The Horns of the Mediterranean Dilemma- Hannah M

I thought Herzfeld made some really good points in this article, even though it was difficult to follow at some points. Overall, Herzfeld concluded that the Mediterranean does qualify as a cultural unit, but he argued on how exactly we should define the geographical borders of the area. He gathered a lot of research from other anthropologists and examined their arguments on the Mediterranean as a cultural unit. He found weaknesses and some strengths in these arguments, importantly that much of the ethnographic research on the Mediterranean as a cultural unit is influenced by stereotypes and that weakens the foundation of these anthropological arguments. He pointed out that the inclusion of these stereotypes in research is perpetuating these stereotypes further and makes the research biased, whereas anthropological research and conclusions are meant to be objective. He made the same arguments for making generalizations about Mediterranean culture. He highlighted that these generalizations “(have) banished
the societies of the “sea in the middle of the earth” to the world’s political and cultural periphery.”

Furthermore, I thought it interesting that he argued that it is a weakness to use the term “Mediterranean Anthropology” because it is perpetuating a mindset that is determined to view the area as one entity and “threatens comparative analysis” aka the term is threatening to anthropologists ability to make objective, global comparisons.

I felt that the entire aim of his discussion was “to show what deep roots the Mediterranean stereotype appears to have put down in anthropological thought.”

His discourse raised the question can we/ should we base the Mediterranean cultural unit on purely ethnographic fact, which he abundantly proved is almost inherently flawed by biases and stereotypes, or on looser cultural observations?

Abu-Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds: Introduction

I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable Lila Abu-Lughod’s introduction to Writing Women’s World was. Usually, I am that reader who skips over introductions-finding them tedious without good reason. After reading about the unique connection she made with the Ali Bedouin community in her preface, I was interested as to why she chose to write this ethnography using storytelling.

While in the introduction Abu-Lughod very clearly explains why storytelling became the technique she uses, before she discusses the use of the word culture. It was that part of the introduction I find most interesting, because as an anthropologist I don’t tend to think of the word culture being accompanied by any particularly demeaning ideology- for instance say the words civilize and race do. Abu-Lughod with her own points and the perspectives borrowed from others, challenged me to access my understanding of the usage of the word culture. She explains that using this word, whether consciously or unconsciously, can cause anthropologist to make generalization that lock non-Western groups into a category referred to as “other”, leaving readers to put themselves into the category “self”. These two categories can be problematic, because it doesn’t address the fact that everyone’s experience within their culture is unique- some not conforming in any way to generalizations made. Somewhat instinctively, the reader is also less likely to recognize similarities between “self” and “other” because the dialogue has been set up in a way where both sides are put on opposite ends.

After reading the preface and introduction, I am looking forward to continuing Writing Women’s World. Specifically focusing on how Abu-Lughod’s decision to use storytelling did or did not steer her away from making generalizations- as she criticizes doing so in her introduction.

The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma

The article “The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma” by Michael Herzfeld was an interesting discussion on the homogeneity of the Mediterranean area.  He uses symbols that are enforced by the existing stereotypes to maintain his argument that previous research does not support the homogeneous theory of the Mediterranean.  The use of research done by previous scholars is prominent in this article.  He discusses the study of the ram horns and billy goats by Anton Blok to show that, though Blok tried making the argument that this is a Mediterranean phenomenon, it really is not because it is shown in other areas of the world, including the island of Crete.  He also states that Blok’s translation of certain texts could be indicative of the lack of understanding for the “Mediterranean Unit.”

Another argument that Herzfeld makes in the article is that of the “evil eye.”  He states that while the evil eye persists in many parts of the Mediterranean, it does not always mean the same thing in every region.  He states that Anthony Galt’s analysis of the evil eye phenomenon relies specifically on speculative ethnography.  The theory on the use of the evil eye to determine the homogeneity of the region uses both ethnographic stories and archaeology to undermine the actual meanings behind the evil eye in all of the regions because their view is being clouded by the presumption that the Mediterranean can be considered a homogeneous unit.

The stereotyping of the Mediterranean has endured even through today.  The outside world’s ideas of the Mediterranean man and woman has helped to secure these roles in their society.  The idea of the ram being equivalent to the manliness and the billy goat more equivalent to a passivity still persists today.  The ram being strong and “manly” and the billy goat being more weak and “effeminate” equates to how the gender roles are still prominent in many parts of the Mediterranean.  This stereotyping by outsiders does not help the collective ideals of the community but actually hinders it because they are not able to make their own culture since it is so dependent on the stereotyping of the rest of the world.

I think that Herzfeld is making his argument against the idea of the Mediterranean unit being homogeneous because of his use of these two examples.  He is stating that trying to say that the Mediterranean is a single culture can hinder future research in the region because it clouds over the fact that all of the countries, cities, towns, villages, etc. have their own ways of thinking and their own customs.  He makes this clear with the the evil eye discussion and even more clear with the ram/billy goat discussion because the ideas in the Mediterranean are not wholly the same.

I would agree with Herzfold’s arguments because knowing the different regions of the Mediterranean Sea and the histories of each of the countries, they are significantly different from each other.  Greece is different from Italy which is different from Spain which is different from Tunisia.  To say that all of these countries have the same culture and therefore could be considered a single homogeneous unit could hinder their own cultural identity.


The author, from the very beginning, lets you know that he is and has always been different. It seems that he spent a lot of time in his own special place and thoughts. It is strange how he goes about describing the experience he had with seeing himself in a picture. thinking that it was someone else that could possible be his twin. Also, why are the old Ottoman mansions being burnt to the ground just to be replaced by new buildings? Those building are apart of history and should be preserved as a museum or a historical building of some sort. The city may be in ruins but it can still be resurrected if given some time. Orhan also speaks of how the only colorful pictures there are of Istanbul are done by outsiders or people that no longer live there. It is sad that he lives in this once beautiful place and he has never seen it in its true and living beauty. He sees the world in black and white which allows a person to see past the vibrant colors and actually focus on the details of the city, buildings, and people.

“Istanbul” – Reflections

Orhan Pamuk writes magnificently. I really enjoyed
the ten chapters assigned for this week’s
readings. It takes us from his childhood, with its
simple joys and impressions to the world
outside of the Pamuk Apartments, beyond Istanbul’s
streets, beyond its waterlines, towards a
new world of transforming realities, geopolitics, a
nd questions of identity.
The first chapter introduces us to his childhood i
nsecurities, especially his vivid
imaginations of the whereabouts of the “other orhan
.” It is fascinating to try to experience his
joys of being presented to the view of the outside
world, and still partake in his description of a
city that, more and more, was distancing itself fro
m the hopes of a “capital of the world,” as
Flaubert would have predicted. Pamuk shares with us
not only his exact age, but his emotions
and entrusts us with the accounts of his “second li
fe” where an awaken writer is not that far
from that once curious child.
The second chapter expands our portrait of his fam
ily life, with black-and-white “ghosts”
that inhabit the top portions of silent pianos and
introduces the environment to personal
journeys that are very much connected to the life o
f his city: as with the Ottoman Empire, his
family was crumbling from the inside, although stil
l able to maintain its “architectural integrity”
on the outside.
I especially enjoyed his long voyages of imaginati
on and whimsical tone as the author
navigates the rooms of the family property with cre
ative realities and daydreaming. Moreover, I
learned that we both shared the same strangeness to
Saturn Devouring His Son
and the
terror that the described Mickey-being-eaten scene
can evoke. Good, I’m in good company.
This same autobiographical chapter of infancy seem
s melancholic and bittersweet. On
can notice his father’s absences and quality time,
as well; his caring mother’s affection and the
overall rejection of warmth that the author resents
and mindfully flees from.
Chapter four introduces to the outside world. The
pictures in this section of the book
are somber and sad. It portrays the fading of a onc
e-grandiose city whose melancholy, in the
words of Pamuk, “was all around us.” (29) This sent
iment was pretty much shared by the writer
himself, whose words claim an impending doom and sa
dness that traveled a little deeper than
his young man’s understanding of the realities that
led to the construction of the oldness
around. Pamuk is franc, open, and vulnerable in des
cribing his physical fragility, as it went hand-
in-hand with the frailty of the city.
In chapter five, all the black-and-whiteness of hi
s home rooms and the overall feel of the
city find resonance in Pamuk’s writings: “I feel a
deep sense of fellowship, almost as if the night
has cloaked our lives…” (35) When watching a film p
roduced by the Turkish industry he
confides in us that his own past comes to mind. Ist
anbul’s mosques, shops, children’s clothing,
decaying fountains, etc. paint a portrait that is n
ot only sad, but bittersweet as a deep sense of
place and belonging can be felt from Pamuk’s words.
Istanbul’s most territorial body of water is a nat
ional pride and tell the stories of a once-
rich society. The architectural might of the waters
ide mansions named yalis are as vanishing as
the Pasha’s mansions’. Their sight causes a sense i
nferiority and impotence, even in the words
of someone whose family belongs to the
nouveau riche
of the new republic. However, so
important is the Bosphorus to the author that a par
allel to Monet’s
Water Lilies
is drawn. (55) It
is a beautiful memory of a place where some of the
best memories with his mother took place,
during his childhood. The idyllic nature of the pre
sence of the Bosphorus in the author’s and
city’s life rapidly succumbs to his accounts to the
unfortunate realities of what he calls “our

magnificent heritage.” (in irony, as the sight of f
eces and cigarette butts, among other things,
taint an otherwise personal treasure)
The same Bosphorus brings the city and its dweller
s together in the meticulous,
miniature, carefully disproportional, “gothic” artw
ork of Melling. We feel the author’s
heartbreak as he acknowledges the recordings of a l
andscape that “no longer exists.” (63)
Although Pamuk sees that some of what is depicted s
till exists as the painter saw it –
watermelon sellers, three-legged tables, and sesame
roll sellers, for example – much more has
changed than not – fountains, cobblestones, tombsto
nes, etc.
Then chapter nineteen takes us to the heat of Ista
nbul and its people even further. It
shows us what is beyond the streets, beyond crumbli
ng structures, beyond the facades. It
introduced us to an era born in May 29, 1453: when
Constantinople fell (for the Greeks) and
Istanbul was conquered (for the Turks). The chapter
’s pictures show the devastation of the
lynching of minorities, raping, and inability to co
exist. I was sad to see that most of the
atrocities and fears felt by the local minorities a
ctually took place in a period contemporary to
the author’s account of their occurrence than at th
e aftermath of the historical date, itself. The
pictures don’t lie or hold back from us and, for th
e first time, I think I felt a bit of the
melancholy that lives with the author since the fir
st chapters of the book.
Chapter twenty-five talk about westernization of t
he author’s city. In his own words, it is
an account of the “love-hate relationship with the
western gaze.” (235) For the most par,
western literary eyes wanted to see the exotic of t
he land and not always saw the bigger
picture in Istanbul culture and society; what was o
ften approached was the “harem”, the “slave
markets”, the “hamal”, etc. and more rarely any wes
tern-resistant initiative. So much so that,
as Pamuk explains, officials westernized the sense
of fashion in the land. It is a sad
acknowledgement but a reality: in Pamuk’s words, “t
he West set the standard for all
humankind.” (238)
The notion that Istanbul is, simply put, “dated,”
carries a burden of isolation as in a
westernized framework for a stagnant socio-cultural
reality. As Pamuk explains so beautifully,
Istanbul was transformed into a “monotonous monolin
gual town in black and white.” (238).
That is really sad to me: to know that, unless some
one, somewhere, recorded the lively variety
of what Istanbul used to signify, future generation
s will unlikely know what we left behind.
After reading this last assigned chapter, Walter B
enjamin’s concept that, for outsiders,
what draws them to Istanbul is the exotic but for n
atives, memories, truly resonates in me as I
begin to feel that same compassion (not pity) that
Pamuk asked of us at the end of the first
chapter. Then, I cherish even further this author’s
ability to entrust us with his “second life.”

Istanbul Reflections

At the beginning of my freshman year in college, I started dating a young man from Turkey. While reading Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul” I was reminded of the same strange love for the country my ex-boyfriend had. by strange I mean he was at times distancing the country from it’s history and declaring himself proud of the history and culture. He would randomly tell me stories about the Ottoman Empire, how they ruled much of the world. He would tell my of the different Ottoman artifacts his mom had saved up as wedding gifts for his future wife. And after telling me these fantastic and almost exotic stories of his culture and country, he would insist that Turkey was very modern and just like any other European country.

Orhan does something similar in his book. By contrasting the old mansions that everyone used to live in with the modern family apartment in which he now resides. This contrast was especially noticeable when he talked about the western sitting room every family had when he was young. The sitting rooms were like museums to him, and it represented westernization. However no one new what westernization was good for, but they all did it. They gave up the traditional pillow clad lounging rooms for western living rooms with pianos no one could play and china plates no one could touch.

The way I saw it, they were pretending to be “western” ,whatever that means, until it became true. So this probably explains why that ex-boyfriend from Turkey was so offended when I asked him If Turkey was a middle eastern country or considered apart of Europe. His answer confused me then but after reading these short stories I think I better understand why he said “Turkey is neither and it is both.”

Reflection on Pamuk’s “Istanbul”

When reading Pamuk’s Istanbul (or really any of his books) it becomes apparent that Turks living in Istanbul have a strange sense of the past and almost a hundred years after the conquest of Turkey (or fall of the Ottoman Empire) there is still a deep sense of loss. Even people, such as Pamuk, who grew up well after still can sense the transitioning in the area. It is interesting to note how he talks of the destruction of old pashas’ mansions, the yalis and even the cemeteries where many of them are buried. It seems to be a terrible disregarding of history and a past culture but I am reminded by Pamuk that it is on purpose. The Turkishization of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the early 1900’s is the backdrop of this destruction. It is almost as if by destroying the pashas’ and other bourgeoisies’ things you can destroy their very memory and delete all that they represent from society.
This leads me into another key point in all of Pamuk’s writing, the want of Turks in Istanbul, especially the upper middle class, to be Western. There is also a very specific conception of what being “European” or “Western” looks like. This has always struck me as very odd whenever I encounter it in any of his or other Turkish writer’s books. Being Western is being secular, wearing western clothes, using the latest appliance or having china dog’s on your television set. Because of this ideal there is also a lot of attention paid to Westerners’ comments on their city and culture in general. I do not quite understand why he should deem that important. Why is westernization so important? I find it ironic that the very things Westerners visited Turkey for are the things that were done away with in the pursuit of Western and Turkishization.
Overall my greatest question is if Pamuk realistically describes what it is to be an Istanbullus and, if there really is such thing.