a distinctive kind of literature from Barıs Bıçakçı

A Distinctive Kind of Literature from Barış Bıçakçı

reviewed by ersan uldes

The latest book of Barış Bıçakçı, a writer mostly celebrated for his distinctive texts, entitled After Going Parallel to the Ground for a While (Bir Süre Yere Paralel Gittikten Sonra, 2008) possesses an even greater literary tour de force and effectiveness than that of his previous writings, i.e. As if Everyone is Friends with Each Other (Herkes Herkesle Dostmuş Gibi, 2000), Pithy Words (Veciz Sözler, 2002), The Shortest Distance Between Us (Aramızdaki En Kısa Mesafe, 2003), Our Great Desperation (Bizim Büyük Çaresizliğimiz, 2004), as well as, We’ll Come Again in Spring (Baharda Yine Geliriz, 2006).

Throughout his books, the language of Barış Bıçakçı can be defined as ‘poetic’ in a general sense. These texts, all of which have been written in a plain and unvarnished, yet abundantly rich style in terms of discourse and meaning, are the products of an imagination that has strong ties with poetry. Be that as it may, one can hardly make precise interpretations of the structures built by the author’s language. There are certain differences of opinion in literary circles with respect to determining the genre of Barış Bıçakçı’s books, particularly After Going Parallel to the Ground for a While. Some critics define the work as a ‘short story’ book, while others claim it is a ‘novel’. Even though the critics who maintain that After Going Parallel to the Ground for a While is a story with respect to its language conforming to the short story genre, the fact that this book is composed of thirty-seven sections, all of which contribute to the development of the overall interactive plot, makes this text beyond a shadow of doubt a contemporary novel.

Other books by Bıçakçı namely, As if Everyone is Friends with Each Other and Our Great Desperation, in which there can hardly be any doubt that they are novels in the strictest sense of the word, can be considered as some of the distinguished texts of Turkish Literature, thanks to the plain and condensed language used, the gratifying range of meaning and non-coercive plots.

Despite the fact that As if Everyone is Friends with Each Other is the first novel of the author, this work brings an opulence of expression and fresh means of constructing a narrative account to the sphere of literature. The plot of the book that vaults from persona to persona and from setting to setting, moves on to another story without allowing the personalities to acquire the status of a ‘character’; so the flavour of each story lingers in the mind of the reader. The human stories, all of which might initially give the impression of being irrelevant in relation to each other, eventually form into the unique story of a comprehensive novel. As if Everyone is Friends with Each Other offers an unpretentious insight into ordinary, nevertheless ignored, human conditions.

Since divorced, he hankers and craves for every woman except his ex-wife. From this point on, for him, ‘woman’ is a combination comprised of every woman except his wife. Woman is a combination. Not a weight that leaves its tracks on the right side of the bed. Let everyone know this as it is. (p. 52)

The triumph of humankind was crushing them. They were being crushed under the triumph of the people who took refuge in caves and who started fires there; who hunted and survived, and then drew pictures of the animals they hunted on the walls of the caves; who domesticated animals, sailed ships, built castles (nay, they have come even from Britain in order to build Ankara Castle); who produced catapults and used in these catapults helical springs made up of women’s hair; who ‘got laid with women’; who brought potato and corn from the American continent and took Africans from there as slaves; who believed in Moses, Jesus, Mohammad; of the executive secretaries, bank managers, purchase specialists, sales representatives, plant and operation managers, site managers, actors, artists, litterateurs, translators, editors, generals, graduate students, sportsmen, engineers. (p. 55)

Our Great Desperation can be considered as the most ‘novel like’ of Barış Bıçakçı’s works. In comparison with his other works it has a more straightforward plot which takes shape around a single theme. The close friendship of Ender and Çetin, which dates back to their childhood, changes dimension upon the arrival to their house of an uninvited guest, a girl called Nihal. Nihal, who has lost her parents in a traffic accident, is the sister of Fikret, a close friend of Ender and Çetin who is residing in America. The novel which is narrated by Ender and addressed only to Çetin, discusses in detail the love that the two men feel for Nihal and, in point of fact, the feelings they have for each other. The author’s account in this novel is again both plain and rich.

We do not need to use words as nostrums anymore. We are not obliged to make meaningful, memorable and expressive speeches, because we’ve been healed! Because we do live together! (p. 91)

Although Barış Bıçakçı’s most recent book After Going Parallel to the Ground for a While also includes the characteristic features of his previous writings, it is a literary opus which positions itself above the earlier books of the writer both in fictional and textual terms. The novel focuses on the suicide of a young girl, Başak and the people in her immediate surroundings: her mother Türkan, her brother Umut, her grandmother Nanni, her boyfriend Ahmet, as well as her friends Nergis and Abidin. The novel opens with the plot within which is contained the essential feature of the novel: the concealment of truth from Başak’s grandmother, upon whom the young girl’s suicide would have the severest effect; the agreement of Canan, the girl next door, who surrenders to her mother’s insistence and reluctantly assumes to play the role of Başak who has allegedly gone to America for her studies; Canan’s intermittent phone calls to Nanni pretending to be Başak; and last but by no means least, the curious way that Canan becomes attached to being Başak, smitten with the game she starts to increase the number of phone calls to Nanni. Afterwards, the relationships which develop according to pre and post Başak’s suicide are embroidered in detail commensurate with the narrations of each character.

In this book, Barış Bıçakçı builds up a meta-episodic representation. Even though the matter of Başak’s suicide can be tangibly considered as a kind of ‘episodic’ development, this suicide does not in the least attain the status of an ‘episode’; and what is more the suicide does not become the anticipated ending of a given time sequence nor does it occur as the crux of the plot. It is only glue here; a connective which compels the characters, all of whom represent an existential condition and a time division, to become narrators. In so doing, Bıçakçı inserts both rewarding and non-coercive narrative into action scarcely encountered in Turkish Literature. All the narrations, all the words serve to expose an ordinary condition, rather than to reveal a striking episode.

A growing virgin forest, sprouting from little things. We call it fate but we can also call it a wasted little fly which somehow found its way to the very number six of the table clock. Because now, here, here in this world, everything is scattered and every single piece can substitute the other. We don’t find it odd. We’re supposed to lose our senses but we don’t find it odd. I, for instance, can be both a smart arse and a goldfish, I carry foolishness and death with my gauzy fins. This fish can be the truth itself but truth is always a bit blue. During the course of searching the truth, we dream of changing it at the very moment we find it. Because truth is at the same time, is always a bit shameful. (pp. 97-8)

In the novel, the narrator constantly changes; nevertheless, this approach never takes the form of a literary display. Since in the course of shifting from one narrator to the other the author does not fall back on cheap tricks, such as turning the language upside down according to the personae and adding accent-dialect-intonation to their speech. Being more or less people who come from the same surroundings, they naturally speak the same language. The way the author approaches his characters in such an objective way is so striking that one can hardly find a fair equivalent in the history of world literature. Even for Başak, who has committed suicide, any privilege or favouritism is out of question.

The sense of completeness in the plot makes its presence felt in the language and dialogue. Bıçakçı achieves a style of narration which can be defined as ‘plain’ in style; although what he achieves is not ‘simplistic’ in vain, rather it is a completeness difficult to attain in meaning and narration. It is a strong architectural edifice in which words serve to depict merely a condition and do not occur in the least pompous in sentences; as in a building that ascends vertically from the ground towards the sky, built with the same type of bricks used by everyone, but using less than half of them.

I didn’t want to play but I felt myself compelled to play. To be a decent person and help someone worse than me… An angelic and a marmoreal decentness that is gained by visits to the graveyard… Knights who have been developed before bishops. Sacrificed pawns. The Queen’s gambit declined. Life goes on. Some flowers endure drought and forlornness. Life always goes on and everyone knows this. (p. 55)

The literal and political references of the book do not hamper the plot in the slightest; on the contrary, they serve its development. The story of the book that Aunt Türkan reads in the bus is a literary exhibition per se: a story, ending at the right point, narrated with a minimum number of words without being highlighted and thus, making its effect highly felt. Another textual reference that fits into the context is the well-known pastoral definition of Julio Cortázar in his work entitled A Certain Lucas (i.e. the place where uncooked chickens stroll) that goes hand in hand with the inquiry of Abidin and Nergis as to whether they prefer pastoral life or not. The political emphases regarding the revolutionary struggle prior to the 1980 coup, the reviving operation and the cell house raids, all of which are immersed in the text as a meditation merged with narration, rather than sticking out in the plot like a sore thumb and hence in the lives of the characters, can be considered as another achievement of the novel.

Because this city is similar to other cities. Here too, there are issues like living hand to mouth, finding a roof over one’s head, ending up in a police station or in a hospital. In this city too, something grasps the wrist of a person when someone is writing on the walls at nights, and as a matter of fact, certain letters are skipped over, and words are written wrong. All in all, in this city too, most people share the same opinion: ‘The anarchists do not know spelling.’ (pp. 77-8)

I saw the news about the police operation in the morning too. Do you know what I thought? Let me tell you what I thought. I thought that after reading which news I would cease to continue in my normal life. (p. 105)

In his novel Barış Bıçakçı, instead of detailing the concrete reasons that set the ground for suicide, contrary to what is expected from every novelist, i.e. constructing the renowned psychological background accompanied by the cause and effect chain and then killing his/her character off, he dwells upon the vital lacks and existential excesses that might lead to the suicide of any given character. Because suicide is a more reasonless action; indeed, suicide is something that cannot be explained based on the reasons of those who would not contemplate doing it.

All aspects considered, in After Going Parallel to the Ground for a While as well as his other books, through using even less of the same words Barış Bıçakçı creates a distinctive kind of literature.

Works by Barış Bıçakçı

As if Everyone is Friends with Each Other

(Herkes Herkesle Dostmuş Gibi)

İletişim, 112 pp., 2000, ISBN: 978-975-470-814-1

The Shortest Distance Between Us

(Aramızdaki En Kısa Mesafe)

İletişim, 99 pp., 2003, ISBN: 978-975-05-0148-7

Our Great Desperation

(Bizim Büyük Çaresizliğimiz)

İletişim, 167 pp., 2004, ISBN: 978-975-05-0263-7

We’ll Come Again in Spring

(Baharda Yine Geliriz)

İletişim, 109 pp., 2006, ISBN: 978-975-05-0393-1

After Going Parallel to the Ground

for a While

(Bir Süre Yere Paralel Gittikten Sonra)

İletişim, 136 pp., 2008, ISBN: 978-975-05-0585-0