Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Word for Body-Soul

I was asked, once, for a word that is not in the English Language but I wish it were. I suggested a word that means both soul and body, a word that reunites the pervasive dualism in my language, and therefore in my thinking.

In an interview in PEN America #13 Lovers,  Atiq Rahimi, who won the 2008 Prix Goncourt for his novel The Patience Stone, gave such a word from classical Persian poetry: "jaan." He says to his interviewer Lila Azam Zanganeh:

It's a word used in Iran and Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is a word of daily life. It's something that we add to the name: for example, you would be Lilajaan. It would be translated as "my dear Lila." It is a word that describes at the same time the body and the soul. There is no separation in "jaan." This separation is something that we find in Christian culture, in Judaism, and in Islam, but before that we had this idea. The separation came about with Islam and with the Judeo-Christian tradition; in our language, we say the word "jessm" for body and "rooh" for soul. But these words are not Persian words, we borrowed them from Arabic. So if we go back to mystic poets--I always like going back to Rumi; he uses this word with its full ambiguity. I could mention hundreds of poems by Rumi when he uses this word. And if you interpret "jaan" as "rooh," or soul, then you have a very mystical poem. But if you interpret it as "body," then they become erotic poems.

In The Patience Stone, the woman, who is not named, falls in love with a solder. Rahimi describes her new consciousness when she becomes the soldier's lover:

She becomes conscious of her body and her soul becomes part of her body. He soul is nowhere else but in her body. It's like a sheet where one side is the body and one side is the soul, but it is one thing.

2 comments:

Eshuneutics said...

A very interesting, hermetical thought, Jee. Body-Soul, the androgyne. A found this post enchanting.

Jee Leong Koh said...

I love the sheet image in the passage I quoted.