Thirza Cuthland, from Less Lethal Fetishes, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Fusing self-representation with philosophy and critical theory, autotheory moves between “theory” and “practice.” It is critical and it is creative; it is experiential and experimental; it is scholarly and it is popular. It brings theory to life and life to theory. It plays with personal polemic, positing a speaking self in the act of writing “I,” and then, self-reflectively and self-reflexively, it deconstructs itself. Autotheory’s genealogies spring from the institutions it seeks to critique. It privileges thinking with over thinking against; its politics of citation unveil its relations. From social media technologies to the publishing industry, from live performance to visual art, autotheory’s escalating ubiquity in cultural production serves as a provocation: why autotheory and why now? What motivates the methodological melding of an autobiographical “I” with academic scholarship? What implications does theorizing the self have for the politics of knowledge production?
A digital companion to the special issue of ASAP/Journal, this cluster animates the autotheoretical intersections of art and art writing in time-based media. Transmedial in form and provocative by design, these works appear accompanied by autotheory’s telltale synthesis of critical-creative writing. The cluster includes film and video by Maider Fortune, Annie Macdonell, and Ree Botts; performance for the camera and documentation of live performances by Ceylan Öztürk, Calla Durose-Moya, lo bil, and Mel Keiser; web-based work, including memes, by Simon Evnine and Piper Curtis; other moving-images, including GIFs, by Migueltzinta C. Solis, and sound-based work by Arezu Salamzadeh. Off the page and on the screen, these autotheories invite as much as they imagine, contest as much as they contrive, and exude as much as they include.
— Lauren Fournier and Alex Brostoff
In Orientalien, Ceylan Öztrük tells about adoption, self-transformation, and the embodiment of otherness through an autotheory performance. Diving into the roots and purposes of the words “orient” and “orientation,” Öztrük asks: how does being the oriental stranger orient the body? As Öztrük dives into the aspects of being an alien, being an oriental and being an other, they explore the metamorphosis of the body at “post-otherness.” From alienation to orientalism, this new scripted performance holds oriental dance (a term historically used to describe belly dancing) in an existential experience with light and stage installations. The performance offers a new orientation and a new proposal to appropriate alienation. A continuation of her previous lecture performance, Oriental Demo, Öztrük’s Orientalien creates a moment for the artist to embody her alienation on stage, on her behalf, becoming another other with other others.
The following texts are scripts from the performance Orientalien, written and performed by Ceylan Öztrük, Gessnerallee Theatre, Zürich, Switzerland, 2020. These texts are meant to be read as traces of the live performance as it happened in a specific space and time, and as such are largely unedited.
Reflection is a phenomenon. A source that turns back to itself. As its reversed image. It is an image, a duplicate, that seems like the source itself. Seems like.
The source, reflects, itself, in reverse. It is a consequence. It arises from something else.
A figure, a reflecting act, a reflective surface and a reflection: an image seen in a mirror or in a shiny surface.
A vision is an orientation that creates another image, Oriented. The other is the image of what is reflected.
The image of the self seen on a mirror is the projection of the self.
According to the Mirror Stage Concept in Lacanian psychoanalysis, within an infant’s first 6 months they recognise themselves as a self by differentiating from the image reflected back to them in a mirror. By recognising a reflected other image, the self is created. One orientates through this other image and through this other, a self is assigned. And the image of the other is what is created by the self: t is an oriented vision.
Orient, orientate, orientation, orientalism.
Orient, as a reflection, is an opposed image, idea, identity and experience. It has been a tool for the Occident to define itself. The Occident, the West. Orient is an orientation. Orientalism is a reflection. It is the reason and the consequence of the cultural hierarchy between the western and the eastern. Orientalism created an image of the object of desire through the subject of desire. Starting from four hundred years ago, the westerner travels to the east, to experience sex, sodomy, homosexuality. The Orient became the core of an orientation, became the living tableau of queerness. Sexual orientation was constructed, within capitalism and its branches, through the Occident’s gaze—and in opposition to the nuclear family and heteronormativity. The Orient becomes the other in sexual orientation.
Oriented orientation is the image of the other. The other is the orient. It is the reflection on the body and the reflection of the body. The orientation of the self.
What comes to, this day, is a hybrid performance. A daily performance of an oriental body.
A performing other, is performing a reflection. Because we think through an orientation device. An orientation device is Orientalism, a reflection. What we think from, is an orientation device.1
Performing this hybrid body on the stage is a moment of acceptance. A cyborg body that uses all of the contemporary tools, collects contemporary projections, wears them as a dance.It is the cyborg oriental body. A cyborg body who takes the reflections entirely—sees them, incorporates them, and reflects them back in acceptance.
A cyborg body is the post-capitalist body; it takes the connotation of “capitalist” and differs them in bodily ways afterwards. [This becomes clear in the performance]
What you reflect is what forms.
Orient, orientation, oriental, orientalism, orientalien…
“Feminism is always, you might say, future oriented, as a politics that not only calls into question, the way in which the world is organized in the present, but also seeks to transform how the world is organized and engender new ways and forms of living.” Sara [Ahmed] said, while I was sitting in my very small room with her.2
I know I should have listened to the exact thing that she was talking about but I was hooked by a word she uttered: oriented. It only made me remember how I came to this point by being oriented by the events that had happened. How things oriented me that I am here, right now. Because I recall it well now.
Once where I was, there were no reflections. Everything had a matte surface, there was no such phenomenon as reflections. This means that everything seemed like it was and things wouldn’t reflect or show others on themselves.
Once where I was, the whole ground, every variety of ground was a whole, one continuity. The ground in every place was the same element and the same color. A dark grey material, something between a carpet and asphalt. There was not an indoor or an outdoor feeling. The ground never changed. Even on the stairs or on a mountain or on a football field.
When did I realize I was here?
Cause I should have understood it way before. The first moment I remember was when I was folding my clothes. I was staring at a pair of trousers for a good 10 minutes. It was odd. Trousers are such bizarre things. They are made for a pair of legs and they cannot be more than this shape. When you are a human you come with two legs. But when you are a bamboo tree, it is different. Because you can never know how many legs and arms you will get in a lifetime.
Once I was the bamboo tree. The ones that break easily. I still carry this feature even in this body.
I am, I was and I will be many lives.
That is also a reason why I couldn’t manage well at first when I popped into my biological parents’ life in their 1980’s flat. I couldn’t really integrate into a normative nuclear family. I was alienated. That time I was the alien.
Being an other was a method of contempt in the structure. I was being intimidated into being an other when I said I hated school or when the first letter to my girlfriend was discovered by the parents.
Once I was a woman. A woman within a binary. They put regulations in front of me. I was told what I could and couldn’t do with my body. I was told I could not have an abortion. My talents were stolen, my gifts were kept.
In 1716 I was an abortionist. Including the surrounding villages,I was the best at that time. Because I was not using physical procedures and I was able to end the pregnancy with natural ways in the first 3 months. My knowledge was copied to be turned into a profit. Even that was not enough. They burnt me alive. I live with this burning everyday.
Once I was the cockroach. I was on my way to the migration office. I came across a lady standing ahead of me on the street, looking at me. As she turned to me I had this sudden transformation, I could no longer hold my body. I was able to see the same but obviously was not seen as the same. Other people on the street were staring at me, eyes wide open, while their bodies were getting farther and farther away from me, with an obvious gross out. I first recognized my arms – 6 of them – and it was not shocking to me at all. The guy in front of me, with an apron on, pointed at me, his mouth wide open. I could see myself from the reflection in his eyes. Then I recalled that morning. When I woke up that morning from unsettling dreams, I found myself changed in my bed into a Blatta Orientalis, an oriental roach.
A couple of days later I told this to Audre [Lorde].
She looked me in the eye, told me to wait a second to pick her notebook. She said she wants to read me something. I was sitting on her couch, a very bright room: it was hurting my eyes, her light. I wanted to squeeze under her couch, but I was a way too big of a roach to do so. She found the page, with an amazing voice, patience and confidence reading:
your deepest urge
and my brothers and sisters
in the sharp smell of your refusal
roach and presumptuous
nightmare on your white pillow
your itch to destroy
part of yourself.
your own determination
in the most detestable shape
you can become
friend of your image
I am you
in your most deeply cherished nightmare scuttling through the painted cracks
you create to admit me
into your kitchens
into your fearful midnights
into your values at noon
in your most secret places
you learn to honor me
as I alter—
through your greedy preoccupations through your kitchen wars
and your poisonous refusal—
To survive. Survive.”3
But can you follow me here?
When I was at the migration office, I told Frau Bla: “Better to be an animal like other animals than be a human who cannot be an animal”. Once I was Quibilah.
Quibilah from Ceylan’s story. Frau Bla reflected this image on me. The projection stayed on me like that. She infected me with Orientalism and now I had it for real.
After that day I started to have body twitches. It started on my right shoulder. I was able to control the twitch if I opened my arm and waved the twitch until it was down my hand. With the increase of the twitches, after some time I was doing it in both shoulders. It is called shoulder shimmy. Also in my hips. A moment after that I got some cash from the ATM, I was doing side waves and a little bit of shimmy with my hips.
My ornaments were also changed with this, the necklaces I’d wear went down on my hips.
It was not only these movements when I stood, but I also started to walk differently, people could recognise me with these twitchy movements. Every second step I was doing a side snake.
The thing that I would never have done at home, became a habit of mine.
I researched my body’s condition.
This is how I met Orientalism: through the condition of my body. I was oriented into this. Edward Said introduced me to Flaubert. I didn’t like him at first.
It didn’t take me too long to understand what had been going. Once I was with Kuchuk Hanem. Kuchuk Hanem was also a belly dancer in 1850’s. Flaubert not only owned her as a lover, but also represented her in his writings by talking on her behalf, giving clues to the reader to explain in which ways she was an oriental. He observed her sexuality, claiming she was suppressed by the east. Her self-powerlessness was fascinating to him.
She didn’t have a voice; Flaubert was talking on her behalf, to the West. He was saying that she was a typical Easterner.
It mattered because Flaubert was a major influence, even so many other writers and artists were depicted through his subjective information without traveling or ever seeing her nor the East.
I always had this question in mind: What is Kuchuk Hanem doing right now?
It didn’t take too long. I understood that these twitch movements were a somatic communication I had with Kuchuk Hanem.
She was connecting me with these movements. We built our own language with shimmies, waves and more. At one point I invited her to do it together. We created a new wave of reflecting.
Two figures of a reflected image, we built a cyborg self. Became one in solidarity.
An other image is created through the reflected knowledges. I decided to distort the reflection we had in commonmutual with Kuchuk Hanem.
The moment I met Jacques [Lacan] was exactly after this.
I met Jacques at the botanical garden. He told me about the Mirror Stage Concept while walking smoothly with a lotus flower in his hand. It was funny.
What I want to say is: infants in their first 6 months, assign themselves through the reflections in the mirror. By assigning an other image, they develop the self. Look, this is very interesting. I believe we pursue varieties of this orientation throughout our lives.
Self is defined with the other, as the other is a version of the self. What you see is who you are. We think through an orientation device.
What you reflect as the other is only yourself in an act of reflection.
Do you remember the moment I mentioned the trousers?
Everything sits on a political ground. One, big, flat continuity. Including your emotions, feelings, they all have a political ground.
Once I was the belly dancer. I was dancing in the club. They really didn’t care much if I could do it or not. The image of me doing that was enough, thanks to Flaubert. These twitched movements in my body really came out at the club. I managed to use them synchronised with the sounds.
It was an image of me. An image of an oriental who is a belly dancer, at that moment, just in the club. A hybrid body of the cyborg and oriental—a body of acceptance, a body of a new reflection. A moment where I am the Orientalien.
We assigned that location as a meeting point with Kuchuk Hanem. She was always there with me. Having a chat with shimmies, waves and more. I sent a hello to my parents who told me I could not be a belly dancer. I was dancing in a club full of Flauberts.
Belly dancers always have the most magnificent entrances.
Acknowledgments: Konzept, Umsetzung, Stage Design, Performance: Ceylan Öztrük / Performance: Schirin Ghazivakilli / Konzeptionelle Mitarbeit: Felizitas Stilleke / Dramaturgische Beratung: Mona De Weerdt / Choreografische Beratung, Sound Design: Manuel Scheiwiller / Costumes and Styling: Laura Beham & Angela Thurnherr / Licht, Technik, Mitarbeit Bühnenbild: Iris Rohr / Produktion: Oliver Roth / Oeil Exterieur: Teresa Vittucci / Translation: Miriam Laura Leonardi / Text edit: Merve Ünsal / Music Arrangement: Leilaa Moon / Ko-Produktion: Gessnerallee Zürich
Image credits: Flavio Karrer
This is one of twelve contributions from the ASAP/J cluster of Transmedial Autotheories. Read the other pieces here.
Read the Autotheory special issue (6.2) of the print journal ASAP/Journal here.
- Ahmed, Sara. This other and other others, Economy and Society, 31:4, 2002
- Ahmed, Sara. This other and other others, Economy and Society, 31:4, 2002
- Lorde, Audre. Brown Menace of Poem to the Survival of Roaches, in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Originally published in New York Head Shop and Museum. Chicago: Broadside Press, 1974.