Thursday, August 12, 2021

Eunuchs in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace: An essay in 'Harem Histories'

Marilyn Booth, editor. Harem Histories: Envisioning Places and Living Spaces. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010.

The editor's introduction mentions the 1909 publication of Demetra Vaka Brown's Haremlik: Some Pages from the Life of Turkish Women. "If Vaka Brown exploited the drawing power of the harem as an image of exoticism and mystery for her North American friends and readers, she also sought to complicate that image for her readers, contrasting it with the 'hatred and scorn' she had heard Americans express toward Turkey, as they assured her that Turkish 'women [were] miserable creatures.'" And so this 2010 book, Harem Histories, asks how the harem and other "understandings of gendered space in the societies where the harem structured women's and men's lives" was represented in those societies. Not in outside societies that may have misunderstood or criticized it, but in the society of which the harem was a part, while acknowledging "perpetual cultural motion."

One of the essays is "Panoptic Bodies: Black Eunuchs as Guardians of the Topkapi Harem" by Jateen Lad.
"In the enormous corpus of European harem literature and paintings, sharp-eyed eunuchs became a mandatory topos, their presence at the margins bringing to light the perversity of the scenario which they helped frame: the perfect, fair-skinned, and beautiful being entrusted to the incomplete, dark, and mutilated." (p. 137)
The Topkapi harem was "precisely configured" and it was "all held together by a network of spaces guarded by the black eunuchs." (p. 150)
"Thus, despite the black eunuchs' position at the margins, the architecture suggests that they were central to all comunication within the harem." (p. 165)

Saturday, July 31, 2021

A cool video I found discussing 'the Minotaur as trans and disabled'

"Trapped in the Labyrinth: The Minotaur as Trans and Disabled"
length: 50:50
Johannes Evans
Jun 3, 2021

From the YouTube description: Johannes looked at the minotaur story investigating the minotaur as trans and disabled and through a trans and disabled lens.

You can pay Johannes for this work through Ko-Fi.

Monday, January 4, 2021

'Writing was sympathetic magic'...

Today, in high-information environments, people may see writing as "logorrhea," or worse, a force of destruction and entropy. Writing can cause something simple to destabilize and to become unnecessarily complex.

But in low-information environments (and especially long ago), people have been amazed by writing and grateful for its contributions.

Writing seemed to make an idea immortal.


"To the ancients, writing was wizardry. ...the discovery of a method to project one’s self beyond a single life span seemed nothing less than miraculous." Leonard Shlain. The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. New York: Penguin/Compass, 1999.


This also seemed to reinforce the truth of a myth. If the myth had seemed true enough to begin with, writing the myth made it tangible and permanent and thus made it seem more real. Writing something seemed to make it true.


"First-century people just didn't have the same sense of factuality that we do, or of writing either. Writing was sympathetic magic, we should remember: writing something down was to an extent making it so, it was a creative rather than mimetic act..."
John Updike. Roger's Version. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

"While the story of Christ was in many ways a typical hero myth — the virgin birth, the supernatural acts (miracles), the rebirth into immortality — in one respect it was unique: it claimed not to be a myth at all. It claimed to be history. Traditional societies do not distinguish between myth and history in the way that we do. Mythical events were not thought to have literally happened; yet in another sense they were true, as if they had. ‘These things never happened, they are always’, wrote Sallust sublimely (86-34 B.C.). Conversely, historical events are always mythologized (the Trojan war, for example). It is as if what literally happened is less important than what metaphorically happened. But the two are combined to create what ‘really’ happened.
When the story of Christ was held to be history, its events literally true, myth suffered a blow. It began to acquire its modern meaning of something unreal, imaginary (as opposed to imaginative) and merely fictional. At the same time, truth and reality began to be measured by their literal truth and reality. Literalism began with Christianity."
Patrick Harpur. The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination. p. 81.