sufi and cinematic imagination

Slowly making my way through Elif Şafak’s Pinhan I’ve come across these lines, in which the protagonist’s favourite Sufi teachers are described thus:

‘Kul Hüseyin ile Budala Tosun dudaklarından tebbesüm eksik olmayan, ağızlarından bal damlayan, kimsenin kusurunu görmeyen dervişlerdi. Adeta tüm ömürlerini, dâr-ül hayal ile dâr-ül hakikati birbirinden ayıran hatt-ı fasılı silmeye vakfetmişler.’ (Şafak 2001: 18)

‘Kul Hüseyin and Budala Tosun were dervishes whose lips never lacked a smile, from whose mouths dripped honey and who never saw fault in anyone. They had dedicated their whole lives to wiping away the dividing line between the realm of imagination and the realm of reality.’ (my translation)

One could say that Şafak here characterises the work of the Sufi as cinematic – in the sense that Walter Benjamin celebrates the cinematic imagination as welcome intrusion into the grey modern day life.

‘Unsere Kneipen und Großstadtstraßen, unsere Büros und möblierten Zimmer, unsere Bahnhöfe und Fabriken schienen uns hoffnungslos einzuschließen. Da kam der Film und hat diese Kerkerwelt mit dem Dynamit der Zehntelsekunden gesprengt, so daß wir nun zwischen ihren weitverstreuten Trümmern gelassen abenteuerlich Reisen unternehmen.’ (Benjamin 1963: 41)

‘Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling.’ (Benjamin 2005)

In traditional Marxist manner, it would be easy to dismiss both the Sufi and the cinematic imagination as ideological veils – or one could see both as carrying a utopian potential that transcends the societal orders that produced them. As Appadurai puts it:

On the one hand, it is in and through the imagination that modern citizens are disciplined and controlled – by states, markets, and other powerful interests. But it is also the faculty through which collective patterns of dissent and new designs for collective life emerge.’ (Appadurai 2001)

Appadurai, Arjun (2001): ‘Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination’, A Appdurai (ed.): Globalization,Durham: Duke University Press.

Benjamin, Walter (1963) [1936]: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp

Benjamin, Walter (2005): The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Marxist Internet Archive

Şafak, Elif (2001): Pinhan, İstanbul: Doğan Kitap

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