Xerxes, the king of kings and commander of the greatest army on earth, having led his men to the Hellespont in preparation to do battle against the Greeks, took a moment to look out over the water. He then sat down and wept. So described Herodotus in his Histories.
Even better than Herodotus, I think I prefer Monsieur Rodriguez's version of that moment when Xerxes sat down to cry:
Xerxes the Persian, king of kings, looked over his army of a million men, the greatest army the world had ever seen, absolutely loyal to him, he the greatest ruler the world had ever known—a million men aimed under his command to the ruin and conquest of obstreperous Greece. But as he sat and saw on his hillside throne, something gave way in his mind. Some inward support, rotted out with secret melancholy, broke and let him fall. Xerxes looked at a million strong, proud, fearless men; but Xerxes saw only time and decay and death. Xerxes (a poor calculator) thought that in a hundred years not one of these men would be alive; and thinking so, Xerxes, king of kings, before his army of a million men—Xerxes wept.
It is a somehow deeply touching image, is it not? This image of the great king crying as he gazes down upon the waters full of warships in the Hellespont below. The legendary straights made famous by Lord Byron's triumphant swim, are located, as everyone knows, on the other side of the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul.
Such is his genius that the Great Orhan even manages to write a memoir not of the usual mold. An age of memoirs indeed-- reality TV etc., why is it that people seem so fascinated by other people's narcissism? And this idea of over-coming personal adversity. Who cares about her divorce anyway? But no so for the Great Orhan-- for even his memoir seems really more a view from a minaret.
But it is in part a memoir and Pamuk, writing about his youth, illuminates the way in which we really cannot separate self from surroundings. Yes, place is to us like cold ocean water is to a school of tuna.
Mood as place and mood as time.
One of the most written about themes of Pamuk's Istanbul is his concept of Turkish melencholy. Hüzün, writes Pamuk, is the overwhelming mood of Istanbul, and Pamuk spends hundreds of pages describing the way this mood washes over and stains people with its color(lessness) of black and white:
Hüzün does not just paralyze the inhabitants of Instanbul, it also gives them poetic license to be paralyzed.
It is something he says that all Istanbullis share; this "melancholy" of a people living among the ruins of a decayed civilization. Like Mann's Death in Venice or like sitting in a rooftop cafe in Kathmandu all afternoon and watching the great crowds of people in Durbur Square; people "dwelling" and living among the most splendid architectual riches imaginable. One is apt if there is snowfall, to fall into a kind of
hazy state of melancholy which denotes a melancholy that is communal rather than private. Offering no clarity, veiling reality instead, Hüzün brings us comfort, softening the view like the condensation on a window when the tea kettle has been spouting steam on a winter's day.
This really is reminiscent of Death in Venice. But also of Nietzsche's poem. You remember when -- as a man of many moods-- Nietzsche once sang the poem in the middle of the night on a train from Turin back to Germany in a state of madness:
At the bridge of late
I stood in the brown night.
From afar came a song:
as a golden drop it welled
over the quivering surface.
Gondolas, lights, and music--
drunken it swam out into the twilight.
My soul, a stringed instrument,
sang to itself, invisibly touched,
a secret gondola song,
quivering with iridescent happiness.
--Did anyone listen to it?
A brilliant thinker and friend of this blog, he is dubious, he says about my indulging in "collective" mood --in the mood with Heidegger. For concerning any such concept of moods in terms of time and place, he says:
I'm constitutionally sceptical of large groups or mental constructs (like, institutions, cities, States...) being attributed properties that are in the first instance held by individuals, at least in anything more than a metaphorical way. Is a "mood" here similar to an "ethos"? Perhaps like the ethos of fascism that Heidegger so shamelessly indulged in and endeavored to bestow philosophical blessings upon? I think there was an ethos of a kind peculiar to "Red Vienna" (1919-1934), intelligently and elegantly captured by Eve Blau and Elizabeth Ann Danto, and further evidenced in works by Austro-Marxists and on Austro-Marxism.
Yes, I think mood functions destructively in this way as well.I would however question (and this is indeed the interesting point) whether in fact such moods (whether it be fascism or melancholy) are in fact first held by individuals:
Like the sound of jade reverberating off the walls of the great hall, the Confucian scholar just feels it-- this thing called virtue or proper conduct is something to which he attunes himself as embodied know-how guided by mood. And as Robert Harrison's guest, Sepp Gumbrecht suggests, in the same way that a violin will internally reverberate when bowed, this mood is internalized in the sense that it becomes almost impossible to really differentiate between outer environment and inner self as they are indeed inter-dependent (from Being in the Mood with Heidegger).
All this being less obvious now because of TV. (See my 1st comment to POD)
Yesterday, I was listening to an interview with Pamuk that Robert Harrison did for Entitled Opinions in which Pamuk mentioned how younger readers in Turkey have been dismayed by his gloomy portrait of a "colorless city." It reminded me a bit of a recent chat I had on facebook about Che Guevara which also had me thinking how all this is intrinsically bound up in time. Monsieur Rodriguez calls this the Xerxes factor. Calculating his chronology in 35 year unites he says (and I agree) that:
Nothing happens only when it happens. Everything memorable recurs in memory until memory is extinguished. And when that memory is a shared one, like the memories enforced by disaster and strife, it establishes, among those who remember, a secret language of allusions and reminders with power beyond ordinary language. The consequences of this language, even at dark removes, are still in truth the consequences of that event. Thus in order to judge an event, we must look at it three times: first, contemporaneously, so we can judge what it means when everyone remembers it; second, from a half-xerxes, so we can judge what it means once most people no longer remember it; and third, from a xerxes, so we can judge what it means once no one remembers it. And until the third look all judgments remain provisional.
There are many views indeed and we probably do need at least a Xerxes to attempt anything other than the purely provisional.