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Adel Karasholi
Adel Karasholi



When I had the honour of meeting the Turkish poet Nazlm Hikmet, one of the idols of my
youth, in Leipzig, I asked him whether, having lived in Moscow for thirteen years, he had ever tried to write poems in Russian. He laconically replied that he found it difficuIt enough to write in Turkish, let alone write poetry in Russian!
Paul Celan's answer to a similar question sounds more principled. In 1961, he said: 'I do not believe in bilingualism in poetry. Speaking with two tongues: yes, that does happen ... poetry: that is the fateful uniqueness of language.'
The Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov responded differently. He said: 'In our country, we already have experience of bilingualism in artistic creation. This experience shows that the safest way is to combine both languages ... It is an extremely interesting inner exercise for any author, and one which, I am con¬vinced, leads to a perfecting of style and an enrichment of the pictorial nature of the language.


Nazlm Hikmet's command of the Russian lang. uage was not sufficiently good to allow hirn to write his poems in Russian. Celan (a German.speaking Romanian), on the other hand, was, as we know, capable of writing poetry in French. He also spent twenty two years of his life in Paris. He did not, however, write poetry in French for reasons of principle; for hirn, po. etry is 'the fateful uniqueness of language'. Moreover, he considers poems to be 'existence projections' (Daseinsentwürfe) that send themselves out 'to oneself in search of oneself'. They are 'a type of homecoming'. If we continued citing authors in this way, we would find that the answers to the question regarding bilingualism in poetry are as many and varied as the differences in and variety of poetical styles and poets' biographies.


I wish I could answer this question as enthusiastically as Aitmatov. I wish I could claim, as
Adelbert von Chamisso so unconditionally did, that: 'The shadow with which I entered this life/My shad. ow I have never lost'. But the moment lieft my coun. try and moved to Germany, which was alien to me at the time, whose language I did not understand, and whose people did not und erstand my language, I lost my shadow. When I came to Germany, I had already
met with so me success in my native country; you could say that I had already buHt up a small career for myself. But my auspicious debut was rudely interrupted before it could really take on any concrete shape. I was soon forced to realise that the absence of an addressee and the anonymity associated with it could become a night¬mare.
And when a twenty-four-year-old, who is deter¬mined to be a poet, and who cannot therefore be de¬void of vanity and narcissism, suddenly loses his lan¬guage; when he is suddenly no longer capable of ex¬pressing hirnself to others; when his ability to commu¬nicate is suddenly reduced to an absolute minimum; when the people around hirn suddenly treat hirn like a mentally handicapped child; then it is not surprising that he turns into a wolf who has strayed into a world he finds strange and incomprehensible. This wolf-like nature takes on various forms and inevitably leads hirn to walk a precarious tightrope between two heils.


As a result, I repeatedly tried to play a part in the new culturallandscape that I had entered. Some of my poems were recited to modest success at the forums that were part of the wave of lyric poetry that took off in the GDR of the early 1960s, and which launched the careers of poets like Sarah and Rainer Kirsch, Volker Braun, Heinz Czechowski, Adolf Endler, and Bernd ]entzsch. But these successes seemed decep¬tive and suspicious to me. The Arabic poems, the trans¬lation of which brought me some degree of renown at the time, were mainly born out of emotions; their dic¬tion was heavily emotive; their metaphors and themes exotic. People willingly accepted me as something exotic. The halls where such events took place were mied to capacity. There were ovati<;ms from those who came to listen. But I didn't want to be considered exotic or to create the impression that I was. I didn't want to be cultivated like an orchid in a cosy, pieasant room; after all, like many of my contemporaries, I had gone out into the world to reform it in the twinkling of an eye. I frantically tried to make myself und er¬stood People noticed this and continually misunder¬stood me.
It was a painful experience for me to learn that an identity crisis and even the loss of identity really begins with the loss of a language as a means of communica¬tion and the absence of an addressee. It was only then that the rupture that tears through an entire existence in a foreign land became evident. It was only then that I realised that the foreignness that I found so painful in Lebanon wasn't actually foreignness at all, just a chan¬ge of location. It was only then that I thought I knew for certain that when language loses its sense as a means of communication, the absence of a language slowly begins to choke the speaker, even if one consi¬ders using this absence as a justification.
Even though the blood of my hidden memories still coursed thrOUgh the veins of the Arabic words, these words forced me to withdraw from the reality in which I found myself. They had suddenly become mono¬logues, conversations with myself, screams on a desert¬ed island that almost drove me out of my mind. I had quite simply lost my real addressee. The language of my poetry lost its natural communicative function. Gradually, the new words I had learned began obstruc¬ting the Arabic words. Slowly I began to believe that I would have to, as Peter Weiss once put it, 'settle down in the new language, or drown in speechlessness'. I started writing poems in German.


This trade-off may have been foolish, but it was my fate. It was inevitable. The odyssey began. It was no longer possible to either turn back or arrive anywhere. My homesickness for my native tongue resembled Noah's dove, who kept returning to the ark with an olive branch and the message that the odyssey was not yet over. Again and again, I tried to concentrate on one language. It was a periodical thing. But I was unable to make a final decision. The moments which I experienced in German reality lay siege to me in their own language, in the broadest sense of the meaning, from all sides of my existence. Their grip on me was so tight that I was forced to cap¬ture them in poetry. At times like this, the temptation was just too great to resist.
In the words of my teacher, Georg Maurer, unlike epic poetry and drama, lyric poetry restricts itself 'to the immediate statement of a self that is moved by whatever.' I too was occasionally so moved by a par¬ticular object in the immediate reality that this object became my all. This subjective emotion was put into words. I didn't want to write these poems in German; I had to. The reason being that I did not want to end up like a piece of driftwood washed up on a shore; I wanted to let myself be moved by the real motion of the world in which I lived.


Above all, the poems I wrote in German were born out of the necessity to communicate with the people with whom I had to get along. They were my way of direct1y dealing with the reality I was ex¬periencing first hand. They therefore had, in the broad¬est sense of the meaning, an operative aspect. I was not afraid of describing these poems as occasional poems. In this regard, I was even able to refer to the great Goethe. Many of the German poems I wrote in the 1960s and 1970s were imitative. They contained a definite trace of the texts that I had been reading. For me, the German words I had just learned still had no history; not only from a semantic, but also from an emotional-associative point of view. Studying German literature, and in particular my knowledge of Brecht's work, created such a huge impression on me that I initially experienced a creative block. In order to scrape the label 'exotic' off my forehead, I avoided any¬thing that even remotely hinted at the exotic. I was now writing poems that schematised Brecht's poetic dialectic. They were sober and accurate, but unpoetic. In all my efforts to guarantee reason its legitimate share in the creative process, the flood of images always won through.
It was only in the late 1970s that I stopped trying to read 'the book of the world', and instead turned to what Proust called 'the book of my inner self'. I had given up all hope of being able to change anything with my poems. The poems I wrote at this time merely ful¬filled a therapeutic function. I wrote to prevent mad¬ness and postpone the death I could feel approaching. The addressee was no longer important and, conse¬quently, neither was the language in which I wrote. It was only now that I produced anything resembling a uniform cycle of poems like my last volume of poetry, Also sprach Abdulla (And Abdulla Said), which contain poems in both Arabic and German.
No, I cannot claim to be able to free myself com¬pletely from the addressee.
If one considers poems to be an opportunity to communicate; if one is not capable of ignoring the addressee, then bilingualism is not possible without speaking in two tongues. The less the addressee pokes his head into the creative process, the less is spoken in two tongues. In my volume of poetry entitled Um¬armung der Meridiane (Embracing the Meridians), I made the following appeal To My Poem in the mid 1970s:

Hold me tight, if I Want to run away From my pain
From my rage And also
From my jubilation!

Daheim in der Fremde (At Home in Foreign Parts), which was published in 1984, was my last volume of poetry to be published in the GDR. I made no more appeals in it. In fact, in a poem soberly entitled 'Poem',
I wrote the following simple and straightforward words:

Building bridges
From me
To me
The whispering of the rain
in the ear of the trees
Touching the pores of the world
In the dark

Does this mean that 'all my poems are occasional poems' that were 'inspired by reality', as Goethe so beautifully put it? Or are they, as Celan claims, 'maybe existence projections that send themselves out to one¬self in search of oneself'? I don't know. But there is one thing I do know for certain: I have lost 'the fateful uniqueness of language'. Because I am incapable of making myself really at home in either world or lan¬guage, and even though the two camps not only continue their ceaseless war, but also embrace each other inside my soul, I still have to bear the dizzying commute between two worlds and two languages,and try to make it as bearable as possible. This is the rupture that tears through me; the rupture which - as I try to explain to so me people - not only results in a doubling, but also a halving; the rupture I have to confront, and with which I have to live.

Translated by Aingeal Flanagan.

Adel Karasholi, born in Damascus in 1936, writes in Arabic and German. He lives in Leipzig since 1961 and has published several volumes 0f poetry and translations 0f Arabic poetry.

Adel Karasholi 2004.

Adel Karasholi è nato nel 1936 a Damasco. All’età di quattordici anni le sue prime poesie furono pubblicate e trasmesse da Radio damasco. Da giovane poeta, ha iniziato a studiare la letteratura mondiale e si è interessato particolarmente alle opere teatrali di Berthold Brecht. Nel 1953 ha fondato una rivista di arti e letteratura, che fu subito bandita dalle autorità del presidente nazionalista Al-Chichakly. Successivamente, ha lavorato come tipografo, è diventato curatore letterario, ha...