That Assert Their Rule Over the World
There's a lovely line in Tanpınar's Beş Şehir where he describes the ways that the city's ways of life found their expression in the calendar, and the calendar in the city's ways of life:
Thinking, "The teşrinler [October and November] have come, bluefish season is going to begin," or, "We must be in April, the erguvan have opened on the slopes of the Bosphorus," gets at the mythologization of the moments that we live. The old İstanbullu used to live inside and only with this story. The calendar, for them, was a thing like Hesiod's Theogony [Tanrılar Kitabı]. They used to see their seasons and days in the shape of a collective dream which took its colors and smells from the neighborhoods of the city in which they lived. (Beş Şehir, p. 125)While working my way through Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü––reading the book is a constant struggle between the desire to find out what happens next and being trapped in the folds of Tanpınar's Turkish––I stumbled across another passage that ends with a remarkable image of a calendar. It begins with our inconstant narrator describing a conversation about the conversations he used to have with one Nuri Efendi, the man who ran the clock workshop where he began his apprenticeship. "Write a book about Nuri Efendi," he is told, but as he continues:
I couldn't write this book. In order to be more useful, to assist more the politics of the institution, I wrote in its place––using the same ideas and materials––The Life and Works of Ahmet Zamanî Efendi. Perhaps this might be a betrayal of my master?
Nuri Efendi didn't give me much work, and in any case didn't much want the work that he gave done. There wasn't any need to rush. He was time's owner. He used to dole it out as he wanted, and would expect the same of most of those around him. Besides it's probably better to say he accepted me as a listener. Once in a while, he used to flatter me, "Hayri my boy! I don't know if you're going to be a good watchman. The truth of it is that I wanted this for your benefit. If you don't take on a profession at a young age and give yourself to it, you might suffer a lot for it. Your disposition is a modest one... you're not tough enough against life and your surroundings. It's a shame that you don't have the attention required for this work. But you love watches, you feel for them! This is something important. You know their winding, itself quite an important virtue. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, that covers a person's gaps, brings them up to the same level as those across him."
Nuri Efendi used to publish a calendar every year. As most of the calendar was simply transferred as it was the previous year, he used to begin writing it at the end of November, and he'd send it along with me to a printer's in Nuruosmaniye in the middle of February. That this project happened right in front of me really surprised me. In this small room of the mosque, a takke on his head, balancing a sheaf of papers upon his right knee resting upon a low sofa, with this man’s reed pen which counted the numbers out like rice, from his brass inkpot, they––the Roman and Hicri months, grafted onto their seasons with the other, older divisions of year and time, the solar and lunar eclipses, the times of dawn, midday, afternoon, evening, and night prayers recorded with the most precise accounting, the great storms, the small but in his accounting significant winds, the equinoxes, the fierce colds, the dog days of summer––they would be slowly born as though from a many-splendored dream, would gather in a corner of a room in order to emerge when their turn came, in order to assert their rule over our world, would gather to one side where the light touched least and the sounds of the clock lingered most. (p. 37-38)
It was that last sentence that trapped me. In the Turkish, it runs:
Rumi, Arabi aylar, onların mevsimlerine aşılanmış daha başka daha eski yıl ve zaman bölümleri, güneş ve ay tutulmaları, en ince hesaplarıyla her gün için kaydedilen kuşluk, öğle, ikindi, akşam, yatsı saatleri, büyük fırtınalar, küçük, fakat onun hesabında çok manalı rüzgarlar, gün dönümleri, şiddetli soğuklar, eyyamı bahur sıcakları, bu küçük cami odasında, başında takkesi, alçak sedirinde sağ dizinin üstüne kağıt tomarlarını dayanarak pirinç gibi rakam dizilerini sıralayan bu adamın kamış kalemiyle sarı pirinç divitinden, yavaş yavaş adeta çok çeşitli bir rüya gibi doğarlar, sanki sırası geldikçe meydana çıkmak, dünyamızda hüküm sürmek için odanın bir köşesinde, ışığın en az uğradığı ve saat seslerinin en fazla yığıldığı bir tarafında toplanırlardı. (p. 37-38)
As a single sentence, it's a remarkable example of what Turkish is able to do, a language of many-nested boxes. I'm sure there's more to write about that dimension of Turkish, but the connection I wanted to draw was between the calendars in each book––Tanpınar seems like an author incredibly attuned to the way that time plays out in material terms. This sense of the days of the calendar waiting in line "to assert their rule over the world" just struck me as such a tremendous image. The baroque grammar aside, it's such a striking passage. And it's passages like this that keep––at once––wrapping me in the words and spurring me on.
More in this Tanpınar bit: