Conversations with Adonis, my father
Ninar: How do you relate to your looks? Were you aware early on of being such a handsome and attractive man?
Adonis: No, I only realised that recently – too late!
Oh, sure! (Laughter.) You can’t think I’ll fall for that one!
No, it’s true, it only came home to me recently, a few years ago!
Can’t believe it … (Laughter.)
I’m afraid it’s somewhat pitiful from my point of view! To have such potential as a heart-throb and never to have known it! (Laughter.)
I only woke up to these virtues of mine twenty years ago. Or let’s say perhaps a little earlier, when I reached forty …
Well, I’ve seen pictures of you at forty, and you were a total bombshell, atomic, no less! Are you seriously telling me that when you were twenty you had no idea?
None whatsoever. I’ve often told the story of how girls always liked me and I couldn’t think why! I paid them no attention at all, I was far too busy with the construction of my identity and my culture … And also I was so poor, I simply didn’t have the means.
It’s not a question of means, it’s more about self-awareness …
I didn’t feel any need to go out with women, I lacked the obsession, it never occurred to me … The only way to explain it is by the fact that I was simply too caught up in the construction of my self and my world … I was preoccupied by my own problems as well. I couldn’t afford to ask a girl out for a drink or a meal, I was very poor, scarcely able to keep body and soul together … As a result, I only discovered my success with women when it was too late!
(Laughter.) Some of them are actually much younger – I expect they see their father in me. I say to them: ‘But I’m old enough to be your father!’ Cries of protest from the girls: ‘You, a poet, and you’re bothered about age?!’
And I say to them: ‘But it’s a fact!’ In any case, I’ve never had the time to spare for that kind of fling. As one grows older, time is increasingly the only capital one has left. The time that remains to me is intensely precious. I have to make the most out of every hour that passes, for my work, or in doing something constructive. Otherwise I have the impression that it was wasted …
To go back to this business of attractiveness. How did you deal with it? It’s always a problem being dishy and charming, let alone, as in your case, a poet and an intellectual as well … Is it difficult to handle? Is it not a bit of an ordeal?
It’s never worried me.
It only turns into a pressure once you’re aware of it, you mean?
When you find out that you are handsome, desirable, eligible and chased after, it can well become a headache and lead to complications in your dealings with others. But I never had that problem. There’s probably a further reason for this: I’ve never believed that the solution to my problems lay in the domain of love or romance. If there is a solution, as far as I’m concerned it can only be found in the domain of writing and poetry … If I had to choose between writing and having an affair with a very beautiful woman, I would choose writing, without a moment’s hesitation. Not that I consider poetry to be superior to the experience with a woman. Woman is poetry, living poetry … And yet, to me, nothing expresses my existence better than to create …
Adonis, born in 1930, is one of the world’s most famous contemporary Arab poets. His daughter Ninar, born in 1971, lives in Paris as a performance artist.
The conversation is an extract from the chapter ‘I am what I am’ from Ninar Esber’s book Conversations avec Adonis, mon père, published by Seuil, Paris 2006, pp. 54 – 72.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann