Zulfu Livaneli, Turkey
TIME IS SOMETIMES AN ANGEL, OTHER TIMES A TYRANT
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Turkish and Bulgarian book for you?
Turkish is my mother tongue, and the Turkish literature is my native culture. The main source, which nurtures my literary tastes and views, is the Turkish literature. Of course, over the years I developed and enriched my literary knowledge and love by reading and assimilating many writers from different countries. There are many works in Russian, French, and Balkan literatures which have influenced me both as a man and as a writer. From Bulgarian literature, I particularly enjoy Ivan Vazov and Elin Pelin.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
There are so many writers and books which have affected me and have nourished my works… Let alone that in the different periods of a writer’s creative work different names come to the fore… Whenever a man decides to create a list of names and titles, he is inevitably unfair towards some of them…But if I have to point out several names, I can’t but mention Dostoevski, Bulgakov, Hemingway and Marques.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
I am very pessimistic about this…To be more precise, I am no more pessimistic than I would have been if I had lived a hundred years ago, for example. All this time, real literature has been appreciated and followed by a minority, it has never attracted the masses. It was so in the past, it is so now. What stirs our minds and sometimes leads us to hopelessness is the completion of the process of transformation of the book into an article of trade. We witness a dilution of the market, overproduction and our evaluation criteria are seriously shaken. What is real literature and what isn’t? In this respect the most impartial sentence belongs to time. I believe literature will have things to say in the future too. For as long as man lives, literary creative work will not lose its significance.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Turkish specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
This is one of the topics that strongly engage me, a topic I often touch on in my political journalism. Turkey, in particular, demonstrates the domination of a too banal and degrading entertainment culture, distributed mostly through television channels. Having in mind that a great part of society fills up its free time in front of the TV screen, that children receive new knowledge about life through TV, it’s not hard to understand that this condition hints at a deeper cultural and moral crisis. Certain values are very soon subjected to erosion. The universal way out of this situation lies in the educational system and cultural politics of the state. In Turkey, a great responsibility lies on the shoulders of the institutions which deal with cultural industry; they should really be self-critical. Despite all this, there are also positive tendencies. There is a great awakening in the sphere of culture in Turkey. There is a rise in the manufacturing of culture products and what is more important – there is much bigger variety. There is one, though small, group of people who respect and closely follow the cultural production.
There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most mysterious. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?
Indeed, just as every person has his unknown and always dark side of his character, so the creative process for the writer has its forever mysterious aspects. No writer can fully disclose the forces, impulses, and instincts, which “drive” his work, also he wouldn’t like to do that, anyway.
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
My family, my friends, and faith in art, which is the main occupation of my life.
What is your vision of Turkey at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
If only I could foretell what would happen in a hundred years…Unfortunately, I can only share what I would like to happen…A Turkey whose citizens will live a life of material and spiritual worth, adequate to human dignity. A democratic, respecting human rights, just and peaceful Turkey.
As for Time, it is one of the most fundamental concepts, structuring all our perception of the world in and around us. In my opinion, Time is sometimes an angel, other times a tyrant. We have to conform to it, but must not become enslaved by it.
What is the weight of values created over the last 100 years and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
In no other period of its existence has humanity accomplished such progress and shed so much blood as in the last hundred years. On the one hand, we witness an incredible technological and scientific progress and allegedly it aims at improving life conditions. But on the other- how ironic! – we entered the new century with problems, such as wars, poverty, destruction of nature…, seriously jeopardizing the future of the world and humanity. Unfortunately, technological achievements were not accompanied by moral and spiritual development. Now, in the beginning of the 21st century, we must reassess the so much praised scientific and technological progress and our ambition to rule over nature and create new values.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
I am optimistic and pessimistic…If I focus on the 20th century, today I still don’t see any reason for optimism. But if I think from a deeper perspective, I become optimistic because a few centuries of the history of mankind equal the life of a butterfly…And despite the fact humanity is far from spiritual perfection, I believe it can develop in a positive direction, creating a better and more just world. I know this is a very utopian view of things, but when we give up believing in this, what will we have left?
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
I can joke publicly about any peculiarity of mine, but I don’t do it often.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have your choice been thirty years ago?
I don’t know exactly what you mean by “eternal”. But I already know of a number of such books, which would make the eternal category, so I would choose the bag of gold. And why not use this gold for good books and art?
Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
Undoubtedly, new names will emerge, and are emerging. New names would not emerge, only if people give up creative work. As a man of art, the process of my public recognition is a little bit different from that of others. Initially, I found myself loved and in the spotlight of society, acquiring international fame, through my music. Thus, compared to some other writers of literature, my words and voice were heard maybe somewhat faster and more easily. But I think real literature, sooner or later, receives its well-earned recognition.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from Turkey and the world, including Balkan literature?
Every writer’s anthology represents a dynamic whole because every day he reevaluates and rearranges this list, including new or excluding old names and titles. It’s not possible to name all the writers and books of my anthology here. If I have to name a few, those would be well-known masterpieces from the world classics. I would say that Dostoevski, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bulgakov and Marques are the ever-present names in my anthology.
The same questions were answered by some of Bulgaria’s greatest writers, the so-called living classics, who participated in another book series “The White Series – an Autographed Book” in April 1999. You have been able to read their answers – what is your comment?
Indeed, it was with great interest that I read the answers of the other writers. Regardless of the fact that on a micro-level we come from different historical and geographical areas, I was glad to see that for the most part we share the same opinion.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
An exceptionally difficult question. A refuge, of course, exists; theoretically it is possible. But how will the “Gordian knot” be untied and how will a key to the heavy gates of politics be found, I do not know. Politics, based on religion and ethnicity, is the biggest threat to the world peace today. And this is not something pertaining to the Balkans only.
Which authors – Turkish, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
I don’t feel competent enough to compile such an anthology.
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Turkish and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the wold, as if nobody else existed but us?
I don’t know from the inside all the Balkan countries to have the right to judge them for their shortcomings. I am convinced every country has its own views on shortcomings. If we have to generalize, the complexes of all countries in the region, including Turkey, are based on the difference between East-West, European-Non-European. This difference reflects on real life because all the Balkan countries have to a certain extent missed some historical and economic processes. But we should not forget this difference is something artificial, theoretical. The constitutive dynamics of the European identity is the non-European, the otherness or the Other side of the European. But when we look at the drawn borders, we see we are different, but to the same extent we are similar. I think the greatest challenge before mankind today is to embrace the universal by overcoming the small-scale differences…
How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…
It is a praiseworthy project. One of the things, which have to be done in order to establish peaceful relationships among Balkan countries, is to secure a dialog and cultural interaction among them. This is the way nations could overcome the artificial differences, leading to so much bloodshed, and could unite on the grounds of universal values.
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
It is impossible to analyze the historical experience of the Balkans without simplifying it. Therefore, I will answer in the style of Nietzsche. In the end, that which cannot be divided is always power – political, economic, and symbolic. This is the cause of all conflicts and arguments, not only on the Balkans, but also in the whole world.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
In addition to the translation and publishing of books, it’s also possible to organize a whole variety of cultural events. It is also possible to organize and unite writers in platforms and forums. It would be very important and useful to make efforts to introduce Balkan literature and culture to the rest of the world. I would suggest you include in the project not only living Turkish authors, but also authors who now live only with and in their works. For example, how wonderful it would be to have the works of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar translated into the Balkan languages.