Interview with Assistant Professor Cengiz Erdem

Cengiz Erdem; “Literature is to write what one has not personally experienced as well. Aim is to gift quality works to the world of literature. And when doing this , I try to explain that in literature, in particular, one needs to write not just about what one has experienced, but also about what one has not.”

Simge Çerkezoğlu

Cengiz Erdem is a Cypriot writer but what makes him different from others are the books that he has written with a philosophical motive that he keeps alive inside him.  While his words “writing is like getting undressed in front of everyone, it is about self-confidence” are seared into my brain, I am thinking that it is impossible not to agree with him. The writer who through a life that he had blended with philosophy has written four books, explains the footprints left by this situation at his books with a style that is unique to him. Apart from these he also shares the details of the creative writing workshop that was completed recently. My question of “Can writing be taught?” finds an answer.


First , Cengiz Erdem shares with us his education process that proved to be grueling, how he started writing, and what contribution the  university life made to him. He explains that after his first book was published in 2007 he has continued to write incessantly.

“I started an intensive education of English language at an early age. I was very interested in literature as well. Thus I studied English Language and Literature at Ankara University. Later I did my master degree on Culture and Communication at East Anglia University in the UK and then my doctorate degree on Cultural and Critical Theory at the Literature and Creative Writing Department of the same university. The raw material of all my fields of work was language. After the connection the language and the true nature of truth started to become apparent it proved impossible to stop writing. It was a very grueling and exciting process. Constant writing, systematic thinking proved to be beneficial in the sense of knowing what one wanted. Even though my first book was published in 2007, I started writing with an awareness during my second year at the university. That I received an education in literature naturally had a great effect. A desire to write was born inside me after I had read Shakespeare and Beckett. Thus “Take out of this outside” which was a collection of the short stories that I had written between 1997 and 2007 became my first book.”


While he continued to produce one after another in the wake of the publication of his first books called “Zeno” and “The Life Death Drives”, which were from his doctorate thesis, came his short stories book “Take me out of this outside”. While doing all these he continued to pursue the traits of philosophy, of course.

“One year later I published my second book called Zeno. This was a book that carried traits from the previous book. Zeno was a philosophical book. Zeno who was the founder of the Stoa School. He was a Cypriot philosopher of Phoenician descent.  I wrote this book imagining that Zeno was living today as an academician. I completed my doctorate during this process. And my doctorate thesis was published as an English book. In my thesis which I had named “The Life Death Drives” I had made a reference to Freud’s life and death impulse. According to Freud there are two impulses in our nature. The death impulse is destructive and life impulse is creative. And when we look at mythology Thanatos represents the life impulse and Eros represents the life impulse. Even though she is  known to everyone as the goddess of love. According to Freud, human life is spent between these two processes. In my doctorate thesis I had set out from all these and followed this trail at the works of literature and cinema.”


May be because of my profession “Leak of truth at the fantasy machine” was the book that interested me the most. In this latest book of his, by referring to philosophical thinking again the writer conjures a world where all screens turn white and all of a sudden the world of writing attains importance anew.

“In this book I penned down the events that may occur by taking out an important instrument from what exists. We call this extraction method in creative writing. In this book I posed the question of what will happen if visual images are eliminated. Advertising industry, cinema, media would be dealt a heavy blow, world of writing would once again attain ascendancy and we go back 50 years. In his book called “Blindness” Jose Saramago had explained what happened when he had done away with the faculty of vision. These are issues that are very related with philosophy, human psychology.


Because one comes across with so many philosophical elements in all the books of the writer, naturally I can’t help but ask the reason behind this impulse of philosophy inside him. We smile at this comment of mine and he says I had touched upon a right point.

“Its true I do have such an impulse and I do not know whether it is something to do with my genes. Because philosophy is a cultural phenomenon. When I was a small child I always used to ask “Why this is so?” I always did have a questioning side. And when I moved towards academic work my life as a writer, which had started with short stories and novels slowly shifted towards more abstract notions. I found myself producing philosophical texts. It is still continuing.


Of course I cannot help but ask Cengiz Erdem who has been teaching creative writing at ARUCAD for the past three years the question of “Can writing be taught?” He dwells deep into the issue of creative writing which has become a popular field of study in recent times.

“We had started our creative writing workshop with this question. As a matter of fact, the only thing that I could do was to pass on to the participants, no matter how little, to think like a writer, to feel like a writer, what a writer experiences during the creative process. I bring out to the open the talent, impulse to write that are inherent in people, and develop it. In countries such as United Kingdom, France, USA creative writing is regarded as a kind of book engineering. Some writing techniques are taught, writing exercises are carried out. At the end of the day writing is unique to human beings. An attempt is made to benefit from the writing experiences of the past and to minimize the mistakes of the future in this manner. If you do have an inherent talent it turns that spark into a flame. The most important aspect of it is that with the work that we do we open up the flood gates of the writing reservoirs of the participants. We activate the creative writer inside them. So far the participants are saying that they are very happy with our writing workshop. I think that with an increase in such courses, there will be a considerable improvement both in quality and quantity of the works that are produced.  But it is of course not very possible to be very certain of this outcome.  The aim is to gift quality works to the world of literature. And I am trying to explain that in literature, in particular, one needs to write not just about one has experienced but also about what one has not. Of course what you write carries your traits but your experience alone is very limited. One has to distill what one had experienced through literature and transform them. Thus the message that is being attempted to be relayed carried from locality to universality. Achieving this makes you both a quality writer as well as a read one.  It is also very important to read, to read a lot and to digest them. At the end, what is important is that you do have a message to give and the patience to make it possible for this message to have an impact on life through writing. Let me add that we are going to continue with philosophy workshop next summer. This thought design workshop will be in English and will be as much cheek by bowl with cinema as contemporary art trends. I have designed as an effort aimed more at academicians and postgraduate students. Our creative wiring workshop will re-start during the winter period.”


Erdem who has also shared the details of his new book that he has been working on for the past seven/eight years. In this book he opens the doors of a fantastic world to us while he makes room for philosophy and science fiction.

“My new book went through a very long process. At the end I named it “Fatal, So Fatal”. It is comprised of two chapters: Nihil Book and Post Nihilistic Speculations. The first chapter is a novella. It takes place in a world where the sun slowly dies down. There are two characters whom we may call Noahs of our day. They represent Hermes and Promethus, they are searching for ways to take humanity to the world’s centre with a modern Noah’s Ark. Events not least expected by the reader take place and our heroes find themselves in a very strange chain of incidents. It is as if there is world within the world. There are whimsical, ironic, philosophical elements again but I have attempted to plan the book by adding fantastic elements, science fiction. And the Post Nihilistic Speculations chapter is made up of my philosophical articles.  Visually it is going to be a very rich, bulky book. Even though I had rid of them for years on the internet and libraries, and at my previous book, I started chasing visual images again. They consist of many anonymous visuals. At the moment our one other aim is to set up the Arkın Library Press and to publish this and other books by the our own university press. This will be a press that will publish mainly artistic and academic works but we shall of course publish other books that have been approved by our publication council as well.

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