Murat Nemet-Nejat: Poetics of Silence
It was 2016, first time I met Murat Nemet-Nejat, a Turkish-American poet, essayist and translator, during Kaurab International Reading Series with his book length poem Animals of Dawn at Kolkata. The reading had a tremendous impact on the relationship between a poet and reader/listener that created an elusive echo in the peripheries of the listener’s mind. It challenged the communication between them that resisted passive consumption of the poem by the reader without engagement with the poem. Each reader/listener, with his or her own sense of reality, had to bend and tease out of the events of the poet’s critical discourses/counter-discourses with the poem around a specific word/phrase to become “an active participant in the creation of meaning in the poem” (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 95). The dictionary for those words or phrases don’t exist in reality but in imagination, in Wittgenstein’s sense. I wondered what Murat wants to do with his Animals of Dawn:
I want to make Hamlet, to dis appear.
The lightning that didn’t strike made me disappear completely. (2016a: 2)
Hamlet is disappeared by the poet but reappears to the reader. This “dis appear” does not say completely disappear but is an oscillation between appearance and disappearance, figure and non-figure, the space of infinite possibilities, the open space of the poem where the reader enters to lift the veil of the words/phrases for them to resonate with the sound-root of the words. I could feel a kind of coherence with the poetics of Natun Kobita (New Poetry), a new genre of Bengali literary world, introduced by Barin Ghosal with his theory of Expansive Consciousness (EC), in the sense of conscious imagination. Searching for a new means of expression by shattering established cultural norms in the Bengali poetic zone, Barin Ghosal, a Bengali poet, theorist, critic, started the Kaurab literary movement in 1969 with Kamal Chakrabarty and other Kaurab members. Murat Nemet-Nejat, a postmodern Sufi, in the present American literature, who professes Eda, a poetics of Sufism. Sufism in India is an Islamic mysticism, a cultural divergence in Islamic India, inherited from South Asia, mixed with Persian-Turkic traditions, that became the root of the Bhakti [Bengali: devotion] movement, a parallel mysticism in Hinduism. Sufism became the inner link of mysticism between Indian Islam and Hinduism that constitutes the core of most of the Bengali folk songs, Baul songs, Bhakti-geeti [Bengali: songs of devotion] and has a huge influence in Bengali social consciousness and literature. This essay is in quest for a quantum coherence between the voices/ processes/ thoughts of Murat’s poetics with that of “New Poetry” of Bengal, a resonance between Eastern and Western poetics, in spite of their differences in languages across different time zones of the world.
Poetics of Cracks:
Being an American poet, the conventional preference for a poet is to write in American
English. Being a Persian Jew, born in Istanbul, Murat grew up and studied literature in the United States, and became a citizen of the United States since 1959. But he rejects using his American green card to claim his poetic citizenship. Instead, he likes to create a contra, not to diffuse but to infuse an alternative soul of language to supply radical blood to the connective tissues between Western and Eastern cultural space of language. Instead of using the American language directly, he made the accented American English conceive the soul of the unaccented Turkish language, creating cracks in the accentual rhythms of American language. These cracks or imperfections have become the accent of his poetry. How he used this cracked American language as a tool in his poetry, that is the “Questions of Accent”! But it’s not a question at all but a controversial article written by Murat in 1993. It does not refer to the traditional ideas of foreignness only, but to a search for a new language and personal identity, as Murat explains what the accented writing is in the essay:
It is a writing, which does not completely identify with the power, authority of the language it uses; but confronts, without glossing over, the
gap between the user and the language. Such writing reveals an ambiguity towards power: the writer chooses to embrace a language (because of
its pervasive centrality) which he/she knows is not quite his/her own, is insufficient for his/her inner purposes. (1993: §VIII)
Accent is the crack that infuses the tissue of reality on the transparent surface of a language where the reality lies in the “alien relationship between the writer and his/her adopted language” (§VIII). This infusion is a form of struggle of a poet on the side of the “inner demon which unites us all, the excessive non-social attachment to words, which by itself makes the poet an outsider, a victim” (§XV). Murat transforms the objective powerlessness of the American poet and lack of resonance of the American English as an imperial language into a source of inner psychic power that works outside that tradition. That is the paradoxical high-wire act of his accented writing, which is subverting and transforming it to the cracked American English “through texture, structure, the scratches, distortions, painful gaps (in rhythms, syntax, diction, etc)” (§VIII).
Murat’s transformation of language is in coherence with the challenges of “New Poetry” to renew the Bengali language by attacking grammar rules, traditional etymology that establishes its logos neglecting the original verb-based semantics of Bengali language. In this connection, I remember our poetry reading session during International Kolkata Book Fair in 2019[i] where Pronob Paul, known as bhasha bodoler kobi [Bengali: the poet of language alteration] was one of the readers along with Murat and others. Pronob is an important poet of “New Poetry”, whose continuous experimentation with the poetic language throughout 90s and beyond attacked grammar rules, etymology and the verb-based semantics of traditional Bengali language. He disrupts the conventional semantics and phonetics in the structures of the Bengali language to include a brilliant performance of onomatopoetic usage to create new word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. His process includes word-recombination, verbification to shift uncommon nouns to verbs, adverbial and adjectival modification, abolition of pronouns to create an altogether different poetic language for his new poetry to say, “When the idea or the philosophy of poetry changes, it becomes necessary to form a suitable language to carry its soul. The invented words are matter of feelings, needed to be engaged with the unknown space that reveals its face in the expansive consciousness” (Paul, 2013: 32). This is where the coherence between Pronob and Murat’s process of language transformation. Murat Writes:
Hermes bored Argus with stories
until all his eyes fell asleep
the story of Pan and Syrinx
was not boring but
opiate and herm─
warm and full of spume and dream
warm and scum
pes (2019: 53)
Like chemical reactions, the energy changes during breaking and forming the bonding of words, where an interplay of the ions takes place. With Hermes and herpes echoing each other, Murat creates a dynamic interplay in the minds of the readers, to tug at the heartstring of the reader creating the resonance. This poetic process echoes expansive consciousness that supports the quantum behavior of the dynamic mutual interrelations between all material objects that include us, that is to say, the mutual interrelations between poet and the events within his or her own language, which are nothing but imaginary experiences and resonances.
Journey of a poet never ends. It’s an ever changing process of enfoldment and unfoldment, not a finished art object. It rather remains unfinished, not to move towards the most correct but towards Emersonian more correct[ii], a “continuous becoming” in Murat’s sense. Change, the very law of nature, everything changes; change is the principle on which our world runs as our great Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore said: “life inconstant only because its movement is unceasing. The moment you stop this movement, that moment you begin to play the drama of Death” (1922: 1038), to echo Henri Bergson: “to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly” (1911: 7).
Turkish is an agglutinative language where “the center of gravity….is not in words, but the cadences among them; the aura that movement creates,” (2016b: 4) as Murat writes in the introduction to Eda. Turkish is also a central Asian language that embodies the animistic view of Shamanism “where the split between the objective and subjective does not exist, rather each defined by the other; both are equally real and continuously bleed into and shape each other” (Nemet-Nejat Interview). Its agglutinative syntax is the perfect vehicle for a worldview of continuous becoming, a “language of emerging affections, where the object/ive (the sky/the other) continuously merges with the subject/ive (the robot eye/I)” as he explores in The Spiritual Life of Replicants:
Dying can be seen. But being dead, can’t.
(Death is a winter whistle to the beauty of an earless forest)
W h e r e t r e e s a r e f a l li n g
what is not there
what (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 18)
Twentieth century Turkish poetry is a vision of contrary, innocent, non-ironic language embodying, in ecstatic fullness, a yearning to go beyond boundaries. One cannot "create" an accent, which is the photographic image in words of who one is. Murat is a Middle Eastern Jew, deeply entangled in Western philosophy and literature, simultaneously very suspicious of the simplistic, often self-sufficient, technology-based answers it has provided for the last three hundred years or so. Murat’s yearning is for what they disregard and are forced to dismiss, what is outside their field of expression. “Writing poetry in American English is a continuous act of translating from a radical inside or from a radical beyond….The American poem (and poet) is always trapped in the space between words, in the crack between his/her vision and the language he/she is using, in the discontinuity (as opposed to cultural unity) between the self and his/her language” (Nemet-Nejat, 1993: §XII).
Poetics of Eda and The Spiritual Life of Replicants:
Eda is a poetics of Sufism, “the poetic embodiment of the Sufi spirit in the Turkish language” where “The supreme Sufi act is weeping, the dissolution of the individual ego by suffering through love, loss, the liquid of tears” (2016b: 7), as Murat writes in his anthology of Eda to refer the Sufi concept of “Arcs of Descent and Ascent”. He describes it as “movements from the unity of God to phenomenal multiplicity and the reverse, from multiplicity to unity” where the Descent Arc involves evolution and ascent arc involves dissolution to mean that all distinctions dissolve into union. It’s a “shift in perception when a state of exile, of accelerating multiplicity and distance, is experienced as yearning, a re-unifying movement, yearning towards home, God.” Murat writes in the poem "Photon Escaped":
The perennial illusion is that the body is mortal, the soul immortal. The truth is that the body is immortal, endlessly involved in transformation,
into dust, into humus, into water, into food chains….into stardust. What ceases to exist is that the eye experiencing these transformations, the
mind’s eye, the soul, which is too too mortal, less durable than as electron. (2011: 41)
A photon as an elementary particle of zero rest mass, moving at the speed of light and exhibiting wave–particle duality, carries the essence of the “Arcs of Descent and Ascent” where the cycle of evolution and dissolution follows each other. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects, mingle back into Nature’s five gross elements, earth, water, air, fire and sky. In the process of dissolution, “Photons Escape” from their particle reality to wave consciousness to come back to home, the God.
This God is contra orthodox thought echoing the poet’s concept of “Godless Sufism”, as described in his Eda anthology; while it is in coherence with the Indian Samkhya philosophy, one of the three philosophies evolved, centering the Upanishads, that theorizes a dualism between Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (Nature). Purusha represents pure consciousness, which is absolute and independent, that is to say, it is non-attributive, neither produced nor does it produce. Prakriti represents the material universe, which accounts for whatever is physical. This includes both mind and matter cum energy or physical forces. It is composed of three characteristics, Satya (Sanskrit: soul/light), Rajas (Sanskrit: passion/motion) and Tamas (Sanskrit: darkness). As long as the three characteristics are in equilibrium, Nature remains un-manifested. In proximity with consciousness (Purusha), it triggers an evolution that leads to the manifestation of the world. In the process of evolution, the arc of descent, nature is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Each conscious being with his boundless soul, unrestricted by his physical body, is a fusion of Purusha and Prakriti that leads to the emergence of intellect and ego. The bondage arises in fusion when Purusha confuses itself with ego, which is just an attribute of nature. So there will be always a yearning to break this bondage to move towards dissolution, the arc of ascent, through the process of “weeping, the dissolution of the individual ego by suffering through love, loss, the liquid of tears”.
Murat's continuous attack on dualism, the Cartesian split between the body and the soul, leads me to find the coherence between his thought and Advaitism, one of the Indian Upanishadic philosophies, also one of the main concepts of postmodernism, where “Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love,” (Nehru, 1960: 336) as said by our great philosopher Swami Vivekananda and quoted in The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Neheru, the Indian independence leader, written in 1944 during his incarceration at Ahmednagar fort for participating in the Quit India Movement, before being the first prime minister of the independent India in 1947. This love echoes Murat's poetics of Eda where "Every image is a station, a physical sight in a spiritual progress of reincarnations, of yearning. Images and thoughts collapse towards each other, in love" (Nemet-Nejat, 2016b: 8). Murat's love is for the other─ other approaches, other expressions, other values to explore the possibilities in language to respond to those marginalized voices silenced by authorities. This is the Advaitism that Tagore called “Santam, Sivam, Advaitam”, referring to “the Peaceful, in the heart of all conflicts; the Good, who is revealed through all losses and sufferings; the One, in all diversities of creation.” (Tagore 1922: 1389). This is the diversity that Murat brings about in his poetry by his invention of the alternative language in Eda, as cracked American language, because, “Invention is always born of dissension. Postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authorities; it redefines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. Its principle is not the expert's homology, but the inventor's paralogy” (Lyotard, 1984).
Indian scripture Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says: “while actions are being done in every way by the gunas [Snaskrit: characteristics] of nature, one who is deluded by egoism thinks thus: I am the doer” (hymn: 3.27). “I am the doer”─ is the ego, the illusionary concept called Maya. Actually, ‘I am’, being the conscious agent, is only the observer not the doer─ a concept, which is supported by Quantum physics too. Since motions and changes are essential properties of all matters, the forces causing the motions are not outside the objects as in the classical view, but the intrinsic property of matter. Correspondingly, the Hindu image of the divine is not that of a ruler who directs the world from the above, but of a principle that controls everything from within. What Murat called as yearning is the yearning to know the Brahma or Atman (soul)─ identity. It’s the process by the self that emphasizes the harmony between the inner mystic vision of the unity and universality of the self where the self is the true knowledge of the Self, the truth of the truth. This, indeed, echoes the theory of Expansive Consciousness (EC) (Ghosal, 1996: 15), a concept of conscious imagination, originated by Barin Ghosal. The theory says, “The concept of the Expansive Consciousness suggests the expansion from the center of consciousness towards the surface of the waves, and if it moves forward consciously, then the continuous changes of unknown space will allow the consciousness to expand”[iii] (Ghosal, 2017: 59, my translation).
The metaphysical demarcation between this Samkhya philosophy and Western Descartian dualism is that in Samkhya’s dualism between matter and consciousness matter includes both body and soul/mind. Descartes discards the soul altogether. For him the thinking thing (the essence of “being,” cogito ergo sum) is a logical mind that has its truest expression in mathematical measurement. Res cogitans (mind) measures res extensa (the physical world), turning it into a machine. Together, they constitute one side of Cartesian duality. The other side is the soul, the ghost of Hamlet’s father that haunts the Cartesian machine, as Murat explores in Animals of Dawn. Since it is “unmeasured” in this duality, the soul is unreal, deprived, robbed of speech. Murat counters Descartes’s tone─ I think therefore I am:
I exist because I may cease to exist.
I may not exist; therefore I am.
A machine, image, if complex enough, will inevitably ask the question, am I mortal, or what will happen after I cease to exist.
Imagining its cessation is part of the essence of being conscious.”
(Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 16)
As a conscious being, the human is always in quest for an answer to the existence of past or future in terms of death and life. As the poet says, “death creates the idea of the future”. Then what about the past? The past is a “memory chip”, disengaged from the decaying being at the moment of his dying. It is loosened but not lost. Then what happens to it? The poet’s scientific resonance gives the answer, which echoes the scientist Stephen Hawking’s “Super Translation” theory for information-loss paradox at the event horizon of black holes. Of course infusing it with Murat’s Sufi ideas with an added tone of emotional hue:
“loosened chips from our decaying being,
floating to the sky
in silent o o o’s
like bubbles floating to the surface of water” (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 17)
The most radical thing in Murat’s The Spiritual Life of Replicants is that he equates the soul with consciousness. Consciousness is that aspect of the soul that seems most "real," attached most closely to "objective" reality, to echo Godard: "Yes, in a way we are the center of the world—we speak with our lips, we see with our eyes, we think with our thoughts."[iv] (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 7) Photons represent that limit of reality that is elusive and almost non-existing; constitute a vector towards a zero where the "real" becomes "unreal" and the "unreal" "real." They merge as photons in the interactions of "eye/soul" and "I/body" to weave an open-ended poem. For Murat, Eda is a linguistic vision of a contra, a challenge for an alternative opening for poetry that leads to form a whole new generation of writing, a door to new possibilities.
Poetics of Movement:
The poem The Spiritual Life of Replicants is infused with Sufi ideas, and this infusion results in a poetry that consists of movements of thought
in a visual field. The reader experiences the movements as he or she is ensnared by them reading the poem. The thought patterns are arabesque,
circuitous, tangential, reflecting the Sufi sense that reality is not stared at directly; but it can be touched, glimpsed at reflectively, as fragments, the way, for instance, the reality of the wind can be seen (or heard) in the traces it leaves on the movements of branches (2011: 94).
Murat’s The Spiritual Life of Replicants is based on a poetics having to do with film, fragments and Eda as per Murat. At the first place, what is a fragment? ─ “A fragment is like a lyric poem or an epigram in length, but is devoid of any lyric persona (no lyric I)” as Murat describes. That is to say, fragments act like an optical code in a poem to serve the purpose of “spectacle-ization” of a new reality against the popular social sense of reality. When a poet is in the state of isolation from the common qualities of the general public, the poet's reality is born with its imaginary qualities, its complex experience of loss and love, emotional turbulences, uncertainties that create resonances in his brain. The poet listens to the rhythm of this silent vibration, the silent music of the struggle between consciousness and nature, to create his own reality. But in this renewing process Murat rejects the lyric I, the “Internal Gumption Trap of ego” (Pirsig, 1974: 143) of modernism in Pirsig’s sense. Murat seeks freedom from the ‘lyric I’ by replacing it with the “mechanical eye” of a lens, which he explores in The Spiritual Life of Replicants, where unmeasuring, unbiased, mechanical eye of the robot becomes the language of the soul. This undermines the split between body and soul; isolated egos trapped inside the bodies of android robots echoing the Indian philosophy of Brahma─ ‘I am’ on the one hand and ‘I am not’ on the other, simultaneously, echoing Roger Penrose, “The strange superposition of quantum theory…simultaneous 'occurring' and 'not occurring'” (1994: 348). When the ego ("I") is "slashed," the "eye" (the soul) can experience life as process and movement, as light, directly echoing Murat’s poem “Prophecy & Space” in Io's Song:
oh, weeping fragments of language
the flower follower of my soul
in the force fields of the wounded slashed I
the heightened graphicness of a life
is revealed. (2019: 18)
Eda, a term derived from Turkish folk poetry, is a poetics of Sufism; but how does Eda's Sufism relate to film that creates movement? Turkish, being an agglutinative language, “The underlying syntactical principle is not logic, but emphasis: a movement of the speaker’s or writer’s affections….Speaking in Turkish is a peculiar visceral activity, a record of thought emerging” (Nemet-Nejat, 2016b: 6). This ‘visceral activity’ is in coherence with the Baul cult of Bengal Sufism. The verb root of Bengali word Baul is Bayu or Vayu [Sanskrit: air]. In its sense of ‘nerve current’, the meaning of Baul becomes “madcap” to echo the verse of Narahari Baul, as Tagore translated:
That is why, brother, I became a madcap Baul.
No master I obey, nor injunctions, canons or custom.
Now no men-made distinctions have any hold on me,
And I revel only in the
gladness of my own welling love.
In love there’s no separation, but commingling always.
So I rejoice in song and dance with each and all. (1922: 970)
Madcap Baul echoes what is ecstatic in Eda, which involves “a blurring of identities, in pain, at the same time, moving from object to object, unifying them in a mental movement of yearning, dance of dispossession” (Nemet-Nejat, 2016b: 7). The madcap freedom of Sufism is achieved through the linguistic flexibility of Eda in the way thought exists "not as statements," therefore rigid, but thought as "linguistic tissue.”
Murat applies the same principle to his idea of "fragment-poem" in The Spiritual Life of Replicants where “fragments are thoughts afloat.” Murat writes that Eda “suggests an allure which is not concentrated on a single object, but is global, diffused in the body of the whole poem” (2016b: 328). In the same process Murat uses fragments as the primary poem unit in The Spiritual Life of Replicants to “create a spectacle in which words, language can act freely, following impulses inherent in them─ basically, each page becoming a scene in which, in different constellations, words enact their drama” (2011: 94). Due to the nature of fragments and spectaclization in his poem, the reader has to trace “the mechanical eye─ a panning lens─ buried in the sinuous, meandering movements of the poem” (95). The appearance of the interaction between “human” and “machine” moves toward the disappearance of the difference between human and non-human, organic and non-organic, thought and sensation. Murat raises the question whether the human and the machine belong to the same continuum to attack the Cartesian split between the body (a machine) and the soul (the forbidden human territory banished from science to religion and poetry) in his poem “The Turing Test”:
“If I disappear, would you come after me and hurt me?”
“can dreams be catching,
soul to soul?
I’ll warm you up.” (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 63)
The question is around the androids in The Blade Runner, the movie on which the poems of The Spiritual Life of Replicants are based. By the end of the movie, the answer to the question, what separates human from machine, becomes almost a reversal, itself a question: is the human finally almost no different from an android? Do they not merge? That is the challenge Murat achieves in his fragments, infused with the poetics of eda, to show that the human and the android belong to one continuum. In the interaction between poem and reader, “human” and “machine”…. “Silhouetted by the dark matter of words….thoughts dissolve into space, into motion and light. A poetry where meaning has turned into pure motion created by the movement of the eye on the printed page, a spiritual filmic language” (Nemet-Nejat, 2011: 95). This physiological visual sensation, the reader's eye imitating the robotic eye of the camera, and aural overtones among fragments make the filmic dimension of The Spiritual Life of Replicants.
How does time act on Murat’s poetics of movement, an ever-changing process of the poet? Because “Time is a movement which man has divided into past, present and future, and as long as he divides it he will always be in conflict” (Krishnamurti, 1969: §9). As per the verb-based etymology of the word ‘present’, described by Kalim Khan, the unsung great philosopher of Bengali literature, there is a door between the known past and the unknown future. This door is called present, through which the future moves towards the past. But this door is not inactive─ instead, an activity is always going on there, which is the act of shaking like playing a stringed musical instrument. This action receives a moment of future, shakes it and throws it to the past. The moment, which has just been thrown, is called the “present” (Khan, 2009: 601, my translation), to echo Henri Bergson:
What I call ‘my present’ has one foot in my past and another in my future. In my past, first, because the moment in which I am speaking is
already far from me; in my future, next, because this moment is impending over the future: it is to the future that I am tending, and could I fix
this indivisible present, this infinitesimal element of the curve of time, it is the direction of the future that it would indicate. (1896: 177)
So to speak, our present consists in the consciousness, “the mind’s eye, the soul”, that experiences the transformations─ the materiality of our life constitutes our PREsent to do its preSENTation. We perceive time as a superimposed succession of spatial frames, as in film, which appears as a continuous flow of movements, which can be achieved only by attention. This is the very point that Murat brings out in his Animal’s of Dawn where he shows how time in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is delayed and because of that memory loses its continuum, a sense of time as the past. Memory becomes discontinuous, unmoored, only existing as ‘points’ of attention, in other words, time becomes one with consciousness. Otherwise remains unknown, a mystery, the great mystery, power, ultimately the beauty of Shakespeare's play that opens the door for a new dimension, an attainment toward a new state of consciousness, as Murat discussed in his interview with me, which is also brilliantly implanted in Murat’s poem “A Poetics of Motion”:
All experience exists on a field possessing colorations collapsed onto a flat field. They─ star-like─ flash at different times, captured by a
solipsism of the mind’s attention, That discontinuous capture by mind of a point in a continuum - that is chaos – is what consciousness, a.k.a.
time, is. (2016a: 39)
Hamlet embodies an act where time and consciousness play the major role throughout the drama. Apparently, Hamlet's movement may be at same pace as Claudius’, but his consciousness of duration makes him experience it as slowness. This essence is reflected in Murat’s idea of horizontality of time. According to Murat, time is defined by attention, not by memory. Memory is deceptive, therefore vertical; but attention has only intensity and duration, so horizontal. Hamlet’s hesitation increases the duration of the act, which is the subjective face of time and hence mind’s attention, as Murat writes, “In Hamlet the distinctions in the structure of time isn’t between past, present and future, but in its passing; fast moving slow moving time” (2011: 47). Hamlet’s saying is at the heart of the play─ “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare, 1611: 1038). The mystery surrounding it plays the major role that moves our mind to open its consciousness toward “the silence/rest of death.” Everything else is insanities, mistakes, betrayals, oblivion, defeats, and stupid jokes. The wall separating Claudius’ fast time (“daylight”) of desire, political rhetoric, ambition, practical knowledge from Hamlet’s slow time (“night time”) of stasis, Hamlet's entropic, vertiginous consciousness, never breaks. No past, no future but the story of moment, a synthesis in moments of mystery, of uncertainty, that culminates in the open-ended mode of the postmodern poetics of Murat. That is the way Murat expands Edgar Allan Poe's “The Poetic Principle” that only short poems are possible due to the limit of the mind’s ability to sustain intense moments of attention by opening a new, parallel poetic space of silence. That is the distinction between poetry conceived in fast time (therefore, repeatedly performable, perfectible) and the “problem poem”, as he discusses in the afterword to Io’s Song, that moves toward silence because consciousness performs itself in slow time, each performance unrepeatable, therefore unperfectible, vocally steeped in failure, in disruptive noisy gaps, where the writer and listener/reader essentially become one.
Murat’s poetics of movement leads to a filmic dimension, which is not random, but represents a continuous insistence to undermine any authority. Murat’s poetics of movement involves the eye in the thinking process instead of freezing thought in verbal statements. He explores this mode of thinking by examining the looking process in his book on photography, The Peripheral Space of Photography[v]. The 19th century photographic practice of recognizing an image through the transfer of light on the material plate used to create imperfections (cracks) on the peripheral surface of the photograph. That in turn triggered thoughts of dislocation between the authority of the photographer and the freedom of, not only who but also what is being photographed. This dislocation also liberates the viewer's thoughts as he or she visually explores the surface of the photograph, as Murat discussed in the interview with me. He transmutes this photographic thought into the dislocations in his poetry, either by broken words and syllables or in the tangential, often jarring juxtaposition of fragments. It’s a quantum leap for a poem where, like photography, it connects, through light, the void of space into our physical world, not as a metrics but matrix of motion. Murat explores this in the last part in Animals of Dawn where like a film script the “eye”, watching funeral procession, experiences it as a wedding, reflecting Hamlet’s trauma and main objection to his mother’s second marriage quick succession of events, rather than in slow time. This glitter or the spark of light in the thought is the essence of his poems mirroring a film-script, where every frame has been stitched together delicately like a fast moving cinema with continuous flow, dimension and movement turning into a flat field of freely interacting thoughts both for the poet and the reader.
Murat’s poetics of movement involves the shifting acoustics of the poem. In Io’s Song, if we split “Io”, it becomes “I” (the person), and “O” (a cry of desire or pain). This shifting sound permeates the vein of each poem. Murat’s tantra acts as the yearnings of the heart that achieves transcendence within the movements of language, as a vision surrounded by oblivion:
Dream's steps towards erosion...
No, dream's half steps towards illusion...
No, no!... death's half steps, towards oblivion... oblivion...( Nemet-Nejat, 2016a: 52)
That is the process by which Io's Song expands and moves from one fragment of the poem to another, and, bends the sound constantly, transforming into “a combination of visual poems, poems that play around the sounds of words or poems that are based on word breaks or parallel fragments of phrases, etc. on the page, the total effect of which is an optical code” (Nemet-Nejat, 2019: 125).
Poetics of Translation:
Am I writing a wrong heading? Does an independent poetics of translation exist? Walter Benjamin answers─ Yes, “Translation is a form”. If so, then does lexical translation to create a word-for-word meaning or imitation of the source language make any sense? Benjamin’s answer is No─ “The Task of the Translator” reveals that “Just as translation is a form of its own, so, too, may the task of the translator be regarded as distinct and clearly differentiated from the task of the poet” (Benjamin 1923: 254, 258). With reference to Walter Benjamin’s comments on translation in his essay Murat writes, “What gives a language translatability is its distance from the host language. Eda is this distance” (2016b: 4). As a translator, Murat conceives the translation as the anarchic poetic form embodying this distance. This idea is reflected in his anthology, EDA: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, in its focus on the essence of Turkish language and its metaphysical Sufism, what Murat calls its EDA. The anthology not only translates poems and essays but translates the totality of a language, which Murat calls afterlife;─ “The afterlife of a poem that exists in translations where all the potentialities and the buried meanings of a poem (its dark-matter force) that the original language suppresses and can not permit to be expressed can reveal themselves and flower”, as Murat says in a conversation between us.
Every art is a form of aesthetics. Sanskrit etymology says that aesthetics means the pleasure of mind, the source of infinite joy that also includes an intense impulse of pain because pain is not the opposite entity of joy, rather its inseparable part. So aesthetics is the universal language of the human being. But the aesthetic meaning and context are different across different languages under different social systems. Therefore, translation of a poem needs to account for social context and cultural references of the source language. When a poem is translated from its source language to the target one, both languages move to a third space where the translator liberates “the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work. For the sake of pure language he breaks through decayed barriers of his own language” (Benjamin 1923: 261). The suppressed potentials, intentio [Latin: deep potential purpose], in Benjamin’s sense, of the language are revealed in that space, for a movement of language, not unidimensional crossing from source to target language, but involving both of them, freed from their own modes of intention.
Murat’s translation touches the work in source language only tangentially, resonating with “The Task of a Translator”, “only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux” (Benjamin 1923: 261). Murat writes: “A successful translation must sound somewhat alien, strange, not because it is awkward or unaware of the resources or nature of the second language, but because it expresses something new in it” (1991). The alien, distant sounds that create the aesthetic meanings appear only in the peripheries of that language as “tangents” in Murat’s sense, echoing Benjamin’s “broken vase”. The purpose of this creation lies in Murat’s favorite word, cracks─ “real purpose of a translation is not to create a beautiful poem that fits it like a glove in the target language; but to create cracks, mismatches in it so that it renders sayable what has been previously silenced in it” (Nemet-Nejat Interview).
Barin Ghosal used to say, a poet is no one to write a poem because everywhere everything is poetry. A poet merely does the translation of the source poem. What is the source poem for a poet? it’s the dictation via radio communication by Spicer’s Martian or the speech of the ghost that haunts the Cartesian machine and appears in Murat’s Animals of Dawn and reclaims his/her speech, the legitimacy of the unreal. Poetry is a sensation, which has no shape, no words, no language, and a kind of formless feelings. And script of a poem are the units of our language─ letters, words, sentences, which can be read, can be viewed. We are floating in a quantum field with our material world and with the spark, created by the vibrations of its waves; we become aware of an unusual event that creates our thought. That is nothing but poet’s imaginary experiences. The perception of that event is the sensation, what Barin Ghosal called the source poem. The scripts are needed only when the poet wants to share his imaginary experience, the source poem, with his reader. That is to say, the poet does the first translation of this source poem with the script of his language. But a reader has his own world of imagination. If the poet’s script of the poem is able to make resonances with the reader’s imaginary world, then reader could perceive his own poem, which is nothing but the second translation of the source poem. That is to say that all poems are translations to echo Murat:
The poet as a radio, as a translator, as a creator of new poetic space. The reader (also necessarily a poet) as an improviser, not reading words
along the linear/physical structure of a sentence; but through sparks created across space, random, chaotic, the poem retranslated each time into
his/her mind (1999).
Now if the reader of a poet wants to translate the poet’s poem in his own language, other than the poet’s language, the second translation, perceived by his mind’s eye, moves to create the third space, the ideal space of pure language, in Benjamin’s sense. So this translation is neither metaphrase nor paraphrase nor a bridging but intensification of distance from the host language because:
The intention of translation as a genre is to break out of the trap of its linguistic system, starts out of a lack, of suppressed meaning, of distance in the host language. In its longing for linguistic complementation, in pure language, which in essence is a political longing, translation violates,
blurs, makes meaningless the closed system (the modes of intention) of the second language—in Spicer’s term, its “furniture,”—revealing its
suppressed moral, political, anarchic intention. (Nemet-Nejat, 1999)
Poetics of Silence:
Murat writes: “The Open Garden: Tangential”
"w' experience light as capturing something, but light's only going through's
....somewhere else, z// m!" (2019: 80)
I put here dots in between to insert a sound: “hear/ here!” and a vision: “Falling by the Bird's Light” as Murat has inserted them to make the poem visual with sound. This is the acoustics of Murat’s poetics, where poems play around the sounds of words to form a visual poem. Sound is the underlying force here to bridge us with his world of imagination. It’s a record of the sound of his poetic process, the silent music of the struggle between consciousness and the material world to electrify the page where top and bottom moves to the empty space in between to evoke elusive contacts between two stubborn texts.
The sonic signal becomes the poetic signal that forms the structure of the poem to channel the signal to transform the objective reality to subjective reality, which includes the observer/reader as a final link in the chain of the observational processes. As a result, the poem becomes “experienceable in silence through the eye; but un-performable—or a performance involving silence”─ and that is what Murat calls “the crisis of reading aloud” (2019: 125). It refers to the death of the poem to the poet, its agony and generative power, and the transfer of the poet’s consciousness to the “purer” in the sense of freer where every poem becomes “an avenue of exploration, a gateway into another black hole” (125). This, indeed, echoes against “Wittgensteinian language of exchange and observable, speakable f(acts) towards silence” (2016a: 69), as Murat writes in his notes on the Animals of Dawn. So to speak, a poem must die for the poet for pure consciousness to emerge, to reach the state of pure consciousness/oblivion. It resides at each reading of the poem, which is an integral part of the poem where the reader’s mind, through his/her own eyes and ears, enters the totality of the poem. These readings are, as translations are, the afterlife of the poem.
This view of an open poem, altered by each reading, echoes the idea of reincarnation in Eastern philosophy. The reader joins the poet’s world of conscious imagination by his/her own imagination by reading in any direction, and hence completes the poem to echo Murat, “Language is the safe deposit of our souls that survives the checker-in (2019: 7). In this sense, Murat’s Io’s Song embodies the afterlife of his individual consciousness. His poems are, in that way, an autobiography (a safe deposit) of his consciousness, as it appears in the second part of Io's Song as “the afterlife of Io: an autobiography” (77).
Murat’s acoustic experiment in “Io’s Song” reminds me of the mystery of Swapan’s chemistry:
A pre zoomed boatman’s song
is love not smoke
A company limited in privacy
is smoke, not love
seedy winter is love smoke
Sound of words is the password to the poems of Swapan Roy, one of the renowned poets in the “New Poetry” zone of Bengali literature, co-editor of Natun Kabita (New Poetry) magazine, with whom Murat met in our poetry reading session during International Kolkata Book Fair in 2019 where Swapan read the above poem in English. Swapan’s oblique reference to “boatman’s song” reminds me of the Russian folk song─ “The Song of the Volga Boatman”[vi] from 16th century that was made popular after World War I by the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. The song has the phrase “yo, heave-ho”, which has no semantic meaning. It is purely a sound, towards which the entire poem moves. Swapan’s poem resonates with the phrase “yo, heave-ho” with “MOEKSEVLO,” which also has no semantic meaning; but is purely a sound, a sensation, to merge smoke and love to explore the meaning of freedom.
Swapan probes into the spiritual word mokshaluv [Snaskrit: to achieve freedom]─ moksha+luv─ moksha [Snaskrit: freedom from the cycle of life and death] and luv [Snaskrit: to achieve]. The word mokshaluv refers to the concept of human bondage and attainment of freedom from the bondage in the religious traditions of Hinduism/Buddhism in India. Swapan plays his acoustic poetic game with the homophonic Sanskrit word “luv” and English word “love” with the addition of “smoke”─ smoke + love─ to invent a new word─ MOEKSEVLO, with a striking mis-arrangement of letters to create an oblique reference to the philosophical word “mokshaluv”. In “The Song of Volga Boatmen” the phrase “yo, heave-ho” was uttered by the hired laborers of Russia, who have to drag ships against the current of the Volga river with a towrope, extremely heavy and monotonous work. Swapan compares the “love” of the Russian laborers to the “smoke” of the laborers in “company limited in privacy” in present day society, to make the internal force of the poem that drives the reader to ascertain what the freedom is. That is the way the poem triggers the reader’s imagination in a multidimensional way perceiving the multivectorial force of words creating new sounds and meanings. This is where I found the coherence between Swapan and Murat’s poetics to echo the force of the ionic bonding of Murat’s poem:
- or + excess electron
in an Ionized cloud (2019: 64)
That is the chemistry of Murat’s poetry, where words play the function of cation and anion, that is to say, words lie in an ionized state in a poem. The equivalent word of chemistry is rosion [Sanskrit: ros (beauty) + ion]. During the construction of a poem, a poet tries to form the bonding between beauty and ions that goes beyond rationality. A poet follows all the science, all the reasons of word formation like the chemical bonding, but hides his rationality behind the veil of the words. A reader has to lift the veil of the words to reach into the sound-root of the words. No sound can be deciphered from a rational mode but the intuitive mode of consciousness. When a reader’s mind is in resonance with the words of the poem, he enters into the open space of the poem, the space of infinite possibilities. A poet is always in quest for the inherent sounds of the words, rhythms of life, music of midnight, for his poetic creation to create an abstraction of his imaginary experiences, to echo Swapan’s MOEKSEVLO or Murat’s Io’s Song, to reveal the basic idea of the development of language from the source of natural sound. It creates a rhythmic chant where the interior image of the sound "yo, heave-ho" rearranges itself to get its form in the Swapan’s poem. The value of a poem’s tone does not lie in its words but in the fomentation they elicit in intensified perceptual or conceptual experiences.
Logocentrism is at the core of the Western philosophy, with Greek word logos meaning word, speech, reason. Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic ancient Greek philosopher of Ephesus, recognized the analogy of logos to the reasoning power of the human in the cosmic process. Aristotle also, in the classical age, named it reasoned discourse to create three modes of persuasion: logos, ethos and pathos. But the religious authorities couldn’t leave the rhetoric outside their territory and hence imprisoned logos as the divine form of all things in the world: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God…The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John, 1:1-14). But a poet is always against any authority, resisting the imprisonment of language. For the poet language is a tool to create an interactive space between poet and reader. Spicer identifies language as Lowghosts, a tool to fight against the authoritarian logos: “Words are not something which in themselves are anything but Lowghosts, instead of the Logos. Words are things which just happen to be in your head instead of someone else’s head, just like memories are, various other pieces of furniture in this room that this Martian has to put the clues in” (Spicer, 1965: 29).
In Sanskrit, the oldest language of the world, words were verb based. There are two sides to a word─ sound and meaning. Every letter has its own sound and the meaning of every sound gives the message of its activity. If we call the periphery of meaning language and the depth of meaning God, then there is always a tension between them ─ silence. Just as the particles and waves maintain their independent entities in the wave-particle duality, Spicer identifies poetry and God as two separate entities which show absence as mysterious presences to each other: “No, now he is the Lowghost when/ He is pinned down to words” (Spicer, 1960: 308). This is to avert the logocentric modernism from moving from sovereign mastery to aesthetic exhaustion. It’s a postmodern movement from the presence of logos in the text (logs floating in the river) toward the language of silence (clicks among logos), caused by low ghost, to echo Murat:
Io’s Song…unreadable—insipient poems emerging simultaneously on the page, clamoring for attention—by one single person forced to make a
choice out of his or her inner being, not by the given dictates of syntax or other “objective” structure on the page. Something in their
appearance, ambiguous and paralyzing, inexorably leads towards silence, a kind of muteness or askew sounds or movements of language.
This silent state of the mind may be called meditation by religious authority; “but it is the extreme mental alertness for a poet when inwardly he is completely silent, not seeking, not pursuing anything. That is the active part of the consciousness where both the program and programmer of the conscious human brain merge. That may be called free will or the mind” (Ghosal, 2003, 83, my translation), which is in quantum coherence starting its journey where the objective reality of matter dissolves into a subjective indeterministic probability wave, and mind is constantly creating its imaginary experiences. That is how Murat replaces measurement with his language of ethics and when measurement dissolves into probability, the door to infinity, and a language of the soul opens, to echo Murat’s imagination of Kafka’s use of the word Oklahoma in his novel Amerika:
Why did Kafka write Amerika, why was he attracted to the subject of the United States? German also accents Am-erika. What did he hear in
the word Oklahoma? A wild, alien, distant sound in German, Oklahoma! At the same time, an intimate sound, one of the rare words in English
with vowel harmony, which is also, I imagine, in Czech. Kafka hears in Oklahoma the alien ground in which his private soul can nest itself, the
synthesis between the powerful and the victim. That is why he associates his open-ended, endless nirvana of liberation in the Theater (Noah's
Ark) of Oklahoma ((Nemet-Nejat, 1993: §IX).
This is the endless silence of the infinite, the mysterious dark energy of mind, the source of all, inseparably associated with Brahma, which is the word/syllable itself─ om─ the essence of Brahma, the perpetual and immortal sound to carry human knowledge. As per Sanskrit etymology, the point (.) is the unit of carrier of energy as well as the unit of time, and its representative sound in audible language is Om (pronunciation is like ng─ removing ba from bang), the root of all sounds/words. As if it is the Hawkinian singularity point (.) from which the universe has been created, the extension of which is the Tao in Chinese. As if all the sounds starting from Om up to the big bang are the echoes of the event of creation of our universe, and the human, as an observer, does the recreation of the event in their imaginary world through sounds/words to tell the world about the event of creation. It is the inherent sound of the inner soul, charged through the dark and dead silence of our mind to sing the song of Murat’s Sufism of Eda, a re-unifying movement towards home to echo Murat, “Everything, every object in existence, particularly physical love, move towards this moment. That is the radical subjectivity─ love as objective subjectivity─ at the heart of Sufism” (2016b: 7)
Western philosophy thinks form (consequently content) of a poem as static and hence eternal. In that sense, it is changeless. Murat wants to liberate that static sense of content so that the form of his poems becomes movement, process, and change, to become vibrations, music as plucking of strings, which becomes Murat’s secret:
The secrets of a language're hidden, in another language.
the secret of my heart!
“In your own bud buriest, thy content.” (W.S. “Sonnet I”)
Latin origin of the word content─ continere from con (‘altogether’) + tenere (‘to hold’)[vii] to mean “to hold together” is the equivalent to the word tantra [Sanskrit: to hold together, something by which weaving can be performed]. In this sense, tantra also weaves the nodes of vibration on the string of a musical instrument. In Indian culture, the widely used meaning of tantra is analogous to the English word system─ that weaves a structure with a proper balance between consciousness and nature. For example, gana-tantra (Sanskrit: democracy)─ gana (people), tantra (system)─ means a system where people and their leader are properly weaved together to hold the system ─ that is, there is a proper synthesis between people and their leader, making a successful democracy. But the tragedy is that “properly weaved” never happens in our modern civilization. Today a system means a preprogrammed and predetermined closure, which is the point of Murat’s poetics, to liberate the content from tantra, the system, poetic institutions. But his process of going against tantra in the sense of system uses the musical sense of tantra, which I would like to say is his swa-tantra [Sanskrit: one’s own system─ swa (one’s own self) + tantra (system)], meaning a system where one's own body and mind are standing/coupled together to form one’s own freedom from system from authority.
That is to say, the word swa-tantra refers to something that makes one free from any container, made by authority, to echo Murat’s probing into the Indo-European root of the word “content” in Shakespeare's line, quoted in the above poem. It refers the tension between tenere (extension, desire), and con, that implies holding together, as Murat writes, “In “CONtent” (one side of the pun in Shakespeare’s line, the other being “conTENT”)─ a shift of accent─ that desire, a.k.a. motion, is restricted” (2019: 13). I would say Murat’s secret of poetics lies in his shabda-tantra [Sanskrit: word/sound + system, to refer system of word/sound] of poetry with which the poet weaves his net of words like a spider. This is the strategy of Murat’s poetic process─ to attack language by forcing it to reveal its pregnant silences. Since shabda refers to both word and sound in Sanskrit/Bengali, I would say shabda-tantra becomes Murat’s swa-tantra, referring to “word” as the body/form, and sound as the mind/soul of his own language, to become Murat’s moksha (freedom), with the secret of his poetics that moves towards silence.
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———. 2017. Kobitar Uttaradhikar O Khnoj (Inheritance and search for Poetry) published by Srot Publication, India. Runa Bandyopadhyay
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[i] An International poetry reading session was organized jointly by Natun Kobita Magazine and Ekhon Bangla Kobitar Kagoj Magazine in the International Kolkata Book Fair in 2019. Three American poets, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Elizabeth Willis and Adeena Karasick were participated for the reading session with the Bengali poets Swapan Roy, Pronob Paul, Umapada Kar, Runa Bandyopadhyay and Atanu Bandyopadhyay. A report of the reading session was written by me, which is cited in (Bandyopadhyay, 2019).
[ii] Essay “Experience” published in the collection Essays: Second Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Munroe and Company, Boston, 1844. Source: emersoncentral.com/texts/essays-second-series.
[iii] An essay “The Recent Movement of Bengali Poetry and New Poetry” by Barin Ghosal, collected in his book as cited (Ghosal 2017). The essay was translated from Bengali by Runa Bandyopadhyay. Published in Special India Dispatch #2 from Contributing Editor in the Dispatches from Poetry War. Source: dispatchespoetrywars.com/dispatches-news/2017/12/special-india-dispatch-2-contributing-editor-translator-runa-bandyopadhyay/
[iv] "Luc Godard Speaking Directly in Masculin Feminin" as Murat quoted in his book, cited as [Nemet-Nejat, 2011].
[v] The Peripheral Space of Photography by Murat Nemet-Nejat, Green Integer, Kǿbenhavn & Los Angeles, 2003.
[vi] The "Song of the Volga Boatmen" is a well-known traditional Russian folk song collected by Mily Balakirev, and published in his book of folk songs in 1866. It was sung by burlaks, or barge-haulers, on the Volga River. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Volga_Boatmen
[vii] Oxford English Dictionary, www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/content1