Friday, January 19, 2007

forbidden and "definitely" forbidden

in the previous post about the mut'azil, i contended that the so called problems in turkey / istanbul are not of a technical nature but essentially cultural.

riding to bilgi today, i passed through kasımpaşa (*), a zone i try to avoid because of traffic congestion since a fenderbender in galatasaray had blocked the whole main east - west passage on my regular course. on the way i saw a signpost, with the stamp of the beyoğlu municipal authority that read:

"it is definitely forbidden to dump garbage here" (my emphasis).

you think that is a grammatical transgression and the local government added the qualifier "definitely" as a decoration or a slip of the brush? of course not, it is the signifier as well as admission of and submission to a way of mind, a way of interpreting the world, a cognitive style!

when you are in the a-mathematical and anti-mathematical orient, your life is governed by restrictions. indeed, everything is restricted. you can't step on the grass, you can't wear silk stockings to school, you can't cross the street, you can't picnic in the forest, you can't enter, you can't get out, you can't park, you can't have a boy/girlfriend and what not. shortly, anything not prescribed by custom is proscribed by it.

however, life is a flux and it cannot brook restriction the more it flourishes into urban and urbane diversity. so, slowly, some restrictions simply melt away in the higher velocity of modern tempo. you meet a girl / boyfriend. it is forbidden but you meet in secret. you smoke cigarettes and maybe even a little grass, sneak out to ball games, steal your father's car and park it back in the garage before he comes home, cheat your wife/husband etc. the nonfunctional proscriptions remain in place but do not remain in effect.

again, as modern life expands laterally, allowing "other" styles of existence - such as the peasantry or the newly urb-settled blue collar classes -, many prohibitions from a former universe become obsolete, though not annulled. however, since there is a large difference between urban dwelling and urbanization, which is both a forerunner and component of civilization, the newcomers seldom possess a capacity to enlarge and diversify their mental scope. they rarely ignore restrictions whose elimination can emancipate their thinking habits and life-enjoyment.

instead they relax the rules that must be observed in order to sustain the organization in a complex, varied, networking environment with little concern except exigency in their routine. a taxi driver may kill his daughter if he sees her flirting but won't mind rushing in front of a streetcar at red light, risking his own life and those of his fares.

so, the sedimentation of a selective and regressive anomie begins and grows. bans that reach over from an archaic form of existence stick to modern life like a stifling preservative, while prohibitions that are in place to order and reproduce civilization lose their meaning.

during the whole process, the original ban on everything-but-custom is still formally there, although with varying, often diminished and sometimes depleted influence. in other words, almost everything is still forbidden. a middle aged adult of 40 hides his cigarette from his 70 year old father because tradition forbids but smells like a chimney when embracing him. the same man has no compuction flipping the finished butt into the sea, which is also forbidden (**). thus emerge tacit hierarchies of observable/better to observe/negligible restrictions. some prohibitons are thus definitely forbidden while others are not that definitely forbidden.

in this case, you can dump your garbage on the mayor's table. it is forbidden but nowhere it says definitely, yes?

(*) kasımpaşa, on the north shore of haliç, the golden horn, is where the arsenal of the imperial navy was housed. as in most old cities, the arsenal area absorbed new immigration into the city and was rather proletarian in character. in some way, those areas initiated and schooled the newcomers into urbanity.
(**) one cigarette filter sucks the oxygen in a bucket full of seawater before only the tar is neutralized and dissolves.

No comments: