Chapters 33-34

In our readings for Monday, Pamuk focuses on the collective melancholy of Istanbul which he describes as “huzun”. In chapters 33 and 34 he describes the impact on huzun on himself and the ways in which the city and his social circles direct him to feel his own sense of huzun or melancholy that is reflective of the city around him.

He describes how Istanbul is caught up in an in betweenness of the past and present, the old and the new, the East and the West. Pamuk himself feels similar to this, shifting from different groups of friends with no real solid identity, all the time feeling shameful because he is not remaining true to himself and his identity. He seems to be lost between different spheres of life, only finding temporary comfort when he engrosses himself in one of these spheres.

He clearly finds some sort of comfort or connection with this city and past but at the same time you get the sense that there is also tension between the identity he is born into and the idealized identity that he wishes to have. In many ways his entire analysis of himself at this time and the city of Istanbul are parallels of loss, confusion, melancholy, and a certain bitter sweetness that makes him still feel connected to Istanbul. Combined with this bitter sweetness is a sort of authenticity that Pamuk seems reluctant to let go of.

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Olive Oil

This article draws attention to the ways in which the value and cultural importance of food are constructed and maintained. To me it was ironic how much unrelated meaning was assigned to what is considered a “natural” product like olive oil. The idea of being a “natural food” indicates some sort of a priori  authenticity but in the case of olive oil, much of the “natural” meaning was culturally constructed, drawing from both recent trends and from more historical/ancient ideas. The question of naturalness depends on what the consumer’s definition of natural is, do they see the naturalness in terms of historical/cultural production of the product, in terms of it’s biological production, or in a combination of the two?

Whether or not these cultural phenomena actually makes one kind of olive oil more or less “natural” is certainly up for debate but it is interesting how different factors authenticate it. In many ways this is not so different from the marketing schemes used by producers of what we think of a completely unnatural foods such as fast foods or processed foods. In any case, the food that we choose to eat usually has some sort of cultural acceptance surrounding it and in modern times, a lot of that acceptance comes from branding, advertising, and marketing no matter what the product is.

It is not inconceivable that a significant part of the craze surrounding “naturalness” and “authenticity” is a result of the advertising push, both as a counter to the prevalence of highly processed foods and as a method of proving authenticity. The use of the phrase “traditional method” was interesting because is only referred to the way in which the olives were crushed (by a stone wheel). While this “traditional method” probably had little to no effect on the quality of the olive oil, the use of the phrase brings to mind a certain, marketable (probably highly Mediterranean) cultural image. By creating an image of cultural authenticity, regardless as to if it is “authentic” or not, producers make their product seem more natural and thus more marketable.

Greek Crisis

Before reading the article “Trickle-down Debt” I did not know the extent to which the Greek Financial Crisis was related not only to public debt but also to private debt. The story that has mostly been told in the popular media mostly focuses on the debt owed by the Greek government due to the extent of Greece’s welfare system and their lack of strict taxes. After reading “Trickle-down Debt” it seems clear that their are also serious problems with personal debt too and it is interesting how this debt further relates back to government debt due to the fact that a third of debtors hoping to restructure their debt, are public workers.

The crash bares resemblance to other financial crashes, such as the Great Depression and the current Chinese stock crisis, in that over optimism led to over spending, which then led to the crash once the optimism dissipated. It is interesting that the Greek situation seems to be primarily concerned with public and private credit borrowing rather than over investment in stocks.

I enjoyed the articles that provided more cultural and historical background because they bring to light not only past economic and social problems, but also help explain some of the current political, legal, and social sentiment. In “Eat That!”, the author writes about how the home became the “most reliable form of capital accumulation” in the post-WW2 period due to instabilities in industrial and stock investment. This is reflected in the credit restructuring legislation mentioned in “Trickle-down Debt”, where debtors homes are protected from seizure from creditors. This is an interesting intersection of economic, social, and legal values.

Spatializing Practices

Chapter 3 brought up a lot of very interesting considerations around the idea of space and belonging, both from the domestic Kabyle perspective and the immigrant perspective in France. Silverstein highlights many important spatial aspects ranging from changes in traditional spatial organization to contemporary issues of immigration and belonging. We can see how they issues are interconnected in the ways that they affect the trajectories of individuals lives and collective ideas regarding cultural and national identity.

For me, the strongest passages in this book are the ones concerning contemporary (at the time of publication) events or ethnography. The description of the tensions between immigrants and the rest of French society show they ways that larger problems regarding segregation (intended or not) and areas of differing income can play out on the ground. I found the story about the gym particularly interesting because it showed the complicated ways in which these tensions can explode on a personal level, and the ways that racist or stereotypical perspectives can worsen or arise.

The connection that Silverstein draws between the colonial disruption of housing scenarios and how this further disrupts socio-economic and cultural practices was an interesting point. On page 65 he quotes another Anthropologist, El-Hadi Iguedelane, who says, “With the appearance of the ‘modern’ house, [the Kabyles] witness . . . the disintegration of their culture”. While this is, at first glance, rather bold statement, Silverstein paints a vivid picture throughout the chapter concerning the ways that the ideas of “home” both from the individual and the societal perspective dictate the trajectory of individuals identity. This is an important observation because of the implications of this within a global economy where immigration and movement is becoming more and more common place.

Chapter 2 and 3

Chapter 3 brought up a lot of interesting points regarding identity and place that reflect some of the same ideas brought up in Braudel regarding how physical location plays a role in the identity of individuals both from an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective. While the physical geography and climate certainly plays a large role in the opportunities and lifestyles available to the people who inhabit a region, the “Montesquieu tautology” seems like an oversimplification, as well as, poor link to causality. I wonder if this kind of thinking relates back to the ideas of mystery surrounding Corsica brought up in Chapter 2 as a crude form of understanding the island.

I thought that the author’s discussion of the “mystery” surrounding Corsica was very interesting. It seemed to be a way of idealizing what Corsica meant to the French and as a way to keep Corsica as a place in the national eye. The Corsica Problem Reports describe two main issues that define the “Corsican Problem”, 1. Why is Corsica not productive? and 2. Why does Corsica resist French laws and traditions? Both of these “problems” relate back to ideas of colonialism and nationalism which demand that colonies provide stable output for the colonizers and adopt the colonizers traditions and culture. The fact that their is resistance to seems to be at the root of the “Corsican Problem” and may explain some of the perceived mystery surrounding Corsica.