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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Book on the Sidewalk

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The following was written as a guest post for Atatürk’s Republica collaborative blog that seeks to follow Turkish news, politics, arts, and culture.

Seçmeler, by Peyami Safa.

Seçmeler, by Peyami Safa.

Weather-permitting, it is not uncommon to see a young man selling books outside of the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Center in Ankara. As in many places in Turkey, the wares are carefully assembled on a repurposed aquamarine* bed sheet and laid out on the sidewalk for passers-by to politely ignore while the peddler busies himself with something else—in this case, reading.

On one particular late-May afternoon, I happened across this man after a perplexing transaction with an unctuous electronics salesman and a relatively gratifying transaction with a tobacconist. The point being, I was in a good enough mood to stop and look. I’d always found these displays somewhat romantic, yet crude. So while interested, I didn’t want to be seen patronizing the odd practice. I would rarely stop to look.

As usual, the books were mainly either beyond my linguistic abilities of comprehension or counter to my sense of propriety. One, however—an older, water-damaged paperback—caught my attention. It was a compilation, a volume of the collected newspaper articles and columns of the late Peyami Safa, journalist and novelist extraordinaire. An unusual find.

After several more minutes of nervous browsing, I picked the book off of the sidewalk for the third and final time, leaving a conspicuous aquamarine gap, like a missing tooth. The young man looked up from his book only when I approached him with my selection. He asked for three lira. I gave him five—it was worth far more than five lira to me.

A few days ago, I found the time to give that book some of the attention it deserves. Here’s one of the more serendipitous, yet disturbing, selections I found, titled “The Book on the Sidewalk.” I will let it speak for itself, perhaps to be expanded on later:

THE BOOK ON THE SIDEWALK

In yesterday’s article, “Book Morgue,” Salâhaddin Güngör had this to say about the book displays that have cropped up on nearly every street-corner: “There are so many valuable and rare books in those displays that one would be shocked what can be had for the price of a glass of Hamidiye water.”

In Turkey, there is nothing that suffers as much indignity as books. Not just Hamidiye water, but cigarette butts, filthy rags, old shoes, empty bottles, and even the broken wood and iron scavenged from rubble will all fetch a higher price than their own raw materials—and more buyers, too. Only books, only those damned, wretched books are placed on the same ground as dog waste and put up for sale without so much as a piece of cloth beneath them. When a country gives the same position to knowledge and literature as it gives to its heels, and places the nourishment of its mind underfoot, that suggests that books have about as much dignity as the brooms in grocers’ shops (at least the brooms are hung one or two meters off the ground).

Script both new and old, authors both great and insignificant, works from both east and west, compilations, translations, and every variety of writing, writer, and quality—all underfoot.

Fellow-citizen! There is a danger as dreadful as an enemy invasion hidden in this tragedy. Fellow-citizen! Great catastrophes will utterly destroy the progress of any nation where books crawl on the ground. Fellow-citizen! Good, bad, valuable, worthless, compilation, and translation, buy your share of these books! Sell your bedspreads if need be, but buy these books and get them off the ground!

 Tan, July 23rd, 1935

*I.e., the color of public pool locker room tiles. No, the peddlers’ bed sheets are not always aquamarine, but when they are, I remember it.

†A high-mineral-content water piped from Istanbul’s Belgrade Forest since 1902; apparently a subject of derision for quite some time now.

‡Referring to both Latin and Arabic script, the latter of which was officially canned in 1929 and replaced by the modern Turkish language.

Written by M. James

January 31, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Turklish

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Liberty.

Liberty.

Written by M. James

January 29, 2014 at 1:48 am

Geceyarısı Ekspresi

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Everyone who knows something about Turkey knows Midnight Express. And so do most people who know nothing about Turkey, wherein lies the problem with the film—its success. The film’s acclaim has left its broad American audience with an unflinchingly brutal portrait of Turks as prison rapists and torture artists, which the Turks do not particularly appreciate.

The cynic could, of course, attribute Turks’ dislike for the film to a perceived damage done to their vital tourism industry (probably true), but in my experience, the hurt is genuine. The film, they think, was just plain unfair—unwarranted. And what’s even worse is that it just won’t… go… away. Here’s a Turkish columnist’s wry commentary on one such new development.

The Express nightmare returns
İzzet Çapa; Hürriyet; January 13th, 2014

The calamitous nightmare that showed us as a kind of boogeyman for years, Midnight Express, is coming back.

The writer and “hero” of the novel, Billy Hayes, enemy of the Turks, will now take the stage in The Midnight Express, a one-man play starting January 22nd on Broadway. Billy will allegedly play out heretofore unrevealed details from his time in İmralı. Obviously running short on money, he is once again bringing up old issues of ours.

Ouch. But actually, the title is Riding The Midnight Express With Billy Hayes, and there is an indication that part of the purpose of the play is to “correct” some of the fictional fabrications from the movie. So maybe you shouldn’t be so critical, Mr. Çapa.

Fans of one-man plays about Turkish prison (appealing, no?) can go here for tickets.

Written by M. James

January 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

Süzme Sözler IV

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From a 1935/6 collection of clever sayings about everything from nationhood to Hitler and Greta Garbo, by Turkish writer Raif Necdet Kestelli:

Dünyayı idare eden tek bir kuvvet vardır: yalan..

In translation:

There is but one force that governs the world: lies.

Süzme Sözler III
Süzme Sözler II
Süzme Sözler I

Written by M. James

January 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Incorporation in Islam

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A similar phenomenon to the absence of Western state-theory:

Stern, S.M., “The Constitution of the Islamic City,” The Islamic City: A Colloquium

THE ABSENCE IN ISLAM OF CORPORATIONS IN GENERAL

I should like to put forward the idea that one of the striking differences between the society of medieval western Christendom and Islamic society was this: that whereas in the former all sorts of corporate institutions proliferated, in the latter, they were entirely absent. The propensity to organize institutions in the form of corporations was not in the West something primeval, but arose, if I am not mistaken, sometime about the eleventh century. I am not competent to give a reasoned account of this development or to try to determine its causes, but shall perhaps not stray too far from the mark if I suggest that the example of the religious orders with their highly developed constitutions had a great deal to do with this; a secondary factor may be the existence in Roman law of the idea of legal associations and juridicial persons.

. . .

Written by M. James

November 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Süzme Sözler III

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From a 1935/6 collection of clever sayings about everything from nationhood to Hitler and Greta Garbo, by Turkish writer Raif Necdet Kestelli:

Medeniyet için ne büyük bir leke, ne hazin bir mahrumiyettir ki çok dürüst, çok temiz ve samimî zekâlar hâlâ iyi bir diplomat olamıyorlar!

In translation:

What a great stain on civilization, what a sad deprivation, that very honest, upright, and sincere minds still cannot be good diplomats!

Süzme Sözler II
Süzme Sözler I

Written by M. James

November 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Süzme Sözler II

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From a 1935/6 collection of clever sayings about everything from nationhood to Hitler and Greta Garbo, by Turkish writer Raif Necdet Kestelli:

Hassasiyet varlık pınarının kaynağıdır.

Which, in all its simplicity, seems to be an argument for empiricism—that sensations are the basis of all of our knowledge, including knowledge of the self.

In translation:

Sense-perception is the source of the spring of existence.

Paraphrased:

I feel, therefore I am.

Süzme Sözler I

Written by M. James

October 5, 2013 at 1:09 am