Turkish Toilets in BulgariaJanuary 14, 2009
by Vassil Leftski
Finally something lively to come out of the usually sterile and boring official exhibitions where all the ‘unity in diversity’ of the EU is portrayed. The Czech Presidency commissioned a work to the controversial artist David Cerny – someone I wasn’t familiar with before but who has apparently been involved in very interesting art projects. He came up with the huge art installation Enthropia where he tried to represent each of the EU member states with a particularly embarrassing catchy detail.
Many of the ‘country solutions’ were interesting but I want to briefly write my thoughts on the one that stirred the most agitation – the Bulgarian one aka The Turkish Toilet. To this moment, it is the only one – I am aware of – which elicited an official response: the spokesperson of the Permanent Representation of Bulgaria to the EU, Madame Betina Joteva, complained to the Czechs and asked for it to be removed. The deputy For Minister in Sofia called the Czech Ambassador ‘for explanations’.
This blog has witnessed mine and Claudia’s unhealthy discussions of toilets in E Europe vs. toilets in W Europe. Obviously the topic (of toilets) interests me. Obviously it interests many other Bulgarians as there have been tonnes of comments under online publications and in blogs. I am a responsible bureaucrat who doesn’t spent much at time reading all the posts. I just register. There’s two types: 1) This work shames my country and I want to skin the author alive (literally) 2) Cool idea, brave dude, we are a shitty country anyway. Obviously David Cerny is right to represent my country with a toilet – Bulgarians like talking about them.
I could’ve easily ended my post here but I won’t because I want to sketch a few thoughts. First of all, Cerny created a complete mystification by pretending that the work was done by a Bulgarian artist – Elena Djelebova. This artist is fictitious and created by Cerny himself. But this is not the topic here even if it’s an original move. I am interested in the object itself – a toilet, a Turkish toilet which is basically a hole in the ground which you have to hit with the excrements you produce.T hey must end up in the pit underneath and not stain the designated steps on which you are supposed to place your feet while kneeling. This is the main difference with the American-type lavatory where the excrements stay – in full view- ready for inspection before the water is flushed.
The Turkish toilet is a very strong symbol with great relevance for Bulgarian nation building and government. First, it is called ‘Turkish’ but it is widely used in Bulgaria. Most of the things in the country are like that – the country was part of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries after all. Of course, official figures like Madame Joteva or the deputy For Minister won’t admit it – they insist on the high culture corresponding to the national ideal and would have rather had on display a more European toilet-type or no toilet at all.
The ‘Turkish’ toilet interestingly does not allow any contemplation or inspection of the excrement. Once deposited, it sinks forever into the depths of the unknown and one is free to go on with his/her life as he/she wishes. Similarly to Bulgarian politicians who shit on electoral mandates, promises, Bulgarian laws and EU regulations and their product is left unscrutinised. The Turkish toilet is also like the Totalitarian past of the country – so much shit was piled up by the informants of the State Security that now no one is interested in tracing the thread of excrements to its source.
The only one who would have been more appropriately furnished with an American-type lavatory rather than the ‘Turkish toilet’ is the Bulgarian president known as ‘Gotze’. Not because he is a real patriot and would have nothing to do with Turkey. The reason for this can only be explained with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacan introduced the term ‘object petit a’ as the cause of desire. However, Lacan also developed the Kleinian psychoanalytic insights on the partial object. The faeces, according to him, are one of the four partial objects together with the voice, gaze, and the breast. It is subjective and does not exist as such. It becomes an object only when the subject (the President of Bulgaria, in our case) takes it for the object of desire. In the case of the Turkish toilet, the confusion which gives life to the partial object, and accordingly, to desire, is not possible as the partial object disappears in the latrine underneath.
The desire of the Bulgarian president – and of the nationalist project active in recent years, as well – can only find its object in somebody else’s desire. This would mean look in somebody else’s toilet, of course. And of course it is also consistent with Lacan’s statement that desire is always the desire of the other.