18/01/2008 ‘I love to miss Istanbul’
As the Dutch essayist Bas Heijne noticed the Turkish writer Elif Shafak is not interested in boundaries. She detests to be pinned down, Heijne writes in the introduction to the Winternachten Lecture 2008 `The writer as a commuter’. Shafak regards Istanbul as her home base, but cherishes it most when she is not there.
Shafak shared many interesting thoughts with her audience, for instance the nomad versus the migrant and their different relationship with the objects around them. It was a dazzling mix of everything, a real eclectic torrent of styles, ideas and sources which flooded into the New Church in The Hague (Thursday evening, the 17th of January).
It was an entertaining talk – intelligent and slightly provocative – but somehow I got the feeling I heard most of it before. Writers like V.S Naipaul, Ian Buruma and ‘our own’ Cees Nooteboom also wrote about multiculturalism and the importance of imagination. Also the metaphor of literature that should run like water did sound familiar.
To my opinion Shafak did not thoroughly explore the idea of the writer as a nomad, mentally nor physically. She concluded with the fundamental metaphors at the background of her writing. One of them is a Tuba tree, with its roots up in the air. This stands for the ability to stay connected to various cultures and cities at the same time. Of course, great. But why did Shafak not mention just once the simple fact that we are living in a digital age? Why did she not make one small reference to the many ways of communication, mainly via the internet, which contribute substantially to the fading of boundaries between physical and mental presence. Also the immense popularity of the mobile phone worldwide, makes it less difficult to live like a (urban) nomad. You can work on different places in the world, meanwhile maintaining your contacts with friends and family. For a growing amount of people this is a daily reality, not only for writers.
Well, maybe I should rather read one of Shafaks book first The Flea Palace (Het Luizenpaleis) lays waiting next to my keyboard.