Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's Up With Turkey?

Two news reports from Turkey today, each unsettling in its own way:

(1) There was this unfinished statue celebrating a restoration of relations with Armenia. The Turks are in the process of tearing it apart, piece by piece. Symbolic, right?

Here's the meat of the story, from Radio Free Europe:

During a January visit to the site, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the monument as a "monstrosity” that overshadows a nearby Islamic shrine.

"This looked like a message to the nationalists,” [the sculptor] said. "They'll now say, ‘See, Erdogan is good, he is a nationalist, let's vote for him.'”

The demolition has prompted strong criticism from some opponents of Erdogan's government and prominent Turkish artists. One of them, Bedri Baykam, was
stabbed and hospitalized last week immediately after attending a meeting that discussed actions in support of the statue.
And then this, via i09:

(2) William S. Burroughs's 1966 novel The Soft Machine was recently published in Turkish. The book, along with its publisher Sel, is now under investigation by something called the Turkish Prime Minister's Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications, which accuses it of "incompliance with moral norms" and -- get this -- "hurting people's moral feelings."

We're sure all that sounds less creepily Stalinist in Turkish, but it is a reminder of how the great 20th-century tyrannies routinely generated ponderously long names for bureaucracies and police agencies designed to regulate and prosecute absurd crimes. (Hurting people's feelings? Glenn Beck hurt our feelings every moment he spent on the air. For that matter, so did the guy who invented Jar-Jar Binks. Can we sue for damages?)

We don't know what is most galling in the Burroughs story, but here are our leading gall-ers: (a) the chilling effect that an "investigation" like this will inevitably have on free speech; (b) the ludicrous pretense that the author, or any publisher, would intend The Soft Machine to be read by children; (c) the fact that this means people are still taking Burroughs seriously. Come on, people, that stuff is unreadable. Can't we just canonize the guy, so that nobody reads him anymore? It worked wonders for D.H. Lawrence.

In both stories, however, there is one unifying theme, which galls any reasonable person: the government setting itself up as an art critic, and then -- as what else could it do? -- judging art by political rather than artistic standards. And here we thought that this sort of nonsense was the exclusive preserve of the Commies and the Republicans.

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