Windmills, Language, and the Magic of Taboo

Delusional Donkişot (Don Quixote), driven mad by books. Armed and armored with antique language and an the outmoded conviction that there is a space for adventures and a need for knights, that he can journey out from the symbolic into real, from chivalric rules to the immersive truth, from the way things should be to the way they are.

Near where I am staying with my in-laws, there is a supermarket called “real”, pronounced like the Spanish coin. Inside there are mechanical horses and other animals that kids can pay to ride, powered by some occult mechanism that transforms the saddle-hopping up and down into slow momentum sliding forward. It looks like fun, if you are young enough for the illusion to bear your weight, and if you can think of the adventure as real. There with my wife and her family, they always ask if I want anything, and I always say no, but once I saw a copy of Don Quixote, a grade school version, for a couple Liras. Walking through the isles, like a child who can’t wait until he gets home to play with a new toy, I flipped through the pages, making out a word here and there. The “real” world was all around me: high, industrial ceilings, products wrapped in plastic, but I, like Donkişot, preferred the universe of a book I couldn’t understand. Rengin warned me, that even though intended for twelve-year olds (12 yaş), it was still far beyond my current skill with Turkish. She was right. That’s fine, I said. I liked the idea of my initial vocabulary being obscure, girding myself with the rusty armor (zırh) of words I would never find a use for, like kiliç (sword), kalkan (shield), and miğfer (helmet), charging out into fields of windmills with ridiculous constructions.

real

Whenever you first move to a new country, you are living in a world that doesn’t exist, composed of stereotypes and misinformation. Dragons of illegible custom, castles of preconception. What little you know is based on what you’ve read. The language you hear is a blank wall of babel, until (it must happen this way with infants), outlines begin to take shape in the blind, befuddled insanity. Verity emerges very slowly from the mist.

I don’t like the “real” supermarket. Everything is packaged, sterile, arranged into aisles and assigned a proper price. I feel guilty saying that, because they go shopping there, in part, for me, and I recognize that it is the reality you have to visit in order to take care of things, to eat. Last time I was there I was daydreaming, thinking of this post (jousting, mentally, with the windmills of not-yet existing words, as I am wont to do), when I should have been paying attention to the bottles I was bagging at the check out. One slipped from the conveyor belt, not properly conveyed from hand to plastic bag, exploding onto the floor.  “Why do you always have to be so weird?” My wife asked. “Soylu bir şovalyeyim” I mumbled at the floor (I am a noble knight).

Like Don Quixote, I am disheveled, thin: a comic figure who has read too many books, and believed too much of what he read.

Opposed to the neatly laid out rows of the “super”market, there is the wonderful, immersive chaos of the markets themselves. The word for Sunday is Pazar, and the Bazaars take place on Sundays, under ad-hoc tents of tarps, with the calligraphy of hand-drawn signs, and the artful cries of hawkers, shouting “buyurun! Buyurun!” It can be disconcerting, jostling, scary, but feels far more real than “real.” Food and language both taste better, closer to the source.

INSTRUCTION VS. IMMERSION

“The sailor gave at least a try, the soldier being much too wise,
Strategy was his strength, and not disaster.”

I’ve been thinking about how people learn languages, and how best to teach them, since that is how I will make a living in France, if I am able to do so at all.

Strategies for foreign language acquisition can be divided broadly, I would say, into two different camps: instruction vs. immersion. Before my Turkish copy of a child-level Don Kişot, I was also given a book called “Teach yourself Turkish,” filled with vocabulary lists, exercises, grammar charts, and so on. I admit that such books, and the rules they contain, are sometimes useful. Learning a single trick for how present tense turns to past, for example, can cause a whole slew of words to snap suddenly into focus. Still, Teach Yourself Turkish represents the “instruction” style of learning, because it is the authors, not you, that are deciding what you should be taught, and how.

In the grateful dead song Lady with a Fan, usually paired with Terrapin Station, there is a sailor and a soldier. The sailor is able to jump into the flames, into the sea, to “risk uncertain pains of hell”, abandoning his shores and sense of self, while the soldier needs a more definite plan. Listening to it, you will be inside my mind for the last several months, since I have let that song infect my brain on infinite loops, acting as an immune system aginst department store speakers and radio stations. It reminds me of home, and it is my home, like a turtle shell or Quixotic shield I carry on my back. I’ll use it now as a metaphor.

The sailor might be able to learn Turkish with nothing more than a copy of Donkişot and a dictionary, while the soldier, who thinks in terms of orders/masters/mastery, would need a guide-book designed expressly for the purpose. The “Teach Yourself Turkish” book is helpful, but I get tired quickly of marching through those word formations, with their rules and English explanations. I prefer to sail in sentence seas that don’t yet make a lot of sense.

Despite its being more common in academic contexts, there are several problems with the instruction style of acquisition. First, your mind has to think about the target language in the one you already know, rather than beginning to think in the language you are trying to learn. Your brain has to switch constantly back and forth, stuck in a more superficial mode of translation. Second, everything you see sticks in your mind. In Beyond Human Nature, Prinz talks about why Chomsky’s Universal Grammar theory isn’t needed to explain infants’ astonishing speed in learning to speak: such learning is probabalistic, he argues, based on experience and inference instead of rules, playful practice instead of regimented mastery. It is the same with non-native language learners. You see/hear combinations of words/sounds and unconsciously process patterns and learn to reproduce them. If you are given, then, four choices in an exercise book, three of which are wrong, then 75% of the phonetic/grammatic material you internalize is wrong, and worse than worthless, actually preventing non-conscious assimilation. If, on the other hand, you read stories or articles in the target language, your conscious mind may understand very little, but at a deeper level you are conditioning the language centers of your brain to fire correctly, soaking up a sense of appropriate combinations.

Another way to describe Instruction vs. Immersion would be to say that the first method is rule-heavy, but light on data, while the second is light on rules, but data-rich. Learning through immersion requires more courage, trust, and imagination. You need a high tolerance for confusion, and feeling lost. My embarking on the adventure (serüven) of trying to read Donkişot in Turkish is an impossible, foolish quest.

Those are the kind that I prefer. I always immerse myself above my head, trying to breathe in unfamiliar waters. I’ve learned both ways, and can compare results. I’ve taught, too, in Romania and China, and the most effective and enjoyable style I’ve always found, is to have students use language, playing with it, improvising, treating everything they say as a step forward, focusing on communication rather than correctness, role-playing, enacting scenes, not constantly grading or giving tests. In most classes, the mechanism most fundamental for learning is ruled out by fear of failure, the circling vultures of the future.

If you watch animals exploring their developing musculature in early life, it is through loose locamotive play and wild experiment, rather than disciplined  correction. In order for play to occur, however, there has to be an environment free from threat. This is why the U.S. education system, if it continues on its present path, will only produce workers, not thinkers, and our economy will only allow innovation at the top, where profit margins can cushion the constant risks of predatory capitalism. This is one of those points that can be expanded to encompass all aspects of society, in which learning and evolution depends on playfulness, which depends on safety, which is incompatible with the current social Darwinian paradigm of cut-throat competition. Academic scholarship is the same, where the questioning of dominant trends is stymied by gunning for graduation, job, or tenure. In a collaborative, creative society, ideas would stand or fall, survive or die, and not the people advocating them.

CHAOS AND THE SPACE MARINES

“The Imperium was founded on ignorance. It was a truth so obvious that very few ever acknowledged it.”

The best place to buy books in Istanbul is the Akmar pasaji, a paper market snaking underground, lined with small shops with high, dusty shelves. My wife told me it used to be cooler, before the readable books were replaced by preparation manuals for entrance exams, standard texts for standardized tests, and of course course books for learning English. A culture of literature lost, in the name of pragmatic learning. There are fewer used books, and more that are useful. The covers of these new instructive texts are bright, gaudy with lamination and acronyms.

pasajMost of the books in English are classics, which I have no interest in. I’ve read them all before, and so has everyone else. The malignant mummies of Jane Austin or Joseph Conrad still placing their curse on would-be students, cast into never-ending print by the momentum of a million existing copies, shot in bulk from the unquestioned canon of cultural capital and literary tradition. If I want to read something new (yeni bir şey) I’ll have to learn a new language. I do, however, buy Don Quixote, since having it in English will help with the translation.

I also pick up a thick Warhammer 40,000 book, The Grey Knights Omnibus, by Ben Counter. Later, reading it by the pool, I tell my wife it will be hard to figure out how to link that book with Cervantes when I post about them.

“I’ve got it,” I say. “Armor.” Quixote is lovable because his armor is rusted, ridiculous, and doesn’t protect him. The Grey Knights, you see, have these enormous suits of near-impenetrable power armor. My theory could be that the better their armor is, the less we like the character…”

I expected to be able to write a post quickly dismissing this dystopian horror-fantasy novel, based, after all, on a table-top role playing game, and laugh at myself for reading it. I can’t. I expected, also, to be able to write more serious comments about the other novel I’ve read since last time, The Bone, by Bedri Baykam. I wanted so much for the Grey Knights novel to be bad, because it is a knock-off work and part of a huge intellectual property franchise, and for The Bone to be good, because it was written by an artist and activist from Istanbul, and promised to be an edgy, obscene, philosophical and little known work that I could recommend proudly to the world. I’m not going to lie. The Grey Knights Omnibus was incredibly fun to read, and The Bone was juvenile and stupid.

The Warhammer universe is a far future, space-gothic nightmare, relentless in the scale and scope of its hegemonic horror. Writers like Counter, I think, aren’t trying to imbue their work with any politics—the world they work together to create (collaborating, in a way, with thousands of nameless gamers for whom the products are marketed) is purely atmospheric, drawn according to the exigencies of plot and setting. This is what makes it perfect for interpreting politically. They expose the dominant, domineering, black-ops ideology in which we live without really meaning to—the gauntleted, heavy, storm-boltered fist of the anti-hero, Alaric, can make a political point without being heavy-handed.

The concept for the Games Workshop’s world is that there was once a great age of exploration, a scattering, where humans dispersed throughout the stars, using astropathic navigators to steer them through what is called the Warp. Demons, though, dwelt in the space between spaces, and after what was known as “the Dark Age of Technology,” which was actually the most scientifically advanced, there was the “Age of Strife”, with cataclysmic, world-destroying atrocities of unending war. Until, that is, on humanity’s home planet an Emperor arose to unite the galaxy in a great crusade. All humans, no matter where they lived, were declared citizens of the Imperium, and subject to its martial law, and the brutal inquisitions that suppressed unorthodox technologies and unauthorized beliefs. Progress was slowed in the name of religion, and after the Emperor dies he is venerated as a God, or as the God, to whom the Grey Knights and the other anti-heroes of the novels prey before going into battle.

Ben Counter, his bio in the back of the book tells us, studied ancient history, and as one might expect his contributions to the Warhammer setting are soaked in neo-anachronistic feudal theology, with tests of faith, secret cults, and battle-rites. The Order Astartes, elite Space Marines, are demon-hunters, psykers (who normally would be killed) that are allowed to live to serve the Imperium, their minds shielded from the corruption of the Warp by absolute brain-washing and indoctrination.

You can’t cheer for the Grey Knights or the Empire they fight for, because they are as terrible as what they fight. “The Imperium was a cruel place,” Alaric thinks, “because the galaxy was cruel. Its people had to be oppressed, because if they were free to do and think as they wished, they would do horrible things that would lead the human race to destruction” (588, emphasis mine).

In the first book of the Trilogy, the demon Ghargatuloth corrupts an Imperial Inquisitor, turning him to the side of the “Change God” Tzeentch, who is the “purest manifestation of Chaos…so infinitely mutable that it could never truly be fixed as anything” (650). Like Milton, Counter gives his devils the best lines. The Grey Knights Omnibus, come to think of it, is quite similar to Paradise Lost, only without the paradise. Listening to the presumably evil inquisitor Valinov (as he is being questioned prior to his torture and execution) it is hard not to feel yourself in danger of corruption: “The things the Imperium does to itself to crush the freedoms it calls heresy–that is the true heresy. You know nothing of the true glory of Chaos. If you did, you would see that the freedom and power it gives would be a better fate for the galaxy than the suffering the Imperium must dole out to keep that truth from existing” (52)

Again, this is all just for effect, and I don’t think that readers are expected to take Valinov seriously. Any possibility of entertaining the pro-chaos view, identifying with the demons, is stripped away when you see star-ships powered by bloody pools of imprisoned souls, planets of mutants, gladiatorial death-games, planet-sized piles of bones, and so on.

That’s what makes the Warhammer 40K setting so horrible: it is actually a universe, probably the only conceivable universe, where a militaristic, fundamentalist, imperial government is actually appropriate, and where devout, brain-washed killers are the only possible heroes.

Wait, did I just write that? Let me take it back. Even in that universe–which (unlike this one) you can’t argue with, because according to the fundamental rules of fiction you have to suspend disbelief, and if the author says there are demons of pure evil then fine, there are–even then, I am still on the side of Chaos. I have immersed myself too deeply in the mutagenic knowledge of the Warp.

The Grey Knights are like Don Quixotes, except the windmills truly are dragons, and the 17th century Spanish countryside is a war-ravaged, demon-infested, galaxy-wide hellscape of unmitigated insanity and techno-magical death.

Quixote’s universe, on the other hand, is utopian, because he is able to wear such laughable armor, and still survive. His world is comic, picaresque. Warhammer is dystopian because the hulking power-armour, the holy war-gear and constant rites of shielding the mind from anything but ignorant faith, is the sane response to real, chaotic legions.

THE MAGIC OF TABOO

Watching TV at my brother-in laws, I saw something that struck me as bizarre: a kind of two-dimensional, abstract floral pattern that one of the characters seemed to be holding in his fingers, and putting between his lips. Smoke was coming out of the flowers. Of course, you could easily see it or what it was: a cigarette, which the Turkish government has decreed cannot be shown on television.

The extra bit of irony, which made the moment perfect, was that the movie we were watching was The Untouchables, which, as you may remember, is about prohibition.

More people smoke in Turkey than any country I have seen, with the possible exception of Romania. In places, cigarette butts grow by the sidewalks as thick as carcinogenic dandelions. Packages of cigarettes here, by government mandate, feature gruesome pictures of cancer victims, blackened lungs, and tracheotomies, an endless parade of potential horrors intended to discourage their purchase. It does no good.

The U.S., of course, is under its own senseless prohibition, creating that magical space of warped reality between what the government says, and what everyone knows is true. I myself have smoked some flowers, although I would never say it publicly.

I was thinking about how ridiculous that covering up of cigarettes was in The Untouchables as I was walking in Istanbul, and noticing how many of the muslim women go to extreme lengths to make themselves untouchable (or are forced to do so by their husbands). It’s obvious to anyone watching the movie that the thing behind those flower patterns is a cigarette, just like it is obvious that no matter how much black cloth those women wrap around themselves in summertime, they still have hair, breasts, genitals, etc.books

The standard and obvious observation to make is that taboo actually makes things more desirable, because people are naturally drawn to what is concealed or forbidden, but I don’t think that is really the case. Seeing cigarettes censored from a movie doesn’t make me want to smoke, and seeing a woman in a full hijab certainly doesn’t make me want to sleep with her. In both cases, the censorship just looks ridiculous.

BONE TO PICK WITH TURKISH CULTURE

The Bone, obviously, is trying to upset taboo, and test the limits of what is permissible to write. Like Valinov, though, he doesn’t make a good enough case for Chaos. Obscenity is not enough. I didn’t dislike The Bone because it was pornographic or shocking, I disliked it because it was dumb and misogynistic. No books should be banned, but some should definitely be avoided.

Baykam’s book is set in an alternate dimension, where Che Guavara and John Lennon both survived. So did JFK, with Jackie O’Nassis taking the bullet instead, freeing up her husband to live happily ever after with Marilyn Monroe. In this alternate history, “following the completion of her infrastructure during the 20th century, Turkey had entered the 21st very powerfully, a candidate for world leadership.” It’s clear, from early in the novel, that The Bone is in part a vehicle for political wish fulfillment, where difficult social problems can be solved simply with authorial fiat. For example,

“once the People’s Party took power, religious groups trying to impose Islamic laws, even on small children, had been exposed; and Islamic educationbased [sic] on the law of the Koran as well as passing bizarre laws to enable such graduates to land on [sic] important governmental positions, had been stopped instantly. The religious fanatics, who had the nerve to dominate the Governmental Planning Organization, were kicked out just as they were getting too powerful” (180).

All of which seems promising, but although Baykam’s alternate Turkey reimagines the country’s politics along secular and progressive lines, its deep seated oppression of women remains intact. It seems, in fact, that men are more free to abuse, objectify, and prey on the females, after the triumph of “Leftist” ideology. Baykam writes about a sexually liberated society like a man who has never lived in one, and writes about sex like a man who has only watched pornography. Trying to imagine a modern, secular, Turkey, he adds a lot of technological advancements (faster trains, “dream-corders,” and holographic sex parlours) but the best he can do for gender relations is a world where women are even more compliant to mens’ desires, and more open to exploitation, predation and prostitution.

To cite one of the more innocuous examples (if sexually explicit material bothers you, please skip this and the following paragraph, but I can’t make the points I want to make without describing, somewhat graphically, events from the book), while on a “landlightning” train from Istanbul to the Black Sea coast, the stewardess coming by with a drink cart drops a can of soda, and while she is bending over, Selim, the “anti-hero” of the novel, reaches under her skirt to fondle her genitals. “The young woman,” Baykam writes, “did not know what to do or say to this uninvited guest squeezing her most private parts and just let it be” (128). The only plausible explanation for the stewardess’ reaction is that she and Selim are in a universe where women are terrified of men and allow themselves to be molested in darkened train cars by strangers. Typical of the sexual assault/rape scenes of the novel (there are many), however, the presumably omniscient narrative voice moves inside the woman’s head, relating first details of her personal history, and then her psychological state as she begins to enjoy what is happening. Political window dressing aside, this is the key to the world Baykam creates—it is a dystopian universe where women enjoy being raped.

Reading The Grey Knights Omnibus, I found it possible to suspend my disbelief, accepting a galaxy where inter-dimensional monsters, magic, nemesis swords, and steam-punkish battle armor existed. In the Hammer of Demons, there is a blood god, Khorne, who drives his followers mad, inciting them to horrific acts of self-mutilation and senseless slaughter in his name. Fine. Within the reality created by  Counter’s novels, I can accept that as true. But no, in The Bone, I refuse to suspend my disbelief to accommodate a world in which Selim Targan, the Turkish sex-god, can molest women in trains and have them like it. It is possible, one might think, that the narrative voice isn’t actually meant to be omniscent, instead relating what Selim thinks his victims are thinking. If you read the novel, however (and I really, strongly, discourage you from doing so) you’ll see that this explanation doesn’t work. Women, such as the super-models he photographs, reflect on how much they would like to sleep with him, even when he isn’t there.

Does The Bone indicate anything about Turkey, aside from the literature it creates? I would like to say no, but I’m afraid, honestly, that it does. Walking in Istanbul, we saw a man kneeling to tie his shoe, about to be run over by a bus. Understandably, my wife shouted, trying to get the driver to stop. Instead of helping her, passersby started yelling at her, for making a scene. “It’s because I am a woman,” she said to me afterwards. A few blocks later, we were nearly hit by a boy riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. “You see?” she said. “If that were a girl, they would knock her off that bike.”

Turkish culture is ancient, and can be beautiful, but there is, undeniably, an ugly streak of obviously sexist double standard. “Look at the way they want us to dress,” she said, pointing to window displays of “summer” straight jackets and head scarves. She told me to watch people on the street, the macho swagger of the males, making themselves as large as possible, compared to the hunched timidity of most of the women, trying to be invisible.

“For an anarchist,” I said, after a while, “this is a reality I have to confront. Are people here like this because of too few rules, or too many?”

Are humans naturally good, or naturally evil? Who is right, Rousseau or Hobbes? Are we noble savages, or is our instinct to climb savagely towards “nobility” over a pile of serfs and slaves? Is Alaric right, and a tyrannical Imperium is the only way to keep the human race from destroying itself through hatred, hubris, and out of control technology? Is the world of Selim Targan really what would exist if men got what they wanted?

TESTS FOR TELEPATHS

“He is ancient. He is Telepathic. He is my Friend.”

I’ll come back to The Bone at the end , but I want to mention another book, one I hadn’t intended on talking about here, but that I finished reading while writing this post, and as it fits in with some of the themes that seem to be emerging, I might as well: Our Friends from Frolix 8, by Philip K. Dick.

In the 22nd century Earth Dick writes about, two new branches of humanity have evolved: “New Men” capable of feats of abstract logic that their predecessors can’t hope to perform or even comprehend, and “Unusuals” who are telepathic, telekenetic, or precognitive. Together they form a bipartisan government (cynics say the two branches are secretly colluding) of six million or so superhumans who have completely shut out the six billion standard-model Earthlings from civil service and government. Normal humans, like Nick Appleton, the “old”/every man protagonist, are confined to menial, inherited jobs like regrooving old tires, unless they can pass examinations proving sufficient aptitude for classification as “New” or “Unusual.” Cynics suspect the examinations are rigged. Some go so far as to suggest that the “neutrologics” of the New Men might be a con game—after all, no one can actually understand the logic they used but the New Men themselves.origami

Then there is Thors Provoni, a messiah-like figure that fled Earth in hopes of contacting extra terrestrials that might help the planet end its elitist tyranny. One of his prophets, Eric Cordon, broadcasts telepathic messages from prison, printed by the underground as illicit pamphlets, the possession of which is a felony, punishable by exile to one of the Lunar “relocation camps”. Alcohol is illegal, with government propaganda wildly exaggerating its effects, while the popping of all kinds of pills is ubiquitous and accepted.

Sound familiar? Written in 1970, Our Friends from Frolix 8 presciently predicts the current prescription drug epidemic (which kills hundreds of thousands a year in the U.S. annually, ten times as much as illegal drugs, but not nearly as many as legal *cough, cough* cigarettes), as well as our plague of elite government spying and censorship.

What censorship? you say. I recently read a completely straight-faced article advising internet users on how not to attract the attention of the NSA (I searched for it again, but couldn’t find it), including such well-meaning advice as to “avoid organizing or coordinating protests” online, and to refrain from political speech that could be misconstrued.

You can feel it, can’t you, the things we cannot say? Under the surface, like planned detonations, chemical weapons, the Earth slowly getting hotter, cesium and strontium seeping into the sea? The seeds of good ideas outcompeted in rigged exams by demon GMOs? Meanwhile, the magic of taboo is working to make the underground more volatile.

Once, when I was teaching, I asked my students how many of them believed the official story of 9/11. Less than half of them did. “In that case,” I said, “If you think we are living in that kind of a world, I have something to teach you about literature as a means of resistance.” Under the Soviet Union, for example, symbolic fiction was used as a way to slip political ideas past government censors, speaking in ways too subtle for the minds of soldiers or bureaucrats to understand. They have the NSA, but we have stories. The have bombs, but we have metaphors, and the unbreakable encryptions of transparent thought and language.

In Our Friends from Frolix 8, as in The Bone, there is both misogyny and pedophilia, but at least in Dick’s novel, he has the good sense not to portray the child-victim as enjoying it. The sexism in Our Friends from Frolix 8 is incidental to the story, while in Baykam’s text, sexism is the story. Take away Selim’s womanizing, and there is not much left, except some rather lame philosophizing about technology and death. And if you want to meditate technology and death, read The Grey Knight’s Omnibus instead.

I resist, in the Ecological Humanist, to give an objective “rating” or recommendation for the things I read, for the same reasons that object to assigning qualitative scores, ranks, or rankings to people, whether as IQ, SAT, ACT, GRE, or any of the other anachronistic acronyms that support a damaging and false view of reality. Such schemes, like the civil service exams in Our Friends from Frolix 8, should be rejected not only because they are rigged, but because they perpetuate the idea that individual people and texts can be atomized and evaluated in isolation, independent from a complex,relational field. This is something that society needs to learn from ecology: the “fitness” of organisms cannot be determined except insofar as they function within an environment. How you score on tests doesn’t matter. How you relate to people does.

The Imperium needs rules, scores, and formula, because it can’t comprehend or withstand emergent chaos, but the “new man” logic is a joke. The only kinds of collaborations that capitalism allows or understands are corporations, which by legal mandate and design are locked into command-and-control, top-down structures of organization that can’t evolve beyond the level of the smartest individual, who gets to be in charge. If we take those tests alone, at our own desks, in our cubicles, we’ll never see the answers, the ones behind the answers, where we get to read one another’s minds.

This is why the horizontally-organized movements of anonymous and occupy are the only ones that matter. We can’t be taught and tested at the same time; it’s one or the other. Like the space for books in the Akmar pasaj, slowly invaded by those awful prep-books, filled with rules for passing exams, qualifying for service. You can have training (instruction) or stories (immersion), but never both.

RAINBOW STEPS

“And having thus dismissed these busy scruples, he very calmly rode on, leaving it to his horse’s discretion to go which way he pleased; firmly believing that in this consisted the very being of adventures.”

There are steps in Findikli, Istanbul, that were painted bright, rainbow colors by a 64 year old, Huseyin Cetinel, in what the NYT article about the incident called “an act of guerrilla beautification.” The city, intolerant of this breaking of unspoken taboo in public space, painted the steps back to the original grey.

There is an old science fiction concept called the grey goo, where some unthinking, out-of control self-replicator, usually nano-technological, mindlessly consumes everything in an unalterable program of reproduction. The grey goo is ideology, the state, the uniform, uniform thinking, instructions following instructions, thoughtlessly covering up all the colors of the world. That’s what happened to the steps in Findikli.

As Cetinel, an ex-forestry engineer, is reported saying in the article, all things in nature are brightly colored. Grey only comes from us. Another thing that I found amusing was how, whether the artist intended for it to be so or not, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) community took the rainbow steps as a sign of solidarity. I took that as a sign, or symbol, of something else I’ve been thinking about for a while: all art and literature, if it is good, if it is sincere, is also queer.

As licentious and taboo-breaking as The Bone pretends to be, it shies away from homosexuality , although there is an obvious undercurrent of repressed homesexuality throughout the novel. Again, if explicit content bothers you, skip this and the following paragraph. In the opening scene, where Selim and another man rape a woman in an elevator (and we are treated to an interior monologue, again, where the victim decides she is okay with it, as her animal instincts take over and she realizes it’s the best sex she ver had) Selim, “who didn’t consider it a complete sexual encounter unless he had conquered from behind any of his partners” reaches an orgasm at the same time as the other man, “as if in fact they had been f**king each other” (38). Which of course they had.

The point is that in a male-dominated, sexist society, where females are denied actual agency or personhood, they become  symbols or cyphers through which homo-social relations occur. Actual homosexuality is almost superfluous since all sex (for men) becomes about, indirectly, other men, and what they own or think. Female desire (for men) disappears entirely, replaced with an implausible, pornographic simulacrum. At one of the virtual sex parlors, where males go to masturbate with one another (nope, not gay at all), Selim “backhands” another man who tries to touch his penis. The women in the novel are like the holograms, unreal, through which the author (male) and reader (for this novel, almost certainly male) can share a sexual homo-erotic experience, although making such an obvious point would no doubt, even for Baykam, be totally taboo.

In a heavily gender-normative society, any expression on the part of males, of anything other than violence (in one form or another) is suspect. Females only get to express agreement, or decorative, rather than expressive, art. Second, in any character-driven fiction in which women appear, if they are to be rendered as anything more than holograms or cardboard cut-outs, propped up or projected by masculine ego, then a (male) author would have consider seriously what it would be like to be a woman. This is where both Baydir Baykam and Philip K. Dick fail. In a gendered, woman-hating culture (and all of us, more or less, belong to one) inhabiting the mind of the opposite sex is no trivial thing.

Women writers, of course, do a better job, since in a male-dominated society they have to constantly imagine or model the masculine psyche, in order to be able to predict and accommodate it. They don’t have the luxury, like men, of living among delusions. They also have a much harder time getting published.

Art chips away at the black and white of gender dimorphism (and the resulting, tedious grey) to reveal an underlying spectrum. So all art is queer, and the same could be said of love. Either literally, or metaphorically, because it requires seeing through performances of gender far enough to recognize yourself in someone else. To immerse yourself in them, to hear their thoughts. The steps you have to climb are painted rainbow colors.

As any environmental theorist will tell you, sexism and eco-cide are two sides of the same coin: the commodification of people, and the commodification of the Earth. The “real” in place of real, the failure to recognize the other as yourself. If you can’t find the sign of yourself in half of your own species, then you won’t be able to figure out that you are also other species, and that you are also the biosphere, gaia, the living and breathing earth. I’m writing this to you, as if writing to myself. In everyone, in everything, the Buddha is asleep.

The way to learn a language (of cultures, species, ecosystems) is to acknowledge it as yours. Not to “translate,” but to read, accepting the words as words you already know.

kisotAmerica goes to war because it thinks it is exceptional, and completely unlike other places in the world. Those countries with funny languages must want us to abuse and invade them, because our economic/political model is just so damn charming and attracive. They dream about us, and want to cross our borders.

Here is a simple question: why do we spend half a trillion annually, half of all we pay in taxes, in order to manufacture death? Why maintain a larger military than the next 20 largest combined, if not to rape the oil wells of other countries? Why is there, as Snowden’s leaks revealed, a 50 billion dollar black budget for surveillance? Is that how a nation acts that has nothing to hide? If it has nothing to fear from the populous is presumably protects? But the NSA and CIA are our intelligence, we think, the high scorers on the civil service exams, the Grey Knights, who with nemesis halberd and power armor (which don’t come cheap) can stand against the demons. Who are what? Chaos; the Warp, the contamination that comes with traveling great distances, and the languages our faith must keep us from ever learning.

Pavloni is coming back; change is coming to the Imperium.

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