29 October 2006

1189) Is it Possible to be both a Writer and Apolitical in Turkey?

If you have dedicated your life to writing, being an author in Turkey means being “public” or “political” whether you want to or not. Assume that as a writer you want to be neither public nor political. In fact, you’re anti-social. You want to withdraw into your shell and do nothing but write. Let it be. . .

You can’t remain in your shell. This country both politicizes and publicizes its writers, sometimes in spite of them. Consequently, instead of from an artistic perspective, a writer always looks through a “social perception” magnifying glass under the light of the ups and downs of internal policies. Our literary environment is focused on the writer, not the work. For this reason, even when authors are being evaluated, the individuals are talked about directly rather than their manuscripts or books. Grades are given according to their appearances, speech and even photographs. I said grade, but the evaluation is at one extreme or the other. The writer is either exalted or smashed to the ground. Writers are favored like football teams. Either you’re for or against them. You either totally support them or totally oppose them. Because our thought system is absolute, we don’t permit the possibility of not liking one work of an author, but very much liking another one of his works. Either we totally like something or totally reject it.

When evaluating a writer in this country, almost all factors are looked at except the most basic one – the writer’s capability to write. All in all, how many read books with passion, loyalty, excitement and persistence? At any rate, as a people we like to talk about politics rather than books. It’s both easier and less trouble. In order to talk about a book, you have to go to the trouble of getting it and reading it, thinking solitarily about it, and concentrating on brand new topics. Politics, however, is a free firing range. No money, no trouble! A course where everyone can comfortably say everything. Consequently, while discussing writers, we never take the trouble to go to the “art and literature” lanes where they are nor feel the necessity to examine their works. Instead, we pull authors out or their fields and force them into the political arena. There it’s chaos anyway. Beat them as much as you can beat them. In this country its one thing we do well.

In Turkey writers don’t have the luxury of being apolitical. Whether you like it or not, this country politicizes writers. Plus, this isn’t done drop by drop, but very rapidly in big strides.

Because politics comes before literature this much, Turkey is a place where you can form an opinion about a writer without reading his books. So much so that people have very fixed opinions on authors that they have never even read. Many readers don’t hesitate to evaluate an author from whom they haven’t read even a single line. This is a country where you can easily hear sentences like “I’ve never read him\her, but I think he\she is a good writer...” Turkey is a place where writers are not evaluated on their work, but on their public identities. In this situation you get on the agenda with your politics rather than your literature and you are remembered like this. No one has the time or intention to read literature. The real readers of literature number only a handful. The uproar of politics is so loud that it suppresses the voice of literature.

This is a “separation of identity” that I frequently experience in my America-Turkey travels. In interviews in the Unites States, questions about art and literature are usually asked. In Turkey, the questions are about politics! In the U.S. both the readers and journalists doing the interviewing establish a relationship with authors basically focused on the work. With us it’s usually everything but the work! That which is lost in the commotion is always literature and the books, novels and works that have taken a lifetime.



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