Monday, January 08, 2007

head of an onion

past weekend, orhan pamuk played the chief editor of radikal the nominal left liberal, intellectual-ish daily, incorporated within the doğan conglomerate. that kind of sit-down corporate radicalism visits me with such qualifiers as pseudo, quasi, masquerade, façade etc. so i do not normally read it. i learnt about the pamuk-as-chief-editor-show through the paper's commercials. since i neither read pamuk's version, i cannot say what the nobel prize contributes to or deducts from desktop journalism. when i saw the photos on radikal's cover page, monday, my initial impression was a churning in my mental bowels that only bad taste can produce. the whole scene was such a pathetic reflection of turks' schemata of power.

allow me a diversion please, i have to draw the cultural background of what i saw in the pictures here.

the cognitive map of power in the way turks construe the world is predominantly pyramidal. in other words, a person's standing in life is determined according to definite, rigid and generically bureaucratic hierarchies of power and position. since "free enterprise" and private business are still secondary to, regulated by and dependent on state-like social organization, titles in any walk of life are important beyond their dues. as long as the pyramid of power can make or break men and their lives, people submit willingly. and hierarchy, rather than a necessary evil for efficient functioning in a productive organism, is often usurped as an instrument for the use and abuse of power. the only ethos in this battle to use and abuse is determined by the level of tolerance among contending factions, namely, how far they can brook the trespasses of their rivals.

as power is the mainstay of life, nobody is wont to relinquish any standing they achieve - hence, not only turkey but all societies with a compulsive fixation on power are often doomed to be run by political, bureaucratic, administrative, managerial and even cultural gerontocracies who have been in the scene forever.

recruitment to the structure is of course handled by "uncles", the established end of the axis of nepotism. however, since the structure does not essentially require bloodlines, its public façade is one of open access. if you have the merits, you can join and climb, the message goes. therefore, ostentatious rituals of enticing the youth to "public" service in both state and business (*) are a part of the cultural manure that keeps the structure nourished. in turkey, the charade begins early. young primary school children play at being governors, members of parliament, cabinet members, prime ministers and recently, corporate managers, too, on the "childrens' and national sovereignty day" on april 23. for a short while, the pharaohs climb down their thrones and let a tot sit in, mouthpiece grown up bovine excrement, even make a few silly decisions while cameras record and flashlights explode.

pick any year in a newspaper morgue and look at the pictures. notice how impossible it is to miss the deep anxiety on the autocrats' faces, hidden behind an avunvular smile, born of the realization that power is not eternal, that it is decidious and conditional upon the seat occupied. it is not something of the guy in the photo, it is not really his and without it he is nothing either. therefore, every april 24 in turkey, newspapers appear with a plethora of photographs depicting this pathos of the title bearers.


ok, the tedious lecture on political psychology is over. back to pamuk and radikal: when i first saw the paper sitting at feyda and ceren's room with erkan present, i commented that pamuk had become an "april 23 editor". erkan told me, in the previous day's editorial, pamuk had referred to himself the same way. however even that jovial self mockery you would expect from a nobel winner did not disperse the discomfort i felt looking at radikal's front page.

now, let us together take a glance at radikal's front page photo of the pamuk scoop. you cannot miss the uneasiness, not only in the wry way the "regular" editor-in-chief ismet berkan smiles but also in his mannerisms, the positioning of his hands, his slump on the chair and his proximity to orhan pamuk, how he perceives in the novelist a threat that goes between him and the seat of power.

the picture on the inside page is even more telling. there is a meeting of the editorial board. by the seating arrangement, pamuk at the head of the conference table and seems to be conducting it. however, berkan, in power attire, no coat, just a shirt that says he is at home but with the sleeves unrolled which could give a surer signal of ease and command, is next to pamuk and claiming a larger surface of the table leaning slightly farther into whatever activity, a loud body language declaring who actually calls the shots.

the whole charade looks multiply pathetic because orhan pamuk definitely did not ask berkan if he could do his work for a day. pamuk's call in life is not only far, far more fulfilling, it is also no less lucrative. naturally, you ask nobel prize winners to promote you rather than vice versa. berkan seems to have become crushed and afraid of a play he wrote the scenario of. insecurity?

ismet berkan is an animal lover, a dog person (he has a few pet dogs as far as i know). that automatically makes him "good guys" in my book. "canine" owners tend to be straight and reliable. however, oftentimes i can't fail to detect that urge in them to "control and command", for which the poor mutt (berkan's is probably a pure, "brand" breed, not a mongrel, i'd bet) is an excellent outlet.

i love dogs as a rule, and in many occasions, more than their owners but give me cats anytime. friendly, soft, unimposing yet winning, independent, fickle, loving not out of dependence but mutual understanding, supple and sophisticated but a creature of simple carnal pleasures.

cats teach how not to possess love but to prosper with it.


(*) there is no paradox here, just two sides of a rorschach blot

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