- Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History by Arash Khazeni, and: Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital by Çiğdem Kafescioğlu
Çiğdem Kafescioğlu, Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital, Arash Khazeni, Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History
When reading Walter Benjamin's travel accounts of the twentieth-century European cities, one encounters an impressionistic yet perceptive portrait of urban experience as what truly defines the city. In his account of Marseilles, for instance, the city manifests itself in bustling sites of noise; audible spaces of living conversations that can be felt, remembered, and lived, though constantly in flux while confronting and sometimes crossing the visible and invisible lines that divide up dwellings of urban inhabitants, ranging from prostitutes to African residents from the colonies. Benjamin's Marseilles is a noisy city of empty streets, deserted spaces, decaying alleyways, grey houses, light radiating from greengrocers' shops, illuminating the sadness of a passing day in a monotonous week. "Marseilles," Benjamin writes, is "the yellow-studded maw of a seal with salt water running out between the teeth. When this gullet opens to catch the black and brown proletarian bodies thrown to it by ship's [End Page 217] companies according to their timetables, it exhales a stink of oil, urine, and printer's ink" (232). As an immigrant city, Marseilles is also made up of color. "The palate itself is pink, which is the colour of shame here, of poverty. Hunchbacks wear it, and beggarwomen. And the discoloured women of Rue Bouterie are given their only tint by the sole pieces of clothing they wear: pink shifts" (131). From the noise, sounds, and color, to its socio-political realities, such as poverty, the city is composed of performed spaces that materialize and locate a sensory ambience of encounters and interactions, articulated in multiple and at times loud voices.
In the spirit of this special issue on "early modern Islamic cities," I begin this review with Benjamin's account of Marseilles as a way to underline an alternative way to understand the city—Islamic or otherwise—with a move away from an over-emphasis on cultural specificity and, accordingly, underlying the emotive and discursive connections that create a city as regional and global networks of performative spaces of interaction. While the culturalist approach is keen to identify patterns of civilizational changes with the city, the affective approach stresses embodied practices, encounters, and spatial experiences that are shared within and across urbanities. What ultimately is claimed here, in particular in my review of Arash Khazeni's Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History, is that the "Islamic city" is not an isolated urban material-structural phenomenon, but rather it is a transcultural set of lived practices that require us to imagine the city as experience, though the Islamic city is hardly divorced from particular architectural, geographical, and socio-political settings.
The first book under review, Çiğdem Kafescioğlu's Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital, exemplifies a new approach to the Islamic city, one based on a plurality of discourses, visions and ways of representing the city as a dialogical interrelated process informed by complex forms of interaction. Written by a scholar of architectural, visual, and urban culture of the early modern Islam, this work offers an intriguing look at one of the most significant urban centers in the eastern Mediterranean, Constantinople/Istanbul. In this richly informative and thought-provoking study, Kafescioğlu shows how a radical departure in Ottoman urbanization involved not only building new imperial sites but also producing literary and visual cultures that imagined the new Ottoman capital [End Page 218] as an assertion of a new political order. Well-researched and presented in...