Identities according to Murathan Mungan
Selda Paydak - 16/11/2006
Murathan Mungan has worked for the State Theatre as a dramaturge and his one of the major contemporary Turksih poet. Among his major poetry collections: Osmanliya Dair Hikâyat (Stories on the Ottomans/1980), Kum Saati (The Hourglass/1984), Eski 45’likler (Old Single Records/1989), Yaz Sinemalari (Summer Cinemas/1989), Mirildandiklarim (My Mutterings/1990), Oyunlar Intiharlar Sarkilar (Games Suicides Songs/1997), Baskalarinin Gecesi (The Night of Others/1997). Short story collections: Son Istanbul (The Last Istanbul/1985), Cenk Hikayeleri (Combat Stories/1986), Kirk Oda (Forty Rooms/1987), Lâl Masallar (Mute Fairy Tales/1989), Uc Aynali Kirk Oda (Forty Rooms with Three Mirrors/1999). Plays: Mahmut ile Yezida (Mahmut and Yezida/1980), Taziye (Condolences/1982), Mezopotamya Uclemesi (The Mesopotamian Trilogy/1992).
What was the first thing to introduce you to Europe in your childhood and youth?
I grew up in Mardin, the fortress of the east. I was therefore much farther from Europe than were those who grew up in Istanbul. Like many other people, I got to know Europe from movies, magazines and books. I remember the debates on Europeanisation among the provincial intellectuals, who might be regarded as local elites, when "Westernisation" as a state policy became an issue for the east. I remember also the balls that were organised and the rapid change of dress which was in conflict with the local people… Many sad details which could be scenes in a novel…
What establishes your contact with Europe today?
This is an organic relationship rather than an established contact. I am not outside Europe in the first place… To name, though, it is naturally the world of arts, culture and ideas above everything else. Basic human rights and the latest benefits of technology and civilisation… When you come to think of it, hundreds of things to which you normally pay no attention, which you take for granted, but which are part and parcel of your daily life…
Do you feel European?
I better like feeling a world citizen. The Europeans also should better feel a little bit this way.
"Identity" is a concept of our age that should be used very carefully. All types of identities, ethnic, national, religious, sexual or whatever else, can become your prison after a while. The identity that you stand up for can enslave you and close you to the rest of the world. For this reason, I believe that one should establish a cooler, more critical relationship with both the concept of identity and one's own identity. I find Europeanness interesting as some sort of "super identity" in the sense of being the threshold of a truly international worldwhere national frontiers are pulled down, all types of identities are overcome and all mankind is organised around basic rights and freedoms. And also as a force counteracting the global supremacy of America…
What associations does Europe have for you?
This depends on various periods. In recent times, I have been interested most in the European Court of Human Rights. In general, it is of course European culture above everything else. It is the cities, the writers, the movies and the music that I like… Also, as a "gay", I would like to see the rights acquired there extended and brought to Turkey.
Your roles in life and Europe…
We are a country that is western where it must be eastern and that is eastern where it must be western. When I wanted to make the correct synthesis of this in myself, I got "split" of course. My role was to come out of this split without serious damage, without injury, and even to make this split bearable and transform it into a worldly style. I may call this a restructuring of myself or a realisation of myself to the extent I have achieved it…
Is there a poem or story that you have not written but you wish you had written?
I am someone who has strongly built his distant angle to himself. I can look at both myself and my adventure with cool eyes. I know that the world is a vast place, that I could not write all the poems, stories and plays in the world. In writing as in life, everyone has a different poem, story and play. Moreover, I have no intention to give up the pleasure of being a reader. Being able to admire others makes a writer much freer. Not any particular poem or story, but there are some words which I wish at times that I had said first. Then, I realise that I did say similar things. You cannot become yourself by competing with the world. What makes you yourself is the race you run with yourself.
Where do you feel you belong?
Whatever I write and however I write it, if I stand as a poet in the world, I am an easterner, but a western easterner. My feet are on eastern ground, but I want to address the whole world standing there. I think that this is difficult but not impossible.
What aspects of you represent tradition and what aspects of you represent modernity?
I wish someone else would say that! But this is what is bad about us. They wait for you to die in order to talk about you. I am very interested in traditional material, but this is not a folkloric interest. I am interested more in the working mechanism of tradition, in what it hides in its canvas, and in its ideological arguments which have managed to hide themselves from perception, than its conservative, repeating aspect which seeks to maintain the ancient. I am interested in rediscovering modernity that is hidden in the raw. There is an example which I always give for myself. I make pots with the clay and mud of this land, but I want these pots to be liked and used throughout the world. I don't know how much it is understood when it is put this way, but I am not talking about a crude contrast or synthesis between "nationality" and "universality". I am trying to point out a deeper, more fundamental distinction. Perhaps this is what prevents me from being noticed immediately. The things I do are not such as can be immediately read and deciphered and easily labelled and coded with the clichés of prevalent attitudes and orientalist approaches. I seek for a more embracing total. No matter how traditional our points of departure may be, can we never have watched any movies or never have read Jung, Nietzsche or Althusser? For example, as I answered your questions, Skunk Anansie, Placebo, Rammstein and Tindersticks were playing in the background, in this order.
This interview was first published by the Monthly Regular Magazine of the EC Delegation in Turkey, conducted by Selda Paydak