The Fabric of the Past

There have been thousands and thousands of words written about kentsel dönüşüm [urban transformation] in Istanbul; one part of that has looked at the relationship between this logic of development and the city's past. If, as the AKP claims, one of the successes of their administration has been the 'taking ownership' of the city's Ottoman heritage, how is one to square that with a series of development plans that systematically transfer ownership of 'historical' sites into private hands with the aim of extracting financial benefit? (See Elif İnce's most recent article in Radikal.)

This is all a bit speculative on my part, shaped in part by my talk last week on the restoration process in Eyüp, but I think I'm trying to say something like this: When we talk about the historical fabric––the tarihi dokusu––of the city, this is not simply a conversation about buildings as empty, inert objects. This is about buildings that somehow play a meaningful role in the social, economic, political relationships that constitute the life of the city and the life of the individuals in it. Obviously, we can––and need to––debate the unequal relationships that were sedimented in the city, but the current and ongoing mania for redeveloping the past to fit the exigencies of the present seems short-sighted, to say the least.

I suppose there's something to be said about this process of over-determination; or perhaps it's better phrased as a crisis of fixation. So many of the current debates seem to be about assigning a single meaning to objects, buildings, acts, practices, identities; I worry that we're losing our capacity to appreciate, to learn to recognize, difference. The flattening, the organizing of the past, in a certain sense.

All of this, of course, in the tense of perhaps perhaps, but it's where one's thoughts go on a day when the wind gusts out of the northwest and the Bosphorus fills with fog and mist.


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