Pomp and Intertext

Cultural Commentary by Erica Eller

Tag: Bosphorus Review of Books

What happened to me as I was writing about Don Quixote

DonQuixoteReading Don Quixote was a pleasure. Writing about it here in Istanbul in the most recent issue of the Bosphorus Review of Books became surreal. I became a detective. I ravaged all kinds of external sources including one of my favorites, Echevarria’s Open Yale Lectures on Don Quixote. Who was this Cervantes, this strange Spanish author fighting the Ottomans and staying captive in Algiers?

My mind started to draw a lot of parallels. Don Quixote seemed to be creating strange links between elements of my life that are otherwise disconnected. I don’t really know what to make of it. I think its a facet of my own quixotic “literary madness.” It’s when we start to see connections across the mediums: between things we’ve read or seen and the reality we’ve actually experienced or even dreamed.And this makes one framework melt into the other. I even dreamt I was releasing prisoners a few nights ago, just as Don Quixote does in one of the scenes.

The fact that Don Quixote goes off to live a romantic lifestyle that he read about sounds so familiar. I did the same by becoming an expat with dreams of writing my novel abroad. It’s not quite the same as a knight errant, but I think the source of inspiration is similar–it’s the inspiration wrought by my library. The heroes of my books, though, are usually the authors themselves.

But then when Quixote meets an arbitrator (I work for a law firm specializing in international arbitration), and the Captain Piedma travels to Istanbul as a slave (the city I live in, which sometimes feels like it has captured me), and a wealthy Moor named Zoraida goes to Spain (one of my closest friends in Istanbul is from Morocco), and when I started reading about how scholars spread news that Cervantes had worked on the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque (which is a five minute walk from my doorstep), I started to feel attached like an adoring Little Prince to a particular fox who warms his heart. And it also happens that a few of the most renowned philologists who have theorized the Quixote are Leo Spitzer and Erich Auerbach, both of whom were émigrés in Istanbul for a time to escape Nazi Germany. Even the theme of captivity happens to be something I touched on in my earlier studies on themes of Puritan literature (Mary Rowlandson) and my head looped back to that area of interest. It’s almost too much to bear for one little literary soul.

Am I living in my own Cervantine reality?

I just find it sad, strange, and unfortunate that in our time, the weight of thought control and book burning is felt more here in Istanbul than elsewhere. And to think our own sweet city is where people once escaped from such treatment . . .

For less wistful on the book please read my essay in the Bosphorus Review of Books.

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While on Hiatus . . .

I’ve been on hiatus from writing book reviews for Pomp and Intertext, and I feel slightly guilty about it. I’ll admit, I’ve focussed my attention elsewhere, but only temporarily.

Recently, I’ve been volunteering to help with outreach and editorial assistance as well as writing for the Bosphorus Review of Books. The journal is so far the only English language literary journal located in Istanbul. My contributions there have included a book review on Achmat Dangor’s novella, Kafka’s Curse (May), and my most recent contribution, a book review on Yashar Kemal’s Memed, My Hawk (July).

Apart from that project, I’ve been focusing my attention on my biodiversity blog entitled Biodivvy.com. Even there, I’ve turned to books as an important inspiration for my writing.

Today, I’m trying to succinctly summarize a book-long history of modern Western ecological thought starting from the 18th century in response to the question:

“Why should we care if just one species goes extinct,

especially if it is no use to us?”

Presumably playing devil’s advocate, a friend posed the question to me. The question is compelling and has many possible responses, which is why I’ve turned to history for answers.

My gut reaction is, of course, “no species is an island” and that any one species’ decline has myriad consequences. However, some species may seem expendable, especially if we don’t notice the related symptoms of decline and imbalance, or if we don’t personally experience any consequences. For me, that response is ignorant, far too common, and indefensible, so I’m writing about it.

Natures EconomyThe history book is Nature’s Economy by Donald Worster. So far, I’ve introduced the contributions outlined in the book of Gilbert White (holism, as opposed to abstract, mechanistic scientific approaches) and Linnaeus (a hierarchy of interdependent species, “economic” limitations of food, range, and reproduction upon individual species, a benevolent utilitarian whole–in contrast to Hobbes’ vision of a natural system of war and carnage). Next, I’m onto Thoreau, then Darwin, then others . . . after I take a coffee break. Once I’m finished with this, I’ll write a separate post on Vandana Shiva’s book, Staying Alive, to fill in some of the gaps for the post-colonial and feminist approaches to ecology.

 I hope my blog will spread important knowledge in the manner of Freire a la Pedagogy of the Oppressed meaning, I want to distribute information horizontally–to put it into free, shareable terms, as many other knowledge-based platforms have already done successfully (i.e. Wikipedia–currently banned in Turkey). Though my blog is not specifically intended for a Turkish audience, I’m writing with fervor due to the stark reality that soon Turkish citizens will not even receive education about evolution, which is frightening!

I promise, I’ll return to Pomp and Intertext to focus on other compelling books and topics, ASAP.