Monday, March 15, 2004

Transfigured Night

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"... and beleiving in his own dream of the prostration of the sun, the moon, and the stars in front of him,
and his knowledge of interpreting it
made Joseph able to enjoy the well, the prison, and the night."
--Shams-e Tabriz (1184-1247), "The Essays"

Sometimes I think of my cousin “M”: He was the one who taught me how to play chess when I was 8, the cousin who was there whenever I needed a playmate in “maashin-baazi” (playing with toy-cars), or wanted to share the excitement of talking about The 6-Million-Dollars Man.
Years have passed since those times. Now psychology defines “M” as a schizophrenic case. He thinks he has a relationship with aliens. He reads Erich Von Daniken books and relates them to the Bible, Mayan mythology, Mesopotamian legends, and Islamic stories. He thinks he has deciphered the mysterious codes hidden in the sacred books; The codes that make this confusing world somehow understandable. “M” has strange habits and beliefs. He never wears shoes (he uses sandals all the time,) measures everything before eating, and believes in the Shiite messiah (Emam Zaman,) as a messenger of gods/aliens.
For years we, in the family, used to laugh at this crazy cousin. He was both a source of embarrassment and laughter. To us he was a mixture of intelligence and stupidity. He was a certain kind of combination of extremes, an intelligent nerd with the instincts of an animal. Deprived of any kind of contact with the opposite sex (by his family, by the Islamic government, and by the Iranian culture,) he had the worst puberty crisis a boy can have. His topics of conversation were always sex, classical music, and the aliens who dominated his world.
His teenage years passed in complete loneliness. In those years he loved to listen to early 20th century classical music, mostly Mahler, Schönberg, and Shostakovich. He used to get straight “A”s (“nomreye 20”) at school all the time, and play chess with a few friends whenever he could.
He never went to college though. The “Cultural Revolution” (Enqelaab-e Farhangi) happened the same year he graduated from high school. The universities were closed, playing chess was banned, and music was considered a “westoxicating” practice that was forbidden by god. In those years he couldn’t even buy his favorite classical music cassettes any more. All the music stores were closed by the end of 1982. The only precious thing that remained from his past was his collection of audio tapes; the tapes he had recorded from radio a few years earlier: a set of Fereydoun Naseri’s radio programs “Introduction to Classical Music.”
“M”’s teenage years and his early twenties passed in total silence imposed by the post-revolution religious dictatorship. His inner voice was completely silenced. As he told me later he used to listen to Arnold Schönberg’s Transfigured Night, masturbate, and cry. He never had a close friend, never talked about his feelings to anyone. In those years of radical movements, executions, and protests he stayed in his room, creating his own reality by connecting unrelated dots.
It’s years since I have seen “M”. I don’t know what has happened to him. The only thing I know is that he is a honey-bee-keeper now, somewhere in a village in southern Iran. Most of the year he lives in a tent near the village.
Sometimes I think about him. Does he look back at his past? Does the transfigured reality of his everyday life reveal any meaning? And is that meaning different from the way we perceive it?
I know he doesn’t listen to classical music any more, and doesn’t play chess, neither does he have feelings about the opposite sex. “M” still reads books on forgotten people, watches the bees moving, and tries to make sense of this unconnected dotted world.
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Photo by: Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison
Bee Season, 2002
52 x 64” gelatin silver print with mixed media on board

For listening to a fragment of Schoenberg's Transfigured Night click here (MP3 file).