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'To lie down to death for days'

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On 20 October 2000, the longest and most deadly hunger strike in modern history began in prisons throughout Turkey. Organized as a response to the government's plans to develop and construct new so-called 'F-type' prisons - in which prisoners are isolated from one another, from legal advocates and from family members - the strike was also intended to challenge several recently-enacted 'anti-terrorism' policies that have resulted in thousands of arrests. In a country where political prisoners make up roughly one-sixth of the total prison population, and where a long history of prison torture has been criticized by a wide range of outside human rights groups, the hunger strike sees little chance of achieving its goals: convincing government officials to repeal the official legislation and to reconsider its shift to the F-type prison system. Nonetheless, the Strike has continued for well over two years, and has claimed at least 107 lives. This essay is intended to explore the political effects and performative value of a mode of resistance (1) founded on the eventual death of many, if not all, of its practitioners and (2) ineffective in eventuating its desired changes. By definition, hunger striking is an unsustainable form of resistance; and yet, the Turkish strikers have continued to fast far longer than anticipated, and seem to be willing and able to continue indefinitely. How are cultural meanings and political currencies of Hunger Striking reformulated in such a radically changed temporal context? In a practice that so dramatically fuses the subject and object of state violence into a single body (and at the behest of such a maligned community), what kind of political subject is produced, and how is her/his relationship to the state redefined? And finally, how might political efficacy be redefined in the case of the Turkish strike, and by the performative value of various attempts to represent the strike in the context of European assimilation?
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Keywords: Turkey; hunger striking; performance; performativity; political subjectivity; prison

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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