttered words. Everything has been sound-recorded later on, and so perfectly made that we think it is real.” As Romain Gray speaks like a ventriloquist of the French Literature Mehmet Yashin does so as to play the “puppet” of the Turkish Literature.
(1) A type of Cypriot dish.
(Reference: ‘Mehmet Yaşın’ın ‘Sınırdışı Saatler’i Üzerine’: Afrika Newspaper Pazar-Sanat Supplement. 7 August 2005, Nicosia)
WRITING THROUGH OSMOTIC BORDERS:
BOUNDARIES, LIMINALITY AND LANGUAGE
IN MEHMET YASHIN’S POETICS.
By Rosita D’Amora
In the poem Savaş Zamanı (‘Wartime’) the Turkish Cypriot author Mehmet Yashin’s (Yaşın) writing self confesses: ‘I was often unsure in which language to shed my tears, / the life I lived wasn’t foreign, but one of translation / my mother-tongue one thing, my motherland another, / and I, again, altogether different…’. Some of the most important threads of Yashin’s poetics intersect here in these lines. Mehmet Yashin was born in Nicosia in 1958, when Cyprus was still a politically undivided territory under the British colonial rule, but already torn by fierce intercommunal conflicts between the two major ethnic groups populating the island, the Greeks and the Turks. His family is of Turkish origins and Turkish is his mother tongue – the language he learned before any other in what, in another poem entitled Bir Hayalet (‘A Ghost’), he describes as the ‘polyglot house, now silenced’ that he was raised in. And this language still remains the main means of his literary writing. Yet, throughout Yashin’s oeuvre, both in his literary works and in his essays, it is possible to trace a constant hesitation about the language he finds more appropriate to resort to in order to express himself, even when his poetical urge leads him to disclose his most intimate sorrows. Furthermore, at times, the author blatantly admits that his mother tongue does not suffice, and, in doing so, he openly reveals the precarious ability of a mother tongue to encompass and convey multiple identities and different cultural belongings, and, conversely, the impossibility of any mother tongue to coincide with, or be kept within, the bounds of the often arbitrary national borders of its ‘motherland’. Hence his compelling need to trespass fictitious linguistic frontiers questioning the idea as well as the definition itself of mother tongue.
The following comment by Yashin suggests a deeper complexity to what it is usually perceived as a natural, familiar correlation between languages and national identities (mother tongue / motherland), adding to it a degree of estrangement, a ‘step-ness’ (step-mothertongue):
Mothertongue is relative, multiple, and shifting, and what I would like to propose is that there is a ‘step’ quality latent in it. …Language is step-mother by its very nature. Individuals are born into languages they have not themselves created and which cannot express human beings totally. Particularly writing-languages as the basic element of literature, does not come to life from a natural mother, but is precisely geared to create the sense of a ‘mother’ in the context of fictionalized national histories. The ‘step-tongues’, which have enforced themselves as so-called ‘mothertongues’, partly through literary works, on particular communities, are the primary forces that attach individuals to a modern sense of national belonging, re-creating an imaginary notion of ‘us’.
Here, Yashin takes a firm stand especially against Cyprus’s most recent history where linguistic identities have increasingly become ethnically identified and politically charged. In the same poem, ‘Wartime’, with a few verses of pregnant clarity, the poet reminds us how in a conflict-zone such as Cyprus, divided between two imported and contrasting nationalisms, crossed by contested political boundaries, demarcated by tangible divides, any linguistic choice inevitably involves unambiguous political consequences. Thinking of his childhood he remembers: “Turkish was dangerous, must not be spoken, / and Greek was absolutely forbidden… […] / English remained right in the middle, / a slender paper-knife for cutting schoolbooks, / a tongue to be spoken at certain times / especially with the Greeks!”. The resolute indeterminacy of the poet in choosing his language of expression can be seen, therefore, as an extreme act of revolt. If such uncertainty aims to reveal how linguistic boundaries do not necessarily overlap with political ones, such as the Green Line that separates north and south Cyprus – the Turkish and the Greek sides, it also allows Yashin to create a parallel interstitial space, an osmotic threshold with multiple, porous entrances and exits that represents the vanishing point of the dividing lines between conflicting national and linguistic identities.
If one understands a threshold in its figurative meaning of ‘border’, ‘limit’ but also as ‘the line that one crosses in entering’ (OED) a place – or in exiting from it – it can be perceived as a crucially functional space even within the fixity of political and cultural divisions imposed by opposing nationalisms. From this perspective, a threshold delimits two other contiguous spaces, on each one of its sides, and implicitly defines them in terms of opposition to each other (outside / inside, inclusion / exclusion, mother tongue / foreign language). At the same time, it is itself a space that enables passage between these two: hence the need for exerting a strict control on such passages or to try to completely obstruct them through checkpoints, border control stations, barbed wire, walls. Yet, each passage in either direction inevitably leaves behind traces of often involuntary interactions, also giving thresholds the more engaging dimension of unguarded and utterly contaminated spaces.
There is then no other possible choice left to the poet but to be in constant transit through these liminal spaces shunning any fixed identification, and to write his verses in-between the two sides of a threshold: ‘Then in my poems, the three languages got into a wild tangle.’
The ‘poet of no country’, his step-mothertoungue and the divided island
The quest for a more complex and multifaceted linguistic identity influences Yashin’s entire writing process pervasively, spurring his language towards a constant search for hybrid zones. This can be traced in the author’s biography, but also in Cyprus’s long history where language use is situated against a very intricate background and, as we shall see, has represented in the last decades a fairly turbulent political issue.
As for Yashin’s personal past, interesting reflections upon the problematic yet enriching linguistic legacy bequeathed to him are scattered in many of his poems but can also be found in an autobiographical essay entitled Üveyanadilim (‘My step-mothertongue’). In this essay, in particular, while examining the different layers of his ‘step-mothertongue’, the impossibility of disentangling his use of English and Greek from his Turkish and, at the same time, his condition of not being able to properly express himself either ‘as a Greek from Athens’, or ‘an Englishman from London’ or neither ‘a Turk from Istanbul’, the author confronts, and confronts us with, these questions:
“If that’s the case, like whom do I speak and write? As a Cypriot Turk from Nicosia? Or as a cosmopolitan Turk who lives in Istanbul, Athens, London? Or rather as a European Turk essentially connected to Istanbul? The answer to all these questions is both yes and no…”
In the attempt to reconstruct his linguistic identity, he harks back to a natural sense of coexistence and merging of multiple linguistic spaces in his own family. Turkish itself was spoken in slightly different ways by the various members of his family. Yashin, for instance, recalls from his childhood memories how his father, known as the ‘Cypriot poet’, was actually brought up in Istanbul, and how the people of the literary circle he was part of, as well as his language, ‘his style, his way of speech, his slang, his vocabulary’, were also mostly from Istanbul. The Turkish of his mother, instead, was a pure, modern Turkish (öz Türkçe) – the distilled product of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s language reform also imported from mainland Turkey – as was at that time regarded appropriate for a well-educated woman with an urban upbringing. Her language was consciously selective and she would never confuse her Turkish with the English she learned at school, which was perceived by her generation as the language of the colonizers, or the Greek Cypriot dialect (Kypriaka) that, in the opinion of the Cypriot Turkish urban elite, had an intrinsic provincial nature. On the contrary, his beloved great aunt Süreyya who brought him up had no such intellectual anxieties. In a poem entitled Teyzedil (translated in English as ‘Aunt-ology’, but literally meaning ‘Aunt-tongue’) written in her memory, he effectively describes her versatility as follows: ‘In the English era, the widow lady teacher / was Süreyya at home and Judith to all others, / Flax-haired Lâmia to her friends […] / And then, the Turks came. / She was now Judith at home and Süreyya outside’. With the same ease she constantly adapted to the many names given to her, she would also use a permeable Turkish open to all sorts of influences. Yashin remembers the fluidity of her language accepting Ottoman Turkish ‘openly’, Greek and English ‘indirectly’ and Arabic and Latin ‘secretly’, as well as her natural tendency to resort to each one of these languages according to the different circumstances. And with the same amazement he must have felt as a child he recalls in verses her ability ‘to read the Koran in Arabic for the dead; / to make olive-magic in Latin, / correct my Turkish in red’.
All these elements came together in Yashin’s ‘step-mothertongue’. The ‘pure Turkish’ of his mother, the Turkish his father used in order to write his nationalistic poems, and the Istanbul variety he spoke, and alongside with them the knowledge that a language could be assumed as a distinctive mark of identity and used on this basis to legitimise national and political boundaries. On the other hand, it is his ‘Aunt-tongue’, the almost unaware and unceasing shifting from one language to another of the poet’s ‘dear old aunt’ Süreyya, that seems to have encouraged him to position his language use on the porous thresholds of contiguous linguistic spaces and retrace such spaces in the history of his island – the entire island, regardless of its current political divisions.
Indeed, for centuries, language contact has been ‘the rule rather than an exception’ in Cyprus. Being strategically located at the crossroad of Europe, Asia, and Africa, succession or coexistence of different communities and cultures has been long inscribed in the island’s history. Since ancient times, Cyprus has been annexed by every ruling empire in the region. It was conquered by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans and Venetians, until when in 1571 the Ottomans gained control. It was during the three centuries (1571-1878) of Ottoman rule that the island acquired its current ethnic character. After the Ottoman conquest, the local population, at the time predominantly composed of Orthodox Greeks, was enriched by the settlement of a community of Muslim Turks who came to represent approximately 20% of the inhabitants of the island. Within the framework of the Ottoman millet system, which under the overall control of the Ottoman state granted non-Muslim religious groups considerable autonomy to regulate their internal affairs, the two communities lived side by side peacefully maintaining their religious, cultural and linguistic differences, but also sharing a variety of spaces and experiences. It was only from the first half of the 19th century, with the increasing spread on the island of a Greek national consciousness imported directly from mainland Greece – Greece obtained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832 – that coexistence began to show the first signs of what would later became an unbridgeable rift. The period of the British rule on the island (1878-1960) led to a further reinforcement of the Greek Cypriot’s national claims that progressively grew into an anti-colonial struggle and prompted, at the same time, analogous feelings among the Turkish Cypriot community. On the one hand, Greek Cypriots were advocating union (enosis) with ‘mother Greece’, while on the other hand, Turkish Cypriots were closely following the nation-building process in Turkey. Fearing for their survival as a minority in Cyprus in case it unified with Greece, the Turkish Cypriots eventually countered the politics of enosis with a request for taksim or partition of the island between the two groups. In the imagery of Turkish Cypriot nationalism, ‘Turkey became the idealised romantic motherland that would protect “the lonely children”, who perceived themselves as ‘the helpless remains’ of the collapsed Ottoman Empire’.
The stage had been set for the kindling of an intercommunal conflict of great intensity that in the end resulted in the military occupation of the Northern part of the island by the Turkish army in 1974 and the subsequent unilateral proclamation in 1983 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, that has been, so far, internationally recognized only by Turkey.
Borders between countries, thresholds between languages
As the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots started perceiving themselves as two distinct groups whose respective national identities drew their roots from outside the island, from the motherlands’ soil, the demarcation between their languages was also given a new sharp emphasis and used as a strong reassertion of boundaries. In particular, in locating their sense of national belonging in their respective nation-states, they chose to enshrine their linguistic differences in the acceptance of their motherlands’ newborn national languages that were increasingly superimposed on the local varieties of Greek (Kypriaka) and Turkish (Kıbrıs Türkçesi) traditionally used on the island. Paradoxically enough, the imported national idioms were the recent and artificial products of large scale linguistic engineering campaigns which, despite using different strategies, intended in both Turkey and Greece to engender a national consciousness based on the recognition and institutional promotion of one ‘pure’ language that could further secure the borders of the two new states. The ‘Language revolution’ (Dil devrimi) launched by Atatürk in Turkey in the early 1930s, for instance, aimed to uproot from Ottoman the numerous Arabic and Persian borrowings and grammatical features, regardless of the fact that they had long been part of this language, and replace them with often unknown or consciously manufactured ‘pure’ Turkish words. In the context of the new republican, secular state these ‘foreign’ words had became symbols of a decadent Ottoman past and antiquated Islamic traditions that had to be completely erased. Conversely, in Greece, where the ‘language question’ (glossikó zìtima) had been debated since the middle of the 18th century and was mainly concerned with the controversy about which of the varieties of Greek had to be used as a written language, the advocates of the most ‘purifying’ tendencies were persistently opposing the use of the numerous Ottoman Turkish loanwords perceived, in this case, as mere lexical traces of the Dark Ages of the long Ottoman rule.
These new languages, despite their undeniable initial ‘precariousness’, immediately assumed a strong ideological connotation also within the context of the two incipient nationalisms in Cyprus. In this way the two major linguistic spaces of the island, which for centuries, though maintaining their distinctiveness, had been in constant contact, started gradually to be perceived and used as separate and irreconcilable. The Turkish Cypriot elite, for example, was attracted by the language reform in Turkey since its very beginning and actively encouraged its adoption on the island. Even though this adoption did not seem to have a large impact on the majority of the Turkish Cypriots in the years to follow, by the 1950s, as the Turkish Cypriot nationalism increasingly became a separatist ideology fostering a sense of complete identification with the motherland, a systematic programme of linguistic homogenization was enforced. One of the most significant examples of this attitude was the Citizen, speak Turkish! campaign organized in 1958 by the Turkish Cypriot nationalist leadership that, besides promoting educational programmes aiming to teach standard Turkish, imposed fines on anyone who would speak Greek or even use Greek words. Despite similar attempts to deny the historical development of Turkish and Greek as contiguous languages by abruptly interrupting the dialectical interactions between them, access doors to non-national linguistic contact zones could not be easily bolted and interactions still continued. Such interactions, moreover, besides being embedded in both spoken languages, could additionally draw on a semi-official but long-established literary tradition.
In his essay Introducing Step-mothertongue, Yashin, in presenting as an ‘anomaly’ the fact that in the latter half of the 20th century ‘there has been limited contact between Turkish and Greek languages and literatures’, offers two remarkable examples of literary productions that cannot be ascribed to only one community. Although not directly related to the most recent linguistic development of Cyprus, a significant episode of osmotic contact between Turkish and Greek is historically represented by the hybrid language usually referred to as Karamanlıca in Turkish and Karamanlidika in Greek. This was a form of spoken Turkish written in the Greek alphabet and used for many centuries as an unofficial language by Turkish speaking Orthodox Greeks living in central Anatolia that eventually felt into disuse by the early 1930s when most of the members of this community were re-settled in Greece as a result of the exchange of population that took place between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Alongside this complete merging of the spoken form of one language into the ‘alphabetical contours’ of the other, another important example of contamination is to be found in Cyprus and is represented by a group of Turkish Cypriot folk poets (poetarides) who use as their literary language the Greek dialect of the island constantly interweaving it with Turkish words and expressions or loanwords of French, Italian, and Arabic origin.
Significantly enough, in both cases, the contiguity and the mingling of Turkish and Greek linguistic and cultural elements can be traced in literary traditions lying outside the margins of the clear sense of belonging and identification that each community has elaborated in more recent times as well as their respective official and canonized literary discourses. Yet, these seem to be the traditions that inspire Yashin’s works more, and it is along these same margins that it is possible to locate the language he recreates with his writing. A language whose supporting structure is represented by standard Turkish but that in turns switches with ease from Cypriot Turkish to modern Greek and English, recovering the semantic riches of Ottoman Turkish and at times also proposing, as in his second novel Sınırdışı Saatler (‘Deportation Hours’), a revived contemporary version of Karamanlıca with the aim of rejoining all these languages to a pre-modern and pre-national permeability. Through the use of this language, Yashin aims to blur univocal representations of his island, disclosing its rich history and re-opening obstructed passages of mutual exchange. Even though since his early youth he has spent prolonged periods of time abroad mostly living between Turkey and England, Cyprus remains the epicentre of his poetic universe as well as his main source of inspiration. His search for a complex language therefore couples with the main trajectories of his poetry that run parallel to the island’s troubled history. Cyprus becomes both a concrete and an abstract space, a place where the author is constantly going back to, both in person and through his writing, in order to explore his memories, visit his house, return to his home.
Hovering on the threshold
‘They wrote ΕΛΛΑΔΑ on our door while we slept / and when we opened our eyes / we found ourselves in Greece!’. These initial lines of the poem Bir Sabah Yunanistan’da (‘One Morning in Greece’) condense a multiple violation. Unknown hands writing in a foreign alphabet the name of the nation of the Other on the threshold – the public, yet private, surface of the door to the family house. The family is asleep, eyes are closed, and when they reopen the house is in another country and the idea of home is irretrievably dislocated elsewhere. The house suddenly has lost its lights and sounds as well as the possibility to access the outside world, now potentially hostile: “Afraid to turn on the lights / and even to talk, / we now live like guests in our own house. / And we can’t even go out in our garden / without asking the landlord’s permission!”. But the outside world can still enter the house finding his way in through a window that filters the sad glancing of some trees. Alongside with the displacement of the home, identity itself is questioned: ‘Through the window they stare at me, / the troubled trees: / Either we are not who we are / or our house is not ours.’
This poem contains one of the most recurrent themes that pervade Yashin’s poetry where the conflicts lacerating Cyprus are mostly recounted with intense autobiographical accents often revolving around the representation of the poet’s house. This house, that in this poem seems almost empty, is elsewhere described in great details with an utterly uncomplicated yet eloquent language as the house ‘taken captive in every war, shot at, set alight, looted of dowries in Ottoman chests’, filled by a multitude of dusty, inert objects and lifeless family pictures in frames. At the same time, this house cannot be exactly located outside the poet’s memories and the poet himself seems unable to enter into it: ‘Only as a ghost can I now return to my home / emerging from blurred mirror…’. Access is granted by poetry alone: ‘Nothing but poetry can bring me back’. In ‘One Morning in Greece’, instead, the impactful use of another language, through the mere insertion of an initial capitalised word, adds a dramatic tangible dimension to the representation of the personal as well as collective sense of loss and dislocation and efficaciously complicates the relation between the poet and the reader.
The lines from the poem ‘Wartime’ quoted at the beginning of this essay convey the image of a hesitant poet, a poet unable to identify himself with the national symbols around him and trying to negotiate the precarious edges of concurrent linguistic spaces. In ‘One Morning in Greece’, however, the poet clearly shows us how even the use of a single word, ΕΛΛΑΔΑ , standing as an epigraph at the beginning of the poem but far from being an indictment against those who are on the other side, reveals the immense evocative force that contamination can engender. The juxtaposition allows the poet to articulate his multiple identities outside the singularity of one language, and forces the reader to a halt too, a little hesitant pause, as when crossing the threshold to enter in a place never visited before.
(Reference: Thinking on the Threshold, ed. Subha Mukherji, Anthem Press, 2010, London.)
The poem composed in 1991 has been originally published in the poetry collection Sözverici Koltuğu (1993, ‘The ChairMan’). For the English translation see Mehmet Yashin, Don’t go back to Kyrenia, translated by Taner Baybars (London: Middlesex University Press, 2001), 25, vv. 12-15.
This poem written in 1997 is included in the poetry collection Hayal Tamiri (1998, ‘To Repair a Daydream’). For the English translation see Yashin, Don’t go back, 3, v. 7.
Although he is manly known as a poet – since the publication in 1984 of his first acclaimed poetry collection Sevgilim Ölü Asker (‘My Love the Dead Soldier’) he has published another seven poetry collections – Mehmet Yashin also published two novels Soydaşınız Balık Burcu (1994, ‘Your Kinsman Pisces’) and Sınırdışı Saatler (2003, ‘Deportation Hours’) as well as several essays, most of which have been recently collected in the volume Toplu Yazılar (1978-2005) (İstanbul: Everest Yayınları, 2007).
Mehmet Yashin, “Introducing Step-Mothertongue”, in M. Yashin (edited by), Step-mothertongue. From Nationalism to Multiculturalism: Literatures of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey (London: Middlesex University Press, 2000), 1-2.
Yashin, Don’t go back, 25, vv. 3-4, 8-11.
Yashin, Don’t go back, 25, v. 20.
Yashin, Toplu Yazılar, 75.
Ibid., Mehmet Yashin’s father is the poet Özker Yaşın (1932-), considered among the major representatives of a literature emerged in Cyprus in the 1950s and thematically engaged almost exclusively with the Greek-Turkish conflicts on the island and the related nationalistic issues.
This poem written in 1995 is part of the poetry collection Işık-Merdiven (‘Ladder of Light’) (1986). For the English translation see Yashin, Don’t go back, 67, vv. 5-7, 14-15.
Yashin, Toplu Yazılar, 76.
Yashin, Don’t go back, 69, vv. 11-13.
Dionysis Goutsos and Marilena Karyolemou, “Introduction” in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 168 (2004), 2.
Niyazi Kizilyürek and Sylvaine Gautier-Kizilyürek, “The politics of identity in the Turkish Cypriot community and the language question”, in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 168 (2004), 39-40.
In 1878 the Ottoman empire ceded the administration of Cyprus to the British Empire that in 1914 would annex the island in consequence of the outbreak of the World War I and the entry of the Ottomans on the side of the Central Powers. With the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) the newborn Republic of Turkey relinquished its rights on Cyprus and the island formally became a British Crown colony in 1925 until independence was granted in 1960.
Kizilyürek and Gautier-Kizilyürek, “The politics of identity”, 41.
For the centrality of languages in the making of nationalism, besides the seminal work of Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), see also Paul Gubbins and Mike Holt (ed.), Beyond Boundaries: Language and identity in contemporary Europe (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2002) and Stephen Barbour and Cathie Carmichael (edited by), Language and Nationalism in Europe, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). In this last volume, see Peter Trudgill, “Greece and European Turkey: From Religious to Linguistic Identity”, 240-263.
On the complex and ever-changing relations between the standard and local varieties of Turkish and Greek as well as the perception of them as higher or lower register languages and their consequent use in specific domains see Goutsos and Karyolemou “Introduction”, 1-17 and Kizilyürek and Gautier-Kizilyürek, “The politics of identity”, 37-54 and Dimitra Karoulla-Vrikki, ‘Language and ethnicity in Cyprus under the British: a linkage of heightened salience’ in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 168 (2004), 19-36.
Both linguistic questions have received much scholarly attention. On the Turkish Language Reform see in particular the comprehensive study of Geoffrey Lewis, The Turkish Language Reform. A Catastrophic Success (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); for a recent analysis of the Greek language question within the context of nation-building and identity formation see Peter Mackridge, Language and National Identity in Greece 1766-1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
The ‘precarious’ familiarity with the new Turkish language, for example, is effectively described in the following anecdote. In the autumn 1934, at a banquet in honour of the Swedish Crown Prince and Princess, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gave a speech, originally written in Ottoman but ‘translated’ for the occasion in öz Türkçe (pure Turkish), that was so crammed with outlandish neologisms that Atatürk, famous for his rhetorical skills, delivered ‘with the awkwardness of schoolchildren who have just begun to read’; see Lewis, The Turkish Language Reform, 56.
Kizilyürek and Gautier-Kizilyürek, “The politics of identity”, 41. A similar campaign with the same name was carried out in Turkey in the first decades of the Turkish Republic and aimed to put pressure on non-Turkish speakers to speak Turkish in public, in order to create a more homogeneous nation-state. See Marcus A. Templar, “Tasting the Bitter Pekmez: Causes of Turkey’s Instability”, in Journal of Global Change and Governance, 1, no. 2, (2008), 2, 12 (http://dga.rutgers.edu/JGCG/vol_I_2.html).
Yashin, “Introducing Step-Mothertongue”, 1.
Ibid., 2, n. 2. For the history and a bibliographical survey of the works in Turkish language written with Greek letters see the volumes by Sévérien Salaville, Eugéne Daleggio, Karamanlidika: bibliographie analytique d’ouvrages en langue turque imprimés en caractères grecs, 3 vols. (Athènes: Institut français d’Athènes, 1958-1974), and the subsequent additions by Evangelia Balta, Karamanlidika Additions: bibliographie analytique (1584-1900) (Athènes: Centre d’Études d’Asie Mineure, 1987), Karamanlidika XXe siècle: bibliographie analytique (Athènes: Centre d’Études d’Asie Mineure, 1987), Karamanlidika Nouvelles additions et compléments: bibliographie analytique (Athènes : Centre d’Études d’Asie Mineure, 1997).
Yashin, “Introducing Step-Mothertongue”, 5-7.
The novel tells, through a series of ‘tales’, the surreal journey of a man, Misail Oskarus in a wandering search of his own identity, of his homeland, of his language, and of his writer, Mehmet Yashin. This search takes place in blurred buffer zone, a limbo populated by the liminal beings who have been deported here and kept in a long timeless wait, having been prevented from expressing themselves in the undefined ‘upper world’. Many phrases and entire sections of this novel, even though in modern Turkish, are written with the Greek letters that the author himself has adapted to the phonetic peculiarities of Turkish.
This poem was originally published in the poetry collection Pathos (1990). For the English translation see Yashin, Don’t go back, 11, vv. 1-3.
Ibid., vv. 5-8.
Ibid., vv. 11-14.
These lines are from the poem Ölü Ev (‘Dead House’) (1988), originally published in the poetry collection Sözverici Koltuğu, (‘The ChairMan’) (1993). For the English translation see Yashin, Don’t go back, 123.
From the above mentioned poem ‘A Ghost’, see Yashin, Don’t go back, 3, vv. 1-2.
Yashin, Don’t go back, 124.