Crushing On… Şeyda Kurt

By Janice Faith Heinrich
Art by Thomas Seips

I remember seeing Şeyda Kurt’s announcement for their book “Radikale Zärtlichkeit” last year in January, the dreariest time of winter in Berlin. Definitely a time where one yearns for tenderness, love and touch. “Radikale Zärtlichkeit” promised a refreshing new look at these topics through an intersectional, critical lens which got me very excited for its release in April 2021. About a year later, and with their book on the Spiegel bestseller list, we had the opportunity to talk to Şeyda Kurt about writing, feminism, and what it means to be radical. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a journalist and author? When and how did you discover writing for yourself?

Şeyda Kurt: Even when I was still in elementary school, I couldn’t stop writing. I always had the desire to put my experiences and stories into words. As a child I was often alone with my thoughts and feelings, so I spun tales out of them. When I was a teenager, I started to become politically involved and was active in different leftist, migrant associations. That’s when my writing got more political. Language was my way of accusing and criticising racist, exploitative systems. At the same time, I was always drawn to poetic and literary ways of expression. I would get a lot of positive feedback for my work and for a long time I worked as a freelance author and did journalistic internships. Still, I was too afraid to make writing my main source of income. I didn’t know whether it would allow me to pay my monthly rent. Even so, I couldn’t keep my hands off it and my motivation to change something with my words didn’t decrease either. So I finally decided to try and make writing my profession. I started with a master in cultural studies at the University of Arts in Berlin and later worked in the editorial department of ze.tt which is the young online format of the publishing house Zeit. I’m now working as a freelance author full time.

What or who inspired you while working on your first book? Do you have a special writing playlist or something similar?

Şeyda Kurt: During the months while I was writing my book, I was inspired by a lot of people I met, by almost every book I read, every song I listened to, and every movie I watched. Sometimes I would watch some kind of historical documentary that didn’t have anything to do with my subject at first glance. But somehow it managed to make me think outside the box and helped me sharpen my existing ideas. Some experiences don’t immediately make it into a book and stay invisible. They can still be important. inspire new thoughts, bring them to a conclusion or help distance yourself from them. There are, of course, songs and books I always come back to and that shaped the content and form of my book significantly. “All About love” by bell hooks, Eva Illouz’s books, Judith Butler’s theories and also Karl Marx. Or the Turkish song Arkadaş by Melike Demirağ. Also my friends and their literary and creative work, for example the artist Elif Küçük.

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Your book is called “Radikale Zärtlichkeit”. What does “radical” mean to you and why was it important for you in your coining of the term “radical tenderness”? Do we need radicality to overcome systems of oppression?

Şeyda Kurt: To overthrow oppressive systems we need radicality in theory and practice. “Radical” originates in Latin and means “to go in depth”. For me, in theory this means that political analyses shouldn’t stop at describing the status quo but that they should investigate injustice and oppression for their colonial, capitalist and patriarchal roots. These analyses then have to constantly question, adapt and update themselves. In practice it means that political movements and activism need to attack the roots of things. We can’t just talk about questions of representation like  “Who gets which job? Who is successful and where?”,  we have to question the conditions under which representation should be happening. Instead of demanding “We want more women on the boards of DAX concerns” we should be demanding “We don’t want DAX concerns at all.”

In your book you occasionally quote bell hooks. If you had met her, what would you have liked to talk about and which questions would you have asked her?

Şeyda Kurt: I would actually have approached her without any questions. Then the conversations would've been more exciting for her as well. I would let it unfold naturally, through listening and learning. I also like the picture of us having spent a day at the fair where we would reflect on the experiences we just made. Sometimes the best conversations develop without a plan and intuitively.

You also write about feminism. What are your feelings about this term and what does feminism mean to you? Do you believe it might be time for a new terminology?

Şeyda Kurt: At some point every emancipatory project threatens to become diluted or commercialised. If only as a term. A strong example is body positivity. It's a movement initiated by Black, queer, anti-capitalist individuals with big bodies. By now it has been alienated and a-politicised as a hashtag by mostly thin, norm conforming, white people.

Something similar has happened to the notion of feminism. Today, even conservative politicians are calling themselves feminist because they’re making a career as women in reactionary parties. Or we see the term flaunting on t-shirts. Shirts made in the global south by women who are being exploited for their labour. 

Personally, I’m sceptical of immediately writing off terms and concepts because they’ve been captured by capitalism. Capitalism is too quick and dexterous. We wouldn’t be able to catch up with developing new terms and concepts. We would constantly be in a mode of reacting. That’s why it’s especially important to specify which kind of feminism we’re talking about. In the best case that’s a leftist, anti-capitalist, queer, anti-colonial and intersectional feminism.

Do you want to publish more books in the future? What would you like to write about?

Şeyda Kurt: A subject that’s been on my mind is “Political Feelings” which is also what my next book is going to be about.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Find Şeyda on their website and on Instagram.

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