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Time for criticism

The Turkish journal Cogito marks its one hundredth issue with a return to the source. Entitled, ‘Time for criticism’, it examines the history and roots of critical thought. The special issue also shows the urgency and relevance that such approaches offer for both a post-truth pandemic world and Turkey under president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Editor Şeyda Öztürk proposes ‘a closer and more detailed relationship with critical thought in Turkey in this crucial period and enriched intellectual production.’
The issue kicks off with a whistle-stop tour of the territory, as academics Volkan Çıdam, Kurtul Gülenc, Özgür Emrah Gürel and Zeynep Savaşçın discuss the schools and traditions associated with the term ‘critical theory’. This colloquium introduces 400 pages of essays and interviews on topics ranging from the Frankfurt School to postcolonial theory.

Adorno in Turkey
Toros Güneş Esgün discusses the recent surge in interest in the work of Theodor Adorno, explaining why adapting them to a modern Turkish context is an act that requires critical thinking in itself. Aykut Çelebi looks at Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street to show how critical thought remains important at a time when ‘huge problems urgently demand solutions and no sign of a new theory, an actor or a movement is capable of dealing with them.’
Critical tools
Zeynep Gambetti examines ideas of time focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic’s ‘temporal fracture’ that challenges neoliberal capitalism and its understanding of the present. And Çiğdem Yazıcı looks at how purely logical thought can fail against the challenges of a post-truth world, advocating for emotions to be considered as part of philosophies.
Özgür Gürsoy studies despotism through the lenses of Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas. Critical thought may not have the power to change the despotic regime, he writes, but the ‘function of criticism is to provide the mental tools and experiments that keep us open to the kind of transformations that are needed in order to have any impact on games that are rigged in such ways.’
Ottoman ghosts
Elsewhere, Arif Camoğlu traces attitudes to empire, both Ottoman and British, in the work of nineteenth century writers and politicians such as Abdülhak Hamid Tarhan, whose career spanned the end of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Camoğlu ponders the ‘paradox’ of a servant of empire who became a republican founder, arguing that such careers reveal that ‘the Ottoman ghost, whose existence is becoming increasing clear these days, was actually always at the end of our nose.’
This article is part of the 6/2021 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get updates on reviews and our latest publishing.

Race in Europe and the US

In Springerin, Saidiya Hartman ruminates on race in America by recounting W.E.B. Du Bois’s science fiction short story The Comet (1920), in which a black man (Jim) and white woman (Julia) cross paths following a deadly comet strike on New York.
Du Bois’s apocalyptic story is part of a larger collection, which Hartman describes as ‘an assemblage of stories, essays, poems, prayers, songs, parables and hymns, and an inventory of violence (which examines whiteness, lynching, servitude, imperial war, the damnation of black women, colonialism, capitalist predation, as well as beauty, chance, death and the sublime).’ Despite a hundred years and yet another deadly pandemic, the spectre of white racism remains just as virulent today.

Race in Europe
Variously referred to as a foreigner, citizen with a migration background, post-migrant, Black, and now BIPOC, Julian Warner explores race in his native country Germany. ‘What’, he asks, ‘is the relationship between the sheer limitless violence of the historical colonial situation to a European home and present?’
American writers and theorists have provided the foundational material through which race has been articulated and interrogated throughout the world. However, Warner prods readers to move beyond ‘this African-American-centered discourse’ in order to mobilize support and solidarity for victims of violence and racial discrimination in Europe today. Ultimately, he questions the value of dualisms such as colony and home, suggesting that we rethink our reasoning and assumptions.
Debating technology
Christian Höller speaks with Mark Coeckelbergh about the ethics of artificial intelligence, what it means for our lives and how it might change society in the future. Coeckelbergh acknowledges the many benefits of machine learning, automation and data science, but also calls attention to their moral and ethical drawbacks, including privacy and transparency concerns, ‘predictive policing’ and the loss of jobs.
Whether a balance can be struck between harnessing the power of technology in order to address pressing issues such as political instability and climate change, and safeguarding human agency and independence remains an open question. Despite technology’s obvious potential, ‘there is tremendous risk for the manipulation of people, even if this manipulation is for a good purpose.’
This article is part of the 6/2021 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get updates on reviews and our latest publishing.

The iconic turn in medieval art

In New Literary Observer, Oleg Voskoboynikov considers one of the most widely studied sacred images in western art: the Lateran icon of the Saviour in the Sancta Sanctorum (the Pope’s private chapel) in Rome. In a combined study of Nicola Maniacutia’s Treatise on the Lateran Palace Icon, written in the 1140s, and the Lateran icon, Voskoboynikov illustrates the important, premodern concept of the ‘living icon’. The Lateran Christ is one of the foremost examples in the West of a miracle-working icon ‘not made by human hands’ (the scholarly term is an ‘acheiropoieton’).
Between the eighth and the sixteenth centuries, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August) was celebrated in Rome by a procession carrying the icon of Christ from the Lateran Palace to Santa Maria Maggiore. There, the image ‘met’ the holy icon of the Virgin, known as the Saviour of the Roman people (Salus populi romani). The enormous importance of the event lay in the belief that the images were ‘living’ – that Christ and the Virgin were actually present in their icons.

Sacred ‘place of memory’
The Russian equivalent of the Lateran Christ in the West is the Vladimir Mother of God, the famous twelfth-century Byzantine icon, brought to Russia in the medieval period. Peter S. Stefanovich considers the reception of the icon in the 1500s and 1600s, drawing attention to the famous painting The Panegyric to Our Lady of Vladimir (1668) by Simon Ushakov, also known as The Tree of the Russian State.
In Ushakov’s work, portraits of saints connected to Moscow, Russian tsars and patriarchs are depicted in medallions, growing as fruits on a tree. As a symbol of the Russian state, the tree is being watered by Prince Ivan Kalita and the Metropolitan Petr, while Jesus is watching from above. This is ‘a sacred-dynastic construction’ that appeals not only to ‘faith but also to dynastic memory’.
The idea of Russia’s heavenly dynasty and Moscow as both sacred ‘place of memory’ (Pierre Nora) and political centre also comes across in texts from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries, in which we are told that the Vladimir Mother of God miraculously saved the city from the Tatars in 1521.
Fused images
Andrey Vinogradov looks at images that combine the established genre of donor portraiture – for example the mosaic of the Emperor Justinian at Ravenna – and representations of the Virgin with outstretched arms, interceding with God on behalf of humanity. A rare example of the fusion of these two types of images is the mosaic of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI kneeling (proskynesis) before Christ, above him a medallion with the Virgin as intercessor.

This article is part of the 6/2021 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get updates on reviews and our latest publishing.