Friday, 24 April 2015

IDEA at Inönü University, Malatya 4: Frankenstein's Monster, Golden Tickets, Howl

From hotel to university, from university to meal, from meal to hotel. It is late. It is inevitably late. The mind is active (mine tends to whirr like a mad toyshop) and, while the bed is inviting, sleep may not come, or rather come fitfully, in small deep-purple patches, in between a night that is white and blinding. It is increasingly in those blinding white patches that I start writing poems or texts. It is then that they arrange themselves into a convincing dreamlike yet logical pattern. I am still in bed, and when I am home, C is beside me, stirring occasionally but asleep, the light on the phone set to dim. I write then eventually I turn over, put the phone down and, with luck, enter the deep purple.

But here in Malatya, the day begins and it's from hotel to university again.

My own keynote address came first this morning but in order not to interrupt the sequence of events I will save the text of it to the end of the series. (It was some forty minutes long so will take a few posts.)

Academic conferences are generally runs of papers grouped according to some perceived thematic link. The mind carries the freight of one paper over into another that way, not so much as a mess of miscellaneous notes, more a coherent narrative, easier to comprehend.

But there are papers that stand out, that are radically different, and Laurence Raw's first paper in the Grand Hall was one of those. He stood, he walked about, he spoke rather than read, he had a radio mic, and he talked about a term new to me, mesearch. His official title was 'Frankenstein, Radio and the Gothic Imagination' and  those were indeed the themes he explored but via the self.

Raw's own experience was of a recurrent cancer that meant he lost his voice and had to learn to speak all over again. He was effectively his own body of research. He was, as he put it, Frankenstein's monster.  He went on to recall a radio version of the Mary Shelley classic that brought the sensation of the monster and its movements closer to him. In the course of his paper he referred to my own keynote a little earlier, particularly - and in fact natutrally - to those parts of it that postulated unseen presences and shiftings of voice. His own writings in this area, he stressed, were therapeutic, which is a brave thing to assert in an academic conference where the concerns of the first person singular are usually left at the door. But there was a nakedness to this that showed academic procedure in a new light. His own well-established academic background was being interrogated by a non-academic persona. Was it self-indulgent? Yes, but that was the whole point. The complete field of human enquiry must include the self-as-other. We are our own Frankenstein's monsters: both Frankenstein and monster.

The papers that followed, on Gothic and 'the Paradigm Shift' about 'the emergence of horror literature', an essentially Marxist analysis by Entugrul Koç, and about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (now through Dahl, now in the Tim Burton - Johnny Depp film) as an aspect of Post-Colonial literature (those Oompa-Loompas recruited from the colonies to slave away in the high church of industrial capitalism), by Elçin Kandilci, were convincing - not that I needed much convincing in most respects - but were bound to seem a little conventional after that start. It all fitted except, in the case of Charlie, the poor family's own relationship to the Golden Ticket. They must see something in it beyond the rewards of capitalism and the desires of those 'hard-working families' we are currently hearing so much about.

The problem with most papers is that having chosen a methodology they snip and chisel away until the subject fits it. The two above didn't do that but one can see how cases are made and justified.

After a coffee break we moved on to the Gallipoli Panel. Since today - the precise day I am writing this - is in fact Gallipoli Day, the hundredth anniversary no less of that campaign and an occasion therefore of great pride for Turkish people, as well the day of commemoration of, shall we call it, the Armenian Genocide (as Wikipedia does) I am happy for the reader to follow his or her own links according to preference. Nations are institutions in which the official left hand is often best not knowing - or rather prevented from acknowledging - what the official right hand does or has done, nor is Turkey unique in this respect.

The project of the panel is entirely praiseworthy: it is to celebrate peace and goodwill between the Anzacs and the Turkish people, to celebrate their mutual heroism, humanity and sacrifice. The project does so by investigating and gathering material from the combatants of the time in the form of poems and letters and the oral evidence of relatives. The poems by Robyn Rowland (translated by Mehmet Ali Çelikel) written for the project and based on considerable research were to come the next evening.


Two more sessions after lunch, the first session (my choice out of the four offered) on the idea of evil as defined by Terry Eagleton (via Sevcan Isik), one on Campus Novels, in Bakhtinian terms (via Taner Can), the third on Susan Hill, a Kohutian Approach (by Mukadder Erkan). My attention is slipping a little by this time but I like the Bakhtinian insights into the Campus Novel by way of heteroglossia, polyphony and the carnivalesque. (I just like Bakhtin generally). We can go from Lucky Jim onwards, but I wonder about Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution and, indeed, much later, Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue and about the whole idea of farce in this context.

The last session of the official day included 'Reverberations of Allen Ginsberg's Howl in Turkey' by Zeynep Ayça Germen, which was chiefly about an exhibition of Turkish art in response to Howl. Yes, America is bad, New York skyscrapers are Moloch, peace is definitely better than war, and the best minds of Ginsberg's generation might have been 'destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked' (actually starving?) but I wasn't sure that Eliot was a stroll through a well-kept civil park, which is not my memory of The Waste Land, nor that New Criticism was an academically stifling force. Howl is a terrific poem of course but I kept wanting to know what it meant to specifically Turkish readers. Was it just about monstrous America? In what way was it about its Turkish readers? Where did Howl have its roots? How far was it in Jewish texts, in the Bible (in the prophets), in Milton, in Blake, in Whitman? I didn't even ask about Turkish translations of the poem. Even so the latter were unreasonable matters to bring up in the Turkish context. I talked to Zeynep afterwards and she was delightful so I was sorry to have asked question beyond the text of the title. I ask politely of course, downright courteously in fact, or think I do. But I once I start thinking I start asking.

The evening was dinner at the Two Trees (my hotel) followed by a quiz (at which my own table did middling well) and dancing. I join the dancing. I always do, figuring out my own best appropriate steps after watching others. Dancing is delicious. I was just heading out of the hall after a first bout of dancing when a couple of women got up and invited me to join them. I did of course. They were lovely. So many are. It is good to dance.



Laurence Raw said...

George, what kind things you have said about my presentation. I am really glad that you appreciated it. Your description is especially vivid.

George S said...

It was a memorable presentation, Laurence. I am glad to have been present at it.

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