Reading Orwell in Taksim Square

Taksim Square Book Club

Possibly the single most enduring image from my own political coming of age, in my late 20s, was Tiananmen Square’s Tank Man. To someone who had idly considered herself a dissenter once upon a time—largely due, in retrospect, to sartorial choices—he was a comeuppance, the real deal. So when Erdem Gündüz staged his own solitary standing protest in Turkey’s Taksim Square earlier this month, the gesture was iconic and recognizable to onlookers everywhere.

Gündüz was joined by several hundred more protesters, and his “standing man” dissidence has spawned sympathetic vigils in other countries, an eight-man “Man standing against the ‘standing man’”counter-demonstration—and now the newest chapter in Turkey’s story of enlightened resistance, the Taksim Square Book Club.

This isn’t your mama’s book club, or Oprah’s, or the potluck kind where everyone drinks too much wine and admits they never read the book. This is reading as a form of dissidence—from the Latin dissidēre, to sit apart, only this one involves standing apart. And reading. And that’s it; that’s their point. Knowledge is power, and the eternal optimism of the pen being mightier than the sword still has a place. According to Al Jazeera,

Public reading and informal education has been notable since the earliest days of the protest, but has since merged with the Standing Man…. The chosen reading material of many of those who take their stand is reflective, in part, of the thoughtfulness of those who have chosen this motionless protest to express their discontent.

Apparently 1984 is popular, as well as Kafka, Camus, and the history of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president. There’s no library à la Occupy Wall Street, no organized reading of one work or another. This is a solitary solidarity. And I’m more than happy to show my support of their cause in comradely reading—right here, all by myself.

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