Off state An introductory attempt


Off state: An introductory attempt

Özlem Savaş


Off state is homeless. Its destiny is ambivalence, uncertainty, and disorientation. Off means departure, separation, exile, exclusion, dismissal, and loss. At the same time, it means refusal, withdrawal, resistance, and struggle. At times, it means not being party to what is happening. One might fall into an off state; while at other times, one might prefer, might embrace it. In any case, off state reveals pathways, the other possibilities, that have not been realized, perhaps looked at but not seen, or seen but disregarded. To be off the road, which has been more or less constructed, at least roughly traced, inevitably engenders loss. On the other side, when off the beaten track, one might find one’s self at unforeseen places, next to people in a similar state, and loose heart to what can be done altogether. Off state is troubled, at the same time drawing near hope.  


Reflection Series begins with an issue devoted to such state of life and mind, that gives Off-University its name and background. In their contribution, “Off-University. Where the name comes from,” Tuba İnal Çekiç and Julia Strutz mention various off states of Off-University: Off the campus, off the road, off the home, off the stage, and an adventurous and transformative alternative.  Essays, stories, and visual and audio art works in this issue explore diverse meanings and experiences of off state and contemplate imaginations, possibilities, and potentialities they can bring about.  


In this issue, we followed the dispersed, blurry, complicated, and confusing off state. We aspired to see wherever we can possibly go, when following a turbulent and unsettled state that is nothing like a guide. Rather than presenting a consistent and unified narrative, we wanted to unfold off state across diverse ways of understanding, knowing, creating, and expressing. While playing with the potential meanings of these three letters coming together in an English word, those who know Turkish language and a bit about its songs went far enough to contemplate the mountains over there. Most contributions in this issue start with a long sigh: Off…


Off state refers to dislocation and exile. In his essay, “Eksik bir hikaye bu” (This is a broken story), İsmail Edre describes exile as “grief of both the left and the stayed ones.” He compares his exilic experience to the case of trees that are dislocated from their grounds and relocated in other lands. Therefore, Edre picks pieces of trees from here and there and makes lamps with them, out of respect for sculptors and botanists and for a bit more light.


Off state refers to loss. It means losing people, places, familiarities, and meanings. Also lost are what we know or think we know, as İsmail Edre says, or the glamour of capabilities, as Hakan Altun writes. Therefore, off state refers to deprivation. At times it means lack of what has been once acquired, other times a lifetime deprivation. In his story “Çamaşır ipi” (Clothes line), Cem Nalbant looks at the most concrete case of deprivation, a thick poverty that does not leave a crack for dream, escape, and hope to seep through.


Feelings of loss and getting lost are troubles of the memory of off state. In her essay/story, “#SayHerName or the murder scene,” Melehat Kutun portrays the theme of loss through trauma, which she describes as an unrelieved wound and a never-ending off state. Strolling around temporal locus of trauma and on-scene, she looks at “a pain in the neck” off state, which restrains or obliterates. Off state as destruction is also the focus of Ertuğrul Mavioğlu’s essay ‘Off-media or the funeral of media” on an entirely different subject matter. Examining media in Turkey from 1980s to present, Mavioğlu discusses how forms of media that are controlled by the capital and the governments have been eradicated. 


Off as a state of annihilation manifests itself also in the audio narrative ‘The story of prickly pears’ by Serra Özhan-Hocaoğlu and Mert Hocaoğlu from the Dystopic Symptoms collective. This musical piece tells the story of a continuing life at somewhere, left once upon a time due to political conflicts. The story arises right on time, when we realize by experience of a virus pandemic the need to rethink humans and the other inhabitants of earth through their relationalities.


The two video works that look towards forms of relationality rather than centering on humans demonstrate spatiality and temporality of off state. In her video, “On,” Ezgi Türker looks at spatiality of on and off states by examining how things position themselves through their relations with each other. In her video ‘Garden’ Ayfer Karabıyık shows suspension of time by extending and shrinking temporalities. 


Off is a state of uncertainty, ambivalence, and turbulence. In Hakan Altun’s essay, we confront with an off state that strolls around “cross roads, dead-end streets and labyrinths of the remembered and the dreamed.” The focus of Eylem Ejder’s essay is on an off state that sways between “nostalgia and utopia, longing and desire, disappointment and hope, reality and dream.” Out of its  turbulent in-betweenness, off state sparks possibilities for creating something new and alternative.  


In his essay, titled “Tuvalet kağıdının aksinden ırkçılığa bakmak ya da post-‘Alman’ tiyatrosu için radikal alternatifler” (Looking at racism through its reflection on toilet paper or alternatives for a post-‘German’ theater),  Hakan Altun describes off state as “the opponent of whatever stands in the center” and regards it as a potential to struggle with mediocrity and normativity. He contemplates chances of subalterns to come together on the basis of commonality of  oppression and create an off- theater movement, which is able to decenter theater in Germany. Bearing in  mind the wine instead of singular grapes, Altun’s essay invites to a quest for collective imaginations and actions that off state can bring about.


In “Off-Dramaturgiler: Türkiye tiyatrosu üzerine bir deneme” (Off-Dramaturgies: An essay on theater in Turkey), Eylem Ejder discusses how the motif of ‘play inside a play” that currently emerges in theater in Turkey and manifests itself with a rehearsal narrative can bring about hopeful possibilities. By “Off-Dramaturgy,” she suggests an incomplete, playful, and adventurous narrative and a collaborative activity that rests on potentialities of gaps and breaks rather than aiming towards a final definitive destination. Ejder asks: Is off state of theater “a never-ending rehearsal of contemplating the world anew?


What brings off state near hope are intersections and commonalities prompted by experiences of exile, loss, deprivation, annihilation, uncertainty, and ambivalence, among others. Publication date of this first issue of Reflection Series unexpectedly coincides with a global off state caused by a virus pandemic.  On the one hand, we live through times when all lives become upside down; on the other, we witness reproduction of geographic, economic, class, and gender inequalities. Thus, we realize once more that we should not be mistaken to homogenize different and unequal conditions, while searching for commonalities of feelings and experiences and thinking about their potentialities. All contributions to this issue situate off experiences they address in their historical, local, political, individual, and social specificities. 


In short, off state means departure from familiar and sustained ways of living, feeling, thinking, telling, speaking, acting, and creating, one way or another. The ‘Off state’ issue of Reflection Series suggests imagining and even creating the other possibilities. This is not necessarily for constructing a road with definite beginnings and endings, but for looking around and noticing possibilities that can arise from an unplanned and uncharted, currently disregarded, disdained, and unrecognized state of life and mind. We do not know what can come out of an off state. Since we cannot know, we are visiting hope over and over again.


Starting with ‘Off state,’ Reflection series invites participatory and open-ended discussions around troubled concepts. With an off-disciplinary (or, preferably, undisciplined) approach, it explores diverse meanings, experiences, and stories, different forms of knowledge and expression. Being open-ended itself, this issue will  remain open to new contributions. In the upcoming issues, we will continue to address turbulent and unsettled states. 

Off-Condition editors : Hakan Altun, Duygu Gürsel, Melehat Kutun, Özlem Savaş