Ersan Üldes

Excerpts from the novel: The Theory of Infirmity
Fishes_petit_medium
Fishes - © Nurdan Hatipoğlu
Translated from the Turkish by Amy Spangler and İdil Aydoğan.


Acknowledgements


When does a tadpole decide to become a frog?

When does the mass whose components are obscure, and which we briefly define as the reader, begin to feel out of place? In which great author’s books does he bury himself and suddenly, for no reason at all, take up the task of writing stories in his own name?

As far as it goes, authorship is an institution whose singularity cannot be doubted. The author’s sanctified path is remarkably alluring. The amorphous being we call the reader, the fluid mass whose consumption habits we try to figure out by the calculation of annual print-runs, now feels an overwhelming desire in its wretched little inside to delve into a singular geography from a plural habitat. The desire to pass from a greenish and unripe lubricity to a shelled and protected contentedness… The smallest spark is enough for the inclination to metamorphose to emerge. Because briefly being the reader is rather populous in itself anyway. It is a little annoying, a little painful.

Eventually every tadpole author, under the influence of a great author, grabs hold of his pen, bewitched by the power of masterpieces. He has discovered the same sort of power in himself. The great author to seduce the reader may very well be Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Beckett, Proust, Musil, Joyce, or any one of the hundreds of relatively more honorable authors for which we have not ample space to mention here.
And the literary figure who encouraged me to write, who made me infiltrate into singular geography when the spark inside me ignited, is one of the hundreds of valuable authors, yet the most sensitive of them all, the famous German author Judith Wohmann, who has millions of fans, and no matter the extent to which I express my gratitude, how much I thank her in your great presence, it would never be enough.

p. 79-90


Chapter 2
Behavioural Sciences
1

“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”2


2.1. Professional Behavior

“Being a translator is nothing like being an ordinary reader, it is the most insightful journey made into an author’s inner world.”

I never really liked big talk, and was overtly repelled by the cliché Necdet Sezai Balkan kept going on about in an effort to flatter me. It had been a long time since I was booted out of work, I no longer belonged to the class of intellectuals. But Necdet Sezai needn’t know this, because for some reason I derived great pleasure from him thinking that I still translated.
“What translator really gives a damn about the author’s inner world?” I said.
“Don’t say that, I think being a translator is really something… Being capable of recreating a work of art in a different language, and then diving rigorously into an author’s inner world, isn’t that something?”

I had left the house hoping to find a chemist, but I headed straight to the city centre when Bahadır gave me a call. My father had been discharged that morning, and had been brought home to die in peace. There was still an hour before I was to meet Bahadır at Sarmaşıklı Kahve, so I wandered around in Bar Street for a while. Just as I was planning to sit down somewhere, I bumped into Necdet Sezai whose polite offer I couldn’t refuse, so I sank into a seat at his table.

There was nothing on the table prior to my arrival, but then Necdet Sezai had a portion of Mexican Steak, two Chinese rolls, and a huge bowl of Caesar Salad. I just had beer. The weather was alright to sit outside; a few tables outside the bar… After his second Chinese roll, Necdet Sezai ordered a beer too.
A vehement discussion was going on at a nearby table. Two young men with their ties loosened up were getting louder by the minute. Between the two comfortably sat a brunette with high self-esteem, about thirty, who preferred to remain silent. One of them, the one who looked relatively more temperate, believed that we, as a nation, needed to portray a more aggressive attitude; we needed to get out there and take immediate action. The other, who had a prominent forehead that stuck out so far out that he could butt it into other peoples’ business, thought that delivering peace and solidarity to far away countries was absolutely none of our business and that interfering with the internal affairs of other countries was in utter violation of international law.

I had no idea what it was they couldn’t settle. I realised only later that Necdet Sezai was no longer talking to me, but listening to the conversation at the other table. Scanning the two youngsters who were really fired up now, he kept rolling his eyeballs, like a chairman on a debate show.
Suddenly he pushed aside his empty salad bowl and said in a loud voice, “Fine, but what’s the gain?” As he said this, he didn’t look at the other table, although he was addressing them, not me.
“What’s the gain?”

Then, with a sudden movement, he grabbed his beer, stood up, and lifted it into the air, toasting to the other table. He looked as if he was preparing for a long tirade. Purely the latest version of Young Werther, vigorous but grave. Alyosha Karamazov’s grandpa Zosima, mortal but wise. A portrait of Franz Liszt playing the piano, attractive despite his long nose. The fact that he was dressed like a permanent member of the provincial assembly didn’t really spoil the scene; his short sleeved green shirt and jeans kind of matched.
Necdet Sezai was excellent at making ordinary events look extraordinary, no matter what. For a moment there, the youngsters didn’t know what to do. How were they to respond to the friendly and noble attempt of a stranger past middle age, an Uncle Sam who just looked young (and who was probably a lunatic)?
Throwing in the towel, they raised their glasses too, a move that seemed rather like an attempt to brush him off. What about the woman who was sitting with her back turned to us? She didn’t raise her glass; she turned to Necdet Sezai and cracked a wee smile. More effective.

“To go or not to go,” said N. Sezai, slanting towards the other table a bit more, “to go or not to go, isn’t this also a literary problem, going back hundreds of years; if we do go, what will our gain be, shouldn’t we be talking about this; or what if we stay, what will we get if we stay?”
Synchronized, the three of them gave him a look that one might interpret as who the hell do you think you are? The lunatic was going too far now. N. Sezai had successfully read the two youngsters’ minds and so, to put an end to their query, went on to introduce himself.
“I’m an author…” he said, “I’m Necdet Sezai Balkan.”
Blushing peacefully, like disciples who had just come that close to committing unrepentable sin, the youngsters welcomed the author to their table. They stood up to pull his chair out for him. After settling down in his seat, splaying his presence all over the place like an octopus, N. Sezai had no difficulty whatsoever in socializing with the youngsters. He straightened his collar and tried to make his bulky body appear more slender by sitting upright.
“Guys, when honoured by the presence of such a beautiful young lady, isn’t it inapt to be wasting time talking about such trivial matters?”
Of the two youngsters who had now been mildly scolded, the more temperate looking one bought the author a beer in a bid for forgiveness; the one with a prominent forehead offered him some nuts, holding it out like a bottle of cologne. Now I was left at the other table, all alone, and with every ticking minute I was drifting away from the centre…

A human being is an animal that can socialise, and if it doesn’t socialise, it imbrutes. Perhaps there was no sign of hair sprouting out of my body, but the moment I was all alone I was burning with the desire and yearning for mud I could dig in, to bury my shame. And all because of this I missed a whole load of things that were worth seeing. I couldn’t see Necdet Sezai’s performance as he strove to survive on foreign land (or how, after showing a little courtesy and licking off the salt that the nuts had left on his bottom lip, he delicately kissed the brunette’s hand). I asked for the bill.

In spite of everything, Necdet Sezai was a sympathetic man, understanding, respectful, polite… When he saw that I was leaving he came up to me straight away and apologised exactly three times. He took out a pen from his bag and clipped it to my shirt pocket.
“In memory of today,” he said, “as an apology…”
I felt so disgraced I didn’t know what to do; I just prayed the youngsters weren’t watching.
Do you think this was really necessary? In the end, it was quite naturally his right to leave without notice. To leave and go soothe until smooth the crude, crass islets of his heart…

2.1.1. To wear the title of writer like a badge of rank is one of the most dangerous methods on earth of achieving self-satisfaction. To write is something else; but to be a writer, to live life on earth clinging to this identity is a disorder better left to the science of psychology. Those whose writings are not satisfactory, try to satisfy themselves by using you, referred to as the writer’s friend, the pitiful creatures who constantly have to stay fresh and come up with new ideas in order not to feel insignificant when around the writer.
Are you too one of those pitiful creatures? If that’s the case, remain calm - it’s really no reason to go losing your hat. There is a way out: just admire what you read and sense an underlying meaning in everything, and you’re done.

During some other Sarmaşıklı Kahve session, Bahadır had said, “You get pissed off with the writers of this country but you go and take it all out on foreigners.” This was months before I got sacked. He was the only person with whom I had shared my inner obsessive feelings about translating and I was strictly convinced that he wouldn’t go blabbing on about it to anyone. For some odd reason.

Novels that had the reader prepared for a closed ending made me feel terribly miserable; I resented bloodsucking writers who scrambled to prepare closed, deadly endings, who left behind nothing but what they’d said.

Let’s say our protagonist is a retired police officer. If there were, for example, in the very first pages, descriptions like, he was possessed, a demonic glare beamed in his eyes, ascribed to the protagonist, and if he was given the usual cynical role in order to duly portray the sick nature of the main character; that’s when I would completely lose it, and contrary to the expectation imposed on the reader, out of pure spite, I’d bestow the retired police officer who actually, at the end of the novel, chops up his neighbour with a butcher’s knife after a fight over the garden fence, with a chance to perform the kindest deed the world has ever witnessed.

For example, I once kept a character alive until the very end of a novel, solely owing to my own efforts, as the writer killed him shortly after creating it, probably thinking he wouldn’t contribute much to the plot. Besides, readers really liked him. Plus, a renowned critic back then wrote in a book supplement of a highly circulated newspaper, that my imaginary, fictional novel persona, mirrored Proust’s multidimensional characters on the one hand, and Beckett’s queer and miserable creatures on the other.

Just as I didn’t approve of the obsession with closed endings, I also couldn’t stand huge gaps left in the plot. I thought such efforts were buffoonish shows that writers incapable of finishing off a proper essay would fall back on, under the guise of creating profundity. A total disgrace. Who the hell did I think I was? I reconstructed all the structures that the post-modern writers I translated had deconstructed, I filled in all the gaps they had left, one by one, took out all the flashbacks I found unnecessary, changed the settings, the story, played around with the dates, and sometimes I got so carried away, in waves of ecstasy, I’d sprinkle in a few poetic lines.
“Doesn’t anyone check your translations, go over them or something?” Bahadır asked.
“Of course someone does. An editor who doesn’t speak a word of German…”

I never defined what I did with words as unpleasant, as damage, change, or alteration. I think the word to clarify what I did would be correction. Perhaps revision … or polishing up… Whichever really is the most innocent suitable expression to use in this case, I really don’t know…
I was freeing the characters of the novels I translated from the robes they were cut out for, letting them out of the cages they were locked up in. I was rewriting the novels, bestowing upon them the most powerful characteristics they could never have had.

However, among the many writers whose works I revised, there is one who I dub special; the famous German writer Judith Wohmann… I give Wohmann the most credit. For she too has played a major role in my ascension to authorship. At least a big a role as Bahadır…
“Oh wow, so Wohmann got the big prize after all,” said Bahadır, “unbelievable.”
I had banished this prize thing from my mind a long time ago. The only thing that kept my mind busy was that I was going to start writing. Even though I didn’t have anything to write about yet, that wasn’t going to be a problem after that day. But first, Bahadır had to get on the plane, fly away up in the sky towards Petersburg, with the innocence of a carefree gull, ignorant of everything.
“When you make a go at something you have to just stick to it, you should never give up,” said Bahadır, “I mean, if you had shown some respect to your work, if you hadn’t been so unlawful, you’d be counting your money by now.”
“You’re right Bahadır, I totally agree with you. But may I ask, when did you ever make a go at anything?”
“It really doesn’t matter what you make a go at, what matters is that you be persistent and never give up trying,” he said, “I mean, slinging mud and throwing eggs at people like you do is perhaps just an easy way out…”

2.1.2. Altering one’s profession may at first seem an extremely immoral act. However, this can highly differ according to the nature of the job you do. If you are positioned in the control tower at an airport, it can, and should be viewed as an unforgivable crime to give the pilot wrong directions, as the passengers’ lives are is at stake. In such cases, you are obliged to obey the rules of your profession. But if you are of a profession that is free of vital interactions, let’s say, for example, a grocer, then alteration is a must. How many tomatoes in a crate do you think are actually edible? If you are a grocer, you know very well that half the crate is full of rotten tomatoes. Customers always want you to give them the edible ones, so judging you by their own values, they expect some dignity, some honesty of you. Leave them with their expectations. After all, that’s what a customer is, an animal waiting in expectation. You never let them choose their own tomatoes. A kilo of tomatoes; half of it meets the customers’ expectations, the other half is a physical mass of rotten ones. For the grocer to live on this terrestrial globe as a mass that isn’t starved to death, is only possible by remaining faithful to this law of physics.
“They’ll find out what you’re up to one day,” Bahadır had warned me. “Can’t you remain faithful to the original at least one bit?”

Judith Wohmann, it was all her fault; I was completely obsessed with her. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that I translated her entire corpus. I translated a total of seven of her novels, including her second novel The Falcon’s Screech, which introduced her to the readership in our country, The Society of Secrets (three thousand copies were published in the first edition), The Homeland of a Wanderer (discussed in literary circles for days after publication, you must remember), and The Transcendental Numbers of Love, which won the hearts of women readers. The publishing house now considered me an expert and sent every newly released Wohmann novel straight to me.

With each novel, I took my right to interpret the text further; I slightly ruined The Falcon’s Screech, but I completely wrecked The Society of Secrets. The strange thing is that the outcome never changed. And as I saw that the readers’ admiration increased, I went completely wild and tried all sorts of different methods. You could say I went so far as to sabotage the novel titles. For some reason, the abstruse community shortly defined as the readers failed to develop any sort of defence mechanism against certain writers. No matter what I did, readers loved Judith Wohmann.

You remember the character that kicked the bucket in the very first pages of the novel, whom I insisted on keeping alive throughout the whole 382 pages, the one that was declared by the critics to be nothing less than a perfect rendering of Proustian and Beckettian persona? Well, you see, that was the old and miserable Colonel Enke in The Society of Secrets… I don’t know what I liked about that rotten character; perhaps I found it a bit too cinematographic that he was put to death by the other members for revealing the society’s secrets to the public. His short appearance in the novel, or rather, to be more precise, his brutal assassination, was nothing but a breathtaking embellishment. It was difficult to claim that he had a notable part in the story when his heart was still beating, impossible to speak of him rubbing elbows with the course of events.

In this respect he was like Garfield, whose presence or absence made no difference in the public sphere, but who saw wasting space as a legitimate right granted him. In other words, he was a sort of ephemeral manifestation of Garfield on the literary scene. Yet Garfield was alive; playing colonel wherever he went, and as if that wasn’t enough, he demanded a salary.
So why shouldn’t the real Colonel Enke live?

Wohmann didn’t agree, Enke needed to be punished; so he’d be slaughtered mercilessly on the basement floor of the apartment building the society had declared its snare, and then dumped into a river, stuffed in a sack. Enke, caught in the great current of the river, would be cast into the sea near the shores of Wilhelmshaven, and would disappear in its glorious and mighty waters. This was a Wohmannesque symbolisation that meant; you may be a soldier, an individual who has the discipline he needs in his professional life; but if you can’t keep a secret (according to Wohmann, not knowing how to keep a secret meant not believing in yourself and there was no room for nonbelievers among people who had come together yearning for a purpose, there never could be), you’d disappear into the sea, into oblivion, as a wretch that no one would ever want to remember. Following this event, their spirits raised after having joined hands and successfully gotten rid of a parasite like Enke, the Society of Secrets would work nonstop, creating new secrets and fostering more mysteries in itself each day. These secrets could be quite simple and personal, they could be about high positioned members, or even state affairs. The whole point was to keep secrets. Keeping a secret meant challenging the whole world. The miseries that had befallen humanity were all because of blabbermouths, and the sole quality that made the world what it was, was the existence of secret alliances, mysterious links between people, or between communities. Nothing was to be revealed, everything was to be hidden, and there would be no such thing as that which is known. At the end, at the very end, when all the small secrets came together, the world would be nothing but one big secret. And when the day came for that big secret to be revealed, everything would then be known. According to Wohmann, this was the only way to solve the numerous puzzling problems that surround us today.
I felt sorry for the Colonel. I just couldn’t kill him, so I spared him.

To tell you the truth, Wohmann had overdone Enke a bit; he was a chatterbox, sloppy and unbalanced, a coward and a telltale… The character was falling apart in shreds; going all soggy like a marshmallow, wasting away like a sack of rice with a hole in it. I had to take immediate action. Incapable of keeping his big mouth shut, Colonel Enke was giving away very important secrets, including a certain critical one that could change the society’s future forever, to the last person on earth that should know. Ok, huge mistake. But was it really necessary to make it crystal-clear that he would have to pay for it with his life, on the very first page?

I had translated the novel without loss up to the page where the Colonel gets slaughtered. And because I didn’t have the energy to go back and make corrections (plus this would be disrespectful to the source text, and thus to Wohmann), I only did revisions on the pages following; I kept the Colonel alive for another 300 pages, when he was supposed to leave the stage on page 82…

It wasn’t that difficult to find a solution to the revelation of the big secret; once I had made the person Colonel Enke had shared the big secret with an active member of the society, the secret then never left their community. But I still made the Colonel carry the heavy burden of what he had done until the very end of the book. All those secrets were constantly at the tip of his tongue. Unable to keep his mouth shut anyway, he could let out a big secret at any moment, start blabbing on about the wrong things at the wrong time. But as Enke lived on, and as he lived on the verge of revealing secrets, and as he came to his senses at the very last moment just as he was about to make the same mistake again, the suspense in the text grew overwhelming, and so the reader was swept away.

The Society of Secrets sold more copies in this country than it did in Germany, people loved it! Wohmann had used a character that no reader would be upset to see dead, as a mere side dish. Whereas I had created a new and multidimensional character who lived to hit both readers and critics in their soft spots.

p. 207-213

3.3.3. I always leave everything to the last minute. And that’s what I’m doing now as I barge into a six storied we have everything you could possibly need shop. This is years ago, two hours to go before I get my first translation job, five years before my father dies. The years back when I loved those velvet jackets with leather elbow patches… I scurry along to the section where the jackets that I’ve long wanted are, because I can’t risk going to a job interview in ragged clothes. My German isn’t too bad, but is it good enough to translate? That’s for the publisher to decide. All I have to do is my best. If I can wipe out the side effects of the first impression I leave on people that don’t know me, I should be ok.

Translating is actually the perfect job for me, because I’m kind of stuck in-between; not quite a reader, not quite a writer. Just as being ugly may be an advantage for a writer, and as a weak immune system and naivety are necessary to be a reader, why shouldn’t the qualification to be a translator be “stuck in-between”? Let that be a rule, attributed to me.

Beethoven or some other symphonic is playing in the background when I enter the shop. I couldn’t tell back then, back then I avoided this sort of music. Blocking my ears, I hastily try on the jackets one by one. I try on almost all the different colours they have, until I finally can’t decide between navy and khaki, and I keep rewinding. Navy quite suits me, looks good, is comfortable, and fits perfectly. I hadn’t asked the sales representative for help, but here she was anyway. I look at myself in the dressing mirror, turning my gaze away from the girl’s face, covered with pubescent spots. She may be right, navy does look flashier. But I still can’t trust what I see in the mirror.

My lack of self-confidence is rooted way back in time; all the way back to my childhood, the days in my childhood when I had newly discovered astonishment, in a funfair. I was astonished by everything I saw, as if I were discovering lands that no man had ever set foot on. Because I was only a seven year old brat who detested smoking, I couldn’t understand why all the prizes at the funfair in games like throwing hoops, were a packet of Kent or Marlboro cigarettes. But for me, the most remarkable amusement of all was the laughing mirrors. It all seems strange and meaningless now; it’s actually nothing but an ordinary exhibition, not worth visiting twice. But back then I’d spend all my money visiting that tent; I’d carefully examine my neck that got longer and then thinner, my head that went flat like a pancake, every single grotesque figure. It was as if someone paid to stand behind the mirrors created those figures, and it felt like I was just a step away from unraveling his secret. However, although I was young, I knew very well that my head wasn’t like a pancake. That’s when I learned not to trust what I see in the mirror.

“Sir, are you buying that?” asks the sales representative.
How can a young girl’s face as petite as this, have so many spots on it? She’s actually quite nice looking when you try to imagine her without the acne. But she has a long way to go before becoming a woman; the lines, curves, and contours of her body haven’t settled in yet. I wish I could give shape to this untouched babe, with my own bare hands; watching her blossom step by step, keeping her under surveillance for 24 hours and personally witnessing her every shape shift, would have been an interesting experience. I would give anything in the world to watch her pear tits grow into melons.

But no matter how hard I try to convince myself that she looks like Ayla, it’s impossible. Because this was years before I met her.
Although she tells me the same lies the mirror does, I trust this girl for no apparent reason, and buy the navy one. There’s a little queue at the counter, so I have time to try the navy jacket on once more. A final dress rehearsal.

When I start examining myself, all of a sudden, what the hell? For a moment there, I see myself. But I’m not standing in front of a mirror, I see myself, but not in the mirror. Or is it my mind playing tricks on me. I look at the mirrors in the shop. Knowing that interior decorators that decorate shops like these stick mirrors on the walls whenever they’re stuck for creative solutions, and in order not to look like one of those idiots who have their mouths wide open in awe at the sight of this, I am extremely careful and only slightly raise an eyebrow. Whereas I’m certain there are no mirrors around. All the mirrors in the shop are in the changing cabins and thereabouts.

I walk over and stop in front of a mirror, and instead of the navy velvet one, I have this fur collared, brown leather jacket on. But I had chosen the navy one. I look really flashy; but for some reason I seem to be distant, further, deeper in the mirror. Whereas when I look up to check, I’m standing right in front of it. For the first time in my life I’ve come across a mirror that makes you look distant. I look at myself, I’m wearing the navy velvet jacket; I look in the mirror, I’ve got the brown leather one on… Mirrors everywhere, I feel dizzy. This stupid trick the mirrors are playing on me doesn’t seem ethical at all. I’m going to make a complaint, I consider going up to the sales representative with the acne and telling on the mirrors; this means you don’t take necessary precautions; these rascals won’t do their jobs properly, and if you can’t get them to behave, what can we poor, cheated customers do about it? If you ask me, we should make a run for it, now come and join me for a cup of coffee. And I can tell you about how mirrors are actually made, their principle of reflection, their periodic maintenance, etc. I’ll teach you, and you can sit back and listen, and learn. And we’ll live happily ever after.

“Have you decided on that one then? Well, have a nice day sir,” says the sales representative.
Nice. Day. Have. Decide. You… Words start drifting about in the deep reflection of the mirror, idle fugitives… No way is shopping the thing for me; shopping makes me feel dizzy, suffocates me, makes me feel sick. I’m wearing the navy velvet jacket, but in the mirror… the brown leather… The navy blue’s standing there, I’m standing there, and only after a while does the brown one leave the scene.
I take the navy jacket off straight away and hand it over to the spotty sales representative.
“I don’t think it really suits me.”
Then I quickly leave the shop, chasing after the brown one. I’m walking on the pavement opposite, with a brown leather jacket on. But at the same time, I pace up the lane, without a jacket. I cross the road and run as fast as I can, cutting through the air, and then I follow myself. I turn right and move on towards the bus stop, and I’m right behind me. I get on a bus and head off, but I stop a taxi and go after me without letting me get away. I’m a bit resentful because there are no empty seats on the bus, in the taxi I’m really comfortable, I light a cigarette without even asking the driver for permission.

We pass through these streets and the further we travel, the older the pavements look, the more potholes there are on the road. On the bus, the potholes shake me up a bit, in the taxi I’m making the most of slaloming the potholes. As the bus moves on, the taxi follows it into run-down neighbourhoods, worn out streets. I get off the bus on a muddy street that couldn’t be worse. I pay the taxi driver for the ride, he keeps the change.

I walk on, I must nearly be home. I walk on, I’m right behind me. As I’m trying to get my keys out of my brown leather jacket pocket, I drop them on the floor. I rush forward and pick them up before me, and kindly hand them over. I thank myself. I am a bit surprised at seeing myself standing right before me, but I don’t get stuck up on it. I enter the garden of a sleazy old shanty. And there I am, watching myself walk away.

I don’t even know where I am, god knows what remote corner of the city this is. I have to be at the city centre in an hour, for the job interview. After seeing this wretched building, I begin to nurse better feelings towards the modest neighbourhood I live in. I go out on the street and stop another taxi, off to the city centre.

I feel better after getting to the publishing house on time. I feel even better as I’m leaving; I get the job.

The next day, I find myself at that deserted spot again. I wander around outside the shanty, hoping to see him again. It has been one day since I got my first translation job and there are still five years before my father dies. He’s no where to be seen. My eyes are set on the shanty door, it doesn’t open. I was tired and frustrated after shopping yesterday. Shopping never does me any good anyway, nor does being in the crowd. Whenever I go out in public, I myself start watching me. And then my mind goes creating frivolous images out of nothing. I guess.

It’s getting chilly, I’m about to give up. But just as I turn to hit the road, I find myself in a world of illusions again. The Doppelgänger11 appears on the pavement opposite. He walks with a waddle, like a duck, headed towards me. No, he doesn’t have bowlegs but he shambles along, worse than I do. Fortunately he recognizes me, moves closer, stops in front of me, and smiles.
“I didn’t get the chance to thank you properly yesterday,” says the Doppelgänger, “sorry, I was a bit self-absorbed.”
“No way, don’t mention it.” I tremble.
“So, do you live around here?”
“No,” I reply, “I’m here for business.”

Who on earth would believe the answer I gave him; what kind of business would anyone have in this place? But it looks like the Doppelgänger buys it; he doesn’t look surprised, everything is normal. He examines me as he fiddles with his hair. His hair is my hair combed back, his eyes are my eyes… You could perhaps say he’s a few inches taller than me. He actually looks a bit younger than I do. No matter how much we look-alike, I am nothing but his Golyadkin.12 Even though he lives in a run-down shanty, he looks like a man who feels the joy of life inside, clean shaven, and snug… or in other words: The Doppelgänger was me who didn’t smoke two packets of cigarettes a day…
“Weird, right?” I say, “You know how they say everything comes in twos.”
He is quiet and acts as if he’s not at all surprised, as if everything is perfectly normal.
“I’d love to invite you over for a cup of coffee,” he says, “but my place is a bit of a mess right now.”
“Oh that’s ok, if you have time we could go to a café for some coffee. There’s this place I know.”
He kindly nods his head.
“Let me introduce myself first,” I say, “I’m Meriç.”
“Nice to meet you,” he replies, “and I’m Bahadır.”
“What do you do for a living?” I ask him.
“People’s names are actually useless,” says the Doppelgänger Bahadır, “just like their jobs.”

I jump into a taxi with my double who doesn’t smoke, has fairer hair than me and combs it back, is younger and snug, doesn’t have bowlegs, his gaze slightly more piercing, and who is a few inches taller than me (hereafter referred to as Bahadır, if not stated otherwise), headed to Sarmaşıklı Kahve, as it used to be called.

p. 224-230

Conclusion.3. The Trial Exam
Bahadır might be back from Petersburg, or he might still be on his way. If he is sick and tired of the multidimensionality of his organised job, he’ll be looking forward to hiding under his sheltered life. He probably misses his house and his swimming pool, and probably gets horny whenever he thinks of his big tits wife. Had he given the birthmark on Ayla’s backside a nickname? I wonder what he calls that impertinent little crescent-shaped mark.

I guess he’s thinking of me too. Not that I consider myself important, it’s just that Bahadır always thinks about me, always has. But free of all expectations, removed of all sermons and suggestions, just for the sake of standing by me, would he be contemplating my future too?

Thanks to today’s scientific intelligence, if we can reach the conclusion that the chicken came first, there is a second question that needs be answered: Who came first, Bahadır or me? To rephrase the question: Who’s the real doppelgänger, and who’s Golyadkin? I was actually kind of used to living like a vegetable. But it can be a bit annoying to walk around like a clone, to be the spitting image of your best mate. Was this a game in which I was always it?
- It could be possible, considering the progress made in plastic surgery.

Day by day, the resemblance between us dies away. I think. I haven’t left the house for days. And haven’t been eating properly. I’ve invented a living organism that works on tea, if you avoid tough jobs it never leaves you in the lurch. If I can’t be bothered to make tea, I drink lemonade. Lemonade tastes good, but it gives you the trots; first you get diarrhea, and if you go on drinking it, then you get constipation. Constipation of course has a negative impact on writing, and naturally, you shouldn’t really believe the things an organism that is having problems defecating tells you.

That’s why I titled this chapter the end; I want it all to end now. I want to tell you about what happened that day, before I change the subject again4 and everything gets even more complicated. For my constipation keeps getting worse each day. Writing is becoming a more difficult task; each word is more problematic than the last, a heavier burden… I have to finish as soon as possible.

I had seen Bahadır off, been squashed by a fat lady on the shuttle bus, had something to eat, supplied myself with new clothes at the shopping center, got a simple sun tattoo done on my shoulder and then set off. I didn’t want to take a taxi, I don’t know why. Perhaps, metamorphosed with my new clothes on, I wanted to prolong the joy of being unique and individual in the city Bahadır had deserted, in a geography free of the doppelganger. All written sources insisted that I was free. According to constitutional law, there were very few areas in which my freedom was restricted, and as long as I didn’t go down that road, I’d be ok.

According to the newspapers, I was a liberal. All dominant ideologies announced the good news that there was no point looking around for remedies, and indicated that the remedy was precisely in me. This was the sole purpose of their existence, to tell me all this. Whereas mine was to enact the desires I nurtured inside.
I had another thirty minute walk to arrive at the house with the pool, wading through the snow. The more I tried to speed up, the more I slowed down. My trouser hems were soaked; I could feel the snow water in my shoes. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling of anxiety; Bahadır never walked anywhere unless he really had no other choice, so how would I explain what happened to my socks?

But there was no point in contemplating such details, because it was too late. The freezing cold wind in my face couldn’t discourage me. Once you decide to do something, you should never back out. Believe me, I can’t remember whose aphorism this was; could be Bahadır’s, but the wording kind of reminds me of my father too. It’s a bit too straightforward for Sevgi, too complicated for Ayla, too lucid for Wohmann… I wouldn’t be surprised if it was words of wisdom right out of the mouth of Garfield or Bluto. It really didn’t matter, all advice went straight into the same melting pot. My destination had been set hours ago, I walked decisively towards the house with the pool.

With every passing minute I grew more impatient. I remembered my hypothesis about The Inductive Effects of Impatience and Excitement on Bowel Activity. And it immediately proves itself to be true. I had to use a public toilet, with great difficulty. There was no toilet paper. I searched my pockets. I would have been in deep shit and made a real mess if I hadn’t had The Glorious Faith propaganda leaflet with me. Ok, I wasn’t expecting it to be as clean as the toilets at the airport, but come on, how could a toilet be so far from being a toilet? Flies swarmed over your excrement before you had actually dropped it, when you still had half of it inside you. I couldn’t even stand touching the taps.

I couldn’t part with the propaganda leaflet. I had to keep it because it was the only clue to Bahadır’s organization I had gotten my hands on. I folded it with the excrement remains inside, and put it back in my pocket.

That day, I kept reacting in ways I didn’t understand. I felt like a guinea pig that had been overdosed, one minute I was fine, the next… Just as I was about to have an anxiety attack, a certain kind of determination that I wasn’t used to experiencing, overtook me. I marched on with no reservations whatsoever, to the house with the pool, fearless. As I marched on I wondered how much I really looked like him, and to what extent we could be mistaken for each other.

All of a sudden, I remembered my father’s Theory of the Dissimilarity of Look-alikes.

It is generally well-known faces, namely the famous, who have look-alikes, in order to cheat millions of people, and mostly to entertain them. They are dressed, adorned, and put on the stage or the screen. At first sight, these people picked out of the common crowd, the common folk, with their timid by nature but bold by ignorance dispositions, cause great delusion and amazement in us with their similarity to the famous person. But this changes in less than two minutes. Contrary to the impression we get at first sight, we begin to notice the dissimilarities instead of the similarities, the exquisite contrasts. In conclusion, no two people can ever be exact look-alikes; or at least, the dissimilarity can be noticed after the first two minutes.

Try putting on stage, not the look-alike, but the famous person himself, with the same intentions, saying “look we’ve found a double”. The result will be the same. The famous person will be on stage not as himself but as his look-alike, he will begin to change, lose his principal conduct. And the longer this experiment is continued, the dissimilarities shall outnumber the similarities, and numerous dissimilarities will appear between the famous person himself, and himself who is acting himself.

That is why, only the similarity between two people who are complete strangers, who don’t know they are being compared, can be valid argument. But the result is still the same, because the moment this topic is open to discussion, similarity will lose its prominence, because dissimilarities will have started to emerge. In other words, there is no such thing as similarity, only the case of being less dissimilar.5

I tried to cast out of my mind this incomprehensible hypothesis which disrupted my determination. It wasn’t that difficult once I started thinking about Ayla. I wondered how much I looked like Bahadır in her eyes. There should have been a black snake on the back of my shirt; I had a green dragon instead. Would I really fool her?

People were on their way back home from work; they all walked at the same pace, waited at the bus stops, went down to the subway. It was a weird show; the whole country did the same thing, at the same time intervals everyday. Five, four, three, two, one… When directors of musicals, just to get a few actors synchronized, force them in desperate efforts to take part in agonizing rehearsals for days, here, using no force at all, you have hundreds, thousands of people finishing off their series of synchronized actions perfectly. Taking no offence at all… And a one, and a two…

I joined in with the rhythm, walked with them. The closer I got to the house with the pool, the fewer people were left walking by my side, and a while after that I was all on my own. I was now just a few steps away from Ayla Would I fool her? Perhaps I would, I really didn’t know. But what I really wanted was to enter Ayla’s body as Meriç, not Bahadır. I wanted to fool her and not fool her at the same time. I wanted Ayla to play games with me too. I mean, she could pretend she was fooled, but know that it was Meriç all the time. That’s what I wanted. Upon reconsideration, I realised that I was asking for too much.

I started taking more cautious steps as I got closer to the house with the pool. My life would never be the same again. A person who knows that a sharp turn is just around the corner does nothing but think. He no longer has to do his obligatory military service, he has no sexual problems, he doesn’t give a damn about bureaucracy, this man doesn’t even need to read books anymore. He just needs to think.

When you have limited time, you get to think about more things. Prince Mishkin said that a head chopped off with the guillotine carries on functioning even when it lands miles away from the body. You could very well say that he’s just the biggest Idiot ever, but I totally agree with him. If I can still think in the current state I’m in, he must be right. But the thing about seeing your whole life flash by is an exaggerated connotation, and a bit legendary, if you ask me. Life stays exactly where it is, it doesn’t flash by. Relevant and irrelevant thoughts flash by as images that last only milliseconds. These thoughts are not a very good sign, and aren’t just mediocre stuff. Heaps of thought all together… Can you image all the thoughts that have shaped your life, stuck in a single moment, begging for your help? Expecting you to understand. What are you meant to understand? That they are actually nice and kind? If you ask me, no thought can ever be nice, if it could, it wouldn’t be called a thought. Kindness and happiness prosper where thoughts don’t exist. An idea is the scythe for happiness.

I would ring the door bell, and after a while, she would open it. The flight had been delayed until the next day, because of weather conditions, I would tell her. There was no reason for her not to believe me. Our eyes would meet. Before the dissimilarity of look-alikes started to become apparent, or, in other words, according to my father’s hypothesis, within two minutes tops, I was going to have to convince her that I was real. I had to.

The house with the pool was beautiful when it was buried in snow too. Like a work of art that no one would dare to touch. The way Bahadır made the horizontal leap from that crappy shanty to this magnificent villa, was really an enviable success story, something to aspire to.

I lifted the latch on the gate and entered the garden. The bean-shaped pool was covered in snow and it made you want to dive right in, headfirst. I took one last look at its magnificent appearance and started making my way to the door. No one had walked in the garden before me. The flawless appearance, the extraordinary pureness of the snow had been defiled by my footprints. Slowly I walked up the stairs. Doing my best to look presentable, I rang the door bell. I wasn’t even considering the possibility that no one would be home, I didn’t want to. When I heard the sound of footsteps approaching the door, I started swallowing hard and sweating. I can’t even tell you how at that moment my heart

THE END*


* Editor’s note.

1. Elective.
2. William Blake.
 I thought I had put the phone out of commission, I was wrong. It was Sevgi. “When are we going to see each other?” she asked. “Soon Sevgi,” I said, “I’ve just got some work to do right now.” She’d be waiting for my call and she loved me too.
11. Doppelgänger: A look-alike, the other. I would have explained this concept to you in more detail, if only I hadn’t chucked my philosophy books in the bin. Unfortunately, all I remember is this dictionary definition.
12. Golyadkin: The protagonist of Dostoevsky’s novel, The Double; a meek and paranoid clerk whose whole life is ruined after meeting his look-alike. I never, in daily life, had the chance to refer to this novel I read over and over again, under my personal study of world classics. That is, until today.
4. By the way, changing the subject is in fact a literary technique. From what I learned back when I was buried under all those books of literature, this technique even has a special name: it’s called digression. I would like to clearly state that I have never ever adopted this method, and that if I have changed the subject now and then, I have done this unintentionally, mainly because I have problems expressing myself.
5. Manuscript, H. Ateşke, Part III – A Second Awakening is Possible, page 91.


Originally published in Turkish as Zafiyet Kuramı
Istanbul: Plan B, 2007.







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