In Conversation: Timo Nasseri
Ali Muhammad bin Hassan bin Muqla, 885-940
Baghdad, 33° 20´ N, 44° 23´ O on the night between March 6 and 7, 935, one night before the new moon. Vega was at the zenith, while Elnath, the tip of Taurus’s horn, was at the nadir. Mars had not yet risen and was waiting behind the hills in the east of the city, while Saturn would only show itself at around two in the morning. The eccentricity of the moon’s elliptical orbit was once again at its maximum, as takes place every 206 days, since the longer semi-axis of the moon’s orbit was pointed in the direction of the sun. This seemed to indicate that there was something fateful that was going to happen that cold night.
He had found a hiding place for his new letters. In secret, he called them his constellation, for he once found them in the stars. While looking up, the curves once appeared to him among the star patterns; the letters that were necessary to perfect the alphabet, to return to it the dignity and complexity of the language. He, as their architect, had already given them the beauty they deserved. Mathematics had enabled him to find a formula for their perfect dimensions. They thus became music for the eyes on paper, now that every letter stood in the proper proportions to one another, but he didn’t go so far as to reveal that he intended to perfect the alphabet so that all sounds on earth would appear in it. He thought it was just one small step, 15 new letters, 15 curves that would open a door to a new understanding. It would be perfect: the harmony of writing and speech, form and content. But even the word “perfect” would have been a sacrilege. In reality, they were worried that humanity should experience the batin, the deeper meaning, the inherent significance of the writing, and not just the zahir, its external, superficial, literal meaning. The word would have become true, and no longer subject to interpretation. They would be superfluous and found guilty of a confidence game of interpretation. But he was betrayed on the day that preceded this night, as sun and moon were almost close enough to touch one another. When they waited for him and then took him away, he knew what would happen, and when they severed the hand of the greatest calligrapher ever known to man, because he refused to reveal the hiding place of his letters, he knew that he would no longer need a hand to write. His arm stump would be enough, for his feel for the curve, the proportions would remain, even if he had to bind the calligraphy quill to his painful arm stump in order to write. He would found a school, but they discovered this as well, and so they cut off his tongue so that he would never teach and kept him in isolation for another five years in a house outside the city until his death. But the fifteen missing letters remain written in the stars; they would never be able to obliterate them.
Image rights: Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg / Beirut
b. 1972, based in Germany