Nazli Eray is one of the most beloved and prolific storytellers of contemporary Turkish literature. Born in 1945 in Istanbul, Eray graduated from Arnavutkoy Kiz Lisesi then studied law and philosophy at Istanbul University before she dropped out and moved to Ankara to work as a translator for the Ministry of Tourism. After she married and gave birth to twin daughters, she quit her job and devoted herself to writing. Eray has published 25 books since her professional debut in 1967 with her collection Ah Bayim Ah (Ah, Mister, Ah). Most of her books are short story collections, but she has also written plays like Erostratus (1985) and novels, like her latest book, Beyoglunda Gezersin (You Wander Through Beyoglu, 2005). Eray's writing has been recognized in Turkey by prestigious awards such as The Haldun Taner Short Story Prize, given to her collection Yoldan Gecen Oykuler (Stories Passing By the Road) in 1988, and the Yunus Nadi Prize for the Novel, awarded to Ask Giyinen Adam (The Man Who Wears Love) in 2002. Her stories "Monte Kristo," "Underdevelopment Pharmacy," and "The Cellular Engineer" have been published in English translation, and a collection of her stories appeared in German in 1986.
Orpheus, originally published in 1983, retells the popular myth from the perspective of a modern Eurydice, searching for Orpheus in a Turkish coastal town on the Mediterranean, whose rapid urbanization is literalized through the arrival of the capital city, Ankara, figured as an actual person. The novella begins when Eurydice arrives in the town and arranges to meet an enigmatic assistant who calls himself Mr. Night. They go every night to a house they identify as belonging to Orpheus, watching it from 400 meters away. On one of these nights, they happen upon a statue of the second-century Roman emperor Hadrian, halfburied in an archaeological dig. Communicating through letters carried by a pigeon, the statue and Eurydice begin a correspondence, in the course of which Eurydice agrees to show Hadrian the Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris, which to her mind embodies the ethos of modern life. The novel ends at dawn the night they show the film to Hadrian. As the last scene is projected onto Orpheus' house, he comes out to the balcony and becomes part of the murder scene taking place.
In its plot line, Orpheus is a simple story made up of repetitions, and this sense of simplicity is further reinforced by Eray's stylistic use of the rhythms and vocabulary of everyday conversational language. Here, as in the rest of her oeuvre, language is a transparent, unproblematic means of communication. However, the air of simplicity this lends the work is entirely misleading, because, in essence, this is a foil to the text's web of nebulous allusions lurking suggestively beneath its surface, and to the chaos of surreal events floating above it. Eray's use of the fantastic allows her work to function at all of these levels, which are thematized and literalized as the earth, the underground, and the air in Orpheus. Eray connects these three levels through a collage of intertextual references and suggestive details that refuse the logic of cause and effect, that coexist not as thresholds of intelligibility guiding readers through a linear progression, but rather as spiraling variations on the same theme, accessible through multiple points of entry. Readers thus will see in Eray's work what they are ready to see, whether they enjoy the humorous events on the surface or delve deeper into the intertextual allusions for a richer understanding. The misleading simplicity of her language and the democratic accessibility of her style have led Eray to be viewed more as a popular author than a literary one. She is clearly both.
Eray and the Fantastic
Without exception, all of Eray's works are written in the fantastic mode, consciously engaging with the idea of a new reality that functions as a critique of the status quo. I use the term "fantastic" as Todorov defines it, as the genre that frustrates the resolution of whether or not a supernatural story is true. He explains that even if the character is still disoriented and thus unable to decide, the reader must decide by the end of the narrative whether there is a natural explanation for its supernatural events. If s/he decides there is indeed a realist explanation, then the narrative ends in the uncanny. If realist explanations are inadequate to account for the events, the narrative ends in the marvelous, signaling a new reality. According to Todorov, the fantastic is a temporary and transitional genre that must resolve itself into either the uncanny or the marvelous.
Eray quite consciously uses the fantastic in the service of the marvelous in order to create an alternative reality in her works. In a 2005 interview, Eray asserts, "One of the goals of the modern novel is not to describe what exists, but to create something that does not exist." She adds:
To create a world that does not exist outside of and independently of what is being narrated, to embroider the lives of the people there, in all their richness as if they are English lace, to pull in the reader into this world, making him/her feel as if this world really exists, and then to pull the plug and put an end to it. This is writing.
I would argue that this is, in fact, the way the fantastic is employed in Turkish literature of the 1980s, especially by women, who have used this mode to express their own new realities and insights in a freer, non-linear, multivalent idiom. Both Republican and post-Republican literature in Turkey has focused on creating a realist tradition with believable characters that manifest psychological depth and social legibility. The project of literary realism has been linked with and has contributed immensely to the project of nation-building. Both in this political and social project and in its blueprint in the realist novel, women have held a privileged symbolic role of representing "modernity." More women began writing in Turkey after the 1950s, and by the 1980s women writers outnumbered men. These writers examined and began to write against the roles and narratives that straitjacketed them. Articulating alternative viewpoints that question socially sanctioned definitions of "reality" involved deconstructing the conventional genres and formal narrative features that encoded these social definitions. The fantastic thus emerged in the 1980s as an antidote to realism, a medium for freedom. It allows the expression of alternate realities and casts off realist constraints such as the unity of time, place, and character; the importance of motivation and psychology in characterization; and, especially in the Turkish case, the valorization of the social over the individual, of the serious over the light-hearted. Eray has been the first and most consistent practitioner of the fantastic as a genre for presenting alternate realities in contemporary Turkish literature.
While typical of Eray's style and thematic concerns, Orpheus occupies a special place in her oeuvre because it remains in the realm of the fantastic even at its conclusion, with no resolution towards either the uncanny or the marvelous. The narrative never adequately resolves the questions it raises or fixes the interpretations it opens up. There is a deliberate confounding of time, space, character, and motive throughout the story, and multiple coexisting interpretations are possible for each component of the narrative. Even regarding the novel's physical setting, for example—usually one of the most tangible elements of a story—in Orpheus there is much ambiguity and obfuscation. The story takes place in a small coastal town that undergoes rapid, sudden urbanization, but there are also indications that this may be Hell, as suggested by repeated descriptions of the overpowering and growing heat and by hints that the path to Orpheus' house might lead to the underworld. The animal Eurydice hears every night behind the bushes could be Cerberus guarding the entrance to hell. The entrance to the underworld is marked by an X on the etched stone that Mr. Night and Eurydice find in the archaeological site, associating the underworld with Orpheus' house, marked by an X on the sketch of the town. These suggestive details are never resolved, but raise questions left unanswered in the text.
There is similar ambiguity surrounding Orpheus' house and the path that approaches it. The narrator tells us repeatedly that it looks like a "space house," with its flat roof, mysteriously flashing colored lights, and the intense light that projects from it towards the end of the novel. Yet the house is also likened to an ordinary ship and is associated with the yacht that appears in the bay while Eurydice is sunbathing. This association is reinforced at several points: there is a breeze that smells of the sea around Orpheus' house; walking towards the house is likened to wading through the sea; and watching the house from the hill feels like being in a decompression chamber for divers. Eurydice's habitual night costume, her jumpsuit, is reminiscent of the typical garb of both astronauts and divers. Because of these conflicting associations, we cannot decide if Orpheus' house is under water or up in the sky—or even in a desert, as there is a sand storm towards the end. The path to Orpheus' house, likewise, can be interpreted in different ways, as conveyed by the insistence that there are several possible routes. At one level, the walk is physical and external, but it may also be internal, advancing the characters through the body of Orpheus. At first, we are told that the walk is towards the tortured soul of a troubled man, and the possibility that this journey may also be psychological is reinforced by the image of the city bus, appropriately named the "EGO."
The indeterminacy of the terrain is underlined by feelings of dread, surprise, anxiety, and fear that dominate the book. The nonresolution of these emotions keeps the reader off balance in the expectation of something big to come. The ending, however, is neither clear nor spectacular enough to provide catharsis for the accumulated tension. We never learn who Death is or why the characters did not find out more about the necropolis. The questions the book leads us to ask—why Eurydice does not simply talk to Orpheus when she finds him, or why she is unsurprised to receive a letter from a statue, for example—are forgotten by the end, as these strange details are naturalized through their repetition and easy acceptance by other characters.
However, just as the book draws to a close, these very details we have accepted are reinterpreted as strange, with Mr. Night's warning to Eurydice that Hadrian is just a statue and that she cannot know that Hadrian is in fact writing or receiving any letters. The story awakens the reader from the very lull of acceptance that it engenders. Eray thus constructs a kind of a detective novel in reverse. Whereas the process of answering questions and explaining causes leads to resolution and closure, Orpheus creates questions that it at first ignores, then vehemently remembers but still refuses to answer. Eray thus keeps alive the potential for multiple interpretations that is at the core of the fantastic, even as her narrative ends. In so doing, she challenges Todorov's definition of the fantastic as only a transitional genre that has to end in a certainty of one kind or another.
Intertextuality and Major Narrative Threads
Orpheus derives its primary narrative threads from intertextual references to other texts and genres. The primary narrative threads that comprise the novel are the myth of Orpheus, Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris, the statue and life of Emperor Hadrian, the arrival of Ankara and urbanization, and the recent political history of Turkey. The interplay among these imported narrative threads allows them to animate each other and illuminate their hidden meanings. Eray allows the disparate narrative strands to stand on their own, without integrating them into a readily available or coherent whole. This lack of overt connection among the strands opens the story to different levels of interpretation while also creating a strong sense of fragmentation and sustaining Eray's use of the fantastic. In order to explore the interpretive possibilities enabled by these threads, I will consider each separately.
The Myth of Orpheus
The novel's central, unifying narrative thread is the myth of Orpheus, which has its origins in ancient Greece but has been retold in many cultures and genres, including opera, poetry, and film. The basic myth tells of Orpheus, a musician-poet who can charm animals and trees with his verse, and who can speak to the spirits. Orpheus' wife Eurydice is bitten by a snake, dies, and goes to Hades. Orpheus follows her to the underworld and persuades Hades and Persephone to let her return, on the condition that Orpheus never turn back to look at Eurydice on their journey out of Hades. As they are about to leave, Orpheus looks back at Eurydice, and she vanishes back into the underworld forever. Orpheus mourns Eurydice for a long time and, according to one version of the myth, in order to avoid a similar kind of loss, he shuns women in favor of the love of boys. This so enrages the Bacchae, female followers of Dionysus, who see it as a misogynist insult, that they tear him to pieces in a frenzy. His head and lyre float on the river Hebrus to the island of Lesbos. His severed head is buried in a shrine and becomes an oracle.
Eray's version updates and overturns the myth. The novel begins with the arrival of a sickly and anxious Eurydice, who is in search of Orpheus but upon locating him does not contact him, claiming to feel both pulled towards him and pushed away. There is something suggestively sinister about this Eurydice, with her blood from a cut finger psychologically seeping into the air, whose "blood-like" warmth seems to suffocate her. This Eurydice aims to relive the myth with the help of a mysterious figure called Mr. Night, a guide with strong eyes and nerves who might symbolically be Hades. Eurydice repeats twice that she is a woman with no past or future, and she clearly wants to move on by lifting the curse of Orpheus' backward look. Observing the gods' injunction, she carefully avoids Orpheus' gaze, watching him every night from behind his house. Yet Orpheus, now a figure with white hair and a red Alpha Romeo, feels her presence, going crazy with suffering or fear as the pulsation of lights from his house indicates.
Eurydice finally causes Orpheus' death through the intermediary of the characters in the film Last Tango in Paris, although she tries unsuccessfully to prevent this by stopping the film. As Jeanne kills Paul, another man whose wife has died, in the last scene of the film, Orpheus comes out of his house, which is being used as a projection screen, to be killed by Jeanne at the same time. The narrative levels of the story and the film are evened out here, so that the characters of these different texts meet and interact. Animated by Jeanne's self-defensive boldness, Eurydice, who suffers from bad eyesight, finally picks out Orpheus and looks at him as he looks at her. This reliving of the myth's climactic moment overturns its original outcome.
Last Tango in Paris
Eray uses Bertolucci's groundbreaking 1972 film as a means of opening up the original Orpheus myth, but also makes us realize that the film's plot is a kind of reverse Orpheus story. Jeanne, a twenty-year old girl who is to marry in a week, and Paul, whose wife died the night before, have a three-day affair in an empty apartment both want to rent. Paul uses aggressive sex to purge his anger and frustration over his wife's death. Jeanne seems to go along with it because she is bored with the conventional life ahead of her; her fiance, Tom, is filming her life for a television movie, constantly writing her into a script of conventionality and respectability. Paul at first allows Jeanne an escape from all that is scripted as he insists on not sharing anything personal, including names. But as he later realizes, standing over his dead wife's coffin, that nobody can ever know another person, he is released from the pretense of not wanting to know Jeanne and seeks a conventional, permanent relationship with her, ironically losing his appeal for her in the process. She kills him with the pistol of her colonialist father in a gesture which can be simultaneously read as conservative, nihilist, individualist, and feminist.
Eray uses the film to intimate a corporeality and sexuality missing from the novel, while connecting it to the cultural turmoil and preoccupations of the 1970s. She echoes some details of the film that connect it to the myth, such as a game Paul plays turning the lights on and off in the hotel, which resonates with Orpheus' association with light, symbolic of his ability to bring the dead from the realm of darkness to life. Turning lights on and off is also an important marker of Orpheus' presence and emotional state in Eray's story. Just as Paul and Orpheus are paired through their bereavement as widowers as well as through their association with light, Jeanne and Eurydice are also connected as doubles. Jeanne is described as a blond woman at the beginning of the script even though Maria Schneider, who plays her, is not blond. This is one of several inconsistencies between the actual movie and the published script, caused in part by the fact that the actors for whom the script was written ended up not being available to play the roles, and in part by the actors' extensive improvisation during the filming. Eray uses the gap between the film and the script to create her own version of Last Tango in Paris, a version in which her heroine, Eurydice, is able to be inserted into the movie, allowing the film to become the "resolution of all questions" as Eurydice promises Hadrian.
In her rewriting of the film and its script, Eray creatively accentuates Bertolucci's original text. When Eurydice reads the film script, for example, what she reads does not come directly from the actual script, but rather has been written by Eray from her experience of watching the film. She changes words and embellishes the original script with additional details that reflect what she sees on the screen. Likewise, the introduction to the written version of Last Tango in Paris that Eurydice reads is actually assembled from two reviews of the film. The first part, referring to the acceleration of time caused by nuclear energy, comes from Norman Mailer's negative review, which was written six months after the film opened in the New York Film Festival, as a response to a positive review by Pauline Kael. The pronouncements Eurydice reads that the film is revolutionary in its depiction of a primal sexuality and in the actors' use of improvisation come from Kael's original review. Thus, the text Eurydice reads combines two separate reviews that put forth diametrically opposed evaluations of the same film. Only the second and last paragraphs of the preface come from Kael's review, and the rest are from Mailer's; Eray excerpts from various portions of both reviews, disregarding context and order of argument. In borrowing from both indiscriminately, she creates an amalgam that neutralizes Mailer's criticism and subordinates his objections to Kael's judgment, which Eray obviously shares.
Eray uses the film to demonstrate her technique of borrowing, creating a collage that moves scenes out of their original order and context. Eurydice reads the script by flipping through the book randomly. At one point, the book falls and all the pages scatter on top of one another, losing their original organization. Later, when Eurydice and Mr. Night project the film onto Orpheus' house, because the handle of the projector is broken, the movie jumps from scene to scene randomly (at least from the perspective of the characters watching). Eray's technique of collage, as demonstrated by her indiscriminate juxtaposition of various pieces of the script and the film, can be described in the terms of Eurydice's experience of Ankara: as "an explosion of photographs stuck together" or "an explosion of memory." Eray's random borrowing from Last Tango in Paris reanimates the potentialities of the Orpheus myth: by using the collage technique to distort the original logic of the film, she defamiliarizes both the film and the context in which it is presented, allowing an alternative version of the Orpheus myth to emerge.
The narrative justification for the screening of Last Tango in Paris comes from a third central strand of Orpheus, the statue of Hadrian for whom Eurydice screens the film. This Roman emperor, we are told, ruled between 117 and 138 A.D. and tried to create a peaceful Roman Empire that worked more through cooperation than war. He was devoted to displaying the grandeur of his empire by building public works and architectural wonders, including his wall in northern England, his villa in Tivoli, and the Pantheon in Rome. Eray intimates this grandeur with an oblique comparison with Alexander the Great through an allusion to the knot of Gordian. In Eray's novel, Hadrian's statue, half-buried in an archaeological site behind Orpheus' house, corresponds with Eurydice through letters delivered by a carrier pigeon and emerges as a foil to Orpheus through his constancy and attentiveness to Eurydice. As she remarks, by watching Orpheus' house without interruption, the statue already does precisely what she wants to do. Corresponding with the statue serves as an outlet for Eurydice to express her worries and wishes, making her conscious of her inner thoughts. Enlivened by her emotions, the statue may in fact be the ego of Eurydice, and she admits in her final letter that in writing to him, she is writing to herself.
However, the statue is also similar to Orpheus and Paul in that the greatest tragedy of Hadrian's life was the death of his beloved Antinous. After Antinous drowned in the Nile (whether by accident, murder, or suicide), Hadrian proclaimed this young Greek boy a deity, gave his name to a star, and devoted the remaining eight years of his life to Antinous' memory. Nothing more than a head that claims expansive authority, the statue is in a way Orpheus' future. Hadrian tells Eurydice that she will either break or reinforce the bond he has with Orpheus. By causing Orpheus' death—moving him to the next stage of the myth and turning him into a severed, but talking head—Eurydice reinforces the similarity between them. The description of Orpheus' decapitated head, in Virgil's rendering at least, suggestively resembles a marble statue: "Then, too, his head was torn from his marble-white neck." This image suggests a possible interpretation of Orpheus as the statue's past, and the statue as Orpheus' future.
Eray uses the statue to problematize the issue of time and the limits of historical vision. We see that even though Hadrian assures Eurydice that he knows everything about the archaeological site, he only knows of events and historical developments up until his own time. Strikingly, he needs to be told of the formation of countries like the United States or the Soviet Union, and he evaluates the present from his own imperial reality of having slaves, for example. As Marguerite Yourcenar argues in her essay "That Mighty Sculptor Time," we can never know a statue in the way it was understood in its own time. Through the statue, the novel suggests that each historical period is limited by its own sensibilities and realities, even as Eray's practice of juxtaposing voices from different time periods does away with the assumption of the unity of time. Just as various kinds of space fold into each other as possible descriptions of the same location, various slices of time coexist and easily turn into each other as the novel moves among the second century of Hadrian's statue, the 1970s of the film, and 1980, as represented by the announcements Eurydice hears on the radio referring to the 1980 coup in Turkey. This fabricated temporal simultaneity is further represented in the news broadcasts from Eurydice's radio, in which news items are read together as if they occurred on the same day, when in fact they belong to different time periods—the Sicilian earthquake of 1908, for example, appears to happen on the same day as the successful creation of artificial blood, which still had not happened by 1983 when Orpheus was first published.
Contemporary Turkey: The Coup and Urbanization
Although the Talza coup announced on the radio is a fiction—there is no such place—a coup did take place in Turkey, on September 12, 1980, after the political polarization of the left and right escalated during the late 1970s. The period's economic crisis together with the assassinations of prominent political figures led to a widespread expectation that the army would take over. The coup occurred after skirmishes between leftist and rightist factions caused the deaths of more than 600 people in July and August of 1980, and the resulting military government was in power from 1980 until the elections of 1983. In the novel, this coup is foreshadowed when Mr. Night mentions that the date is August 12th, exactly one month before the actual coup. Eurydice later hears announcements of the military takeover and curfew on the radio. The radio announcements of the fictitious Talza coup (Talza and Turkey are connected by their initial T's) and the news that a curfew was pronounced in Rome during the shooting of Fellini's film both function as parodies of the actual coup whose effects Eurydice sees in Ankara, where a military jeep appears at the bus depot as police and soldiers line up on each side of the street. She also feels the anxiety and entrapment caused by the coup when she is lost in a maze-like Ankara. However, perceiving the world with a limited vision and awareness shaped by specific historicity, characters can only experience what their own historical period offers them. Consequently, Eurydice, who as a mythic figure belongs to the novel's most general time frame, is the only one who can witness the coup and hear the announcements of martial law.
In addition to the coup, Eray brings into her novel another phenomenon from her contemporary Turkey: urbanization. The overdevelopment of coastal towns and the resulting destruction of their natural beauty is still a topic hotly debated every summer in Turkey. Eray literalizes urbanization through the arrival of the personified city Ankara in the coastal town, a presence visually marked with the building of apartment blocks, the creation of avenues like Tunali Hilmi, and the introduction of bus service. This kind of literalization is at the core of myth-making and is the reverse side of the metaphorical function of Hadrian's statue, where his literal features are turned into abstract ideas. For example, when he complains that his hands are broken and that he is fixed in one place and consequently can only look at one thing, Eurydice consoles him by turning his predicament into a metaphor for the immobility and limited vision everybody experiences. Ankara and Hadrian demonstrate the opposite processes of literalization and abstraction, both of which are myth-making operations of language and both of which test the limits of our willingness to believe. Hadrian tells Eurydice that he is located at the boundary between belief and disbelief. By straining the limits of our suspension of disbelief, Hadrian and Ankara become the test cases of fictiveness, exposing the fictionality of all other myth figures.
Eray as Existentialist Myth-Maker
Together, the Orpheus myth, Last Tango in Paris, the figure of Hadrian, and the narratives of Turkey's military coup and urbanization form a narrative collage similar to the visual and aural collages represented throughout Orpheus. The parallels and contrasts among these strands, the connections we make between the details, allow us to read the novel in its widest matrix of myth-making. We are given the material and the means of myth-making in this book, where individual figures and their specific stories fold into each other as particular figurations of general types. Ultimately the hope for and possibility of cohesion are located in the reader, who must take up the challenge of struggling and persevering against human alienation and isolation as embodied by the fragmented text.
Eray issues this challenge indirectly through Albert Camus and his existentialist philosophy. In one of her letters to Hadrian, Eurydice mentions "A.C." as a philosopher of her age who informs her own decision to face life. Her summary of this philosophy describes Camus' idea of the absurd, best articulated in his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." Camus argues that the acceptance of death—or of life without hope, God, or consolation—allows one to move on to real hope and a positive embracing of life. The continual awareness of death is the absurd man's burden and gift, since this awareness, which cannot be allowed to be dulled by habit, is the basis of his consciousness. Consciousness for Camus is a constant defamiliarization, or an awareness of the absurd cultivated through an unceasing cognizance and acceptance of death. He writes, "Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it. Unlike Eurydice, the absurd dies only when we turn away from it."
This allusion to Eurydice as the site of the absurd, which needs to be constantly gazed at, enriches our reading of Eray's Eurydice as central heroine and narrator. Eurydice is the instrument of the reader's and her own consciousness. She practices Camus' philosophy and literalizes the metaphorical meaning imbued in her figure by turning herself upon Orpheus, by claiming the position of the gazer who already knows who she is. Through the active effort of literally and figuratively pulling herself up the hill every night, she releases her life and story from the frozen and disembodied time—with no yesterday or tomorrow—in which it is locked.
Eray quotes Camus once more through the voice on the radio just before the screening of Last Tango in Paris. The pronouncement accompanies the torrential rain that partially washes away the heat and the atmospheric (and psychological) pressure built up in the narrative. When they turn on the radio in the jeep, the first three paragraphs Eurydice and Mr. Night hear are compiled from the opening section of Camus' essay, "Helen's Exile." In Eray's rendering, this essay begins with the observation that the tragedy of the Mediterranean comes from the sun, unlike the northern tragedies, which are related to the mists. Although a slight distortion of Camus' actual words, the emphasis on the sun and the Mediterranean, here and throughout the book, connects Orpheus to Camus' novel The Stranger. These associations solidify Eray's identification with Camus and her endorsement of his positions, strengthening the authority given to Camus' ideas as remedies for the dissolution and despair depicted by the film.
Camus' solution for the individual and cultural disorientation and fragmentation created by war is to recapture the idea of limits and temperance that always exists in nature and that was so celebrated by the Greeks. He writes, "Admission of ignorance, rejection of fanaticism, the limits of the world and of man, the beloved face, and finally beauty—this is where we shall be on the side of the Greeks." He insists that with the revalorization of the idea of limits, "once more the dreadful walls of the modern city will fall to deliver up—'soul serene as the ocean's calm'—the beauty of Helen." Camus uses "the beauty of Helen" here as a metonymy for an ordered, temperate, and rational life as it was epitomized by the Greeks. This is the very model he recommends as a cure for the malaise of the post-war Europeans.
However, Camus' goal of attaining "the beauty of Helen" carries with it, by implication, the requirement that one look at Helen as only a visual object, and thus conceptualizes her as a passive, abstract image rather than an active subject. Emmet Robbins writes, "One of the most prominent of recurring themes in Greek myth is the story of the recovery of an abducted princess: examples are Persephone, Helen, Eurydice." He explains that this "myth of a Maiden snatched from the embrace of Death" is a remnant of an older religion that celebrated the Mother Goddess and her ability to restore the life she has taken through the dual tomb-womb function of the earth she inhabited. It takes a woman writer to restore the agency of these "abducted maidens." Instead of the Helen that Camus awaits, Eurydice—her sister—returns in Eray's story, not only to animate and restore a lost balance, but to create a specifically female order by both looking back and looking at—the past, her husband, her readers, and literature.
I had been on the bus going to the shore city I wanted to reach for almost twelve hours. My feet were swollen and I was completely exhausted. During the final two hours, I had been unable to breathe inside the bus; I had an inexplicable feeling of heaviness. I hadn't slept a wink during the whole trip.
Occasionally the bus would stop for a break, and then I would dash outside.
I went into a series of bathrooms, splashed water on my face, and looked into the mirrors.
In the mirrors, I saw a pale, tired face.
My health wasn't good. It was amazing that I would even think of taking a long trip like this, and on a bus with no air.
But everything had been planned from the start. I only got sick at the last minute.
All night long, as everyone slept on the bus, I thought of the purpose of this trip.
As we drew near the shore city, the air became warmer.
The sun came up, and my long hair stuck to the back of my neck. The bus arrived in the city at dawn.
I was groggy from the long trip. Like the other passengers, I got off the bus walking like a crab. I waited in a spot where I could feel the warmth of the engine.
The driver's assistant gave me my blue bag.
The air was steamier than I had expected at this early hour.
I suddenly felt claustrophobic. To calm myself, I brought my hand to my throat, then scratched the nape of my neck.
The tension I felt inside increased slightly when I set foot in the shore
I placed my hand softly on my neck above my collarbone; my outfit had become grimy during the night bus trip.
I pushed back the hair stuck to my forehead and flagged down a taxi; I told the driver the name of the hotel I wanted.
The city was still sleeping.
The taxi passed along a dusty street and dropped me off in front of the hotel. The driver placed my blue bag in front of the door; after I gave him his money, he took off.
I was so tired I could hardly stand up. I told the man at the reception desk my name.
"Your room is ready, number ten," he said. "The bellboy will bring your bag up right away."
"I wonder if there are any messages for me," I asked.
He turned and looked at the pigeonhole for number ten. He found a little piece of paper.
"Yes, a Mr. Night left a note for you. He says to call," he said.
"Thanks. Where's the phone?" I asked.
He pointed over to where the phone was.
Then he went into the back of the hotel, towards the kitchen. He took out bottles of water and fruit juice from a case that had obviously just arrived and began to line them up on the white tiles.
A young boy appeared and began to carry my bag upstairs to my room.
I asked the man at the reception desk for a bottle of water. My throat was quite dry.
"Put it on my bill," I said.
"Yes, of course, ma'am," he replied. He turned back to his work.
I opened the bottle; the water was warm. I gulped it down. When I opened the bottle, I cut my thumb a little, as I always do.
With the key to my room in my hand, I got my telephone book out of my dust-covered purse.
I found my assistant's telephone number.
What an interesting name he had chosen for himself.
I dialed the number. The telephone rang for a long time. My finger was bleeding a little. As I sucked on it, he answered the phone.
"Hello," said the voice on the other end.
"Good morning. I'm afraid I've woken you up. I just got into town and came to the hotel. I got your note. Where did you find the name 'Mr. Night?' It's interesting," I said.
My assistant answered from the other end: "I thought it was the right name for me," he said, and laughed.
"Wonderful," I said. "I'm going to run up to my room in a minute and go to sleep. That long trip tired me out. All the plans are ready. When can I meet with you?"
My assistant—and this was a person whom I had never seen before, who had, in addition, chosen a very unique name—knew me and knew, more or less, the plans that I had set out.
"You get a good rest. Get rid of all that exhaustion from the long trip. I'll be at your hotel at five o'clock," he said.
"Fine," I said. "I already know that your eyes are very strong, that you can see well in the dark, and that you are extraordinarily logical. I'll be able to give you more details little by little in the next few days, as I get used to the climate of the city and relax. My eyes don't see very well. And I can't see at all at night. I can't pick out what I need to, in other words. On top of everything, I'm very emotional. I can mix everything up in a second. I'm relying on your logic. You're my assistant. Well, we can talk about this in detail when you come to the hotel at five o'clock. Take care for now."
My assistant said, "See you at five o'clock at your hotel."
I hung up the telephone.
I went up to my room on the second floor. They had left my bag in front of the door; I brought it inside.
It was covered with dust. I blew away the dust, then opened the zipper and took out my towel. I was incapable of even putting my things away in the closet.
Inside me that strange tension continued, along with a weariness difficult to describe.
I lit a cigarette.
The hot air of the city began to fill the room. I pulled the curtains back and closed them.
I sat on the bed and finished my cigarette.
I took a warm shower. Then I lay down and stretched out on the bed. I took my wristwatch off and placed it on the night table.
I thought a little.
My feet were swollen. I stared at them for a while. Then I fell asleep.
(At this point, I should thank my assistant, who is a real person, not simply a character in a novel, who had chosen the name Mr. Night for himself.
Actually, none of the people in these events are fictitious characters. As for my assistant, who called himself Mr. Night, I never saw him again.
Yet, in that summer season in the shore city, he served as my common sense, my judgment, my ears and my eyes.
He accepted the position as my assistant. Why, I still don't know ...
Perhaps I had unwittingly inserted him into this unusual universe with which I needed to come to terms.
He knew that somewhere on the boundaries of perception, I was playing with dreams and reality.
In these lines, I wanted to thank my assistant for his considerable help in my reliving of the Orpheus myth.)
... I took off my wristwatch and placed it on the night table. I thought a little.
My feet were very swollen. I stared at them for a while.
I was a person whose yesterday had been taken away and who had no tomorrow.
I knew this.
But my dreams were extraordinary.
As the sun warmed my room, I fell asleep, exhausted by the trip and the warm air.
I woke up before five. I wasn't really refreshed, but I felt better than when I arrived in the city in the morning.
There was only a little time before I would see my assistant. I got ready.
At exactly five o'clock, dressed in my jumpsuit and summer sandals with thin straps, I went to the reception.
I had given my hair a good combing, and it hung down below my shoulders.
I had also put on some good perfume, my old habit.
In the reception area, I immediately picked out my assistant, whom had never seen or met before.
There was nobody else nearby anyway.
My assistant stood there with no expression on his face. I think he was young, but it was hard to tell his age at first glance. He was dressed in white.
He was sitting in an armchair smoking a cigarette. He put out the cigarette and stood up.
He recognized me.
Smiling, I shook his hand.
"Good morning, Mr. Night. I hope I didn't keep you waiting. That long trip really did me in. And the air in this shore city is hotter than I expected at this season...
"And how are you?" I asked.
My assistant asked how I felt. It was then that I understood that he was young, very young.
"When I was talking to you on the phone, I said that I would give you some information. We should find someplace where we can speak comfortably. I will tell you part of the plan little by little. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you some questions first."
My assistant was relaxed and quick.
"Okay. The lobby's completely empty right now. I think we could sit in the back and speak comfortably," he said.
We went to the corner he had proposed.
We sat across from one another at the table.
We were following one another with our eyes.
I realized that he was waiting, so I began to speak.
"Mr. Night," I said. "I'm going to call you that for now because I like it—how well you have figured out one part of what's going on.
"I think we'll only work at night.
"Let's get to my questions. Actually, I'm quite concerned about certain things. May I ask you about them?" I said.
"Please ask," he said.
"Mr. Night, why do you want to get involved in this very questionable matter, even though you don't know who I am?" I asked. He smiled again.
"I know you a little. I'm not afraid of danger. That's why I wanted to be your assistant. And if you really consider the situation, the danger's rather abstract. Like everything else ... I don't know. Was I able to answer your question?" he said.
Each of us lit a cigarette. I thought for a moment.
"Yes, you answered my first question. I understand you. And, as things develop, you will get to know me better. But there's one thing stil bothering me.
"Have you ever considered that I might be crazy? A person who would start something like this might very well be crazy. Haven't you ever thought of this?" I asked.
Mr. Night laughed again.
"No, I know you're not crazy," he said.
I laughed too.
"How can you be so sure I'm not crazy?" I asked.
"No," said Mr. Night. "You're not crazy"
I put my cigarette out.
"Good, let's leave it at that," I said.
He trusted both me and himself, I understood.
I had asked the bellboy to bring us some fruit juice. As my assistant and I sipped our juice, I continued to ask him questions.
I lit up another cigarette and asked him the most important question.
"What do you know about Orpheus?"
Mr. Night was quiet for a moment.
"I know very little. In fact, you could say that I know practically nothing about Orpheus. I don't mean the Orpheus of mythology. I mean the Orpheus that we're after. I know very little about him..." he said.
"He's a person, like you and me," I said.
"Isn't he a dream?" asked my assistant.
"No," I said. "No, he's not a dream. Little by little I'll explain him to you," I said.
Mr. Night was intrigued. I was observing him too. I suddenly saw the winds of different emotions passing across his face.
He thought a little.
"Then Orpheus is in this shore city right now," he said.
"Yes," I replied.
Mr. Night suddenly seemed to sit up straight.
"Okay, then Eurydice? Where's Eurydice? Orpheus' dead lover..." my assistant asked.
"We don't know yet whether she's dead or alive. Perhaps she ran here to die. Perhaps there is no Eurydice ... Look, this is a possibility ... We could only be in search of Orpheus. An Orpheus with no Eurydice in his life," I said.
My assistant was taken aback.
"This is really scary ... Well, what about death? There's death in this game too, isn't there? Because there is death in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice," he said.
As this conversation took place between us, I had been carefully examining his face.
He was sensitive.
"Yes, there's death," I said.
He stopped for a moment.
"Where?" he asked.
"Oh, Mr. Night, you ask very good questions! Death is always there, everywhere, all the time," I said.
My assistant passed his hand lightly over his forehead.
"I know. But I asked about the death in this game," he said.
I kept silent.
He asked: "Well, where is that 'death'?"
"It's here too, Mr. Night. It's in this shore city too," I said.
I was looking at him again. He was clearly upset, but he was trying not to show it.
"I have to ask you one last thing," he said.
"Ask," I said.
"Who is death?" asked my assistant.
Again I kept silent for a bit. For a little while now, I had been continually examining his face.
"Mr. Night, I don't know who death is either," I said.
He ran his hands through his hair.
"Is it you?" he asked.
I laughed. I took a sip of fruit juice.
"No, it's not me. So is it you?" I asked, laughing.
Mr. Night quickly responded: "No, it's not me. I'm your assistant. I'm not death."
The tension I felt inside increased, but at the same time I felt somehow happy.
"I know you're not death, don't be upset," I said.
I leaned towards him from where I sat. I came a little closer to him.
"What we're playing is a game with death. So neither you nor I could be death, right?" I asked.
"Yes," said my assistant in a calm voice.
I ordered another bottle of fruit juice for each of us.
"Look, Mr. Night," I said. "At this moment in this shore city there's Orpheus, there's death, there's you—my assistant—and there's me. And that's all we know for now.
"Listen to me. Could you sketch a detailed plan of this shore city? A far as I can see, the things we actually know right now aren't going to get us very far. For us to find Orpheus more easily we absolutely must have a plan. I don't know the roads and goat trails at all. At this point I don't know anyplace here other than our hotel and this road.
"Our time is limited. Orpheus could descend into the Underworld at any moment to find his lover Eurydice ...
"Look, I just thought of something else. We'll have to keep watch at the post office too. I think Orpheus might try to telephone from the post office even to a Eurydice who doesn't exist. I think he'll try to telephone the other world. He'll keep trying her, Eurydice, from different telephones. Those lines with a lot of static can connect to the other world but if Eurydice's not there, he won't be able to talk to her. He could run into some bad tempered operator. And in the end he might want to go there.
"We'll follow him there. We have to find out where he's staying by tomorrow at the latest. Okay?" I asked.
"Okay. I'll draw the plan of the city tonight. It's just a little place anyway," he said.
I thanked my assistant.
"Come to the hotel tomorrow when it gets dark," I said.
My assistant stood up.
"I'll come here tomorrow at 8:00. The sketch will be ready. Wear flat shoes," he said.
We said goodbye.
Just as we were parting, I said: "Mr. Night, I'll wear flat shoes and a comfortable outfit. Would you wear a dark color? You know, the night has a thousand eyes."
"Have no fear," he said.
I went up to my room. I opened my suitcase and placed my things in the wardrobe in the corner. I had brought a pair of espadrilles. I placed them next to my other shoes. I picked up my little binoculars and looked at them. I could have brought a useful pair of adjustable binoculars. But instead I had brought a little pair of opera glasses covered with mother-of-pearl.
If necessary my assistant could use them.
I was hungry.
I took my room key in my hand. It was a key like any other.
I played with it a little, then went down to the hotel dining room. As I ate, I was continually thinking ...
I went to bed early that night. I had little time. I had to use it well. At one point I became afraid when I thought I might be too late.
Then I undressed and went to bed. I turned my back to the wall and slept.
I woke up early. I was very refreshed. As soon as I woke up, I lit up a cigarette and asked for some tea in my room. I drank three glasses of tea one after the other.
I felt great.