Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kyrgyz Eyes

As some of you may know, for many years, I was obsessed with Thomas Mann's novel, The Magic Mountain. One of the unforgettable details of the novel was the obsession of Hans Castorp (the main character) with the elusive Clavdia Chauchat, who Mann describes repeatedly as having Kyrgyz eyes. This is, indeed, one of her defining features. "Kyrgyz eyes" were also a feature of an earlier breathless obsession in Castorp's life--a young boy who had many years before loaned young Hans a pencil on the school playground. So Mann echoes these eyes and these obsessions (even the pencil) throughout the novel. What I would give to have such literary skill . . .
     At any rate, I have never before taken the time to find out what Kyrgyz eyes might look like, until now, when Kyrgyztan is in the news because of ethnic violence between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbek peoples. Google tells me that the woman and baby above are Kyrgyz. I have decided that these two at least somewhat represent what a set of Kyrgyz eyes look like, though I of course know that there would be no one standard set of Kyrgyz eyes. Here are some others--not smiling, as I think non-smiling eyes would be more what Mann had in mind.
I won't pretend to know anything about the Kyrgyz or the Uzbek people and their current troubles and conflicts. Commentators and reporters aren't completely clear on the "spark," though they say that it began with a fight between groups of young people from each of the ethnic groups. As is usually the case, political and economic issues lie at the core, and awkward and artificial lines between countries that go back to Stalin. These forces, I believe, are far more significant than actual hate between ethnic groups, but hate and violence are often the result. Followed by displaced people and extensive human misery. It is heartbreaking to see the photos of the people fleeing, children in their arms, all seeking safety and refuge, which will likely not be forthcoming.
     As I've listened to these stories on the news, one question I keep wishing to have answered is, "How can a Kyrgyz tell an Uzbek and vice versa?" Is it skin color, style of dress, neighborhoods they live in, EYES? Can you just tell right away? Here are some people who Google tells me are Uzbek.
I suppose there are some differences around the eyes. But what do you think?
     And just for context, here's where Kyrgyztan is. I see it's northwest of China, so maybe that has something to do with the eyes?

7 comments:

rasirds@cox.net said...

Having read about "Kyrgyz Eyes" as you did, history seems to point out that these people had an "eye" metaphorically anyway, for seeing into their future. Possibly that "eye" could have earned them this expression.

Whether one thinks of the "evil eye", "an eye toward the future", "Bette Davis Eyes" or the expression that is the most meaningful to me, "the eyes are the windows to the soul," the "eyes have it" in terms of competing with other anatomical expressions.

While showing some pictures of myself to my children through my years, I noticed my eyes looked the same in every shot. But I am an "eye" person. Eyes talk to me more than voices. Many times this is curse.

Susan Messer said...

When Mann wrote about Kyrgyz eyes, I think he was conjuring an elusive, exotic quality--including a fascination of the West for the East. Those eyes were smoldering and exotic, at least to Hans Castorp. But, certainly, eyes have so much other weight in literature, music, and real life. I've never understood fully that "window of the soul" image. To me, it's the whole face and all the subtle changes that flash across it . . .

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's "a" definition of the expression, since it subjective.The whole person conveys a message if one pays attention. Couples often tell me the story of their relationship because of the way they walk with, toward, or away from each other. These gray observations occur mainly to creative people. Observations feed imagination just as monetary observations feed Godman Sachs. That's how I see it.

That being meant, I see the eyes first. I have no idea why, but the whole face and body always follow suite.

Susan Messer said...

And so for the eyes . . .

prudy said...

Thanks for doing the research and thinking on Kyrgyz eyes. In the midst of writing a memoir about my mother's two years in a sanatorium, I too am obsessed with the Magic Mountain, and the recurrent image of Kyrgyz eyes. Mann uses them to represent eroticism, don't you think?

prudy said...

Thanks for doing the research and thinking on Kyrgyz eyes. In the midst of writing a memoir about my mother's two years in a sanatorium, I too am obsessed with the Magic Mountain, and the recurrent image of Kyrgyz eyes. Mann uses them to represent eroticism, don't you think?

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Prudy, for bringing this up again. I actually just a few weeks ago pulled my old copy of Magic Mountain off the shelf, to review that Walpurgis Night chapter (to inform something I'm working on now). Definitely eroticism, but I also think eroticism as it emerges from what we see as the exotic. Hans C is a good German boy, and these encounters with the "East" draw him in some profound way.