No 15 - Summer 2011
Artist in Residence
JK Reza Parto-Azam is a foreign student, a philosophy translator living in a St Mungo's hostel near King's Cross. His haunting images have taught us all a lot. His slogan “Life is the Best University” originated with Gorky.
The ten questions are about food,philosophy, education, holidays, travel, language abilities, British weather, favourite books, opinions on suicide, and favourite artwork.
First question: which is your favourite foodstuff and do you eat it regularly?
RP I like Iranian kebab, chelo kebab, I like it very much. I take it with yoghurt, with bread sometimes, onions, tomato, cucumbers and things like that. My favourite food is chelo kebab, but all kinds of Iranian food are my favourites.
JK Do you prefer any special drinks with it, do you like alcohol or coca cola?
RP I rarely have alcohol, but sometimes I go to the pub. I take mostly coca cola but sometimes a beer or lager – my favourite is Campari really.
JK Is that a Martini?
RP Something similar to that, yeah.
JK Do you feel your diet is too constricted – I know when you’re on holiday with your family you eat a hell of a lot, but back here in London do you eat sufficiently for a healthy diet?
RP I like English food – Lancashire hotpot, shepherd’s pie - my favourite food here is spaghetti and things like that. Sometimes I go out for egg on toast, and it’s good to have a pizza with you – we enjoy each other’s company.
JK I remember all the waitresses at the Pizza Express place, they were hovering around Reza, they thought he was Gregory Peck!
RP Maybe this coming week we can go again!
JK Now some questions about philosophy. What do you think of the comparison between western and eastern philosophy? Do you think western and eastern philosophy are totally different?
RP I think they are very different – they are two branches of philosophy that are really very different from one another. My favourite is eastern philosophy, Buddhism and things like that as I’ve talked with you about. Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. I’m interested in meditation and things like that very much.
JK Are you interested in Islamic meditation and dancing?
RP I’m very much interested in Islamic meditation and dancing, I appreciate that.
JK Do you think people like Jean Paul Sartre or Martin Heidegger would have survived in China or Iran in the 20th Century? Would they have survived, would it have been dangerous?
RP They would have survived, people would have been nice to them really, they are interested in philosophy, people in Iran. They would have enjoyed their company, to have a chat about their ideas and things like that.
JK Having graduated as a journalist, will you further your education?
RP As you know, me and you and Barry went and they gave us our certificates in journalism. It was a bit late I think! - but I have attended seven universities and two colleges.
JK Of course education, like knowledge, is infinite.
RP My favourite English philosopher is Bertrand Russell –I had a chat with you about Russell especially his ideas about wit, and that a sense of humour is very good in life. Apart from that Camus is my favourite existentialist philosopher and writer.
JK Do you think that journalism will be your vocation in the next 10 years or so? Do you think you might get a job as a part time journalist?
RP I prefer to write really, rather than to be a journalist. I am continuously writing, I enjoy Sadegh Heydayat, Said Naficy, Albert Camus, I’ve given some work on them to my brother, we’ll see if we can publish them or not. I’ve written a lot, my room is full of writings. You gave me a book of Kafka.
JK Two books of Kafka.
RP I enjoy reading Kafka, I think he was a really talented writer and he had similarities to me as he was pessimistic and things like that.
JK On to the fourth question now - what is your favourite holiday resort and do you like sunbathing?
RP We travelled to Spain with my family, and my sister and brother, apart from that we travelled to Greece and Turkey, near the sea again, played a lot of tennis and things like that. I’ve travelled a lot in my life – I’ve travelled all through the United States with my dad and brother, Florida, New York, Boston, Washington, California.
JK Have you got a special favourite holiday resort? Tabriz maybe?
RP Tabriz - Iran you mean? Yeah I like that.
JK Your favourite maybe when you were a boy?
RP Tabriz or Mashad or Isfahan or Shiraz, that’s it.
JK Do you like sunbathing? Or do you swim?
RP I do sunbathing and swimming at the same time. In Spain or Greece with my dad - near the sea we do a little sunbathing.
JK If you had unlimited travel access, where would you go? This includes to the moon in commercial spaceships if you like!
RP I think I’d travel to Iran, or United States. Mostly I think I would go to Iran, back home to my brother, he’s a very nice person who’s helped me a great deal in my life. He’s very supportive, I enjoy his company. Quite honestly, I’d go to Iran.
JK Iranians and Americans get on very well with each other . .
RP Politics is the problem.
JK I think the hatred is dying –you know better than me, but I think it’s just the politicians who hate each other. It’s not the general public at all in either country, they don’t hate each other, they admire each other’s guts, one lot for doing the revolution, one lot for ruling the world. They admire each other, you know.
JK Anyway, it’s not my speech. Question number 6: how many languages do you speak?
RP English, Parsi, Arabic, German, Italian. . a very little Spanish, a very little Indian, a few words of Greek.
JK Any Russian, Chinese or Latin?
RP I’m interested in learning Russian, I don’t know Russian. But I’m interested in Russian writers, Gorky, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and others.
JK What is your honest opinion of the British weather?
RP I think it is horrible, you know!
JK But if you’ve been to Iceland - Icelandic people have to live indoors eleven months of the year! It’s bad up there, just ice for eleven months of the year! Right – what are your favourite books, your top 3? The Bible?
RP I’ve read the Bible, I’ve got one in my room, I like the Bible. But my favourite books are again Camus, Naficy, Heydayat - and Oscar Wilde I think. These four are my favourites I think.
JK Picture of Dorian Gray?
RP That’s it, I enjoy reading Oscar Wilde very much.
JK So you like fiction, dearly love fiction?
RP I do, yeah.
JK I do as well. It’s an addiction isn’t it? Like ice cream. . You don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to: how do you feel now that you have conquered your suicidal impulses?
RP I did attempt suicide because I thought that life . . I was in despair. One of the reasons I attempted suicide was that I lost my mother, I loved her very much, her loss, you know. I have been having suicidal symptoms for a long time in my life. I’ve seen a lot of psychiatrists, they told me that probably my writing was not very satisfactory, one of the reasons; the other reason was my mother’s death. And the anxiety relationship with my father you know, I didn’t feel very comfortable in the company of my father – it was like Franz Kafka or something like that, it had similarities with that. And I think the writing was not very satisfactory probably.
JK Your writing?
RP At that time . . when we finally did the journalism course I got my self confidence back.
JK Have you read any books on the subject specifically of suicide?
RP I have read Sadegh Heydayat, his books are full of suicide. .
JK Aren’t they novels?
RP They are mostly novels, I think he was obsessed with death and suicide, and very pessimistic, graveyards and opium . . .
JK Horror stories really?
RP I had a chat with a psychiatrist about Sadegh Heydayat - he’s a very very pessimistic writer. Very sad life, never married.
JK Can you handle horror stories, or do you sort of become terribly dreadfully afraid?
RP I like horror stories, Edgar Allen Poe.
JK You don’t get overwhelmed by them?
RP No no, I like them – horror stories are nice!
JK Do you think our competitive society causes the suicidal tendencies of some people?
RP People who commit suicide suffer mostly from depression, or they are in despair. It’s common among artists I think. They call it a sin, a sin against God and all that – suicide. In Christianity it’s less of a sin, but self harm and things like that. .
JK Did you ever read a book by Emile Durkheim - a French guy with a German name - it’s called Suicide, by Emile Durkheim?
RP I haven’t read that, no
JK Maybe you should do some scientific research. . he became an existentialist in 1938. In his early work he was a sociologist in a French university, the Sorbonne. He wrote about anomie, division of labour, suicide – all depressing.
RP A friend of mine wrote about suicide in English.
JK Ok the final question – it’s very harmless – maybe it’s harmless! What is your favourite artwork, and it is by old masters, young masters, new masters?
RP I think it would be Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali.
JK Magritte, Tanguy?
JK I like the Dutch masters like Hieronymus Bosch and Breugel, and then only the 20th century masters. I don’t like anything before the 20th century, the expressionist abstract writers and painters, I’ve no allegiance to anything before 1935 until you get back to Bosch. When it comes to poetry, is it an art or is it a waste of time?
RP I think it’s an art.
JK Do you write any poems that rhyme?
RP I’ve written many poems, I have given them to my dad. Poetry is a good art.
JK Thank you very much Reza, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you.
RP Thank you
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