Tl;dr: This book will give you perspective and principles to live by. It will give you a framework to understand the madness. You can read it in a weekend. Buy it.
It was a struggle at first to find the words to tell you why I love this book. And now, I have so many words for you.
I’ve been a fan of Ece’s since I stood in front of How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship’s pale blue cover in early 2019. As I picked it up examining the inside sleeve, I noticed the lady at the bookshop till looking at me. I looked back. It’s really good, she said. If you buy one non-fiction book this year buy this one. Something told me I should trust her so I bought it.
I was so enthralled by that book, that I took it to my political reading group and told everyone I met about it. I never normally do this. There is something profoundly different about the way Ece presents her ideas and arranges thought on paper. Whenever I read Ece, I’m reminded of just how narrow the parameters of the conversation are in the UK. It’s like everyone is squabbling inside a constrictive lead box, with the walls closing in even tighter since Brexit and the pandemic.
Her writing, storytelling and analysis remind me of home. Home isn’t a place. It’s a constant straddle, a predicament, a joy. A macabre entanglement of all the things I relate to. It’s dark curly hair, it’s secular, it’s an east-west mash up. It’s sexy and outspoken but often fragile. It’s centuries old, it’s Spinoza woven into Om Kalthoum. It’s logic and reason shouting at religion and extremists, it’s that last bit of meaty sauce in the corner of a serving dish being mopped up with bread under a cloud of laughter and a dim auburn light.
Not since Mark Fisher have I come across such an astute turn of phrase. Mark gave me words to understand, develop, digest. Ece gives me words too.
Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now is a book about the choices we need to make, an offering of how we form the now into a place we want to inhabit.
It is a practical guide of sorts, but it’s also deeply philosophical. It invites you to ask some big and often tough questions on how you will approach and conduct yourself as you walk through this tumultuous era. This is a rich and soulful work, packed into a little buttercup volume told through hilarious and often poignant vignettes. Like her last book, we are transported from one side of the globe to another from one paragraph to the next. It’s deadly serious, but void of posturing and tired critique. It isn’t afraid to sway from the abstract to our experience of the everyday. This book is very #ACFM. If you like the podcast I host along with Jeremy Gilbert and Keir Milburn on Novara Media, you’ll love this book.
You’re handed ten chapters and ten choices. The first is an appeal to choose faith over hope. My interest was piqued, I settled down with a cup of tea. In the same way that the left’s tired calls for “unity” or “democracy” make me want to die, I’m no fan of appeals for hope. I’ve struggled to articulate why. It just feels weak, passive. I don’t want to be hopeful, I want something much better.
Hope has been worn out. It’s starting to sound like an emotional crutch, Ece says, a cop-out of sorts. She draws a correlation between the rise in citations of hope with a population coming to terms with tragedy and absurdity’s comfortable marriage within national and global politics. This is something non-westerners have long become accustomed to, but the West arrogantly has thought itself immune from. And yet here we are.
In this first chapter, she makes the case for faith as a container for self-esteem, confidence and trust. Her conception of faith is not concerned with gods and theology but rather with human attributes. Faith she argues, is a tonic against the immobilising effects of cynicism. Having faith in humans forces you to believe in yourself and what you’re capable of.
Deep. It took me a good while to think around that one.
Also in this chapter, we are transported to 1991, to a market on the Turkish-Russian border selling communist tat. Ece is briefly mistaken for a “Natasha”, a woman from the fallen Eastern Bloc selling sex, then gets called “sister” by the man when he apologises after realising his mistake. It’s hard to describe to a Western audience all the detail of that encounter, but I know it so well and feel I’ve been there a thousand times. After that incident, everything looks different to Ece, the items laid out on the table become inseparable from the women, the price tags are all visible.
That moment, when an interaction forces a change of perspective, what is it called? When you suddenly become aware of a latent power dynamic, the social relations in the room, and suddenly everything looks different to you, it dawns on you, is everything changed. Or are you? Yes that thing. I’ve not seen this phenomenon described in writing before, why not?
I get pulled in closer. Ece’s Natasha story reminds me of the time a group of guys half my age tried to lure me into their car with the promise of various drugs as I was waiting outside the door of a political meeting. After that, the streets, colours, angles, lighting, Bethnal Green, the London I knew well, were different. That sensation swam around my humours as I mulled upon that evening’s discussion of strategy, ideas and politics. It left a taste. This book is full of such recipes, rarely articulated, the mixing of intellectual exercise with the experience of the everyday floating in oneself simultaneously.
Together is not a book about sexism. But it’s refreshing for an author primarily writing about philosophy and politics not to leave the experience of everyday misogyny out of the page. Women are under pressure to write ‘seriously’ to be taken seriously, ie to masculinise their presentation of life experience. To leave out all the times a man mistook you for a prostitute, whispered something slimy in your ear, or followed you down the street. Ece doesn’t self-edit as so many women do when talking about the state of the world. It’s such a relief to read.
In subsequent chapters, Ece invites us to chose ‘the whole reality’, to befriend fear, to choose dignity over pride, strength over power, attention over anger and more.
I like lists. I’m itching for a list at this stage. So instead of deconstructing every other chapter, here are some of my favourite ideas, concepts and phrases you’ll be treated to from within this book’s pages:
- Chickens clucking into the apocalypse
- What would a flea market of collapsed capitalism look like?
- The self that is revealed in reality is stronger
- Turbulence is my natural habitat
- That lump in my throat is dignity
- Infantilisation of politics
- I miss being angry
- This era is a carnival of emotions
- The global war against the female
- Capitalism and the fear of satisfaction
- Molasses and tahini
- The return to the 20th century as a holiday
- Friendship as a cover word for networking
- Friendship as commitment, a moral stance
- Ignorance has been mobilised to become a political identity
- Spinoza wore the same jacket everyday
- I don’t want to die feeling like the world owes me
Told you it’s very #ACFM. I yearn to record an episode on each one of those things.
Writing an article is as much standing up from your desk, walking to the window, opening the garden door, opening the fridge door, scratching your head, sitting on the toilet and of course pacing, as it is typing actual words. An awareness of this truism means you beat yourself up less, for failing to stare at a screen for a solid eight hours like a good productive worker when you’re trying to write something. In the same vein, Ece’s writing draws us to all the things that matter, which we’re not necessarily looking at or appreciating when searching for a way out of this mess.
We may not like to admit it, but we all have to some extent been captured by the hegemonic framework for addressing and analysing the global mood and realpolitik. In Britain, we are very, very stuck. As I mentioned above, the terms of discourse are getting narrower and narrower, even on the left. We should open our ears to voices outside this Anglo American mind prison.
I found myself slowing down as I acknowledged from the sensation in my right hand, that there were only a couple of pages left. I didn’t want it to end. When it finally did and I turned the cover in my hand, a tear landed on my cheek. I found myself striding towards the kitchen and lunging at that bit of sweet pastry from yesterday’s picnic that I didn’t even like. I returned to the sofa and sat with the book in my lap. I squinted up at the spring sun, crumbs on my lips, with the whole of humanity swilling around my breast.
Ece Temelkuran’s Together: 10 Choices For a Better Now by 4th Estate Books is out this Thursday 13th May 2021