This past June, Istanbul smelled real bad. Amongst all debates about who caused this awful scene and strange, novel experience, there were a few explanations: foreign powers that envy progress and development and plan an overthrow of legitimate government; domestic powers that feel like revolting because they felt excluded from the conventional political arena (which is reduced to a bullet box sometimes and which is magnified as far as the discourse of unity allows at other times); used and abused protestors that cannot see the country’s progress; interest lobbies that want to manipulate the good deeds the government and the bureaucracy implements; terrorists with pots and pans and gas masks and who knows what else; 40-something youth; 20-something secular, ‘laik’, White Turks (this was wrongly presented by the media as one of the most representative population participating or sympathizing with the resistance, referring to the urban middle-class social movements), their parents and sometimes a cross-over of both categories and age groups; (dis)illusioned artists and notable intellectuals; illegals, etc. I am sure I miss several categories in here as I try to mention a variety. One clear thing is, they would look like traitors, wrong-doers and the silly percentage that do not get the good things going on in the country, according to those who disapprove of the resistance. Overall, there were two contradictory smells in the air, one could assume based on comments aftermath the events.
So, to me as an observer, the actual worry has been the smells that remain after the violent argument of powers. The violence continues once people stop and the(ir) smells are enacted. Literally, the smell of gas poisoned the air, the lives, the bodies, skins, eyes, future breathes… How ironic, I thought, as I tried not to inhale the remnants of gas in the Taksim metro, while trying to reach places and arrive at meetings for my research, even if hours and days away from the clashes. I remember bad yet subtle smells, and cursing. Few hours later, I vomited unexpectedly while having dinner, feeling suspicious that it is not due to hot weather or the simple food. The day before some friend had to vomit suddenly, saying that she probably drank too much water. Then, people started to count urban animals dead due to gas. Then, people started to count people dead or hurt due to canisters and rubber bullets. The sights remained with us; the smells were gone. Or, so we thought.
I have not been able to stop thinking about the collective damaging capacity of one force against other forces since then. The gas is collectively enacted in the sense that it does not discriminate the welcomed from the unwelcome; ‘being there’ is enough. I was there in the city in order to collect some data on sensations of space and sound; instead, I found smell suspended in the air, unseen and almost unfelt easily. Nobody questioned its existence; nobody could point a finger at the smell even when apologies were made, defenses were made, claims were made, accusations were made. It felt like it was not problematic. We inhaled it. It is with us.
Then I stumbled upon an excerpt from Sloterdijk’s Air Tremors. Here is an interesting quote that I keep coming back to. Put simply, the smell remains with the smeller after years. How sad. Can’t say more for a while.
…the German gas artillery introduced the new combat gas, `yellow cross’ or`Lost’, in the Western front against British troops, which produced severe injuries to the organism especially loss of sight and catastrophic nervous disorders when it came in contact with the skin or membranes of the eyes and respiratory paths. One of the most recognized Lost or Ype¨rite victims was Private Adolf Hitler, who on the night of 13 – 14 October 1918 on a hill near Werwick (La Montagne), to the south of Ypres, was involved in one of the last gas attacks of World War I, carried out by the British. In his memoirs, he related that on the morning of the 14 October his eyes had become something like glowing coals and that, in addition, after the events of the 9 November in Germany, that he survived in the military hospital Pasewalk in Pomeria by word of mouth, literally, since he had suffered a relapse of the loss of vision that he had suffered through Lost; during this stay he made the decision to “become a politician”. In the spring of 1944 he told [Albert] Speer, in anticipation of the impending defeat, that he feared losing his sight again. The trauma of gas remained with him until the end, as a nervous trace. It would seem that among the technical -military determinants of World War II was that fact that Hitler introduced, as a result of his own experiences, an idiosyncratic understanding of gas into his personal conception of war, on the one hand, and of the praxis of genocide, on the other.
These links are only a few to mention the gas in the air: