Elif Shafak is the most-read female author in Turkey. This is an old video but it points right to my biggest confuses about fiction writing, i feel related and encouraged.
Some take-home points:
– Everywhere I went, I felt like my imagination was the only suitcase I could take with me. Stories gave me a sense of center, continuity and coherence, the three big Cs that I otherwise lacked.
– When you’re a latecomer to a language, what happens is you live there with a continuous and perpetual frustration. As latecomers, we always want to say more, you know, crack better jokes, say better things, but we end up saying less because there’s a gap between the mind and the tongue. And that gap is very intimidating. But if we manage not to be frightened by it, it’s also stimulating. And this is what I discovered in Boston — that frustration was very stimulating.
– We often talk about how stories change the world, but we should also see how the world of identity politics affects the way stories are being circulated, read and reviewed…Writers are not seen as creative individuals on their own, but as the representatives of their respective cultures: a few authors from China, a few from Turkey, a few from Nigeria. We’re all thought to have something very distinctive, if not peculiar.
– It was just a story. And when I say, “just a story,” I’m not trying to belittle my work. I want to love and celebrate fiction for what it is, not as a means to an end.
– Writers are entitled to their political opinions, and there are good political novels out there, but the language of fiction is not the language of daily politics. Chekhov said, “The solution to a problem and the correct way of posing the question are two completely separate things. And only the latter is an artist’s responsibility.”
Identity politics divides us. Fiction connects. One is interested in sweeping generalizations. The other, in nuances. One draws boundaries. The other recognizes no frontiers. Identity politics is made of solid bricks. Fiction is flowing water.
– The Sufis say, “Knowledge that takes you not beyond yourself is far worse than ignorance.” The problem with today’s cultural ghettos is not lack of knowledge — we know a lot about each other, or so we think — but knowledge that takes us not beyond ourselves: it makes us elitist, distant and disconnected.
– Now those of you who have been to Istanbul have probably seen Topkapi Palace, which was the residence of Ottoman sultans for more than 400 years. In the palace, just outside the quarters of the favorite concubines, there’s an area called The Gathering Place of the Djinn. It’s between buildings. I’m intrigued by this concept. We usually distrust those areas that fall in between things.
We see them as the domain of supernatural creatures like the djinn, who are made of smokeless fire and are the symbol of elusiveness. But my point is perhaps that elusive space is what writers and artists need most. When I write fiction I cherish elusiveness and changeability.
– Imaginative literature is not necessarily about writing who we are or what we know or what our identity is about. We should teach young people and ourselves to expand our hearts and write what we can feel. We should get out of our cultural ghetto and go visit the next one and the next.