The Guardian Books homepage, June 20, 2013
Last Monday at 6pm a young man wearing a white shirt and grey trousers appeared in Istanbul's Taksim Square. He walked towards Ataturk Cultural Centre, adjacent to the Gezi Park, which had turned into a battle ground. But the young man didn't go inside the park. Instead he stopped in front of the Cultural Centre, placed his backpack on the ground, put his hands in his pockets and stared at the building for eight hours. Curious bystanders surrounded him. They asked questions about his identity, occupation and intentions. Four police officers body-searched him. His backpack contained plastic cards, a gas mask, a bottle of water, goggles and a pack of biscuits. They asked him whether he was waiting for someone. Did he have a problem? He was calm and mute. He didn't have a problem: but in the following hours, as his pictures and his mysterious alias ("the standing man") spread on Twitter, he turned into one, at least for the police. More than 300 people joined him to do the same thing, standing still, facing the Cultural Centre and refusing to leave. Like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, his posture spread among people in different parts of the city who started standing still in the exact same way. On Wednesday protestors who were against the standing man arrived at the square. The double negation amounted to affirmation. After half an hour they left.
The Guardian homepage, June 20, 2013
When I saw legions of standing men and women on Istanbul's streets I remembered Alain Badiou's idea of the "event" as the fundamental component of politics. But what about a literary parallel? Herman Melville's reticent scrivener Bartleby was obviously the best candidate. After all, it was he who "would prefer not to" do anything dictated to him. He championed idleness, cynicism and non-compliance through his inactivity. Bartleby was an ideal symbol, not only for this new wave of protests but for the original occupy Gezi events as well.
The Guardian Review, June 22, 2013
There are numerous Bartleby translations on the shelves – including my own – and I saw Bartleby in the library in Gezi Park; people read it as a way of protest, metres away from the riot police. Bartleby's influence on the Occupy Wall Street movement has already been discussed. I wouldn't have been surprised to see the book in the original standing man's backpack. In fact, I am surprised it wasn't there.
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