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Reading “Turkish Awakening”


This is no light reading, but I thought it would serve as a good starting point to get to know Turkey. Modern Turkey has its historical and cultural roots in Ottoman Empire, which peaked in 16th century, spanning three continents and reaching as far as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, all of Asia Minor and Greece. This is all I know about Turkey.

Turkey has followed a turbulent path in recent years (in light of the recent bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, which makes me hesitate to visit) years. It is like an oddball relative, and understanding it a lifelong effort. As EU is considering to waiver visas of Turkish nationals, and Turkey being the top of my list, it’s time to read and understand history of Turkey.

Born to a Turkish mother and british father, Alev Scott returns to Istanbul to find her roots. She was about to finish this book when the Gezi protests broke out in May 2013, leaving more than 8,000 injured and 6 dead. She had no clue what gave, but it was clear to the world, and the Turks themselves, that the country is far more complicated than it looks. Scott interprets the Gezi spirit in this book and investigates the culture and society that precipitated the movement.

The book’s devotion to Turkish people and culture is a deciding factor. It is replete with real observations on daily life in Turkey. “Turkey is more than a country, it is a religion, and that is why anti-Turkish sentiments are equivalent to blasphemy.” Scott observes. The way Turks talk about their country sounds a religious fervor. The day-to-day anecdotes are so informative and appealing—exactly the way way how I would travel. She also alludes to the village-like interdependency of Turkish society. This leads to the dilemma between a solidarity and parochialism.

Scott writes a rich account of life in Istanbul, with thoughtful examples of how language is the soul of any culture. She also catches the myriad contradictions in Turkey, especially in how Kurds and Turks get along. She approaches her subjects with an open-mindedness and without prejudice. I am only browsing through the book and reading a passage here and there. But I get the impression that this is exactly what I have been looking for in helping me understand the country.

“Distraction Theory”

On 4th of July, a day of celebration of America and its values, I read an article on the New Yorker how many many options and choices might do a disservice of our well being. The article is a response to a book called The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford, who states that “distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind.” At a glimpse Crawford’s claim seems very outlandish. To him, life’s most meaningful activities involve shutting down options and dealing with the constraints of the physical world. He means by being engaged in activities for which you cannot simply choose what you want to happen by pressing a button, like on your iPad.

Crawford presents an alternative ideology. The book is a somewhat philosophical treatise on how to cope with modernity that starts with annoying ubiquitous ads. The whole figuring out ways to capture and hold people’s attention is the center of contemporary capitalism. You cannot even get through a transaction of a card machine without being interrupted by an ad popping up on the screen. There is this invisible and ubiquitous grabbing at something that’s the most intimate thing you have, because it determines what’s present to your consciousness. This is exactly why we all try to close ourselves off from this grating condition of being addressed all the time—by withdrawing to the video game, the cellphone, etc. These experiences are so exquisitely attuned to our appetites that they can swamp our ordinary way of being in the world. But these “defense mechanisms,” Crawford argues, distract us from being productive and causes the “deadness of our time.”

The article is worth a read and if you’re piqued, the book as well. We all know how our attention wanders if a cellphone is merely visible on the table. Crawford belives that it is only by grappling with the world in a concrete that we can grasp it, and every screen that replaces a real interaction makes this more difficult.