JASMINE, ANOTHER SYRIA
Jasmine, Another Syria
During those troubled times, it seemed to us essential to offer another vision of Syria through its culture and the artistic creation of its artists.
Jasmine, Another Syria was born from the meeting of people from different horizons and cultures: French, Franco-Syrians and Syrians wishing to show their solidarity with Syria and its people.
The focus will be given on the artistic works of Syrian artists, the history of Syria (and its links with France), its literature and poetry, its cultural diversity and wealth.
Jasmine, Another Syria is meant to build a bridge between two languages, two cultures, two worlds.
This magazine with independent and non-profit funding will be published on a quarterly basis online on our Website syriaartasso.com, and annually as a print edition. It will be edited partially in French and in English languages.
93-Year-Old Lebanese-American Poet, Philosopher and Painter Etel Adnan on Memory, the Self and the Universe
“The universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being. Because it remembers itself, it exists. Because it exists, it remembers.”
Oftentimes during meditation, I am visited by flash-memories dislodged from some dusty recess of my unconscious — vignettes and glimpses of people, places, and events from long ago and far away, belonging to what feels like another lifetime. They are entirely banal — the curb of a childhood sidewalk, mid-afternoon light falling on a familiar building in a familiar way, the smell of a leather armchair on a hot summer day — but in their banality they intimate the existence of the former self who inhabited those moments, a self that seems so foreign and so remote, yet one to which I am forever fettered by this half-conscious memory. Memory, indeed, is the centerpiece of our selfhood and moors our bodies to our minds, as those flashes of the embodied mind unclenched by meditation reveal. Memory endows us with creativity and animates some of our most paradoxical impulses.
A century after Virginia Woolf painted memory as the capricious seamstress that stitches our lives together, Paris-based Lebanese-American poet, essayist, philosopher, and visual artist Etel Adnan (b. February 24, 1925) picks up Woolf’s thread throughout Night — her slender, powerful collection of prose meditations and poems that, from the fortunate vantage point of Adnan’s ninety-third year on Earth, concretize in luminous language and incisive thought life’s most elusive perplexities: time, memory, love, selfhood, mortality.
Night, a brief but powerful fusion of poetry, prose and philosophy, as enigmatic as the night itself, perpetually straining towards enlightenment while retaining it. Uncertainty unfolds like an underground river through these pages where the physical movements of the world are paralleled with those of Adnan’s brilliant mind. “Philosophy brings us back to simplicity,” she writes, while trying with great complexity to reconcile the irreconcilable: the relation of memory to time.
Adnan, whom the polymathic curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has celebrated as one of the most influential artists of the past century, was born in Beirut to a Greek mother and a Syrian father. She began writing poetry in French at twenty and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne a generation after Simone de Beauvoir, then crossed the Atlantic for graduate studies at Harvard and Berkeley. In the 1960s, Adnan took a teaching position at a small Catholic school in California, where she began painting and transcribing the work of Arab poets. She moved back to Beirut and in the midst of the Lebanese civil war composed politically wakeful poetry and prose that arrested the popular imagination with an uncommon precision of insight. Adnan now lives in Paris with her partner, the Syrian-born artist and publisher Simone Fattal, where she continues to paint and write.
Drawing on the rich span of her life across time and space, Adnan reflects on the role of memory in the continuity of our personal identity:
Memory and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no banks, and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us, but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit, abandon the head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a sanctuary of infinite patience.
Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers.
In stretching between the poles of existence and nonexistence, memory, Adnan suggests, might be the native consciousness of the universe:
We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these remain within their world, not ours. The universe covers the whole, a warm blanket.
But this memory is the glue that keeps the universe as one: although immaterial, it makes being possible, it is being. If an idea didn’t remember to think, it wouldn’t be. If a chair wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be tomorrow. If I didn’t remember that I am, I won’t be. We can also say that the universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being. Because it remembers itself, it exists. Because it exists, it remembers.
Art by Etel Adnan (Sfeir-Semler Gallery)
In a sentiment that calls to mind Joan Didion’s unforgettable assertion that “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not,” Adnan considers how memory binds us to each other and to our own former selves:
Memory is intelligent. It’s a knowledge seated neither in the senses, nor in the spirit, but in collective memory. It is communal, though deeply personal. Involved with the self, though autonomous. At war with death.
It helps us rampage through the old self, hang on the certitude that it has to be. […]
Reason and memory move together.
And night and memory mediate each other. We move in them disoriented, for they often refuse to secure our vision. Avaricious, whimsical, they release things bit by bit.
Building upon Virginia Woolf’s metaphor, Adnan adds:
Memory sews together events that hadn’t previously met. It reshuffles the past and makes us aware that it is doing so. […]
Memory is within us and reaches out, sometimes missing the connection with reality, its neighbor, its substance.
Source: Etel Adnan / Brainpicking / Maria Popova
Biography Etel Adnan was born in 1925 and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. Her mother was a Greek from Smyrna, her father, a high ranking Syrian officer born in Damascus, Syria. In Lebanon, she was educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris. In January 1955 she went to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies in philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard. From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California. Based on her feelings of connection to, and solidarity with the Algerian war of independence, she began to resist the political implications of writing in French and shifted the focus of her creative expression to visual art. She became a painter. But it was with her participation in the poets’ movement against the war in Vietnam that she began to write poems and became, in her words, “an American poet”. In 1972, she moved back to Beirut and worked as cultural editor for two daily newspapers—first for Al Safa, then for L’Orient le Jour. She stayed in Lebanon until 1976. In 1977, her novel Sitt Marie-Rose was published in Paris, and won the “France-Pays Arabes” award. This novel has been translated into more than 10 languages, and was to have an immense influence, becoming a classic of War Literature. In 1977, Adnan re-established herself in California, making Sausalito her home, with frequent stays in Paris. In the late seventies, she wrote texts for two documentaries made by Jocelyne Saab, on the civil war in Lebanon, which were shown on French television as well as in Europe and Japan.
What do we know about tomorrow?
What do we know about tomorrow? Between duties and expectations, we will let ourselves embark on the waves of everyday life with the hope of running aground on peaceful shores.
Thus we will sail between what escapes us and what we embrace or believe to embrace, omitting to offer our senses the chance to flourish, and our emotions the incredible opportunity to express themselves and twist the neck to the banality of existence.
The indefinable law of chance will seize our life as always, and we will try in vain to tame it. But randomness, in its sweet folly, opens promising avenues for those who know how to accept and integrate it.
What do we know about what will happen tomorrow? Tomorrow, the smile of a stranger at a corner of a street will surprise us and impact our destiny, the scent of a jasmine will spring and embody happiness, a blue murmur of the sky will slide on our eyelids and will result in a glow, a trembling light will turn into a caress on our faces, and a melody will prolong a moment of ecstasy to detach it from time.
Tomorrow, we will let ourselves be carried away by a soft word or will find serenity in the eloquence of a silence, we will leave footprints that will speak about us, and draw unforgettable memories, which, at every moment of doubt, will tell us the position of the heart.
Tomorrow, an empty space will give refuge to our imagination, a dream of sparkling intensity will stand up at the crossroads of our paths, and we will move on leaving perceptible traces with an irresistible will to emphasize beauty, so that every moment of everyday life becomes the reflection of our dreams.
What we do not know about tomorrow… makes all its beauty…
Text by Khaled Youssef
Translation by Danii Kessjan