|Mrs Danvers is behiiind you!|
I had a non-sleeping night on the Friday. A hardly sleeping night. A minimally deep-purple pretty well white-throughout night. So I missed the first session when I might have had - and would happily have had (among much else) - more Gallipoli with, among others, the world-trekking Australian-Italian-Hungarian novelist Inez Baranay to whom I talked properly only the next day.
But I didn't miss the very first thing, Finland-based John Stotesbury's keynote on 'An Emergent Post-Colonial Cultutral Identity? The Gibraltar Case' which started with seven minutes of Timothy Dalton as James Bond in a car chase on Gibraltar from The Living Daylights. Bond grimaces and conquers, parachute-dropping at the last from a great height onto a glamorous woman's yacht (the full glory of the last three minutes is there for your delectation in that link) to great laughter and applause from the conference audience. We know the Bond game, we allow for it, we cheer at its irony knowing that is all over and done with.
That's a fine start to a film but that is all we see of Gibraltar in it. John took us through some Gibralter history and asked how does a new post-colonial literature emerge in a heterogeneous colony of some thirty-thousand people stuck on a rock on the end of a hostile nation? And how does alpha-male Bond represent the imperial power that made Gibraltar British in the first place? Well, there is a native crime fiction, Gibraltar Noir. Joyce refers to Gibraltar (possibly, where he had never been) in Molly Bloom's monologue at the end of Ulysses. Owing to John's great range of expertise I referred to him in an earlier post as Professor of Everything and I don't exaggarate by much. His ability to flit from one area of knowledge to another is extraordinary. So, besides Bond, Gibraltar, history, ficitional writings on Gibraltar by Paul Theroux, Anthony Burgess and Caryl Phillips among others, post-colonialism, and native Gibraltarian literature - which has, he says, only just begin to exist, we had ideas of museumification, the ideas of local speaking to global. We also discovered that Gibraltar was full of holes like cheese and that the famous Barbary macaque monkeys that inhabt it had to be re-supplied by Churchill for the sake of omens (see the ravens in The Tower of London for symbolic comparison).
The whole was very like Bond's, skeetering down the precipitous path on that apparently endless road in Gibraltar. The next day's events, by a curious irony, were to echo the same precipitous progress. There was the parachute at the end and no lack of glamorous female scholars in the audience. It was all very uncanny, or, as scholars tend to say, unheimlich.
After John I was kindly rushed home in a car, slept an hour or so, then returned to the fray to catch a session I very much wanted to hear on Ekphrasis. Having written and delivered an MA course titled Writing the Visual on the subject it was of considerable interest to me. The trouble was I missed the firts paper by the poet Nazmi Agil, about ekphrastic poetry as an agon between competing poets, in other words the poem being more about poetry than about art.
The second paper by Özlem Uzundemir was thorough and pretty well convincing in a way I have been convinced before. It was a study of Picasso's relationship with the Argentinian photographer Dora Maar and how that relationship was treated by the poet Grace Nichols in her book, Picasso, I want my face back. Big bullying male Midas oppresses female talent. He defines her. She is defined by him. It's a fair enough thesis accompanied by some of Picasso's portraits of Maar in that late Cubist-Expressionist styleof his where everything is jagged and jarring (not just Dora Maar of course). The case is worth making each time and it was made.
I was immediately on stage to chair a session on Romantic poetry, the first paper (by Suna Özcan) comparing Keats' Ode to a Nightingale to Hardy's The Darkling Thrush, the second (by Seçil Erkoç) on Keats, tragedy and death, the third by Professor Rajeswar Pal on American Romanticism, specifically Freneau, but a great range of others, developing the view that American Romanticism precedes the English. The first two papers were good, solid work; Professor Pal's, as you might expect from a senior academic, packed in a great deal more, which is no shame at all on Özcan or Erkoç. I have a fondness for ideas that take a leap into the dark, risk running against the tide and being wrong. Being wrong is how we get to being right, I suspect.
That's a lot to ask. As it was I was in the chair trying to keep time while listening. I do listen, and listen hard because I am fascinated by ideas and arguments. It is satisfying to hear a well-made case but I would always be tempted to advise a touch of idiosyncratic madness.
Easy for me to say at this end of a life.
The very last session included a well-organised paper by Gaye Kuru on Salman Rushdie and the idea of monstrosity via Foucault, and a reflection by Mustafa Demirel on Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist in which, after various wrestlings, the west (colonialism and capitalism) turned out to bad and the east (Pakistan and Islam) good, which was an implicit binary in many papers. The middle paper of the three, by Nil Korkut-Nayki, was for me the best. It partook of both feminism and post-colonialism but its central concern was with a Derridean hauntology in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. I thought this paper was beyond dutiful in that it was beautifully constructed and felt like discovery throughout. The tendency of some theory is to cut its subject according to its tenet. We are invited to observe how well an idea works when any inconvenient feature in the work is removed so the art may be deomstrated to fit the idea. That may still make for real interest in terms of proficiency. You can do this well but if it is less interesting to me that may be because I am a poet not a scholar and like things to go flash, bang and boom now and then. Nil Korkut-Nayki's paper was exhilarating to follow: ghosts and hauntings always are.
In the evening to the caravanserai for poetry. Here Robyn Rowland and her translator Mehmet Ali Çelikel perform six poems from This Intimate War: Gallipoli / Çanakkale 1915.Like all Robyn's work it is humane, highly charged and empathetic. It is the product of much research among the papers of both Anzac and Ottoman Turkish soliders and their relatives. The hall is cold but the feeling is warm. Here are some lines from one of the poems in the book, Sky fighting:
Fat and solid under wood and straw hats,
old stone windmills of Tenedos throw their fabric sails
to the wind, dance for the living, grinding flour.
Below their hil, Göztepe,
strange insects are uncracking from larva cages...
...Four-inch pointed steel with fins,
dropped by boxloads of 500, they hail terror,
can pierce a man from his head through his organs to his feet.
Silent, a hard rain and deadly, one kills Turan, son of Mehmed.
Between poems Robyn asks one of the audience to sing. She has heard her sing before. Here is a snatch of that singing.
Tomorrow: an excursion, after that, when I can, the text of my keynote.