Selim Özdogan blends genres to unmask our contradictions
I Sogni degli Altri, the “dreams of others”, is the Italian title chosen for Selim Özdogan’s latest novel. These “dreams” are not merely those of our sleep. The dreams under scrutiny are collective promises of achievable livelihoods, social mobility, a better future. The “others” are both those who define which dreams are allowed - typically dreams of “having more”, dreams of consumption - and those in front of whom these dreams are dangled as an escape from social exclusion.
Even if fulfilled, is this promised escape, sometimes called “meritocracy” or “equality of opportunity” or “integration”, enough to call us free? Meritocracy promises that everyone can get ahead, but how is this possible if competition means, by default, that only some will excel?
Selim Özdogan comes across as humble, patient, and yet piercing in his questioning of these pressing social dilemmas. The audience gathered in the Auditorium of the “Conservatorio Lucio Campiani”, not coincidentally a house of music, seems to follow his thoughts by reacting to rhythm and tone, he observes, fascinated, way before his words are translated from his native German into Italian. There’s a more fundamental thread, Özdogan tries to hint, making communication possible regardless of language barriers in the room today. Selim weighs in without imposing, hoping for a dialogue that, ironically, never takes off, a mirror of the fractured social worlds he critiques.
Perhaps the silence is the result of disconcertion, a common reaction to Özdogan's literary endeavours. His work, which bends and blends genres, has a disorientating effect on publishers, something the author welcomes. I Sogni degli Altri is a mystery, a family story, a social commentary, a hip hop novel with its own playlist. He uses the “dark web” as a plot device as well as a metaphor to ask us what is allowed. There is no way out of contradictions, “all too human” he believes, but we should at least allow ourselves words: Words not dreams.