Text: ARİF NİHAT DURSUN
Lord of the books
Doğan Hızlan has reported on Turkey's world of art and culture for fifty some years. And he continues today to point out for us the best aspects of the best works.
Most of us remember Hızlan's picture in the paper with his famous bowtie. He has been in this business for longer than some of us have been alive, and in a lifetime spent among books, music and paintings he has held up a light to Turkey's world of art and culture. His reviews have shown some the way, and taught others a thing or two. Since 1954 when his first article appeared there is not an artist, writer or cultural figure in Turkey that Hızlan has not known. He is a culture critic who has lived and written a history of literature. Or, as his good literary friend Erdal Öz once put it, he's the 'president of literature'.
You are a name, an authority, that every writer in Turkey would like to gain access to. When you review a book, you certainly influence its sales. How long has this been the case?
First of all, thank you for the compliments. It is my intention that every good book find readers and I try to make that happen. I've been writing since 1954. My aim is that more books be read and writers be better known. Writers send me their books, because I do this work with good will, and I am impartial and unswayed by any outside force.
Do you find time to review all the books you want to review?
I write because I can, and because I love it and enjoy it. Sometimes people criticize me, saying, “write a little about what you don't like, too.” But a person can't find time even to write about all the things he likes, let alone what he doesn't like. I like to take a positive approach in this business.
Murat Belge once said of you, “He knew artists and writers not only by their works but personally. He was aware of their private lives but to this day he never wrote a word about those things. I wonder when a person like Hızlan, who grows and changes so rapidly, is going to take a different approach and start divulging such things?”
Well, what I'm describing is of course the projection of creativity into art. I describe the story of creativity - what we would call the 'behind the scenes' - but there are also many personal aspects to that process. One observes things, witnesses things... And I try to ferret them out to the degree that they are reflected in the work. I've seen a lot both in literary and media circles, and, yes, I've been close to many families. But I don't see myself as having the right to write about their personal worlds. Instead I regard the things I've seen as secrets entrusted to me for safekeeping. Naturally I write about the conversations and the good times I've had in my life with my writer friends. But the truth is that, apart from that, I don't write about what I see.
Compared with the '50s and '60s, we have a lot more modes of communication in our lives today. How is this change affecting the publishing world?
The '50s and '60s were different. TV and the internet are instant sources of news today. Instead of reading about things at length, people can get very superficial information instantly from the internet. DVD's and the plethora of TV channels are modes of communication that might cause people to read less. So, what you have to do in such an environment is be interesting. In order to be interesting, to capture the reader's attention and be read, you have to make use of some modern marketing techniques. A book is a product after all. But I personally never think bad thoughts. Paul Éluard, for example, has a line, “The night is never completely dark.” And that's how I think too; there is always something good even in the worst situation. In Turkey, too, genres are proliferating, the number of books published is increasing, and bookshops and book supplements are on the rise. I can't say that's a discouraging trend.
Let us turn now to your writerly side: Turkey has produced a Nobel Laureate. Do you think more award-winning writers will emerge?
If you ask me, Yaşar Kemal is a greater writer than many who have received the Nobel prize. The master of Turkish literature. And Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca is an outstanding poet. We have many writers who are worthy of a Nobel. I can easily nominate two right off the bat.
What exactly is Doğan Hızlan's mission?
I'm a man of literature, a critic. My mission is to write. And in writing, of course, as a critic to ensure that more people read and that good literature reaches more people. To turn more people into aware, well-informed readers. In other words, whatever it is that makes literature literature, that is part of my mission. But without a doubt this also has to be nurtured with other things. And for me the most important ones are music and, of course, painting.
Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
I have many things I would like to share with readers. There is a lot of grumbling today, for example, about how Turkish is used poorly in the media and on television. If people want to learn good and proper Turkish, the best way is to read a good work of literature.
Do you have any air travel memories you'd like to share with us?
Actually every time I get on an airplane I am so scared that I feel born again when we land! I never go to faraway places. Once I promised to go to Japan. I flew three and a half hours to London from here and then thirteen and a half hours from there to Tokyo. Seventeen hours in the air is too much for me. I don't go on long flights not because I don't like to fly but because my doctors don't advise it. But of course I've gotten so used to flying now that if there's no flight to the place I want to go I wonder how I'm going get there. We humans immediately get used to new things and then take them for granted.
Reading is actually an important part of flying. All of us usually read either a book or a magazine or a newspaper, especially on long-haul flights. How does a book critic spend that time?
I too read books or magazines of course. But it's still not the same as sitting at one's own desk. Now there are gadgets like the iPod too. I use both simultaneously, reading and listening to music, passing the flight time by creating the illusion that I'm home in my own room.