• Debate of Old-New
  • Kemal Ahmet's Case
  • Against the Accusation That He Had Turned Bourgeois
  • Against Leftist Pretenders
  • Against the Accusation that He was a Nationalist

    The Nâzım Hikmet-Peyami Safa Polemics

    In the days when Peyami Safa dedicated his "Dokuzuncu Hariciye Koğuşu" (The Ninth Surgery Ward) to Nâzım Hikmet, and signed the poet's copy "with passion," his approach to "Jokond ile Sİ-YA-U" had been as follows:

    "Is Jokond ile Sİ-YA-U a fantasy? Apparently: a painting that comes alive, falls in love and catches a cold, sniffles and cries, and travels. Is Jokond ile Sİ-YA-U a satire? Apparently: the painting that steals an American's fountain pen, memoirs written on the back of oilcloth. An odd, unexpected, unimaginable, unreal chains of events. When one regards its sweet, clear and screaming colours, the work appears to be a fantasy, a satire, and an appealing play of colour which, like abstract painting, only satiates the human imagination. One may think that the poet has sought out, in the reader's body only his eyes, in the reader's soul only his sense of amazement in the face of the strange.

    "I am writing this essay in order to alert those who are inclined to perceive the surface alone. I shall strip Nâzım Hikmet's book of all its formal fantasy and, peeling off the colourful dress in which Jokond and Sİ-YA-U have been clad, I shall render the work naked. When it will be seen that these two individuals, once stripped of their costumes for the 'dress ball', emerge not as the comic offspring of fantasy, but as the heroes of a tragedy. This tragedy is taking place neither in Paris, on the grounds of the Louvre, nor in the harbour of Shanghai. The site of this tragedy is the poet's soul.

    "Jokond and Sİ-YA-U are symbols. Their love is the love of the poet; their high aim, the aim of the poet.

    "What is this high aim? Woman? Wealth? Honour? None of the above. Like every genuine longing, this too, cannot be named. Regardless of how we (that is to say, all humanity) name our great and infinitive aims, we would be fooling both ourselves and others. [...]

    "We feel that this hidden, unknown, high, nameless goal that is inscribed in every segment of Jokond ile Sİ-YA-U manifests itself through pleasantries, oddities, darkness, history, towers, secret voices arguing with the wind in the air, ghosts, 'balmy airs', suns that set the blood boiling, 'glossy stars', strange harbours, Chinese straw, shadows, and glitterings, infusing our soul in exquisite multicoloured sprawls. This is indeed the highest pleasure great works of art give us. And what is its thesis? What is its theory about literature? What is its this or that? [...]

    "A revolution in Turkish literature. A great renovation. A new creativity in poetic forms. Rejuvenation of language. The beautification and development of the language of folk. Marvellous, 'and so on so forth'...

    "Yes ... But these too, are insignificant next to Nâzım's genuine characteristics, because every 'revolution or evolution in literature' is bound to remain time-specific and acquires value within its own period. By the great work of art, I understand something that is above and beyond the values of nations, periods, changeable aesthetic norms. Anything else seems to me like something as mortal as fashion and as weak as a thing which time hooks in and drags along.

    "It may be that some of our hidden, unconscious desires are incompatible with our other mental beliefs; then, there starts a battle in our soul, of the self against the self; this antagonism between the theoretical and intellectual identity and the more inner person indeed invigorates the dynamic powers of the soul, but it also widens the gap between our thesis and our work. [...] This struggle is evident in Nâzım Hikmet.

    "Nâzım Hikmet appears outwardly to be enemy to philosophical idealism and spiritualism (Berkeley, Makinalaşmak). He seems realistic, optimistic, a materialist. But Nâzım, who can make come alive the immobile figure drawn on a piece of canvas and mobilise it within a satirical fantasy, is, in reality, idealistic and lyrical.Nâzım who can feel the tragic lurking behind the world's most famous smile, is a pessimist. Nâzım Hikmet, who can sense the magical allure in Chinese nights that beckon sailors toward the glittering of stars, is not a realist. His great ideal is not confined to the wish to see realised some aesthetic value. It rises to the height of the metaphysical reaching of every poet who demands the realisation of suprahuman aims.

    "I like Nâzım where he is distantiated from his theses, and locate him in those cries of defiance rejecting every theory including his own. For, literature that is not sceptical cannot be considered even intelligent. Every lover and every poet will perpetually doubt because for the intelligence, to believe is to die. [...]

    "I like Nâzım neither for his broken poetic line, nor for his 'trak tiki tak's, nor for his aesthetic commitments, nor for his philosophical materialism. (Nâzım Hikmet is one who has misnamed his aesthetic ideal as true ideals have no name; an ideal that is described and designated is nothing but mere appetite.) I like him for his passionate, lyrical, melancholic, pained and pessimistic boldness, vast and perpetual, ardently devoted to the unknown and the impossible, always rebelling and wanting more upon every possession - albeit all disguised behind a veil of materialism, optimism, and irony, sometimes even the most vulgar kind of irony. Nâzım's arguments are nothing to him but a stimulant like alcohol. Nâzım, who appears a writer for the people and exceedingly public, is in fact very private and introverted. Despite his aspect that simplifies the complex and roughens the refined, belongs among the unhappy doomed never to be understood by the majority. This is where his greatest honour and deepest pain lie. He will never succeed conveying to the majority 'the grief of possessing a famous smile'. [...]

    "Look for Nâzım Hikmet, the great Turkish poet, in those places where he wanders far from aesthetic arguments. That is where the true human is hidden. And if you wish to capture, for even only a moment, this refined and quick soul that so masterfully plays a game of hid- and-seek with your curiosity, steep yourself not in the superficial and intellectual meaning of works, but in their connotative meaning, their depth and their harmony. The true reader of Nâzım Hikmet, his true lovers, those who understand him are those who see his invisible aspect, even what he himself cannot see."

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