Metin And on Theater, Research and Life

Metin And is a figure anyone interested in art history and folkloric research knows very well. He currently lives in his house in Ankara which, as he himself puts it, has almost become a garbage dump thanks to his books and notes. Solitude is his greatest obsession. Although he is 80, he still produces, working unceasingly. Year 2007 has been a very fruitful one for him with his 80th birthday celebration held at the Atatürk Culture Center (AKM), a book was prepared in his honor and the he was given various awards. We spoke with And, who never loses anything from his happiness and his determination to make his life as productive as possible, about his stage arts, literary life and private life.

What did you feel when you heard that you were granted the title “Author of Honor” of the TÜYAP Book Fair?

Well, being granted the title “Author of Honor” of TÜYAP surprised me. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. It’s interesting that I should’ve been granted that title, although there are many accomplished poets and novelists. I’m only a researcher. This title became a great source of happiness for me after the events held by the Troy Folklore Research Association on account of my 80th birthday and a gift book published with the financial support of Yapi Kredi Publications.

Can you follow book fairs as before?

Actually, no. While the TÜYAP exhibition hall was still in Tepebasi (Taksim), I visited it once. In fact, my health no longer allows me to attend them; however, this year’s fair is important for me. I will attend the fair with three books this year: “Game and Magic and From Ritual to Drama: Kerbelâ- Muharrem-Ta’ziye,” “Ottoman-Islamic Mythology with Miniatures,” which contains miniatures of many prophets, their miracles, astrological objects as well as Mevlana Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi.

Professor Talat Halman calls you “Renaissance Man,” owing to your versatility…

This is an exaggerated comment. Who am I to be a Renaissance Man? That commentary might get down to this: I work in very different areas that don’t overlap with one another -- not only stage arts. When I was accepted into the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA), it was decided that I would study theater. It is really difficult to be accepted into this academy. Even my classmate Serif Mardin wasn’t accepted into the academy as he had published research on Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. Then they rectified my title by changing it to “culture historian.” I’m interested in the Ottomans the most. After retiring, I always displayed the Ottoman culture at Bosporus and Bilkent universities with miniatures and videos. The Ottomans never fail to leave me in utter admiration of them. To be honest with you, I define myself as a researcher.

Which one of the 50 books and 1,500 articles do you like the most?

Two of my books, titled “Turkish Theater Suring the Time of Administrative Reforms and Autocracy” and “Turkish Theater During Constitutional Monarchy” occupy a very special place in my life. I lived these two books through my imagination just as a novelist. I walked around Beyoglu, Gedikpasa and Sehzadebasi. I revived in my imagination the times when the theaters, which no longer exist now, existed. Turkish and Armenian actors and actresses were very important during the era of administrative reforms. They could have easily secured themselves high-ranking positions in the state if they had wanted to. But they did not do that and spent their time only in theater. They were not like the actors and actresses of today. Those of today engage in many other things beside theater: they do voice-overs, they appear in commercials, series, etc… While writing my book on the era of administrative reforms, I experienced the tragedy of the actors and actresses of the time. Most died from plague in utter misery. And they worked with far more far-sighted writers in comparison to the writers of today. That’s why I love them very much. Also, such eras don’t exist in the history of any other country’s theater and this makes these two books of mine important.

Talking of theater, does your resentment continue?

I have no resentment toward theater, but my understanding of theater has changed. The meaning of theater has narrowed; this is what I have realized. Namely, when theater is mentioned, what is understood now is that someone writes a play and others memorize and stage it. So, if theater is a form of art, who is the one who creates it? They say, “the writer.” A writer is a man of literature. For instance, Shakespeare was a writer, but also an actor at the same time. He writes “Hamlet” today, and performs it tomorrow. Moliere is the most universal writer. All the countries that start staging Western plays begin with his plays. That’s what happened here, also. Theater is something which has a far larger meaning. He who creates it should be a man of theater, a director, because a writer is a man of literature. If theater is an art, plays should not remain at the insipid level of memorization and performance. Today’s great stage managers and theatrical producers do it this way. Although it is a younger art, this doesn’t exist in cinema. What we call screenplay is managed by the director. He makes arbitrary decisions on the screenplay and has it rewritten by somebody else. Another person takes this one step further by co-writing the screenplay with the writer. There are even directors who themselves write the screenplay, as it is the director who directs everything. If theater is an art, actors and actresses should create something, not the writers. There are such theaters where the writers are put in charge of things that should normally be taken care of by the electrician or the dresser. They have even stopped using the word “theater” in some places; they call it “display.”

What about opera?

Our people still haven’t adopted it. It’s actually the most elegant form of theater. Opera has realized a very major reform for actors and actresses. Now tenors or sopranos are no longer inquired about; people rather change their question to “Who staged it?” The same happened with Yasar Kemal. His play “Teneke” (Tinplate) was staged at the famous La Scala Theater in Milan and achieved great success. The audience there is conservative, but they all stood up to applaud the play, which shows that the theater of the 21st century is not the theater of once upon a time. That, of course, will live as a “museum” item. Those who still have the same theatrical understanding should go to museums. For years, I haven’t been to any theater, cinema or ballet.

Why have you severed your ties with everything?

My memory has started to fail me. I don’t even read anymore. I contemplate the old. I have isolated myself from everything. They say that I have fallen out with theater; no I haven’t. I just don’t go to any plays or films. I have a film archive at home which holds 3,000 films. I even don’t watch most classic movies. I don’t listen to music, either. I have focused myself entirely on the things I am going to do. My memory and intelligence suffice me only this much. In order to carry on my current projects, I have renounced everything. I love poetry, but I haven’t read any in years. I have become a literature critic but have long stayed away from everything about literature.

What about your biggest passion, illusion?

That doesn’t continue, either. I used to give two-hour performances, half of which would pass with my speeches. Nowadays, it’s impossible for me to do anything like that because of my health; however, illusion is still a great passion of mine.

You have turned 80 but are still up to something. How do you work? What is Metin And’s secret?

The things I will tell you now are peculiar to me. I knew a lot of years in advance what I would be doing. While I worked both at home and abroad in libraries and archives, I always worked with my future projects in mind. I took countless notes in notebooks, which have become a great archive over the years; an archive everybody now calls “the Metin And archives.” Although I sometimes have difficulty reading those notes I jotted down with my handwriting, I benefit greatly from them. In addition, I have some photocopies. In other words, I don’t benefit from books that much. When the right time comes, I will publish a book with my research.

Haven’t you ever thought of sorting out your archive?

That’s not possible; yet, there are many volunteers who want to do that. The doorkeeper’s wife, who helps me with many things [like cooking, cleaning and ironing] made two attempts at sorting them out while I was in Istanbul, but to no avail. She only managed to make them into a stack. When I got back home, I looked for many things for weeks. Therefore, it’s impossible to sort them out. To be honest with you, there is no place to put back what I have taken out. I have my notes in all the rooms scattered here and there, so much so that even when my daughter came from Istanbul, I had to usher her into the kitchen where we could sit and talk for five minutes, and then we left; the situation is hopeless, as you see. I will be living with this. But I’m content with my life; I’m happy as long as I’m home. I act the way I want. My daily running and pacing at home would probably be equal to five or six kilometers. This is my life.

All publishers are in a flurry because of the book fair. You also had once dealt in book publishing. Would you tell us something about those years?

It was totally amateur. I didn’t even get paid. It would be wrong to give his name, but I wrote a 400-page book for a famous publisher and wasn’t given a dime -- although, as far I remember, the book was published more than once. Money wasn’t spoken of and that suited them. They did not pay me anything, and I said, “Okay.” This was what my short publishing life was like. We published nine books, the first of which was Muamer Aksoy’s book. I don’t have at present most of the books we published. I have recently found one of them, “There Was Death in Troy” by Bilge Karasu, a close friend of mine. The cover design was made by Orhan Peker. We three were good friends. The cover was not that good, but it is valued only because Peker did it. I would publish the book, take three to four copies for myself and then give the rest to the authors, telling them, “Do whatever you please; distribute, sell, or give them to your friends.” Ours was an amateur adventure.

What are you currently working on?

I have started writing a book titled “In the Footsteps of Magicians.” There will be chapters like “Female magicians” and “Cinema artist magicians.” There are two chapters left before it is finished. I’m actually very tired. To be able to reach even the least important piece of information at home, I spend two hours. The publishing house says, “Let’s publish it as is.” But I don’t want to publish it half-done. Therefore, I have begun a new book. What I tell there is actually a life story. I have worked on 25 albums. The book will contain hundreds of pictures. I have named it “Istanbul’s Bazaar Painters.” Art historians have also accepted the name. They did not know about this field before. A greater part of this project has been realized thanks to M. Sabri Koz. He has been of invaluable help. Thanks to him, I have finally had the chance to work with an editor. No editor has ever touched my previous books. As I value the information in the books, I did not need anyone to correct them.

You are always on the run. Looking from your 80th year, what was the most beautiful part of your life?

I love all periods of my life. I’m a happy person. There are two I’s in me and they have conversations. One of them is very merciless. Although I have never used a swear word in my life, it swears at me. It rebukes me sometimes, saying things like “Are you an idiot? Why have you done this like this?” Things that would emerge upon a psychiatric therapeutic session have already formed inside of me. I’m someone who also loves solitude. I have always been alone. I have many friends, but I have always lived with my dreams. And now I’m pouring my imagination into a book; that’s what keeps me happy.