NO 31 JUNE 2003
Istanbul, Transculture and Love
ISTANBUL? YES, ISTANBUL
Voss No. 31 June 2003
is it really that makes this city so utterly compelling?
Is it the sense that one always has of there being some
hitherto unknown wondrous something just around the next corner?
Is it the ubiquitous presence of birds everywhere or their
sound? Is it the
marvelously shifting waters—the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, the
Sea of Marmara? Is it
the shocking beauty of some of the people or the infinity-filled
eyes of the children one sees?
Is it the lilting, beautiful sound of Turkish when it is
spoken as it should be? Is
it the music or the treasures that can always be unearthed in tucked
out of the way shops?
it is, the city is compelling.
Now that it is so familiar to me I never cease to be amazed
and amused when I hear foreigners refer to Istanbul because unless
they have visited here it still remains—perhaps especially for the
Americans—this far away, exotic place with dubious ontological
status at best; definitely "Other." (1) For me, however,
Istanbul has become the center of the world.
And this leads me to the topic of this month's column.
Istanbul has become the center of the world for me what are the
implications of that? (I've
been thinking about this quite a lot and as is my wont I'm going to
subject my readers to what's occurred to me during that thought
most obvious thing this implies is that in my case I will never
really be able to "go Home" again, simply because there
isn't any other 'Home' to go to.
In my case this is further complicated by the fact that I am
an only child with no living mother or father, uncle or aunt.
There are two cousins whose mindset and lifestyle are so far
right politically there is no basis for connection.
And there is a third cousin with whom I did have a largely
long-distance relationship with until ten years ago when I lost
contact with him during my transition from Paris to Istanbul.
By the time I got settled enough to try and re-initiate
contact with him he had moved house, changed his phone number, and
there are too many Paul Johnson's living in New Jersey to hope to
find him again. (What
happens with this one is completely in the hands of Allah.)
I do have an ex-spouse and three daughters.
My closeness with the three daughters is a constant variable
because each is a uniquely and beautifully complicated creature and
so their feelings for me ebb and flow like the tides.
(I realize that having me for a mother cannot be simple and
that sense I am certainly to blame for this.)
Anyway, what it all means is that except for my partner and
my daughters I am pretty much on my own in this world.
certainly seems as if my years abroad mean that I can never again go
back to the United States and feel truly comfortable (and even now
there are signs this is true; for example, on the rare occasions
when I find myself in a room full of Americans I get a
claustrophobic feeling and have to get out, and I remember once,
when we had to go to the consulate to renew my passport, my Turkish
partner remarked that I was the one acting like the foreigner
because I was the one who was nervous.
He, on the other hand, was quite at ease, having worked for
the consulate many years ago.) it is equally true that I can never
be completely comfortable here, either.
For one thing, there is the fact that I am and will always be
a 'yabancý' (and my
Turkish readers know full well—provided they are completely honest
with themselves—what that means really.
I know, too, you see.) For
another, there will always be things that I just don't "grok" (2)—i.e., there will be meanings and nuances that will
elude me. Forever.
As a person who had become used to being able to quickly pick
up on any and every nuance in her immediate environment this
prospect is discomfiting, to say the least. So my question these days is: What does all this mean?
I think that one thing it means is that I have entered into
the space that Basarab Nicolescu refers to as the ‘transcultural.’
(3) I’ve already mentioned some of the drawbacks but I want to
turn the focus and look at some of the positive aspects of this.
the prefix ‘trans’
means beyond culture; i.e., beyond any one single culture.
Now, for something (or someone) to be transcultural
definitely means that it (or he or she) is in a liminal state.
We get the English word liminal from the Latin word for ‘threshold’
which is ‘limen’. I talked about liminality here at
length a few years ago. (4) In
that column I wrote: “Anthropologists
Edith and Victor Turner coined the term ‘liminality’
to refer to the state of being that pilgrims find themselves in
while they’re enroute to whatever holy place they’re headed for.
(5) Pilgrims are indeed
in a ‘liminal’
state. Say, for example, you’re a duchess who decides to go on a
pilgrimage. Once you’ve set out, your former condition is no longer
relevant. Just imagine
it–no matter what title, status, possessions, wealth, reputation,
or influence you have “back home,” once embarked on the way of
the pilgrim, those things count for nothing.
In other words, they lose all of their former significance,
all of their former meaning. The
only thing that counts is your being
(or lack of it).
went on to explain that when you find yourself on a bridge (and
remember that Istanbul is often referred to as a bridge because of
its unique geographical location) or standing on a threshold
“you’re definitely in an ‘in between’ place -- you’re
neither in one room (the one you came from) nor the other (the room
you’re about to enter). ‘In between’ places are, by nature, ýll-defined, fuzzy;
their outlines are blurry
Being ‘in between’ can provide
the impetus for all kinds of transformation.
Being ‘in between’ means being in a state of fecundity,
of potentiality. Being
‘in between’ is a positive condition . . .” And I
closed by saying that all the foreigners living here (as well as
Turks who have moved to Istanbul from other parts of Turkey) were
“all beings poised on the threshold of our own futures living in a
country that is in the same condition.
The very fact of being aligned with something means that each
thing supports the other on a deep, deep level, a fact that
may be important for persons who consistently feel they are foreign,
disenfranchised, and ‘Other.’
Living here can actually help us do something meaningful with
realization about my having become a transcultural being is another
step toward being able to create a life which maximizes
meaning and which is essentially
and continually creative. Since
I personally happen to think that creating a meaningful life is the
alchemical work par excellence,
and moreover, that this is our only reason for living,
realizing how the transcultural fits with the liminal in the course
of putting together this column has made me pretty excited.
now here we are. It’s
June in Istanbul, and gorgeous and all.
And it's column-writing time.
And the whole time I’ve been sitting in front of the
computer laboring over this column its incredible beauty has been
hitting me over the head and I know and therefore must close
by reminding all of you that it's time to enjoy the warm air on your
skin, the breezes in your hair.
It's time to sit in your favorite seaside café and drink tea
and dream. If you have
someone you love, it’s time to treasure that person, to
take a moment to look deeply into their eyes and see
him/her—really—and thank the universe for having bestowed on you
the precious gift of your relationship.
It’s time to listen to music on a warm summer night and
dance and luxuriate and be grateful for—both—the
feeling of being alive.
(adj.; noun form- ontology)
means of or pertaining to being.
Here it means something that has being, something that really
exists. It's a very
useful concept and helps you talk about stuff that's really
The verb 'grok' was
coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Stranger in a Strange Land. It
is a Martian word and means literally 'to drink' and metaphorically
'to be one with'. The
word is generally used to mean something that is understood
profoundly by means of intuition or empathy.
See Chapter 15, “The Transcultural and the Mirror of the
Other,” in Basarab Nicolescu, Manifesto
of Transdisciplinarity, translated from the French by
Karen-Claire Voss (New York: State University of New York Press,
2002), pp. 101-108.
See Column No. 4, September 2000.
Victor Turner and Edith Turner discuss the concept of liminality at
length in Image and Pilgrimage
in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1978).
|No.1- April 2000||No.11 April 2001||No. 20 July 2002||No 29 April 2003|
|No.2 June 2000||No.12 May 2001||No. 22 September 2002||NO 30 MAY 2003|
|No.3 July/August 2000||No. 13 June 2001||No. 23 October 2002||NO 31 JUNE 2003|
|No.5 October 2000||No.14 July 2001||No 24 November 2002||NO 32 JULY 2003|
|No.7 December 2000||No.15 August 2001||No 25 DECEMBER 2002||NO 33 August|
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
|NO 16 September 2001||No 26 January 2003||No 34 September|
|No.9 February 2001||No. 17 April 2002||No 27 February 2003||No 35 October|
|No.10 March 2001||NO 19 JUNE 2002||No 28 March 2003||No
36 January 2004
|No 37 February - March 2004||No 38 April 2004|
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