TWO VOICES: Aron Aji on Bilge Karasu

Posted on December 17, 2012 by Scott Esposito

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Aron Aji began his presentation on Bilge Karasu's A Long Day's Evening with a substantial statement: he called Karasu's project as an author both an attempt to develop a new Turkish literary language and an attempt to develop a readership for this language. However large a claim this was, by the end of this event Aji had borne it out.

Aji noted that in order to even begin translating Long Day's Evening, which he said took him 6 years to complete, he had to first immerse himself in Karasu's work, translating two of his other novels, The Garden of the Departed Cats and Death in Troy. To give some idea of the complexity of the task of translating Karasu, Aji stated that for the graet Turkish author "literature is the memory of language." He went on to reinforce the great importance of A Long Day's Evening to Turkish literature, making the staggering claim that "no book since this book has been written independent of this book."

Karasu was not only a great writer but a great reader: Aji explained that as part of Karasu's project he developed a university course on reading—the toughest course he taught—that has become standard throughout Turkish universities. This was all toward Karasu's great work of forging a new kind of Turkish suited to the new realities the nation found itself in amidst a changing world abroad and a modernizing world at home.

Aji then spoke about how he established his very personal investment in Karasu's work. He explained that he first became "mesmerized" by Karasu when he saw a photo of the author grasping his head in his hands in conjunction with his obituary in The New York Times. He continued in this personal vein, explaining that everything he has done since with Turkish literature is an outgrowth of his encounter with Karasu's work. For Aji, Karasu is not just a special author but also a great reader and a great translator, a true man of letters who was a force for change and development in Turkish literature.

Aji concluded his general remarks about Karasu by explaining how important the author has been for his practice as a translator. For Karasu, "meaning materializes in and through language." His very concerns and aims as a writer—balancing between loss and capture—touches on the exact themes dear to the translator's art: both strive for the most authentic reality through thoughts. Thus, Karasu has been for Aji a "great tutorial" in the art of translation.

After concluding his general remarks about Karasu, Aji began to speak specifically about A Long Day's Evening. He started by noting the book's strange structure—two long sections about Byzantine monks in the 8th century followed by a short, 15-page code set in the present day (the 1960s at the time of the book's writing). Aji explained that this was a very characteristic move for Karasu, saying that his books are held together more by a particular "mindset" than a "plot."

Each of the book's first two sections comprise just a couple hours, and the last section covers only five minutes, said Aji. "What Karasu is doing," he claimed, was "slowing down consciousness to see its workings." To do this Karasu both pushed Turkish to its limits and invented new properties for the language. Aji had to learn to mimic in English how in Turkish sound and sense echo one another, as well as how thoughts "tangle and untangle" more by "instinct" than by "reason," as Karasu's work more often works by association than by logic.

From here Aji spoke in depth about the plot of A Long Day's Evening and read sections of his translation. A Q&A session concluded the event, with Aji answering questions about the importance of an exterior narrative and historical fact backdropping the main action of Long Day's Evening, the book's correct genre and its implications for the translation, its overlap with Karasu's other translated literature, and the author's "untranslatable" "performative" novels.