It is no great shame for an artist to be taken for a man of the wider world.
July 21, 2012 6:38 AM   Subscribe

He is unknown. No name, no profession, no identifying details, but he looks out with the calm sternness of one who knows his place in the world. And because of this calmness, this sternness—the skeptical gaze and tight lips—we suspect it might be an image of the artist himself. Why Is This Man Wearing A Turban?, by Teju Cole.
posted by timshel (20 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Previously: Teju Cole
posted by Fizz at 6:42 AM on July 21, 2012

A version of the events in Molenbeek presented from a slightly different perspective.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Because painting hair is hassle.
posted by Damienmce at 7:15 AM on July 21, 2012

1adam12, that doesn't really make the Belgian police come off much better--they were still detaining and frisking a woman for wearing a face veil, even if she was the one who first escalated into physical violence.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:42 AM on July 21, 2012

Sorry, I'd say that breaking a policewoman's nose and knocking out two of her teeth makes a difference. I used to be a public defender and I've seen all kinds of insane trumped-up charges of assaulting a police officer, but the one hard-and-fast rule is that you don't physically assault a cop even if you think your arrest is unlawful unless you are yourself being physically attacked. You grit your teeth and then sue the everloving snot out of them later.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:50 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

-they were still detaining and frisking a woman for wearing a face veil

And the law of the country, even if you don't agree with it, is you don't wear a face veil. It may be a bad law but the police don't choose what they have to enforce and people don't get to choose what laws they have to obey. They're democratically agreed upon by elected representatives.
posted by Damienmce at 7:59 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

That was absolutely the most incoherent essay I have read in weeks, even by the usual incoherent blog standards. There is no message, not even an impression of a scene. Let me see if I follow this correctly.

1. There is this painting by Van Eyck.
2. I was in a bar in Brussels.
3. There was a riot in Brussels.
4. The guy in the painting is wearing a turban.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Worldliness: the artist is Jan van Eyck, the portrait was painted in 1433 in Bruges, and it is as much a portrait of a man as it is a portrait of his enormous red turban. Each wrinkle of the cloth, each fold, each soft glimmer of light across the soft weave, is painted with the holy precision Jan van Eyck helped introduce to art. He had abandoned tempera and begun to dissolve his pigments in linseed oil in the 1420s. With that came control and a perfection in painterly mimesis never since matched.
So it's basically a tech demo, then?
posted by Scientist at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Um, Charlie? It's about clothing, ethnicity, national identity and defining the other. Teju Cole is suggesting that there was a time when to be Belgian it was possible also to dress oneself in muslim garb, implying as well that the ideas of national identity that are being used to define the niqab as deviant are not as immutable as contemporary politicians would have us believe.

It's meant to be ironic. Cole has written in an economical and allusive style, which might be a bit difficult to follow if you're used to having things spelled out for you.

In any case, I found it quite powerful.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:24 AM on July 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yes, I catch the allusions, they just don't work. I am use to interpreting alternate literary styles, the closest I can compare that essay to is kishotenketsu. But it doesn't even work in that format. None of what he says is particularly evocative of the subject he is attempting, nor is any of it connected, and in fact, his art historical data is just flatly wrong. He commits the most fundamental error in art history, interpreting historical events through a modern perspective.

So yeah, it's economical and allusive BS.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't get the sense that Cole cares much about historicism here. He's writing as an ironist and in a political mode.

You might enjoy reading this to get a sense for what's lost when we insist narrowly on privileging an historical frame of reference when engaging in criticism.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:46 AM on July 21, 2012

1adam12's link to the "slightly different perspective" will lead you to a virulently anti-Islamic Christian site.
posted by fredludd at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think Cole's point was that it was a shitty law. My point was that, even if I accepted the account on the site 1adam12 links to, which I don't because the rhetoric is clearly anti-Muslim, it still doesn't paint the Belgian police or Belgian law in a flattering light. When even hardcore cheerleaders for your own side make you look like assholes, that doesn't augur well.

Also, "it's the law so people have to obey it" WTF? The essence of civil disobedience is defying unjust laws and accepting the consequences.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:09 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It made me want to read more about Van Eyck.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:31 AM on July 21, 2012

fredludd, I genuinely didn't realize that. Mods, please feel free to give my link the heave-ho if you think it's appropriate.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:36 AM on July 21, 2012

This made me want to see that painting when I visit the National Gallery in September.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:45 AM on July 21, 2012

The essence of civil disobedience is defying unjust laws and accepting the consequences.

Yes. Accepting the consequences. Such as being arrested.

And if your take out a cops teeth once you also have to accept the consequences which are that you're probably going to get roughed up.
posted by Damienmce at 11:07 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't say that stopping and detaining a person based on what she habitually wears is justified because the law must be obeyed, and then in the next breath excuse the cops beating her down while in custody because those are "the consequences" of injuring a cop.

I haven't read the relevant codes in Belgium, but pretty much everywhere, it is against the law for police officers to inflict revenge attacks upon a person in their custody, even if that person has attacked them first. They can charge that person with assaulting a police officer, but they don't get to assault the person back. The law applies to everyone, police and civilian alike; otherwise, it loses its legitimacy. How are we supposed to respect the law if the police who are entrusted with enforcing it can't even bring themselves to follow it, or suffer the consequences of breaking it?
posted by skoosh at 8:12 PM on July 21, 2012

Teju Cole is worth following on Twitter. Actually Twitter is where I found out abut him, from people RTing in response to Trayvon, the kid in a hoodie that was shot by a vigilante. He has great one-liners
posted by syntaxfree at 8:03 AM on July 22, 2012

Sidhedevil: Also, "it's the law so people have to obey it" WTF? The essence of civil disobedience is defying unjust laws and accepting the consequences.

Assaulting a police officer and breaking two of her teeth out is not remotely civil disobedience.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 PM on July 22, 2012

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