Natig Rasulzade: “Great art is created by the heart, rather than the mind”
Natig Rasulzade was born in Baku in 1949. He graduated from the Moscow Literature Institute. He is the Vice President of the PEN Club in Azerbaijan, a member of the Board of the Union of Writers, the Board of the Union of Cinematographers, the Board of the Union of Theater Workers of Azerbaijan, an author of more than 40 books published in Baku, Moscow, European countries, dozens of plays and screenplays for feature films.
- What do you need for work?
- It is very individual. I am a fanciful person – there must be no one at home; when somebody is walking around, and the floor is creaking, it annoys me. I had a classmate in the Literature Institute, he was a nice guy, wrote poems when the radio was playing, and people were playing cards and shouting at each other. He didn’t care. He said: “I don’t hear them.” I was envious of him, as even though I lived alone in my room, closed the door, but still when somebody loudly laughed behind the wall, I could have gone there, shouted at them and even fought. These are whims. But I am such a person.
Furthermore, I love beautiful desk lamps. I need a spot of light. I like to write with a pen, even though today I cannot afford this, as I need to write quickly. If there is a commission, I use a computer. Previously, I wrote on paper at first and then rewrote it on a computer and edited the text. The process takes much time. But it is necessary to edit, to see the text with a fresh look. If you look at it in one-two months, you will see mistakes.
Hemingway had to create a row at home to get rid of emotions and to work calmly after that. There are people who have big novels in their minds, but they haven’t written a line yet. That’s not me, I have to communicate with paper. Even if it is nonsense, I must write it at first and then to think about it.
Literature and art are coming not only from the mind, when you are carrying a novel in your mind for months, and all you need to do is to sit down and write it. This is wrong. It is too pragmatic an approach to art. Real art shouldn’t be born like that.
- Is there a notion of ‘Caucasian Literature’, as there is a ‘Caucasian mentality’?
- There are bright writers and poets in the Caucasus – Rasul Gamzatov, Fazil Iskander. However, there is not a united school. When a name appears in the Caucasus, at first you should read, get to know them, and so on. For example, Latin American literature is different; there is a school, young writers follow Marques, Borges, Jorge Amado, Cortazar, Carpenter. I am more interested in Russian-language Caucasian literature, as reading a translation is a different thing.
- Is there any common thing about Caucasian writers?
- Of course there is a common thing. Any real talented writer should be a humanist first of all. He or she should write in a humanist manner. Mirza Fatali Ahundov communicated with Lermontov. There was Jalil Mamedkulizae, a classic of Azerbaijani literature, an outstanding novelist.
- What is characteristic of Caucasus literature in comparison with world literature?
- It is its coloring. Azerbaijani writers write about Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan differed both from Russia and Europe 100-150 years ago.
- Did it differ from Turkey?
- Azerbaijani and Turkish literatures are different. Turkey is a big country. Its writers had a lot of opportunities to get to the world market. However, there are similarities. We speak almost a common language.
But I am talking about prose, yet the Caucasus is the East, where poetry has deeper roots, starting from the genius Fizuli. But we don’t know how to promote our great writers. Fizuli stands at the level of Shakespeare or Dante. But in Russia only experts know him. Europe doesn’t know him, nor does America. But everybody knows Shakespeare and Dante. We have outstanding deep poets – Nizami, Fizuli, Vagif, the classic Azerbaijani poet Mirza Alekper Sabir. His satirical works are still sharp. Everybody who is talented in writing – a poet or a novelist – should note drawbacks and reveal them. It resembles a surgeon’s work, who is cutting out an ill part and throws it away to make a person live. A writer also should cut out the ill parts of the society – bribery, localism. Mirza Alekper Sabir was the best at showing this. Pushkin once said: “I hate Russian people, but I don’t like it when others speak about that.” These are the words of a genius. He hated people for laziness, alcohol abuse, he wanted to cut them off. If we say ‘our people are the smartest’, there will be no progress.
Azerbaijani prose is quite young. It started from Ahundov. We are a people of the Ashugs. Ashug art is developed in our country. They might be called bards in English – when a person presents his thought in poetic form, playing a guitar. This art has the deepest forms. It differs from anything else – Russian poetry, European poetry. It exists only in Azerbaijan.
There is mugham. Mugham exists in Eastern countries, but Azerbaijani mugham is different. Our performers are popular all over the world. People are amazed at this wonderful art. Mugham art was created by the whole nation. The people’s art is very strong. Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Uzeir Gadzhibekov are the greatest composers, but each of them hasn't enough strength to speak for a million people. But when thousands and hundreds of thousands of people create something, it lives for centuries.
- What are you working at? Are you writing screenplays today?
- I am writing, but somebody must commission a screenplay. It is not a book which can be written, and if one publishing house doesn’t publish it, the other will do it. Or one magazine doesn’t publish it, the other will do it. I have written 20 screenplays, according to which short and feature films are shot by famous directors who have awards for them.
The annual International Short Film Festival is held in Strasbourg. 15 years ago, a movie which was filmed on the basis of my story, my scenario, took the first prize there. But it was hushed up in 2000, nobody appreciated this.
- Are you working on books?
- I work all the time. I made a magazine variant of my novel Gulfstream. I started it without a plot in my mind to make it closer to life. No one knows whether he or she lives, according to some plot or not. But every day one has dozens of plots – you go there, meet a person. That’s how I wanted to construct my novel. The first volume was published. The second is on the way.
Today I am dealing with the book variant, as the book doesn’t feel complete. It concerns me all the time: “Wake up! Wake up! It is 3am, stop sleeping. Wake up! Write!” It is difficult to work as I used to work when I was 20-25. But when something concerns you, you should get rid of it. I am finishing it, but the novel might bring me another surprise…
I treat my possessions like they are alive. They are living organisms. I have been typing for 20 years on my Erica typewriter. It was bought in Moscow for my salary, and I treated it like a living creature. And she treated me well. We did a great job together.
… Sometimes something doesn’t let you go, and you think: “Oh hell! I will write a story to get rid of it.” You write it quickly, and it seems to be interesting, but there is no miracle. But in this novel there is miracle. It has no plot, and instead of one big explosion, it gives many flashes. The flashes attract. You don’t know when you will place a period. When a text says: “That’s all, I am finished,” then you place a period. But when you do it on your own initiative: “I don’t want to write the text anymore,” it is not a way out. The period will disappear. You should finish when you feel relief not only for your mind, but also for your heart. Great literature, gre art is created by the heart, rather than by the mind.