the unaffected


the liberating (!) view near my neighborhood now. photo by author.

Here is a narrative of why I moved this summer and what I found right after.



So, I moved. I pushed myself out of a single room of insanity called ‘residence hall’ and into new terrain. I removed myself from the pulp, put an end to the flounder, made sure to shatter the frame that holds me from seeing a written product of my research. Why? Was I not ready? Pain and ailment, instead of creativity, defined the last two years. Every time I thought the situation improved, my attempts were scratching the walls of a single room and hitting me back. Those could not be part of the writing process. It felt as if I was fighting a demon that sticked to me while I walked into the room and did not allow me to sit down and own my efforts. In a fantasy novel, that would certainly move the script on: a parasite. In the dictionary,  parasite is defined as ‘one who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.’ Interesting. I remember the slimy parasite, its human and non-human forms; I also remember the moments I let it in because I thought I should hear it out. This was a moment of being affected; I did not need to remind myself that I needed to be more open to the flow; I was properly open to the flow and quite ready to dismiss the blind distance in order to hear out by the moves of others around me. My tools when I collected data in the fieldwork had become my hands, my steps, my touch, and my character. I became one with my method and did not feel guilty for it. On the contrary, this was strength. ‘I should hear it out’ was my strength.

There is merit in hearing. Hearing is different than listening: hearing builds on reciprocity that the latter lacks morbidly. When one hears another, life and challenges of the ‘voice’ cannot be ignored anymore. Communication has started.  bell hooks captured this moment of communication or the lack thereof. In ‘Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life‘ , she goes back to threads of her writing career and narrates uneven power dynamic between hearing and listening:  On page 98 of this memoir, bell hooks (1997) narrates her position among college ‘friends’ in California:

When I speak everyone stops to listen but then no one hears. They are all white and they are all here to celebrate being female. They do not want to hear that the shared reality of femaleness does not mean an equal share in powerlessness.’ (…) ‘They listen to me but they don’t hear. They don’t have to hear. This is what it means to be among the colonizers, you do not have to listen to what the colonized have to say, especially if their ideas come from experience and not from books. They ask you if there is a book they can read that will explain what you are talking about.’

Pleasures of listening are not available to hearing-body, when one finds out a weird togetherness instead of enjoying a safe distance from things and lives of others. Hearing is a relationship; listening is a performance – a show. Hearing does not imply the safest of distances. bell hooks understood a comfortable audience who knew what they wanted to receive, and it is this frozen act of listening that highlighted disposition to sweet power.

An unforeseen discomfort of hearing! I had to move out of that room where I certainly felt uncomfortable with hearing out people’s stories and discontent, where the speaker actually wanted to preach to me -as I later realized. Some of those speakers were friends, some were just company, while others pseudo-friends. Towards the end of my stay in that room (of fieldwork, to be clear), I was questioning how much agency I gave up in order to hear a speaker-subject who certainly had things to tell, to pour, to let out -sometimes without much tact. I suppose the hearing-subject trusts, because she has to; that’s the only mood to get going. The speaker, on the contrary, without a specific gender, with a possibly and comfortably childish manner, can switch to a self-involved mode, as the hearing-subject invites them into mood to be received… Think of your stubborn lover who does not understand when you demand to take a break. Think of your grandparent or late parent who would not hear your side of the story at all and push their outdated agenda. They may be full of themselves, and going after pleasures of listening (more so those of speaking); but more urgently they do it because that is the most comfortable form of being in the world at that moment. Likewise, the speaker-subjects who addressed my ears live in a receiver society and may want to pour words, dump stories, and complain – perhaps just without substantial reflection. The subject does not necessarily think to receive back from its mic. That time is probably what sets the pain in motion in the one who heard. This is a stinging dimension of qualitative research: learning to be comfortable with hearing and yet hitting a wall of non-conversation, the hearing-subject will find that the speaking-subject is rather busy seeking attention to their immediate lives.

But, that moment of hearing was supposed to be a rare opportunity (or mistake depending on which end you are at) in which to be affected shows up in our profile, connecting us to the ‘translocal’. Being human requires a body and bodies have layers; when encountering other bodies they cannot escape an extent of reciprocity.  Ben Anderson noted what affect meant in the space between bodies, and he noted the unavoidable circulatory power of affect in this gap between us: in order to ”think through affect we must untie it from a subject or object and instead attune to how affects inhabit the passage between contexts through various processes of translocal movement’‘, he wrote (Anderson, 2006: 736). Affect runs free and uninhibited; so it comes handy when you are desperately trying to connect to the trajectories of strangers in the fieldwork, to hear what someone is running from or swimming against or playing with; to apply stitches on the passage between you asking questions and that vocal source sharing pieces of a trajectory full of clefts, deterritorialized and abused by the capital. I think that is a point where we are still not well-equipped as fieldworkers as we set out towards that ‘translocal movement’. Researchers are trained and instructed on unequal power relations in the field for sure; we know to be cautious of our position and dispose ourselves to difference; we think we know to an okay extent what walking on clefts will feel like, and some keep the walk short and painless. But when you behaviorally change by spending a little too long on a cleft, you will fall; when you’re not clear at what point you relay your space too much that another will take over and gulp down that translocal space. I think a move without making damn sure that the speaker-subject wants more than to be received is a poor move; and, an inclination to hear rather than listen obviously leaves one wanting a new pair of ears. That’s how my speaker-subjects, both in the fieldwork and post-fieldwork -interesting continuity-, seemed to have a pretentious understanding of the gap between bodies in that sense. I found they lacked a response to a charge with hope from the other side: even in the flow of conversation, I lacked a more complete feeling of reciprocity that comes with thinking that we are in a conversation, which is a zone for multiplicity. Many times, when it was my turn to throw the ball, no one seemed to catch: affect is the warranty that we will have this ball game. I am deliberately thinking conversations during fieldwork and post-fieldwork together, as there is a connection although not an assimilation: my learned behavior as a hearing-subject. I am not overdoing it, though; I am just inclined to hear what I am listening to.

In the end, hearing should imply conversation, right? That ‘assumption’ increased the magnitude of my disquiet when several conversations hit the wall, and that is why I had to move: Disconnect from the walls of the room and reassemble my face. Two flat enemies. Two façades against each other, getting close day by day, until the one that is more humble and flexible transgresses and flips over the other’s walls, turning inside out and locking outside in. So, then the room became the captive one, and the face had to get out. Outside is not necessarily a good place, but positions will have changed. You may call this the beginning of a new response on the planet of parasites – it would make a fine sci-fi movie scene.

From one room to another: into the arms of the callous

When I was about to move, I anticipated the callous-subject. It would be a revisit to the field(work), and I had a sense of what space was left to be affected. But here is a new glimpse at the restless:

So I relocated. I have been taking walks, setting up a new rhythm for my work and health, and preferring to stay home for extended hours; this kind of thing can come after a period of too much work for little result. On those brief movements, I have run into random restless strangers who seemed to be lost in their own universe rather than being contemplative of the space between us. First, I would stop to think if I am too much of a stranger here. Okay,  perhaps they might have become callous; the last few years in Turkey have been a lab for urban violence of various sorts, so it does not take a research lab and a long series of studies to figure out that people will retire into their own (s)hell and become insensitive to protect their senses! In a recent interview with Ozan Zeybek on yeşilgazete, he pointed out to the media impact as one factor to shrink contemplative politics rather than expand it:

Sürekli dikkatimizi çekmek üzere yarışan ve infial yaratmaya yönelik bir üslûpla sunulan olaylar, hafızamızı aslında zayıflatıyor, siyasetin alanını daraltıyor. Tepki vermemiz bekleniyor; ama takip etmek güçleşiyor. Her şeye tepki vermeye çalışmanın aşındıran bir tarafı var. Bir de düşünmeye, akıl yürütmeye ket vurabiliyor. 

Trying to react to any signal [news] coming in erodes the memory and shrinks the field of bearing politics, he contends. Meanwhile, the restlessness I run into has its merits, too: While disaffected from another body passing by, the unaffected can be freshly sensitive to a thing physically out of reach… Could be a cat account on Instagram, an emoji, a heroic defense, a match point, a win score, a loving gesture from the most indifferent person… as long as those evoke feelings of past, lost, foregone, completed,  faraway moments that one wishes incomplete and still open. To be fair, the unaffected are most easily affected by ‘let me go moments’, ‘this is my chance’, on a channel of personal liberty to go, do, eat, be and go again. Immediacy is perhaps key to understand why someone like below would be obsessed when it comes to urgent, bodily situations: When I stop by the public restroom in a mall, a woman who would immediately like to use the next stall has no patience even after she perceives that all the stalls are occupied. A cleaning staff stands there in the restroom with us. The woman (customer) rushes in, acts impatient, looks around not amused to see us in her private bathroom, banks her body on me lightly to push an obstacle around, then she scolds, at unease thinking someone is blocking her. It’s hard for her to realize the surroundings. She obsessively points to a stall; she is pretty convinced it should be unoccupied and we losers are waiting for nothing. She could be screaming in her body language ‘I need to pee and you’re not letting me’ ! Make way for the child.

On a certain level, she is in a rightful situation. I mean, she has to pee; it is unavoidable. She is not in her own private quarters, though. By being in that public surrounding, she accepted the possibility that stalls could be occupied and she’d have to wait or act earlier – which we simply call basic calculation of actions and moves, rights? Maybe she did not know she signed that contract when she stepped in the mall. At one moment, impatience in her did not allow her to recognize that there were people waiting in line in front of her.

At another level, it is funny. ‘Funny’ as in Funny Games. At the checkout, for instance, the next person in line acts like they are about to annex to your bottom, glance over your purse, monitor your transaction, and almost occupy the same place as you. AND IT IS NORMAL. They may not be interested in you of course; you feel their breath nevertheless. This is Turkey, I remind myself, don’t be even slightly mad; they cannot put a practical distance between their body and others at the cashier; it is a line and they think that if they don’t close the ranks with the person in line they’d lose it. Perhaps we were taught to process ‘being in line’ so well. Elsewhere, this would be considered minor harassment; one cannot attach their belly to another person’s back, slightly push the person in front with their purse or hand and not anticipate a warning. Here, all this happens in a dreamy state of acceptance and flow. I ask myself if the unaffected is ludicrous. Maybe I am wrong; the lack of personal distance and the deafness in the mediocrity of a line is not the same as the colonizing volume of speaker-subject because they have found someone who attentively take notes of their words in a face-to-face encounter to seek meaning for an act, and to take them seriously.

I survived both such lack of distance and such volume during my fieldwork. I think it was the end of 2015 and early 2016, man on the street in Istanbul was so busy with his own troubled mind that he did not look where he was going. Crash was unavoidable. A cell phone was not always part of the scene; you would see persons talking to themselves once in a while, and they were not street figures at all. I would circulate the same corner or the sidewalk, waiting for my interviewee, looking for a good moment to document a performance… all that made me pause and wait in the street. The man on the street would come and bump into others; I’d see the whole thing. Startled at first, then I would think if something is broken in the communication to the ‘translocal’ space. Sometimes, the person behind me would speed up and crash into me walking, cursing at me. Was İ the object that interrupted a projectile?! Troubles of the man who survives a hard time in the economy, I’d think. Then came in the construction trucks. In neighborhoods like Kadıköy or Göztepe, those trucks carried earth and dig to and from the construction sites.  They had to go fast; they did not know how to manage dire streets and ran over a few people in their own neighborhoods – those not alert enough to escape them. Drivers were not familiar to the path they tread. Victims were usually teenagers, young women, old women, women who did not know to anticipate a sneak attack from the truck. Truck-ran-over-civilian ‘incidents’ filled news and papers, accompanied by lots of frustration, and injustice. I bet there are still people who do not buy into how such a surreal thing could happen repeatedly. Meanwhile, the subcontractor-driver was quite unaffected, failing to respect the (slower) movement around it, and synced out from the surroundings. The unaffected does not have a good concept of its whereabouts, it is simply affected by the need to go.

See more:
bell hooks. 1997. Wounds of Passion: a writing life. Henry Holt & Company.
Ben Anderson. 2006. Becoming and being hopeful: towards a theory of affect. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2006, volume 24, pages 733-752
Ozan Zeybek. 29 June 2018. ‘Köpek sevince hayvansever olunmuyor, endüstriyel hayvancılıkta da sistematik şiddet var‘, Interview at Yeşil Gazete.