Saturday, August 04, 2007

Books, thoughts, links

Just finished (a few days back actually) Edward Said’s Out of Place. Thoughts while reading it were amusement at some similarities in childhood memories. Said writes about his ninth birthday gift – Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. I received the same book for my ninth birthday too. How his parents always nagged him about his posture. I am still told – "don’t slouch", "stand straight" etc. etc. Or how his father threatened to paint his nail with varnish so he wouldn’t bite them. I used to be a nail biter (gave up that habit many years back) but I used to be issued similar threats as well. Maybe everyone has a similar childhood.

Also finished Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. Lewis infuriates me more often than not and yet I read him. Sigh. Clearly he has vast knowledge on the topic (ummm…well he clearly has a better knowledge of Turkey than the modern Middle East, so maybe not) so I don’t understand his position of supporting the Iraq war and the other overly simplistic nonsense that he spouts. Maybe he is just getting batty with age. Ian Buruma had an interesting piece on Lewis in the New Yorker a few years back. Maybe he’s onto something there. I need to read Rashid Khalidi as an antidote to Lewis I think. I still haven’t read Lewis’s Emergence of Modern Turkey even though it’s considered a modern classic type… I am a bit wary because I’d imagine is a bit out of date and Lewis is a bit too pro Kemalist for my liking. But I’ll probably pick it up sooner or later. Current read is Turkey: A Modern history by Erich J. Zurcher.

There are also a couple of Pamuk links I have wanted to put up for a bit now. Apparently his next project will be a novel with pictures (just come out with it soon, yes?). Also a Guradian interview with him at the Hay festival where he talks about the usual but also his experiences as a member of the Cannes jury.

I liked this:
The strength of a civilization, he suggests, "is most obviously expressed by the fact that the stories of that culture spread around the world and other stories, other histories are forgotten. The disintegration of the Ottoman empire, or the weakening of traditional Middle Eastern cultures, can best be observed, perhaps, in the decay of these cultures' classical stories. If I have done anything political in a literary sense, it is to rediscover and rewrite them."
.....Everything in his life, it seems, comes second to his love for writing, which, after 33 years, he can finally call his profession. "When I was a child, when I was a student, I used to daydream a lot," he says, recrossing his legs, running his hand through hair now almost wild with continual re-scuplting. "Being a professional writer legitimises your dreams, allows you to execute them and show them to others with pride."

In Istanbul I was in Nişantaşı (Pamuks neighborhood) one day. My friend refuses to believe I did not stalk him. Considering Pamuk now roams around with and armed guard I do not think that would have been the wisest thing to do.

Talking of Turkey, ever since the whole drama of the deadlock over the presidential candidate there’s been a fair amount of coverage in the America media. A lot of it has been blatantly bad but this op-ed piece really left me wondering whether I should laugh or cry. Sample only some of the many gems:
Euro-tourists are welcome to drink themselves sick and flaunt minimalist bikinis - as long as they remain quarantined in resorts.
Ummm ok. If you say so.

Overall, though, the AKP has pursued a successful policy of creeping Islamization - instead of being murdered at high noon, Ataturk's constitution is suffering the death of a thousand cuts.
I don’t even know what that means. The present constitution is Turkeys fourth. The last two were implemented well after Ataturk died.

With Sunday's vote, Turkey chose Asia over Europe. Ankara wants to belong to the Islamic Middle East on the social side, while exploiting Europe economically. But the EU isn't obliged to subsidize Turkey's return to the Middle Ages (albeit with cellphones). Talks will drag on for years, but Turkey's hope of EU membership is dead.
Dear lord…where do I even begin.
Yes, good for laughs only I think.

Another more interesting article I read recently was on food and nationalism.

…a big discussion was held over the origins of the dessert baklava. The question was raised: "Does baklava have a national identity?" Such a question is utter nonsense. All these dishes have been transported from place to place for centuries. Different peoples prepare them in their own way and eat them in their own way. In the process, these dishes have absorbed something from every location and changed along the way.
What makes baklava baklava is not its Turkish, Greek, or Arab identity. Today, as a result of historical and societal influences, Baklava is eaten in Greece, Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia as well as in Turkey. The motivation behind the desire to account for the origins of a dish lies in the significance of nationalism in the modern world.

…These topics are not taken seriously in the media. The reports and commentaries nurture nationalism, allowing it to affect everyday life. As a result, people do not hesitate to think in the category of "We and Them." For this reason the concepts and language we use to express our thoughts about music, dance, food, and the like are very important. Consequently, there is a great potential for these discussions to become dangerous.

There’s also an interesting point raised about Turkish food in Germany.

Let's take a look at the importance of the döner in Germany. While the döner here has gained in popularity, it's obvious that it is associated with Turkishness. At the same time you can say that nobody notices what constitutes a döner, but instead who prepares it. On the other hand, what is regarded as a döner in Germany is very different from a döner in Turkey. Many Turks would doubt that the döner in Germany is a döner at all, because this dish has been completely Germanized, a bizarre snack in bread.

It’s very true. Even in Vienna there were "Turkish" stalls that sold not only döners but also pizzas and wursts. Also interestingly, the Naschmarkt is full of Turkish stalls selling falafels, baklavas, kebabs and what not… further out the Brunnenmarkt (the largest in Vienna, I think) is basically all Turkish. Everyone speaks Turkish, posters are in Turkish, Sezen Aksu plays in the background and I saw more headscarves there than I did in most of Istanbul.

By the way, the talk of baklava above reminded me that I have this great desire to go baklava tasting all over the Middle East. I have this ridiculous desire to visit Gaziantep (on route to Aleppo or Damascus ideally) for no other reason except that apparently you get the best baklavas there. (Even in Istanbul the best baklavas are supposed to be at Güllüoğlu which is a shop that is originally from Gaziantep). God knows when I will even get to visit though. No harm planning but, right?


That Armchair Philosopher said...

For some reason - the white on black hurts my eyes!! :)

Alok said...

whats your gripe with the kemalists? more details and more regular posts please. when you know so much about a topic you should share it with people too. it may help you with the boredom problem too. (specially that you are playing the role of the de-facto Turkish ambassador in the blogosphere)

that ian buruma article was a good overview. i hadn't read it before. I have to read some of the original works of said or lewis too. though frankly, the whole debate about how all western engagement with eastern poliitcs and culture has to be based on oppression and racism, doesn't excite me at all.

Szerelem said...

TAP: like I told you, inane comment :P

Alok: Kemalists - I just feel Kemalism now has become a bit extreme and shrill...I dont think the threat from the AKP is as huge as they make it seem. Plus extreme nationalism and xenophobia put me off. Ill try and write more posts - I dont know if I know enough about Turkey to be labelled de-facto Turkish ambassador!
I dont think all all books on the middle east are based simply on oppression and racism - the fact is that they have played a part in the politics of the region and its important to understand the historical roots of whats happening there now.

Alok said...

okay, i am obviously not keeping up with the history and politics of Turkey. I thought the AKP were the bad guys... and never knew Kemalists were associated with extreme nationalism and xenophobia.

hedonistic hobo said...

i find the turkish definition of secularism a bit absurd. can't say i know as much if at all about the country from the recent reports on the presidential election i got the sense that the way they define secularism is completely different from ours. of course how we implement ours boggles the mind, but in the turkish case the desire to obliviate associations with islam to appear as modern seems bizzare.

Szerelem said...

Alok - Well, it really depends on whom you are talking to doesn’t it? I know many, many people who really believe that the AKP is an Islamic wolf in sheep’s clothing and aims to impose sharia law. I think that’s a bit extreme – I don’t like the AKP as such but their legislative record is better than any of the opposition parties’ and so far they haven’t really followed an Islamic agenda as such (though there were a couple of issues such as banning adultery etc that were later on dropped). Plus they did take some positive steps in actually engaging with the EU and pushing for EU membership. The current main opposition (the CHP – which trumps its Kemalism) is basically a joke – even people I know who hate the AKP admit as much. During the standoff over the Presidential candidate it basically called for military intervention. I’m all for secularism but I don’t think the army should be involved at all. And so far the AKP has stuck to working within a secular framework…though I agree with the people who were on the streets saying no to sharia and military intervention.

Hobo: Turkey’s secularism is similar to France so it follows a very strict separation of state and religion. Also the westernisation drive in the aftermath of the formation of the republic meant that most secular elites were completely shunned religion as such. Plus the military always acted as a buffer against any Islamic agenda in politics. It’s led to its own share of problems. The AKP has a massive rural base and most of these people are more religious and want to be able to express that in the public sphere…wearing the headscarf for example. A lot of people aren’t very comfortable with that. Someone in Istanbul told me that because the AKP is in power more and more women are wearing headscarves simply to show their support for the party and as a political statement not because they are necessarily ultra conservative. Maybe, but I think people should have the freedom to do and wear what they want without being judged. Also one major reason for the rally ainst the AKP presidential nominee was the fact that his wife wears a headscarf (in Turkey you aren’t allowed to wear head scarves or religious garments in schools, universities or government buildings). God forbid she should live in the house Ataturk once occupied!