şkl, Deniz Gül

narrator Deniz Gül
term şkl
published June 2021, Istanbul

In times in which continuity doesn’t allow for any constancy within the velocity of the epoch, even the deconstructed post- versions of notions such as identity, history, and truth disappear in the flow of information, and things manifest themselves with retrospective references, let’s take a look at an old word. The origin of the word şekil [ʃekil] is rooted in the Arabic şakl شكل z [şkl]. Şekil which means shape, form, feature, appearance is şaklīl/şiklīl שכלל z [kll] in Aramaic, which implies completion, shaping, adornment; is şuklulu [kll] in Akkadian, which means to complete, whole or completion, fulfilment.


Şekil in Turkish refers to an image or a shape visualising certain mathematical entities or used for demeanour, attitude, path, manner, style or else a particular way through which a concept, idea, or event is differentiated or a whole that is configured. The sound ensemble ş k l and all its relevant contexts has given shape to various concepts and words such as eşkâl [eʃkal] – depiction, description; teşekl [teʃekkyl] – figuration, configuration; teşkil [teʃkil] – organisation, formation; şkül [myʃkyl] – ambiguous; şâkul [ʃakyl] – plumb. It is thus worth examining the ensemble ş k l and the related words as mediums or singularities, as the word şekil is literally attuned with morphology, both in biology and linguistics.


Şekil with its simplicity and impartiality precedes emojis, signs and symbols. Geometric şekil is the name given to 2-d polygons (with a determined space and circumference). However, şekil doesn’t necessarily require a space or a volume, a letter of an alphabet is şekil as well. Şekil as an intermediary unit organising a notion or as an incomplete notion, embodies a certain dynamism (transference or morphology), yet it is a feature which is apparent in its relation to here and now (time-space) – in a way that is akin to taking a photograph. A definition assigned to a part of a whole, a shape: a drawn contour. One might say that it is a form which often indicates the content without intervening or embodying it. It is flat and very much on the surface; a signifier that is not interested in the inherent or doesn’t investigate it, but rather observes the → situated. It exists with connotations that are as much collective (looks, trends) as personal, as abstract as archaic – a pyramid can tell us much about Egypt, but is also an abstraction and geometric shape. A word to meld singularity and multiplicities… It can be used in myriad ways in a lot of contexts and always with its reference to the contemporary – with some possible → translations being: image, figure, shape, form, mould, feature, manner, configuration, style, fashion, model, way, format, and mode. With its poetic articulations and its affinity to arousals derived by word of mouth, to slang and metaphors; with it being completely ungraspable, its openness to interpretation, we can say that it is a seductive, shimmering word. For example: “You’ve pulled a şekil” or “What is şekil?” More like what’s up here, asking the mode, with the insight of the appointed subject’s enclosing what’s around, as a container. What is the colour, atmosphere, texture, dynamic of the environment? While the effects are affecting one another, it’s a state that appears in an unbiased, incomplete fashion that nevertheless suggests completion. If we were to remember the famous line of Bruce Lee, “Be water, my friend”, then the carrier of the water can be interpreted as şekil, and this suggests total flexibility and fluidity regardless of fixation.


Yet it’s also an interesting word that can’t be single-handedly covered by an interpenetrating “look”, one that is not essentialist yet still contains a reference to physical or conceptual volumes along with conscious or unconscious, known or unknown protocols – a modulation of effects. How can şekil, namely ş k l, be thought of within the proposed framework of the conference: “subjectivisation”?


Obviously, there is a particular perspective in question here. Movement: displacement, shapeshifting; estimates of time, space and moment are integral to this perspective. What are the (sub)(ob)jects that are all along shapeshifting through potential articulations, attitudes, positions, and situations that can only be thought of in relationship to systems + conditions? How can we think of these (sub)(ob)jects especially via multiple historicities via multiple configurations – what are our resistance and/or support points considering our modalities, ways, manners, forms, of voicing, of being actant? “Events are interconnected and they are cyclical processes; we are in a web. And our singularity is also in the web; thousands of chemical reactions live through simultaneous processes within our cells.”[1] In this context, how can we monitor the involvement and effects of such a sound ensemble? Thinking that language is very much like a biological or a mathematical abstract zone that is always being constructed and reconstructed, I take the act of uttering a word here as if we are on an irregular playing field where shapes shift, bend, meld, etc., and boundaries are → negotiated.


In order to portray such a perspective perhaps it’s important to say that my practice is very much shaped by an object-oriented ontology, and I deal with objects, space and time and thus language. How does the body remove itself from a given frame, a construct, a repertoire? By displacing? By breaking the continuity it is in?… Take movement, which only ever corresponds to its → temporality. The inconsistency and uncertainty of the body cannot be separated from its movement. To give an example, and this is from Timothy Morton, one morning you wake up in another city, in another house. The objects that surround you are → unknown and unrecognisable. The door handle, refrigerator, the location of the window, the sunlight’s slant into the room… Morton says, “Then you realise how much your world was just a sensual object. Then it strikes you that your regular world was itself a kind of displacement of certain real object(s). The sense of place is already a displacement.”[2]


Let’s not take the word literally and discuss it further. We must elaborate the ways that a concept provides, dropping the frame of dominance, power and hierarchy. Mohammed El-Kurd, interviewed by CNN in the midst of Israel’s mounting violence, illegitimate occupation and ethnic displacement of Palestinians (May 2021), “displaces” the interviewer’s biased, inaccurate framing via the subject that he is. The way he embodies himself as a subject, and the subjectivity of the Palestinian people along with it, is through the way of language. He articulates and changes the narrative when in fact he and his people are the ones that are displaced, and/or dispossessed in the most brutal ways. He corrects the interviewer, stating “this is not eviction, this is a war crime”. When the CNN interviewer asks El-Kurd: “Do you support the violent protests that have erupted the → solidarity with you? And other families that are in your position right now?”, El-Kurd answers: “Do you support the violent dispossession of me and my family?” There then comes a pause, three-seconds of silence. The CNN interviewer rephrases her question: “I’m just asking if you support the protests that are taking place in support of your family?” El-Kurd repeats the lapse, a second of silence, and answers: “I support. I support popular protests taking place against ethnic cleansing, yes.” The actual brutality of displacement is displaced once and for all with this speech-act.


Objects/subjects/words are not in time and space; objects are predicates, they “place” and “time” things. In other words, they fabricate time and space. Objects/subjects/words are adjustments of associations in language. They are not complete occurrences, but ongoing events and interactions.


We’ve discussed the word şekil in the section above. Now let’s take a closer look at the word şakul: A thread with a weight attached to it that shows the direction of gravity when it’s suspended. A reference point… Another word, şekala [ʃekala] – meaning “weight”. This Arabic word is derived from the Aramaic/Assyrian word şāūl שָׁקוּל – heavy. It has the same root with the Hebrew verb şāal שקל – weighing. What’s interesting here is to see how the object, termed şakul, and the attribute for that object, heavy, and the act that comes along with it, weighing, are attuned in such an ontology. We are moving around a noun, an adjective, and a verb, as well as around ş k l.


Predicates and nouns do not switch just like that. Who is What and What is Who? “Arabic is a highly flexional language, in that the same root can lead to various forms according to its context.”[3] Arabic script usually does not encode short vowels. Diacritics (short vowels), placed either above or below the root indicate “the phonetic information associated with each letter, which helps in clarifying the sense and meaning of the word. A simple Arabic word could mean flag, knowledge, teach etc.”[4] The meaning of the word is derived from the context of the sentence. It is as if the word is a unit that is a composition, a matter or an object – the complex morphology is the analyses of possible morpho-syntactic features (i.e., part of speech, gender, number, time, person, etc.) This introduction to Arabic is my departure point, moving towards ş k l’s Turkish variants. The Latin alphabet was introduced to our language at the beginning of the 20th century, and in what follows I present some words with this Arabic root ş k l (we do not have root system our alphabet) in Turkish.


Such events that could be made by switching the letters' positions in a root here converts to fixed words (bodies). We might as well take ş k l as our sub/ob/ject, and I’m proposing a concept to follow with no regards to any linguistic rule. It is a visual abstraction per se. Sounding the words with the indicated vowels, the meaning is not that slippery nor ambiguous. şkül as the state in question doesn’t reveal its şekil, it is yet an undefined realm with challenges and obstacles. How about işkil [iʃkil]? Suspicion, even delusion… We proceed without fixating on the narrative nor the description. And so eşkâl is a figuration that covers all the details that might reveal the perpetrator in a crime scene, while teşkil or teşekl are investigations of structuring, organisation, and systems. Şükela is more like a slang term suggesting that everything came together in the greatest possible way – don’t assume it is in any official Turkish glossary.


However, it is still possible to pierce through such terms and see a pattern. Now take ş k l as a guidance, pattern, trace, and feedback loop, as resistance, as support and so on. The truth is: We never see the object. We see the light altered by the object. “In object-oriented ontology (ooo), things are almost encrypted. Footprints are patterns where absence, loss, emptiness glows in a realistic magic that contains an archaeological past. The mystery of things is ontological.”[5] It’s as if the words are somewhat permeable and if we drop the pattern which we recognise as ş k l we would strangely find ourselves in the layered/over-imposed realm of what José Esteban Muñoz would call → queer utopia or queer futurism, where we might take a look at ephemera as evidence – traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things.


I mentioned earlier the notion of how, rather than what – this encompassing of both how and what, taking the word as an intermediary unit organising a notion or an incomplete notion, embodying a dynamism yet also as a feature which is apparent in its relation to here and now and also then and there – in a way that is akin to taking a photograph. While discussing our subjectivities we can imagine humans experiencing things from a certain position, as in the photographic imagery of things. Of course, photographs are everywhere. There is never just the one photograph. Like the atoms that weave the universe, images are subject to motion at all times, in all directions. As subjects with our undefined, indeterminate zones, we become screens of this translucent photograph of the whole.


Suggesting simplifying the word to its root body in this example, in order to sense what’s really happening, takes us out from the trapped subjectivities within the limiting normative time and present. The theme “subjectivisation” can thus be discussed in ways through the words that are sampled above, within the axes of modality, affect and perspective. I’m proposing ş k l as a totality with unfixed, slippery boundaries and models that don’t subjectify the individual, but take the individual within assemblages and anomalies that can be traced along with dynamisms of “here and now”s and “then and there”s, so to speak.


Some parts of this text were written by the author in English and some in Turkish, with the latter translated to English by Gülşah Mursaloğlu.

[1] Deniz Gül, There is life between us (+transparency) (Istanbul: Notonly Publications, 2020).

[2] Timothy Morton, Realist Magic, Objects, Ontology, Causality (London: Open Humanities Press, 2013).

[3] Ines Turki Khemakhem, Salma Jamoussi, Abdelmajid Ben Hamadou, “Arabic morpho-syntactic feature disambiguation in a translation context”, Proceedings of SSST-4, Fourth Workshop on Syntax and Structure in Statistical Translation, COLING 2010, Beijing (August 2010).

[4] Rehab Alnefaie, Aqil M. Azmi, “Automatic Minimal Diacritization of Arabic Texts”, 3rd International Conference on Arabic Computational Linguistics, Dubai (5–6 November 2017).

[5] Gül (2020).