PEN Atlas continues its focus on Turkey this week, in light of ongoing unrest throughout the country. In this dispatch, Hakan Günday unpacks the notion of authority and censorship, and considers its effects on civilians
Translated from the Turkish by Feyza Howell
All authority has a natural tendency to ultimately vaporise, utilising every tool at its disposal. The fundamental purpose of this tendency is to disperse authority molecules throughout the atmosphere for the governed to inhale in order that submission may be transformed into accepted behaviour. Thus, as authority spreads itself like waves of fog, the governed lose the ability to identify who actually makes their decisions: they themselves, or the authorities? And, in time, they grow to accept their new situation as the norm, turning into the unwitting enforcers of self-censorship. It is at this point that the bodies and minds of those governed display the traces of the aforementioned inhalation, no matter how deftly authority may have evaded criticism -direct or indirect- by simply concealing itself. Art works as a disclosing tool, in certain circumstances, to reveal these fingerprint-like traces.
Remaining visible is a potential threat for authority, marking it as a target for reaction, and thus hindering its reign. Fully aware of this danger, authority seeks invisibility; the more it does so, the more effective a fingerprint powder art becomes, disclosing to the open eye the stains of oppression on which it’s sprinkled. That’s when the governed notice the traces of authority on their own bodies and minds and try to free themselves of this ‘foreign matter’ they’d been carrying unawares.
These traces, in addition, indicate a spiritual loss rather than a material one, in contrast to those left behind by a random burglar: not the theft of a laptop, but rather of liberty.
Authority is the explanation behind the transformation of the compassionate going to sleep and waking up as brutes. Tolerance may have closed its eyes questioning, entered dreamland querying the prosecution, and opens its eyes as bigotry… All manners of authority stain humans from the moment they they’re born, and life is the struggle to purify oneself from these stains.
It’s only when authority uses a gas bomb -for instance- to permeate the governed that the natural chemistry of the human body and mind rejects this at once. The aforementioned gas, being unable to disperse in open air, congregates at one point, revealing authority that is made concrete anew as hanging in the void, swinging naked. No different from the moment when a burglar is caught red-handed, and therefore no fingerprint powder is required for identification. Authority stands like a leaden cloud, its intransigence and sickness in full view.
Now all that the governed needs to do to see it is raise their heads, but staring at it is a problem. A medical problem. Because the true face of authority is too dangerous to look upon with the naked eye, too perilous to touch with the bare hand. Which is why the following personal safety equipment is essential before attempting the above-mentioned actions: a helmet, swimming goggles, protective facemask, a pair of work gloves and sufficient quantities of antacid solution.
As İstiklal Road would shed its leaves onto Taksim Square, so did the resistance flock to it, a five-minute walk from the verdant Gezi Park. Accessories were essential from the first night onwards, the 31st of May. Accessories that serve to protect, contrary to popular misconception, not from the effects of tear gas, but from the germs of authority. The resistance was fully aware that such an infection would manifest itself with equal violence in response to police brutality; this first symptom would poison their peaceful movement. The superhuman determination to stay sterile and thus fend off authority’s attempts to sideline the resistance is extraordinary.
Consequently, the Gezi Park Resistance -whose ecological demands went up in the smoke of their torched tents on what was only the second day of their action- and has today become a ‘Protest to Earn the Right to Protest’ is a poem, not a story, in the history of protest on the freedom of expression. A poem written by the object of its own tribute: the activists still resisting, sustaining injuries and losing their lives…
About the Author
Hakan Günday was born in Rhodes in 1976. He finished his primary education in Brussels. After attending Ankara Tevfik Fikret High School, he studied at the Department of French Translation in the Faculty of Literature of Hacettepe University. He then transferred to Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
About the Translator
Feyza Howell works as a literary translator as well as serving English PEN as assessor and a number of public agencies as interpreter. She has been translating fiction and commercial texts for many years as well as writing copy and non-fiction, including Waste by Hakan Günday and her translation of Madame Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is due for publication by Saqi in the autumn.