Friday, May 23, 2008

Knowledge of these conditions cannot begin too early.

Indeed, it seems to me that the art of our country has for many years past been introduced to the public of Europe and America in all sorts of ways, and hundreds of books have appeared in several foreign languages; but I have been privately alarmed for the reason that a great many such books contain either superficial observations made during sightseeing sojourns of six months or a year in our country or are but hasty commentaries, compilations, extracts or references, chosen here and there from other volumes.

The masks represent the Himalayan atmosphere of awe-inspiring mighty peaks and deep-sounding river gorges, of eerie rustlings of haunted forest leaves in the valleys and desert-like mirages appearing among the giant mountain landscapes. When the cult of the Devi captured the people’s imagination, and more and more temples were erected in almost every hamlet, these masks were in great demand because the local temples which could not afford to commission a complete idol of the goddess could still do her honour through such symbols. With the passage of time, the practice became a custom so that even when the temples were more prosperous and their imagery more resplendent, masks still occupied the principal altar – and were no longer made of wood or clay, as in the past, but cast or beaten in metals such as copper, silver and even gold.

We admire their terracotta colour, at the same time as our incurable anthropomorphism leads us to classify them as repugnant, disgusting, slimy and other equally unjust epithets. Actually, they’re very beautiful slugs, with a smooth and shiny front part followed by a dorsal section that looks like the work of Piza, our friend the Brazilian painter, I mean a surface filled with little gathers and grooves that look hand-made, although it’s hard to imagine a hand working on a slug, and much less Piza’s. As is their custom, this cohort of slugs advance millimetre by millimetre, giving the clear impression they’re not going anywhere, except where pedestrians and vehicles will irrefutably crush them; but we’re falling back onto anthropomorphism because slugs know better than us why they leave their woodland shelters and make their entrance into the rest area, although it might also be ingenuous to imagine themselves so sure of themselves, poor little things.

“You mustn’t forget about spiders,” Carol reminds me after I’ve consulted her regarding certain details about slugs in Canada.

“I’m inclined to think he does,” said I; and Fritz, who had been by my side, dropped respectfully behind.


If I were to detail the ordinary events of my daily life at the time, they might prove instructive to people who are not familiar with the inside of palaces; if I revealed some of the secrets I learnt, they might prove of interest to the statesmen of Europe. I intend to do neither of these things.

“How do you account for what my father saw and heard there?” asked Leo.

“Coincidence. No doubt there are bluffs on the coast of Africa that look something like a man’s head, and plenty of people who speak bastard Arabic. Also, I believe that there are lots of swamps. Another thing is, Leo, and I am sorry to say it, but I do not believe that your poor father was quite right when he wrote that letter.

Since his map is not a descriptive, but an analytical and selective representation of Istanbul, it certainly reflects the city vision or concept of the 16th century Ottoman intellectual such as Matrak├ži Nasuh, who was a typically educated Ottoman military man. He wrote books on history and on mathematics and he was a calligrapher and a painter. Before carrying out any analysis, however, we have to remember that there are rules imposed by the size of the pages, by the nature of the miniature painting itself, such as the lack of perspective, a lack of realism in depicting the correct shape of the site and the almost total absence of motivation for a representation of the third dimension.

The most remarkable characteristic of Matrak├ži’s map is the absence of roads, streets and open public places. His map is directionless.

1 - Henry P. Bowie, with prefatory remarks by Iwaya Sazanami and Hirai Kinza, ON THE LAWS OF JAPANESE PAINTING, Dover (NY) 1952
2 - Madanjeet Singh, HIMALAYAN ART, Macmillan (NY) 1971
3 - Julio Cortazar & Carol Dunlop, tr. Anne McLean, AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE, Archipelago (Brooklyn) 2007
4 - Anthony Hope, PRISONER OF ZENDA, Penguin (NY) 2007
5 - H. Rider Haggard, SHE, Penguin (NY) 2007
6 - Dogan Kuban, ISTANBUL AN URBAN HISTORY, The Economic And Social History Foundation of Turkey (Istanbul) 1996