Crossroads Day 1

Am I experiencing Turkey as a benchmark to distinguish myself as part of the “West”? Derek Bryce, the first presenter of the panel (1.55) European Identity in a Transnational World, made me wonder. Istanbul, situated on a major river, reminds me of Budapest: palaces on the river, pedestrian lifestyle, centrality of the river in social life, busses not a subway, architecture, language (not that Hungarian and Turkish are similar, but that both are so far from my linguistic frames of reference). The dress is mostly western. Commercial. Many apparently unemployed people. The taksi’s are a hoot &emdash; last night I imagined myself in a herd of sheep being shunted at a dead run through a narrow gate. One feels as if it’s a game of bumper cars without the contact. Such skill!

Bryce, relying on Said and Foucault, compares Turkey with Egypt where the tourist is already assumed to be the western colonizing subject and is invited to engage from this stance. Turkey, he argues (quoting Foucault) is a zone where the boundaries of the west/east are explored and possibly (?) (re)defined. (My bad paraphrase from memory.) What have I noticed as different, here? Am I engaged in some form of orientalization? I’ve been warned by almost everyone &emdash; Turkish and otherwise &emdash; to be careful of petty theft. (Which could happen many places in the US, too.)
A friend and I encountered a couple of boys in ceremonial tunics at a nice restaurant last night, she said they’d been circumcised, and explained the significance of this ritual in the development of boys to men (she also said it was highly unusual for them to be out in public, typically the parties celebrating this event are in private places with only family attending). When she first pointed them out to me I was confused &emdash; they still practice castration? I hope that was residue of the novel by Unsworth, which included an interview with a eunuch. In the US, boys are typically circumcised at birth. It’s hardly an event.
I’ve been aware of how people in general do eye contact. While I’ve been walking around town, many people have met my eyes and held gaze. It has caused me to consider it a few times: is it aggressive or hostile? Curious? It seems indifferent &emdash; a refusal to look away but also not an invitation to engage. (When I smile, as is my wont, folks tend not to acknowledge it &emdash; their gaze and expression rarely shift, although some small percentage will smile back. I’ve tried to inhibit the urge to smile since the first few reactions.)
After the panel (S1) on “The City as a Thinking Machine” (a title that puzzled the presenters, nudging me into thinking about the umbrella my presentation is under), I slipped my card to the two Ayse’s and made a very quick hello. Earlier today, when Katherine asked for a business card and I handed it over, she said, “You can’t just give me a card like that and not tell me what it’s about!” I told her I write randomly about my days; then added that I do have missions in mind. When Neil suggested I not blog everything :-), I explained that one of my major tasks was (is) to track the process of intellectualization. “It does that,” he exclaimed &emdash; perhaps the teeniest bit exasperated? Oh how many people’s knickers have I got in a twist with my public representations? :-/ I really don’t intend that (although I don’t mind vigorous debate).
Being here, at my first cultural studies conference, I was hooked when Nilüfer Göle disagreed with Partha Chatterjee’s assertion that for the purposes of academic intervention we need to re-assert or re-root ourselves in the disciplines. I hope I represent both of their arguments correctly, my notes are sketchy and of course there’s been much more stimulation since the opening plenary. Göle argued that the new social formations and articulations occurring in popular culture require new paradigms (she didn’t use that word) &emdash; particularly ways or methods that help us focus on new spaces and in particular what she called new temporalities: the simultaneous (diachronic) rather than historical (synchronic). Chatterjee responded that we should be suspect of ourselves falling prey (I am overstating his actual words, which I don’t recall) to the zeitgeist of the times, emphasizing that there are disciplines whose task is to interrogate these particular modes and whose practitioners are therefore authorized to do it. Ien Ang seconded Chatterjee’s view about relying on the disciplines in her talk (which followed) as part of the panel (1.13): “Is a Cosmopolitan Multiculturalism Possible? The Australian Context.”
I hope I can track her down and receive a copy of her paper on the institutional polices of the SBS. I am sure there are parallels and contrasts to be drawn between their multilingual policies and that of the European Parliament. The SBS radio station broadcasts programming in sixty-eight different languages! And more than 50% of programming shown on SBS tv is in a language other than English. Most of this programming is subtitled &emdash; not dubbed, which is important because one can read the text and still hear the sounds of another language, rather than having the sound (presence, evidence) of the language erased by the process of dubbing (common in Germany, right?) I was interested in the division of labor between Ang and her co-panelist, Greg Noble, who focused on “the lived experience” of the everyday. I’m trying to combine both these levels in my research at the European Parliament.
In addition to the back-to-the-disciplines vs new conceptualizations debate, I’ve only heard one other discursive theme among panels, regarding the term cosmopolitan. It began in the panel (1.13) with “cosmopolitan” in the title. An audience member questioned its utility, particularly because the term wasn’t problematized or otherwise developed theoretically. Rather it was taken more-or-less as given and posed in opposition to multiculturalism. Ang defended its use, although another panelist, Ghassan Hage, acknowledged that cosmopolitanism can also be racist. Ayse Caglar echoed this in the next panel I attended. It was pointed out during this panel that the Turkish word, kosmopolit, is deeply negative because of its association with the Ottomans. Hage generalized about how the cosmopolitan move occurs only after what he called “social necrophilia:” after a culture or people has been devastated beyond the point of resistance they might be re-embraced into a multicultural framework. An effect then, of the presence of minorities is the development of cosmopolitanism &emdash; or, as Noble &emdash; pointed out some people value multiculturalism in functional terms only: “they aren’t cosmopolitans, they are the working middle class making functional, and paradigmatic decisions about future value.” (paraphrased)
Turkey as the Islamic Other in the European Union: Different cultures or different religions? by Meyda Yegenoglu re-engaged me. Does the new European identity constitute a break with religion or a re-identification with it? I regret losing focus a few times during this panel (1.55). Jet lag still or overstimulation from the day? Both? This is the time slot when I present tomorrow, the last one of the day. Unfortunately, I annoyed someone sitting near me 🙁 with the foil wrapper from the chocolate I was HOPING would spark more alertness from my dilapidated neural net. This wasn’t as bad as the guy who got slammed for asking one of the panelists to be a native informant on Turkey (instead of asking about her scholarship). But there is a struggle articulating relevant questions &emdash; again, I wonder, a factor of timing? Someone else was asked how their question related to the papers just presented.
Johan Fornäs just asked why do we want the bridge/window into Europe? Is it an imperializing move and we’re complicit? GREAT question! “If we control the bridge, do we have more power?” “Capital does not care about religion or race. It prefers a borderless world,” Meyda observed.
In response to a later question about whether Lacan (applied by Özden Ocak to Turkey) can also be applied to Europe? Meyda explained that she has a problem with Lacanian “lack” being framed or formulated as an ontological lack. She argues that lack is “retrospectively constituted.”
Another question and response from Meyda: “If there is something called fundamentalist secularism it is here in Turkey.”
What a day!
Note: I found a blog by Erkan, who will present here on July 22. He mentioned the opening keynote.

2 thoughts on “Crossroads Day 1”

  1. hi,
    I also attended the conference.
    just a few comments to your impressions on turkey,
    so I’lle be the “native informant” 😉
    1. the bosphorus is NOT a river, but a strait, just as gibraltar. that’s also why people say that Istanbul is the only city on two continents: europe and asia
    2. circumcision equals not castration. it is a ritual at which the foreskin is taken away. performed by jews, moslems and 55% of all newborn in the US.

  2. Thanks Serhat. 🙂 I’ve been natively informed already about the grave error of calling the Bosphorus a river. My naive comparison. 🙁 It’s pretty cool, that’s for sure: a city on two continents, a sea with different densities of salt water (unique, right?), and such a history of empires (with all the glamour and violence they invoke).
    I did realize that circumcision was not the same as castration but thought I’d confess the disturbing moment of orientalism. That’s my US social justice training – if you catch yourself in a stereotype or cultural prejudice, confess! The idea is two-fold: by “owning” it in myself I have a better chance of un-doing it (instead of trying to pretend, or stay in denial), and (perhaps) the admission can be a model for others in similar straits. :-/ I sure wasn’t happy with my momentary confusion because there is obviously a HUGE difference between the two!
    The cultural element that I meant to highlight is the prominence (?) given to the event in Turkish culture as opposed to the mundane practice in the States where circumcision occurs at birth and without particular note (at least as far as I know).

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