Sunday, 5 February 2012

a tribute to adonis @ the mosaic rooms 02/04/2012

words + photos _ gian paolo galasi

Adonis at the Mosaic Rooms, London - Feb. 04, 2012

On Augut 28, 2011 Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, well known to the world as Adonis, was gifted with the Goethe prize in Frankfurt. First Arab poet, Adonis was granted for being “the most important Arab poet of our time” and claimed for his "eminent literary talent, his cosmopolitanism and his contribution to world literature"Born in Syria in 1930, on a public conference at the Mosaic Rooms during the exhibition Tribute to Adonis on February 4, 2012, the poet states that “poetry really gave me life”

If at the age of 12 the poet Edward Said referred to as ‘the most eloquent spokesman and explorer of Arab modernity’ encountered the then Syria’s first president - Syria gained independence from a French mandate in 1946, just to enter the Arabi-Israeli war in 1948 and subsequently pass through a period of instability until 1970's Hafez Al-Assad coup - to make him the gift of a poem; in this occasion the young poet asked him for the possibility to go to school, and once settled in Lebanon in 1956 Adonis helped establish the literary magazine Shi’r.

“When I first came to Beirut I really started to live freely, I regarded the city as my second home, as far as my intellectual development. Me and my friends founded a cultural magazine so to discuss about a poetic and intellectual revolution to make it spread through the Arab world”.

Adonis collages at the Mosaic Rooms exhibition until March 30, 2012
The idea of questioning Islamic tradition and its close relationship between culture, politics and religion passed through the inspiration coming from European philosophers like Nietzsche and Heraclitus and poets Charles Beaudelaire and Ezra Pound, just to find out how much similarities there were between the French symbolist poet and the Persian poet Abu Nuwas (756-814): “In Baudelaire the idea of life and of city change, leading to the modern Western world, and it was the same with Abu Nuwas centuries before.”

While Shi’r ceased his publications in 1964, Adonis started issuing his poems since 1968 with Lebanese literary periodical Mawaqif settling, before his scholarship in Paris in 1960-61, his peculiar mix of social revolution and poetic mysticism.

“Arabic culture was revolting against linearity, because linearity started to become associated with power, while uprightness was linked to the revolutionary thinking. […] As far as I’m concerned, a poem is a revolutionary presence. To see the world artistically means to see the world culturally, intellectually, integrally. There’s unity between culture, thinking, art.”

This striving for unity explains also Adonis interest in Sufi mysticism. While in 2005 the poet issued the book “Sufism and Surrealism”, claiming that if “in Christianism the Jewish God was changed in that, that he can become a man and the man can become a God”, while in Judaim and Islamism the human and the divine are split up forever, Sufi mystics were injecting this aspect of transformation into the Islamic tradition.

So, even if Dervisces were marginalized by Arabic society, Adonis claim mystics as the only, true revolutionary thinking coming out of the Islamic culture: “God usually is seen as a force external to the world, while in mysticism God embodies himself in the human”. If you think about what does it mean living under a religious dictatorship claiming that Mohamed’s is the last truth, and that so “man can only obey and pray”, you can easily understand the consequences of this choice.

“I fight in order to set up a society in which religion has been split up from society, where the woman has the same rights of a man, and society gives shape to his own identity. The problem doesn’t underlie only in power. Everybody talks about changing the power, but nobody talks about changing society. That’s why I chose Nietzsche, and Heraclitus”. This is the reason why Adonis says often that the tools of a revolutionary poet are not the same of a revolutionary politician.

And even if Adonis personally is “with Gandhi, against Che Guevara”, the issue of identity leads directly to the relationship between Sufism and Surrealism: “For Surrealists you can’t find reality on the surface, in the appearances, but in what’s invisible, in what’s underlying, it what’s hidden. Identity in mysticism is a perpetual creation, and men will become men in the future; their own identity doesn’t come from their own past.” And so the individual is central, in opposition to the collective.

For the unaware reader, the influence of Adonis in contemporary culture is wide, huge and sometimes unexpected. In 2003, the contemporary avant garde performer and singer Diamanda Galàs brought in his Defixiones: Will and Testament, dedicated to the Armenian genocide, Adonis’ poem “The Desert – Diary of Beirut Under Seige 1982. In 2008, the French post rock band L’Enfance Rouge performed on their album Trapani – Halq Al Waady, dedicated to migrations from Tunisi to Europe, beautifully enriched by the harmonics of oud and qanun, the poem “Tombeau pour New York”.

You can find traces and quotations from Adonis poems through plays as Wajidi Mouawad's Encendies, but the presence of his work is massive even in theatrical representations coming from North and central Africa, creating an interesting mélange with the poetics of metamorphosis and psychological notations on the disruption between politics and society à la Durenmatt.

While the extremely beautiful exhibition at Earl’s Court Mosaic Rooms shows the interest Adonis developed in Arabic writing – “my collages helped me in understanding the visual aspect of the art world, they are an extention of my poetry, and I think that sooner or later someone would have to start to write the history of the silent geniuses of Arabic manual ability”, one of Adonis last statements, about the proximity of Israel to the Islamic dictatorships, remembers the notes of another ‘exiled’ intellectual, Israeli-born documentarist Eyal Sivan, on the idea of memory and modernity, when he says, quoting his friend and Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto, that:

“In every society lies a conservative spirit and a innovator spirit. They both coexist. The conservative spirit is tied to money, power and religion. [...] Memory is a process, not something existing in someone’s mind. You have to connect everything but you have also to forget”.

This is the schedule for the remaining events at the Mosaic Rooms:
07.02.12 Islam, Sufism & Arabic Literature - in conversation with Omar Al-Qattan

08.02.12 Reflections on the Role of the Intellectual in Society - With the award-winning Chinese dissident poet Yang Lian 

01.03.12 20th century Baghdad: Architecture and Urban Space Lecture by Caecilia Pieri

The Mosaic Rooms

A.M. Qattan Foundation

Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road
London SW5 0SW

Related features:
Maya Jaggi interview with Adonis from The Guardian

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