Category: <span>Popular Culture</span>

Bu yazının uzun bir macerası var: 2016 yılında daha kısa bir versiyonu Türkçe olarak yazılmış ve ‘Annelik’ adıyla Suret dergisinin 6. Sayısında yayımlanmıştı. Yazıyı daha sonra genişleterek İngilizceye çevirdim ve 2019’da ‘The Three-Mother Problem’ adıyla Journal of Psychosocial Studies; Vol 12/No 3’te yayımlandı. 2020-2021 yıllarında Covid-19 ‘kapatmasıyla’ evden pek çıkamaz bir hale geldiğimde ise ‘Boş duranı kimse sevmez!’ düsturuna uygun olarak, ‘Aile’ konusundaki bazı denemelerimi, yeni bir dizi yazı daha ekleyerek Beyond Family: A Case for Another Regime of Reproduction, Sexuality and Kinship adlı bir kitapta topladım, ki o da 2022 sonunda Sublation Media tarafından basılacak.
‘Üç Anne Sorunu’ denemesi bu yeni haliyle Türkçede hiç yayınlanmamıştı. Anneler Günü dolayısıyla birdenbire otuz dokuz yıl önce kaybettiğim anneme bir hediye vermek geldi aklıma. Oturup dört günde denemeyi çevirdim.
Bütün Grusha Vashnadze’lerin Anneler Günü kutlu olsun bu vesileyle.

Mater semper certa; pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant
(Anne her zaman bellidir; baba evlilik sözleşmesinde belirtilen kişidir)
(Digesta Iustiniani 2.4.5)
Mutter eines Kindes ist die Frau, die es geboren hat
(Çocuğun annesi, kendisinden doğmuş olduğu kadındır)
(Alman Medeni Kanunu, Paragraf 1571)

Digesta Iustiniani (Roma Hukukunun en son versiyonu, MS 429) var olan en eski yasal belgelerden biridir ve çağdaş hukukun birçok kuralı bu belgeye dayanır. Bu yasa bize, babanın konumu neredeyse her zaman tartışmalı olsa da, ‘Anne her zaman kesinlikle bellidir,’ der. Şaşırtıcı bir önlem değil kuşkusuz: Erkeğin ‘baba’ olma eylemi, neredeyse her zaman gözlerden gizlenen bir esrar perdesi gerisinde gerçekleşir. Belirsizlik bununla da sınırlı değildir üstelik. Cinsel ilişki kamusal alanda gerçekleşse bile, döllenme kadın bedeninin içinde (yani erkek aklı için daha da karanlık bir mekânda) gerçekleştiği için, dölleyici spermin hangi erkekten geldiğini hala bilemeyiz. Bu nedenle, en azından 20. yüzyılın sonundaki babalık testlerine, yani çocuğun DNA’sını babanınkiyle karşılaştırmak mümkün hale gelene kadar, baba ya belirsizdi ya da Justinianus yasasının çaresizlikle kabul ettiği gibi ‘evlilik bağında belirtilen kişi’den ibaretti. Bu nedenle, bir kesinlik görüntüsü yaratmak için geriye kalan tek çare, kadın bedeni üzerinde tartışılmaz bir hakimiyet kurmak ve kadının, nikâh akdinde belirtilen kişi dışında herhangi biriyle cinsel ilişkiye girmesini tercihen mümkün olan en baskıcı yollarla yasaklamaktı. Bu baskının sınırlarını kültür çizer: Dilersek zinayı topluluk tarafından taşlanarak öldürülme tehdidiyle yasaklayabiliriz, ya da tekeşli/düzcinsel aşkı eldeki bütün ideolojik aygıtlar yoluyla yücelttikçe yücelten edebi/kültürel bir yapı inşa edebiliriz. Ya da, ruhun histerik yapılanmasını (yani öznenin arzusunun yerine babanın arzusunu ikame eden mekanizmayı) mümkün olan her yolla destekleyebiliriz: Sonuç değişmeyecektir. Kadın üzerinde mutlak (ya da mutlak olduğuna inanmak istediğimiz) bir baskı mekanizması kurabilir ve bu süreçte kadının kadınlığını ortadan kaldırmış oluruz. Tıpkı Lacan’ın üstü çizilmiş ‘La femme’ında olduğu gibi (Lacan 1998). Ancak öte yandan, her zorba gibi bunu yaparken giderek daha fazla paranoyaklaşacağız ve tahakkümümüzün sonucundan asla emin olmayacağız: Hayatımızın önemli bir kısmı, ‘Benim (gerçek) babam kim?’ ve ‘Bu çocuk gerçekten benden mi?’ sorularının altında ezilerek geçecek. Kısacası layık olduğumuzu bulacağız.
Yine de, ‘Anne her zaman bellidir.’ Doğum genellikle yarı kamusal bir olaydır: doğumda en az bir, genellikle de birden fazla kişi bulunur. Son iki yüzyıla kadar, doğumda kadına eşlik edenler, genellikle yaşlı kadınlar olan ebelerdi. Ancak son zamanlarda doğum daha çok halka açık bir olay haline geldi: Erkek jinekologlar da devreye girdi, ara sıra hevesli baba adayı da doğum anını gözlemler ve genellikle kaydeder oldu. Bu nedenle, hata olasılığı kalmamış gibi görünüyor. Ya da buna inanmak istiyoruz. Ama nasıl bu kadar emin olabiliyoruz? Şimdi bu kesinliği nasıl sorunsallaştırabileceğimizi ve bu sorgulamanın bize aile kavramının ya da sözde ‘çekirdek aile’nin dünü, bugünü ve geleceği hakkında ne öğretebileceğini, neredeyse 28 yüzyıla yayılmış yedi anlatıyı inceleyerek tartışmaya çalışacağım. Bu yedi anlatı şunlar:

  1. Eski Ahit, I Krallar 3: 16-27. ‘Hazreti Süleyman’ın Adaleti’ (yaklaşık MÖ 7. yy, Mezopotamya).
  2.  Maha-Ummaga Jataka’daki ‘Mahaushadha’ öyküsü, 546/5 (yaklaşık MÖ 4. yy, Hindistan) (The Jataka 1907)
  3. Li Qianfu. Tebeşir Dairesi; (yaklaşık MS 14. yüzyıl, Çin) (Qianfu 2001)
  4. Bertolt Brecht. ‘Augsburg Tebeşir Dairesi’ (1940, İsveç) (Brecht 2015)
  5. Bertolt Brecht. Kafkas Tebeşir Dairesi (1944, ABD) (Brecht 1966)
  6. Law and Order SVU, 6. Sezon, 1. Bölüm, ‘Doğum Hakkı’ (21 Eylül 2004, ABD)
  7. The Good Wife, 5. Sezon, 3. Bölüm, ‘Kıymetli Bir Meta’ (3 Ekim 2013, ABD)

‘Gerçek’ Anne kimdir?

Şimdi bu metinlerin her birinin öyküsünü kısaca özetlemeye çalışacağım:

[1] ‘Hazreti Süleyman’ın Adaleti’ kıssası çoğu kişi tarafından bilinir: İki fahişe aynı gece doğum yaparlar, ama bebeklerden biri ölür. Bebeği ölen kadın bebekleri değiştirir ve yaşayan bebeğin ona ait olduğunu iddia eder. Hazreti Süleyman’ın karşısına çıkarlar. Süleyman karar veremez ve bebeği kılıcıyla ikiye bölmeyi ve her kadına bir parça vermeyi önerir. ‘Gerçek’ anne bu karara uymak yerine, iddiasından vazgeçmeyi kabul eder. Süleyman bebeği ‘gerçek’ anneye, yani iddiasını geri çeken, bebeğin ölmesine izin vermektense başka birine vermeye razı olan kadına verir.

[2]‘Gelecek Buda’ veya ‘Bilge’, bebeğini çalmaya çalışan bir kadın ile bir Yakshini (başka bir çeviride ‘dişi cin’) arasındaki anlaşmazlıkta hakemlik yapar. Çözümü Solomon’unki kadar kanlı değildir. Yere bir çizgi çizer ve üzerine bebeği koyar, kadın kılığına girmiş Yakshini ve kadından kollarını tutup çekmelerini ister. Gerçek anne bebeğinin incineceğini görür ve kolunu bırakır. ‘Gelecek Buda’ bebeği ‘gerçek’ anneye verir.

[3]Li Qianfu’nun oyununda, zengin bir adamın kısır ilk karısı onu zehirleyerek öldürür, sonra da cinayeti, çocuğu olan ikinci karısının üstüne atar. İkinci eşin masum olduğu kanıtlandıktan sonra, ilk ve tek erkek çocuk yoluyla adamın mirası alabilmek için çocuğa sahip çıkmaya çalışır. Yargıç çocuğun kimin çocuğu olduğu sorusuna cevap vermek zorundadır. Yere bir tebeşir dairesi çizer ve çocuğu ortasına koyar, kadınlardan kollarını tutup çekmelerini ister. İlk iki hikâyede olduğu gibi, çocuğunun incineceğini gören ‘gerçek’ anne, çocuğu bırakır, bunu gören yargıç çocuğu ‘gerçek’ anneye verir.
M.Ö. 7. yüzyıldan M.Ö. 14. yüzyıla kadar uzanan bu üç hikâyede, annenin ‘gerçekliği’ hiç tartışma konusu olmaz. İki iddia vardır, biri yalan, diğeri doğrudur ve bu iddiaların ‘doğruluğu’, annenin annelik içgüdüsü ya da onun iyiliği, şefkati, çocuğunun incinmesine izin vermemesi tarafından belirlenir. Bu açıdan hukuk sisteminde önceden tesis edilmiş bir hüküm yoktur; ‘Mater semper certa’ tartışmasız bir ilkedir. Ne zaman bir aksaklık olsa (ki bu son derece nadir görülür), karar tamamen yargıcın adalet (ya da hakkaniyet) duygusuna bırakılır. O da annelik sevgisini ve şefkatini sorgusuz sualsiz bir mutlak olarak kabul eder, öyle yargılar.

Ancak altı yüzyıl sonra işler değişmeye başlıyor.

[4] ve [5]: Bertolt Brecht tarafından dört yıl arayla yazılan ‘Augsburg Tebeşir Dairesi’ kısa öyküsü ve Kafkas Tebeşir Dairesi oyunu, Li Qianfu’nun 14. Yüzyılda yazdığı Tebeşir Dairesi’nden açıkça ‘yürütülmüştür’. (i) Ancak her başarılı edebi ‘hırsızlık’ta olduğu gibi, Brecht’in metinlerinde hikâyenin esasını çok önemli bir şekilde değiştiren ve ‘annelik’ kavramının yeniden düşünülmesini gerektiren çok önemli bir yenilik vardır. Her iki hikâye de aynı temel tartışmayı ileri sürer: ‘Gerçek’ anne, çocuğu doğuran değil, yetiştirendir: ‘Die Kinder den Mütterlichen, damit sie gedeihen’ (Çocuklar anacıl olana, ki büyüyüp gelişebilsinler). Brecht odadaki file adını vermiş olur böylece: Annelik ve Anacıllık, doğurmak ve büyütmek her zaman bir ve aynı şey değildir. Her iki hikâyede de çocuk, tehlike anında (birincisinde bir Protestan pogromu, ikincisinde bir köylü isyanı) ‘gerçek’ anne tarafından terk edilir. Her iki hikâyede de çocuk bir hizmetçi veya dadı tarafından kurtarılır ve büyütülür. Zaman içinde, baba öldükten ve tehlike de geçtikten sonra, ‘gerçek’ anne çocuğunu geri almak ister. Oysa annelik içgüdüsü çocuğunu terk ettiğinde görünüşe göre çoktan ortadan kalkmıştı. Şimdi tek endişesi (erkek çocuk aracılığıyla) üstüne konacağı mirasmış gibi görünmektedir. Her iki hikâyede de annenin kim olduğuna karar vermek yargıca (ya da ‘Kadıya’) düşer. O da problemi Li Qianfu tarafından icat edilen tebeşir dairesi yöntemini kullanarak çözer. Ancak bu sefer çocuğun çektiği acıya tahammül edemeyerek onu bırakan kadın, onu doğuran değil, büyüten kadındır. Yargıç, çocuğu ‘öz’ anneye değil, onu yetiştiren anneye verir.
Böylece ‘anneliği’, tıpkı Hazreti Süleyman gibi, ikiye bölmüş olduk. Elbette mesele annenin çocuktan bilerek ve isteyerek vazgeçtiği istisnai birkaç vaka olsa, kısa bir not düşüp devam ederdik; çünkü Brecht’in iki metninde de çocukların terk edilmesine neden olan büyük toplumsal olaylar, gerçekten istisnai durumlardır. Ancak Brecht’in metaforu, ‘annelik’ üzerine basit bir yorumdan daha fazlasını ifade eder; aynı zamanda sahip olma/sahip çıkma ile yetiştirme/yapma/üretme üzerine arasındaki çelişki hakkında daha geniş bir politik yorum barındırır içinde. ‘Çocuklar anacıl olana’ dedikten sonra gerçek amacını açıkça belirtir Brecht: Die Wagen den guten Fahrern, damit gut gefahren wird / Und das Tal den Bewässerern, damit es Frucht gett (Araba daha iyi sürücüye, daha iyi sürülsün diye / Vadi de onu sulayana, meyve verebilsin diye). Ancak, belki de yazarın niyetinden bağımsız olarak, Annelik hakkında önerdiği şey, sadece bir metafor olarak değil, aynı zamanda kelimenin gerçek anlamıyla da bugün için oldukça önemli olabilir: ‘Anne’ bir değil iki kişi (aslında üç, ama bu bir kenarda dursun şimdilik), basit bir hukuk meselesinin ötesinde, farklı kişiler olabilir bunlar, bazen de örtüşürler. Bu tartışma, on bin yılı aşkın bir süredir kendinden menkul olarak kabul ettiğimiz aile kavramını da sorunsallaştırır. Tıpkı Marx’ın 1845’te Feuerbach Üzerine Tezler’de (aynı zamanda bir metafor olarak) söylediği şeyin, şimdi harfi harfine gerçek olması gibi.
Ancak bu ‘gerçeğin’ kendini ifade etmesi için üretici güçlerde bir gelişmenin (aslında sadece bir gelişmenin değil, önemli bir sıçrama veya dönüşümün) gerçekleşmesi zorunludur. Bu da bizi 21. yüzyıla ait olan son iki metne getiriyor.

[6] Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Kanun ve Düzen: Özel Kurbanlar Birimi; genellikle Law & Order: SVU diye kısaltılıyor) 23 sezon ve 500’den fazla bölümden sonra hala yapımda olan bu dizi, iki popüler türü (Mahkeme Hikayesi ve Polisiye) başarıyla birleştirdiği için Amerikan televizyonunun en gözde dizilerinden biridir. Bu özellikle bizim konumuzla ilgili, çünkü ‘özel kurbanlar’ terimi tecavüz, aile içi şiddet ve çocuk istismarı kurbanlarını ifade eder. 2004 yılında yayınlanan altıncı sezonun ilk bölümünde ‘annelik’ kavramı yeni bir ışık altında tartışmaya açılır.
Çocuk bahçesinden bir çocuk kaçırılır. Güvenlik kamerası kayıtlarını izleyen detektiflerimiz, kaçıranı ve çocuğu bulurlar. Kaçıran kişi bir kadındır ve kendisinin ‘gerçek’ anne olduğunu iddia eder. Ancak çocuğun ‘gerçek’ ebeveynlerinin kim olduğu konusunda hiçbir kuşku yoktur: Zaten çocuk da kendisini kaçıranı hiç tanımaz ve nüfus cüzdanı, ailesinin ‘gerçek’ ebeveynleri olduğunu doğrular. Olay derinlemesine incelendiğinde, işlerin biraz daha karmaşık olduğu ortaya çıkar: çocuğu kaçıran kişi yıllar önce bir doğum kliniğine dondurulmuş yumurtalarını vermiştir ve bir süre sonra da bunlardan birinden bir çocuk ‘sahibi’ olmuştur. Ancak çocuğu yakın zamanda bir araba kazasında ölmüştür. Araştırma sürdükçe, sonuçları daha da kafa karıştırıcı hale gelir: Klinik, kısır kadınlara ‘tedavi’ adı altında ve kendilerine haber vermeden (yani tamamen kanuna aykırı olarak) kadının dondurulmuş, sağlıklı yumurtalarından üretilmiş ceninler vermiştir. Sonuçta, kaçıran kişinin çocuğun gerçekten de genetik annesi olduğu ortaya çıkar. Ancak onu doğuran ve büyüten de çocuğun annesi olarak bildiği diğer kadındır.
Böylece, Brecht’in ikiye böldüğü anne, şimdi bu yeni teknoloji ile üçe ayrılmış oldu: Genetik Anne, Doğuran Anne ve Yetiştiren Anne. Dava mahkemeye gider ve sonunda çocuğun da ifade vermesi gerekir. SVU detektiflerinden biri davanın kendi kendine çözüleceğini öngörür. Çünkü bu bir ‘Hazreti Süleyman’ın Adaleti’ sorunudur ve kadınlardan biri, çocuğun davanın acı ve travmatik sürecine maruz kalmaması için iddiasından vazgeçecektir. 20. yüzyılın sonları ve 21. yüzyılın başlarındaki Amerikan ve Avrupa kültür atmosferini saran abartılı genetik inancı burada da devreye girer: Genetik anne iddiasını geri çeker (ve böylece ‘gerçek’ anne olduğunu kanıtlar); çocuğu kaçırıp travmatize eden, gerçek annesinin kendisi olduğunu söyleyen, çocuğun bütün hayatını altüst eden o değilmiş gibi! Neyse ki, ABD Mahkemesi Süleyman (veya Gelecek Buda veya Qianfu ya da Brecht’in yargıçlarından biri) değildir de çocuk onu doğuran ve büyüten annesiyle kalır. Ancak bu yeni teknolojinin yarattığı yeni etik ve hukuki sorunlar çözülmemiş olarak sıralarını beklerler. ‘Annelik’ ve ‘aile’nin sorunsallaştırılmasındaki bir sonraki aşama için listemizdeki son maddeye bakmamız gerekiyor.

[7] 2009 ve 2016 yılları arasında yedi sezon yayınlanan The Good Wife (İyi Eş), Siyasi Entrika ve Mahkeme Hikayesi türlerini birleştiren popüler bir TV dizisidir. Sezon 5, bölüm 3’te (2013) benzer bir annelik tartışması çıkar karşımıza. ‘Annelik’ sorununu etik ve hukuki sonuçları itibariyle uç noktalara taşıyan ve belki de bildiğimiz anlamda ‘aile’nin tabutuna son çiviyi çakan bir davadır bu. Annenin fiziksel bir kusur nedeniyle bir fetüs taşıyamaması yüzünden çocuğu olmayan bir çift, taşıyıcı bir anne ile sözleşme yapar. Kadının yumurtası ve kocasının spermi yapay bir ortamda birleştirilir ve zigot taşıyıcı annenin rahmine yerleştirilir. Ancak hamileliğin altıncı ayında fetüsün ölümcül bir hastalığı olduğu, asla ‘normal’ olamayacağı ortaya çıkar; canlı doğsa bile en fazla iki yıllık bir yaşam süresi olacaktır ve bu ancak yoğun bakım koşullarında yaşayabilecektir. (Genetik) anne ve baba, taşıyıcı anneden kürtaj olmasını isterler, ancak taşıyıcı anne bebeğin canlı olduğunu (‘Tekmeliyor!’) ileri sürerek bunu reddeder. İçinde büyüyen bebekten asla vazgeçmeyecektir. Doğumdan sonra çocuğa bakacak mıdır peki? Hayır, kesinlikle böyle bir niyeti yoktur. Sözleşmeye göre, tabii ki çocuğu anne ve babasına verecek, böylece onlar da asla ‘sahip olamayacakları’ çocuklarının acı çekmesini ve ölmesini izlemek zorunda kalacaklar ve ayrıca yoğun bakım için büyük miktarda para ödeyeceklerdir. Chicago yasalarına göre kürtaj yasaldır, ancak bir kadını kürtaj yaptırmaya zorlamak (haliyle) mümkün değildir. Öte yandan, genetik ebeveynlere göre, ‘normal’ bir insan olamayacak olan (yani, benlik duygusuna sahip bir ‘özne’ye dönüşme potansiyeli olmayan) bir çocuğun doğması da anlamlı bir seçenek değildir; bu hayatlarını hem maddi hem de manevi açıdan mahvedecektir. Bölümün sonunda bu sorun da çözülmeden kalır. Bununla birlikte, vurguladığı etik ikilem, ‘annelik’ konusundaki tartışmamızı geliştirmemizde yardımcı olabilir.
Devamını okuyun

[i] Brecht’ten önce Li Qianfu’nun oyununun, Klabund (Alfred Henschke) tarafından yapılan Die Kreidekreis (Tebeşir Dairesi; 1925) adlı bir uyarlaması ve bu uyarlamaya dayanan bir Alexander von Zemlinsky operası (1933) vardı zaten. Oyunun Çince’den Almanca’ya ilk doğrudan çevirisi 1926’da A. Forke tarafından yayınlandı. Brecht muhtemelen tüm bu versiyonların (en azından Klabund’un versiyonunun ve doğrudan tercümenin) farkındaydı ve yorumlarını bunlara dayandırıyordu.

Gender Literature Popular Culture

As it came to pass, the much celebrated/criticised but in any case eagerly awaited ‘grand finale’ of The Game of Thrones TV series has been read as an ‘in-depth’ and extensive commentary on contemporary politics, complete with observations on populism, comparative government, democracy, feminism, multiculturalism and many more issues of our everyday lives, which accounts for the substantial popularity of the show.

It could indeed be read a commentary on all of these, but in the end, through the pompous albeit a bit rushed final episode, it boils down to an argument on the extensive effect of populism on our everyday lives: can a glorious leader, who is supposed to know beforehand what ‘the people’ needs, wants, is entitled to or deserves, achieve uncontested domination through conquest/violence and use their power in the interests of the people, eliminating all rivals who vie for such domination, branding them as elitists, self-serving tyrants, incompetent petty politicos and unworthy wannabes, but eradicating a considerable chunk of ‘the people’ as well in the process, not only as ‘collateral damage’, as is bound to happen in every violent revolution, but also as the target of his/her thirst for vengeance?

If we are to judge from the fan reaction in the social media, nobody was satisfied with this ending: most found it too rushed, many were frustrated by the tragic end of Daenerys, and nobody was very happy with the final political arrangement in Westeros. The two most popular protagonists, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen did not end in the seat of power (the former went far North, the latter was dead), the symbolic seat of power (the Iron Throne) was itself destroyed in the process, and the ‘Seven Kingdoms’ evolved into one Empire plus a small Kingdom in the North. The ‘Emperor’ (although still addressed as ‘the King’) was almost the opposite of a popular/populist leader, symbolically and physically impotent (paralysed from the waist down and infertile), hence permanently changing the structure of succession, delegating it to a oligarchy. Many (if not most) fans would prefer a Khaleesi ascension to the throne, despite the fact that she unmercifully decimated most of the capital city’s population although there was no resistance.

Very few really care about how ‘the people’ will carry on with their lives in the aftermath of the relentless struggle for political power (that took eight years even in real time) when the dust is finally settled, since Game of Thrones is a work of fantasy, and in (most) fantasy you don’t really produce anything, other than heroic or villainous deeds, wisecracks or aphorisms, anyway.

People without Production

Most fantasy literature and cinema (and most SF, for that matter), is built on an utter denial of the fact that there is something called ‘material production’. Because it is so boring, isn’t it? It is something we are escaping from: the tedious routine of our everyday lives, the nine-to-five (and sometimes more) of ordinary capitalism, the uninteresting jobs we are forced into, but have to pretend we willingly chose, all these are why we seek refuge in the dreamland of fantasy in the first place, where no one produces anything other than adventure, wars and intrigue. There is one exception to this: weapons and armour have to be produced (so that there can be adventure and wars), so every once in a while, we visit a blacksmith (or the vast Orcish weapon shops in The Lord of the Rings).

There are of course other significant exceptions: David Eddings’ Belgariad opens in a farm, where everybody labours in the fields or is engaged in some kind of productive activity, and the two main characters of the pentalogy, Garion and Polgara, are constantly working in the kitchen. Ged, the protagonist of the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin, was a goatherd in the Isle of Gont before he became a mage (and eventually the Archmage), and returns to Gont at the end of the third book, to become an ordinary working man, losing his power of magic, although still a protagonist (at least one of them) in the rest of the story.

In SF, things are a little different, but not much: in one of the earliest examples of the genre, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, there is a huge underground compound of factories, run by disfigured and ‘evil’ Morlocks, as contrasted to the naïve, childish and pastoral Eloi who do not work at all, which disparity is the central metaphor of the story anyway. In one of the better examples of SF TV series, Battlestar Galactica, we observe starships entirely allocated to production, as contrasted to the exclusively military Galactica, but that is almost all.

Ordinary working people seem not to exist (or to matter) in Fantasy and SF. Of course it is not much different in naturalistic (or mimetic) literature and cinema, but this is not our subject matter for the time being. Worse still, it is almost the same in narratives of history, and not only in the French sense either, histoire in French meaning both ‘story’ and ‘history’. It is against this ‘conception of history’ that Brecht wrote his famous 1935 poem, ‘Questions from a Worker Who Reads’:

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

In the same poem, he also has something to say about the writers of Fantasy:

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The people exist only as passive subjects (or rather, a single, enormous and nebulous subject) in Fantasy: protagonists think and act in their name from time to time, make decisions, declare and win (or lose) wars, and the more they play the part of ‘caring’ for them, the more we like these selfless heroes. We pretend to ‘escape’ from the boring, dull reality of everyday to dreamlands, but we bring the most boring ‘fact’ along with us: that there are two kinds of people; the ones who speak, act and matter, the protagonists, and the ones who have to be spoken for, who need heroes to act in their name, and do not matter except as a shapeless mass without wills of their own as persons. These agents/heroes use the swords and drive the chariots they make, dwell in houses and palaces they build, and drink wine from the vineyards they labour in, but the people only make an appearance in their stories as some kind of a ‘damsel in distress’, somebody who need saving. Saving from whom? we are bound to ask. Well, from the antagonists of course, who are also agents/anti-heroes, the mirror reflections of the heroes.

To be perfectly fair, in the better examples of Fantasy and SF, the distinction between the hero and the antagonist is not that black-and-white; there are many ‘shades of grey’, and, in the best of them, even different colours, allowing for a more complex character development, Tolkien’s protagonists (Frodo/Gollum, Gandalf/Saruman and even the short-lived Boromir) being the epitome of this. It is only in the later examples, however, especially in Le Guin, that the incontestable dualism between the protagonist/antagonist and the ‘ordinary’ people, as well as the fact that they exist almost entirely innocent  of/apart from material production, is opened to critical inquiry, Starting from the third book of her Earthsea cycle, for instance, Le Guin returns her almost all-powerful hero, Ged, to his home island, to give up his magic power and live the life of an common person, working and producing as an ordinary artisan. In her later Annals of the Western Shore cycle (Gifts, Voices and Powers), the protagonists with magical ‘gifts’ live among the common people, and their ‘gifts’ are continually contrasted with their everyday existence.

It Ends with a Bang

As usual, very few people were interested in the fact that throughout eight seasons of the Game of Thrones (73 episodes in eight years), there was no indication of how the common people lived their daily lives, how they worked and what they produced, and under which circumstances. When we saw ‘ordinary people’, it was either as ‘victims’ of mass violence (e.g. Season 8, Episode 5), or its perpetrators (e.g. Cersei’s ‘Walk of Shame’ in Season 5, Episode 10). The only ‘production’ scene we saw was (of course) the blacksmithing of the weapons that could kill the white walkers, the army of the dead, and the only ‘main character’ involved in it was Gendry Baratheon, who was very conveniently made a Lord later and inherited his father’s title which was denied to him because he was a ‘bastard’; thus he was forever liberated from such base and menial tasks. If we include ‘intellectual production’ (which we should), Samwell Tarly could be mentioned, who was a self-designated researcher, except that he was always the butt-end of a plethora of anti-intellectual jokes and intimidations all through the series, and an especially biting one in one of the final scenes (more on this later). Needless to say, he was also made a Lord and the Grandmaester in the end.

Immediately after the ultimate episode of the Game of Thrones st,was broadcast, many articles on the series were published, the overwhelming majority of which were critical of the last season and the ending. I will specifically focus on three of them, all presumably from a socialist/Marxist point of view, although none of them makes an effort to account for this lack of representation of the production process, and consequently its main agent, the labourers; they do not, however, fail to comment on its politics.[1]

Tüfekçi and Guy more or less agree on praising the first seven seasons of The Game of Thrones and criticising the last season as some kind of a deviation from this course. According to Tüfekçi, the first seven seasons represent a ‘sociological’ approach, telling the story from a ‘sociological and institutional’ point of view, in contrast to the ‘psychological and individual’ approach of the eighth. The argument itself is sound enough, except for the naming, the terminology: since my chosen field is Psychosocial Studies, I would strongly object to creating an artificial duality, sociological/psychological, as if these were terms for different and antagonistic world-views. In doing so, Tüfekçi (maybe involuntarily) accepts a popularised/populistic version of ‘psychology’, as branded by precisely the same establishment she criticises, and denigrates it, hoisting ‘sociology’ to a status akin to a Weltanschauung where it does not belong. The example she chooses is the story of Hitler:

The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history. Understanding Hitler’s personality alone will not tell us much about rise of fascism, for example. (Tüfekçi 2019)

Which is without a doubt correct, that is, as long as we accept the mainstream definition of ‘psychology’ as the endeavour to depict the personality traits or behavioural patterns of individuals isolated from the network of social and cultural relations they live in. There is, however, another ‘psychology’, e.g., the mass psychology of the Italian and German people between the two wars (as represented, for instance, in Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism), not to mention the many intersections between anthropology, Gender Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Marxism and psychoanalysis, and that brand of psychology indeed tells us a lot about the rise of fascism. Furthermore, no ‘sociological’ approach alone is sufficient to understand the function and transformation of institutions and masses, without taking into account this brand of ‘psychology’. The supposedly self-evident split between sociology and psychology as forcibly isolated ‘scientific’ disciplines within the strictly compartmentalised ‘scientific’ discourse of today, makes both rather useless by themselves.

Having said this, I would of course concede the fact that there is an easily observable difference between the first seven seasons and the last, although I would rather interpret this divergence using Brechtian terms, as a shift from the epic to the (melo)dramatic. The Brechtian epic/dramatic distinction, however, should rather be seen as a scale rather than a mutually exclusive dualism: The Game of Thrones was not strictly an epic-dialectic narrative ever, and it did not exactly end up in pure melodrama, although there is a distinct shift from the former to the latter. This shift may not be as radical in content as Simon Guy seems to believe:

The radical critique of class society and colonialism intrinsic to earlier seasons of Game of Thrones was replaced more recently with an individualised tale of psychology, characterised by a deep fear of its original revolutionary potential. (Guy 2019)

Having started reading the novels even before there was an idea of the TV show (and of course, having watched the show in its entirety), I would say assigning ‘revolutionary potential’ and ‘radical critique of class society and colonialism’ to it is a bit of an over-interpretation. Admittedly, it was radical enough to represent an at least pseudo-Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt in earlier seasons as contrasted to the last season, in which simplistic, quick and barely-explained fluctuations of behaviour and emotion observable in many main characters, intended to create a cheap emotional response, an easy catharsis in the audience, took over. George R.R. Martin, however, is hardly a Bertolt Brecht in his understanding and representation of class societies; he is rather a (fairly good) fantasy writer with a healthy rage against social injustice, pointless wars for domination and a grotesque lust for power, none of which makes one ‘revolutionary’ per se. But this is all we can expect from Martin: his political ideology fluctuates between the defence of a cursory democratic position and a yearning for a meritocratic order under the guidance of an enlightened despot. To be sure, Martin is not the sole ‘proprietor’ of the show. Although he is involved in every aspect of the production, HBO and the showrunners/writers (Weiss & Benioff) probably had the last word in ‘wrapping up’ the show in a hurry to make time for spinoffs, prequels and/or sequels, and convert the growing popularity of the show into quick cash. Coupled with Martin’s already not-too-firm ideological hold over the huge epic cosmos he created, this undue haste practically ‘ruined’ the last season, at least for many fans.

Žižek’s critique is more extensive, and in especially one respect, more ‘ideologically loaded’. The reference to Stephen King, that the fans were annoyed not at this specific ending but at the fact that there was an ending at all, is a sound argument, revealing the open-ended quality of the universes created in fantasy literature and film. Of course this does not mean that any fantasy novel (or TV series) should not ever end, although some fantasy and SF writers seem to be attempting this impossible task: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was an effort in this direction, going on for fourteen volumes, and only ended with the death of the author. It would rather mean that any ending or denouement should not also terminate the open-endedness of the universe, drain its options and reduce its possible paths and alternate courses of progress to one, that is, to the one which has just ended. What the final season of The Game of Thrones has done is mostly this in its haste to ‘wrap it up’ (except for some possibilities for sequels, which seem to be necessitated for business purposes rather than a respect for the open-endedness of the fantasy universe), and so the fans have every right to be annoyed, even if they cannot pinpoint precisely what it is that they are annoyed at.

With his critique of the Wagnerian renunciation of female lust for power, I would cautiously agree, maybe calling for a little more attention to the character of Arya, who never made a bid for political power, but nevertheless held more ‘power’ in her hands (at one point saving the entire world of the living), and at the same time successfully refusing to be used by any kind of political power, male or female alike. Unlike the other female protagonists, Arya has never been a nice girl bent on survival (Sansa), a ruthless Machiavellian (perhaps the most ‘Wagnerian’ of them all, Cersei), or a victim with a blind faith in her Birthright and ‘destiny’ (Daenerys). The female protagonist closest to Arya is Brienne of Tarth, the supposedly ‘masculinised’ female knight. Arya, however, differentiates herself even from Brienne, since after they both have their first forays into sexuality in the final season, Brienne loses most of her ‘power’, helplessly crying after her ‘man’ but unable to do anything to assert her former commanding self, while Arya becomes even more powerful with the realisation of feminine sexuality. Her vigilante/feminine power superficially resembles Jessica Jones’ in its ‘darkness’, but she is a better match for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the girl who never uses her power to dominate others, always has her mentors and comrades alongside her, and in the end shares the power with everywoman who have a will to bear it.

Vox Populi, Vox Tyranni?

The final point in Žižek is the one I most severely disagree with: his characterisation of Daenerys as ‘the only social agent in the series who really fought for something new, for a new world that would put an end to old injustices.’ Although he puts a fine point on it by adding ‘old’ to ‘injustices’ with characteristic Žižekian subtle wit, intimating that he is aware of the fact that the Daeneryen ‘new world’ would have had its own share of injustices as well, it is apparent that he sees Daenerys Targaryen as some kind of a true revolutionary force to be reckoned with:

And one cannot help but note that those faithful to Daenerys to the end are more diverse – her military commander is black – while the new rulers are clearly white Nordic. The radical queen who wanted more freedom for everyone irrespective of their social standing and race is eliminated, things are brought back to normal. (Žižek 2019)

We can concede that the claim that Daenerys ‘wanted more freedom for everyone’ is supported by the fact that she ‘freed the slaves’. We should not, however, forget the fact that it was in another continent! In Westeros, where she sought her Birthright, that is, absolute power over the entire continent, there was no systemic slavery at all. The question becomes, therefore, what was her ‘program’, so to speak, to provide ‘more freedom for everyone irrespective of their social standing and race’? And speaking of Westeros, it is important to remember that there were no ‘races’ there, everyone, including the hitherto excluded ‘Northlings’ belonged to the white race, except for the rather ‘brownish’ Southerners, which difference does not enter the text as a ‘difference’ at all. Admittedly, the fault belongs to George R.R. Martin rather than Daenerys, who imagined an all-white continent, limiting the black race to the ‘other’ continent of Essos. Daenerys ‘freed’ them, not because she was some kind of Moses of Martin Luther King Jr., but to transform the Unsullied, the former slave-soldiers, into mercenaries frantically loyal to herself (rather than the slave-owners).

We can understand what ‘freedom’ means for Daenerys in her very last words to Jon Snow.

Jon: What about all the other people who think they know what’s good?
Daenerys: They don’t get a choice.

So, Daenerys wants ‘freedom’ for people, only as long as she is the only one to ‘know’ what is good for them. What is ‘freedom’, one is bound to ask, if it is not thinking about or imagining what is ‘good’, or what constitutes a ‘good life’, and actively trying to accomplish it? The standard argument here would be that Daenerys did not mean ‘people’, but other Lords, Ladies, Maesters, would-be Kings and Queens: people who have the time and means to ‘think’ what is good for the people, but not the ordinary people themselves. They are too much concerned with everyday survival anyway; left to themselves, they would never go about ‘thinking’ or trying to ‘know’ what is ‘good’, until and unless another war comes about, when they would again be too much concerned with another kind of survival, simply staying alive and escaping the dragon-fire of their saviours. If in the end a new ruler provides them with a slightly better life and means, they should be thankful. ‘Freedom’, in this scheme, is strictly the business of the ‘elite’.

We can, therefore, see that after a wide detour of fantasy (or should we call it traversée du fantasme?), we arrive exactly at the place where we started, at what everybody is talking about these days, populism. Let’s ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’, Žižek is not unaware of this: ‘Daenerys [is] a new type of a strong leader, a kind of progressive bonapartist acting on behalf of the underprivileged.’ (Žižek 2019) The argument here should be, of course, whether any Bonapartist can ‘act […] on behalf of the underprivileged’ or merely pretends doing so, but this is the subject matter of a much longer and much more detailed discussion.

The argument, however, that Daenerys Targaryen had intended to prohibit the involvement of the ‘elite’ in deciding what is ‘good’ for the people and thus ‘setting them free’, is the perfect populist one (doesn’t matter whether ‘right’ or ‘left’, ‘reactionary’ or ‘progressive’) and it is not to be accepted lightly (or rejected in a hurry). The much cherished leader of the Spanish ‘Podemos’, Pablo Iglesias, arguably a very good representative of ‘left populism’ for many political commentators, had already observed the relevance of The Game of Thrones to his movement in 2014, unfortunately for him, without knowing the end:[2]

Daenerys manages to empower herself as a vulnerable woman in a world hostile to women. In order to do that, however, she must have the power to conquer entire Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms, on the backs of her armies and her dragons, or else the peace she conquers for herself as a woman and for the slaves, will only be temporary: the weak need the power of the throne, public power, more than the strong, who already have their own private power for oppressing the weak and defend themselves against their likes. She knows that for any political (not merely moral) project, there is no legitimacy without power. (Iglesias 2014)

The actual ultimate episode, however, can only be read as an argument in the opposite direction. In order to conquer power and the legitimacy that comes along with it, Daenerys devastates the entire capital city, although its people do not offer any resistance, burning most of its inhabitants in dragon fire, proving once again that in order to gain power for and in the name of ‘the people’, one has to get rid of the ‘people’, not as a concept, but as a multitude of human beings. Furthermore, she does this in a way that leaves no room for the tired old argument that those who were killed were ‘counterrevolutionaries’ or those that opposed the change, or ‘terrorists’, or ‘foreign agents’. She kills them, simply because she can.

This seemingly ‘inhuman’ act telescopes many past revolutions and their aftermaths into a single act, and hence could be rightly criticised as an oversimplification. We should think, however, of the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reign of Terror (officially 1793-1794, but actually 1792-1796) that followed it: what Daenerys did was to telescope the two events that were stretched over almost a decade, together in a matter of hours. In the Russian Revolution, the destruction extends over the entire Stalin Era, almost 30 years, starting from his grabbing power and legitimacy in late 1920s until his demise. Even the farcical figure of Louis Bonaparte grabs power in 1852, and after 18 years of comparative calm, he almost causes the destruction of Paris in a pointless war. Populism almost always destroys the people in the end, and Daenerys demonstrates this in a nutshell.

In ‘rejecting’ the populist argument, therefore, the last episode of The Game of Thrones quickly (in a matter of minutes) introduces a set of alternatives, ridicules and dismisses one of them (Samwell’s call for ‘representative democracy’ in a feudal order), rejects a return to the status quo pro ante, and summarily decides on a kind of Magna Carta, where an oligarchy decides on who will be the supreme ruler in every generation, abandoning the concept of ‘Birthright’. In doing so, it also dismisses the idea of an all-inclusive Empire (the North becomes an independent kingdom). Even this short argument among the ‘elite’ should make us realise the fact that ‘Queen’ Daenerys had not intended to be a Queen after all, but an Emperox (a non-gendered Emperor/Empress, to borrow a term from John Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy), because victorious (proto-)populism unerringly ends up in Empire, in its various incarnations of Caesarism, Bonapartism (of both Bonapartes, the first victorious and tragic in the end, and the second ridiculous but still tragic in the end), Stalinism and Nazism.

We can (and should) discuss the fortunes and misfortunes of populism at length, to our heart’s content. Pro or con, the very fact that this discussion has become so central to our lives and theoretical endeavours, that we can see nothing but its validation or refutation in the ‘ending’ of a TV show, is proof enough that it is more than a purely theoretical or political matter. It has become something that touches most of us emotionally, and this emotion is nothing but fear: we fear disorder, we dread the chaos of revolution, rebellion or any kind of destructive transformation, and we are horrified of the directionless (or misdirected) violence of the masses. Accept it or not, we are also terrorised by the prospect of the planet which we have vandalised for centuries may finally hit back, and we cannot make amends without a massive, coordinated effort. We have all read about the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, when everybody was happily guillotining each other in front of cheering masses. We have seen the Russian Revolution turning into a Stalinist dictatorship where even the victims were complicit in victimising themselves. We have seen many revolutions and ‘wars of independence’ in Asia, South America and Africa, ending up in worse dictatorships, massacres and some in open genocides. However radical our words may be, we all are terrorised, and some of us, even in a fantasy universe, have started (albeit under our breath) to pray for Lacan to be completely wrong, that there may be a ‘Big Other’ somewhere after all, an omniscient Philosopher King, a firm-handed but benevolent Glorified Father, an Enlightened Despot to listen to our counsel, somebody!

Žižek’s sympathy for Daenerys and his portrayal of her as some kind of an Enlightened Despot, a revolutionary, is understandable in this sense, and it is completely in line with his recent (or maybe not so recent) turn towards a desperate acceptance (ironic maybe, but nevertheless acceptance) of some kind of meritocratic communism under a Benevolent Ruler. As for myself, I still have no hopes for (or excessive dread of) a Big Other. Whatever will happen, we will make it happen, not with/as the ‘people’ the populists promote and endorse, which does not exist anyway (‘Le peuple n’existe pas’), but with/as a different people, not a presumed homogeneous unity, but divided and scattered, split and broken. Or, in other words, we should (re)start thinking and acting in terms of different and fundamentally conflicted entities presumably within ‘the people’, genders, races, sexual (and also various other) orientations, but most of all (horror of horrors!) classes. No ‘Big Other’, no meritocracy, no Benevolent Ruler, in short, no ‘Populist’ movement or leader (either from the left or from the right) can address the needs and wants of all these groups at the same time; it can only pretend to do so, and in so doing endorse and promote the regime of untruth that is already in effect.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), one of the most ingenious spoofs of epic fantasy, there is a scene where King Arthur (portrayed by the late and much lamented Graham Chapman) runs into a couple of peasants working by the roadside. In the dialogue that ensues, he cannot seem to convince them that he is indeed their ruler. The Old Woman (portrayed by the late and much lamented Terry Jones) completely ignores him, convinced that they are living in some kind of an anarchist community. Dennis, the other peasant (Eric Idle), argues otherwise:

KING ARTHUR: […] We are all Britons and I am your king.
OLD WOMAN: Oh! I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
DENNIS: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship, a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes…
OLD WOMAN: There you are, bringing class into it again!
DENNIS: That’s what it’s all about. If only—

Arthur represents one of the most popular/beloved figures in English history everybody is nostalgic about: he is almost a democratic sovereign, an enlightened monarch, ruling by common consent, with a structured body of counsel (the Knights of the Round Table) and a renowned sage as his mentor (Merlin). Very few people think about how his reign concludes, in a devastating war with his own son (born of incest), in almost simultaneous filicide/patricide (the stories of Oedipus and Orestes rolled into one), which leaves the entire land in ruins. In this respect, Monty Python have every right to ridicule this unconditional love of the English People for this monarch, which boils down to the desperate need for a Glorified Father, and Dennis (Idle) appropriately demystifies this by pointing out ‘class’, a concept almost always neglected in the search for a popular/populist leadership and enlightened meritocracy.

 

[1] These articles are ‘The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones’ by Zeynep Tüfekçi (in Scientific American, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-real-reason-fans-hate-the-last-season-of-game-of-thrones/?redirect=1); ‘Game of Thrones tapped into fears of revolution and political women – and left us no better off than before’ by Slavoj Žižek (in The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/game-thrones-season-8-finale-bran-daenerys-cersei-jon-snow-zizek-revolution-a8923371.html) and ‘The hollowing out of Game of Thrones’ by Simon Guy (in Socialist Review; http://socialistreview.org.uk/447/hollowing-out-game-thrones).

[2] It is significant to observe that on the cover of the book he edited on The Game of Thrones, Ganar o morir: Lecciones políticas en Juego de Tronos (2014), we see a picture of Iglesias himself seated on the Iron Throne. See Hans-Georg Betz, ‘Populist mobilization across time and space’, 197 in Hawkins et. al. (2014).

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