Dear readers! I am happy to relate that my article on Göbekli Tepe is on (U.S.) newsstands right now, in the December 19 – 26 issue of the New Yorker.

As a special online supplement, I have decided to share with you today a glimpse into the writer-editor negotiating process (a recurring theme in my life and thoughts). I submit for your consideration an excerpt from an email in which my super-heroic editor was trying to get me to cut some lines that he said were confusing (he was right, they were confusing):

… Do you think you could reconsider on this last matter? I did everything else… and, by way of compromise, restoring the balance back toward subjectivity and misreading, I’ve added back a penis joke elsewhere! The one about the samovar… x L

This kind and tactful message really made me think about how I am perceived as a writer, viz. as someone who is always trying to include more penis jokes. It’s not an unjust perception. My first New Yorker piece this year, a profile of Istanbul football fanatics, referenced a penis-related viral video phenomenon; next I wrote a rather melancholy excursus on birdwatching in Kars, which nonetheless included a lighthearted mention of the duck holding the highest vertebrate penis-to-body-length ratio.

The description of the Göbekli Tepe pillars, below, brings my 2011 New Yorker feature article penis-joke record up to 3 for 3:

On one pillar, a row of lumpy, eyeless “birds” float above an extremely convincing boar, with an erect penis. Another relief consists of the simple contour of a fox, like a chalk outline at a murder scene, also with a distinct penis… Perhaps the most debated composition portrays a vulture carrying a round object on one wing; below its feet, a headless male torso displays yet another erect penis. On an informational board near the vulture, the German and English texts mention the erect penis; the Turkish text does not. I like to think that, when it comes to identifying a headless man with an erection, I’m as sharp-eyed as the next person, but personally I wouldn’t have recognized this one without assistance. To me, he looked more like a samovar.

Those wishing to play “find the ithyphallic man” may consult the photograph below:

Are you done guessing?



OK then!  The ithyphallic man is in the very bottom right corner – cloaked in shadows, as always in photographs. He is a retiring type. You can see him a bit more clearly, helpfully outlined in white, in the below image (from a website proposing an astronomical interpretation for the imagery at Göbekli Tepe).


Happy holidays to all my readers and editors!

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  1. Nick Holdstock Says:

    Thank you Elif, this was terrific fun. There have been times when I have felt that something was lacking in my own work- now I realise it was not such banal characteristics as empathy or compassion; I was forgetting the dick-jokes.

    Merry Xmas


  2. Anthony Gatto Says:

    Hi Elif,

    Thank you for the photo challenge, and thanks also for putting the Ur in Urfa. About the photo, I would like to say that is one suspiciously droopy scorpion stinger. hehe.

    Among the many great questions your article raises, penile and otherwise, I ponder most why anyone would ever cover up all that work. As you brought up civilization and its discontents, what do you think about burying the sanctuary as a necessary repression? I wonder if there can ever be a radiantly civilized reason to expend all that energy to cover up such work. Anyone anywhere at any time would know it was a sin – if I understand what Kierkegaard meant by the word. They buried it not with better art but landfill. That says everything about the people who did it. Maybe it also relates to Puritan theater and church music during the Enlightenment? Both banned. One can only imagine why…

    But to think it took until 1994 to see the rolling knolls were handmade. A heroic moment! Now who’s thanking the Ataturk dam for its bounty? and I wonder if he knew about Maya Lin’s work?

    all best wishes for happy holidays –


    P.S. Iin case you can see it in Istanbul, here’s the hilarious Colbert episode featuring his Phallus Phinder 9600:

  3. Christopher Schaberg Says:

    Hi Elif,

    Just finished the article in the magazine, and really appreciated the shrewd critique of narratives of progress, toward the end. I took the profusion of the phallus earlier in the article to be part of this critique: an abundance of masculine semaphores hardly makes for easy meaning. (They also made the mind rather race, trying to visualize what they actually looked like; thanks for the images, here!) I admire the speculative nature of your writing: it moves so fluidly from the expository mode into philosophical rumination. It’s really great.

    I look forward to the next installment!

    – Christopher Schaberg

  4. Matt Gross Says:

    I read the New Yorker for its intellectual and stylistic breadth. But I subscribe for the dick jokes.

  5. Geoff Roberts Says:

    Dear Elif,
    I don’t think this guy would like your jokes. He is known as the Cerne Abbas Giant and wields a mighty, er club. Take a look.

  6. Tom Saunt Says:

    Dear Elif
    I found your article about Gobekli Tepe fascinating (the New Yorker is also available from upmarket newsagents in the UK!). So much so that I am planning a trip to Eastern Turkey next autumn.
    Tom Saunt.

  7. ray Says:

    Hello Elif… loved your book ( The Possessed) , though it wasn’t quite what I expected, it was much better than that .As for Ithyphallicity, I came across a strange possible example of this, plus it’s bird-watching related as well… have a look at mostlybirdingwithray and click on the link to ” Pink Swan” and see what you think.
    Here in Britain we have loads of standing stones and suchlike which are nothing more than giant, er…. have an educated guess.

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