Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Streams Crossing Paths

By Kristina Kamp, "[STARTING UP IN TURKEY] A short history of Turkish literature" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul Turkey
Wednesday, January 14, 2008

The popularity of Turkish literature is on the rise. Since Turkey was featured as a guest of honor in last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest literature event, Turkish literature has been put under the spotlight once again and many of its contemporary writers have gained international popularity overnight.

Taking into account, however, that the beginnings of Turkish literature actually date back a good 1,500 years, there is still much to discover. Today's Zaman will now take you on a short journey into the long history of Turkish writing.

Indeed, the oldest known Turkish writings date from the late seventh century. The so-called "Orkhon inscriptions" were found on obelisks in the Orkhon River valley in today's Mongolia; however, it took until the Seljuk victory at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 -- after which the Turks began to settle in Anatolia -- for a written literary tradition to come into being.

For the following 600 years, however, the orally based Turkish folk literature was kept separated from the newly written classical, or divan literature, of the emerging Ottoman Empire. Let's have a look at these two early streams.

Turkish folk literature is in fact nothing else than the collection of a number of pieces of -- mostly anonymous -- singers and storytellers. Thousands of fairytales, jokes and legends reflect the people's everyday life struggles and experiences. One of the most famous figures in this respect is Nasreddin Hoca, a joker who appears to be somewhat stupid and who, thus, tends to drive his neighbors crazy, though in the end all of his stories have a moral to them.

For the more epic tradition in Turkish folk literature you should definitely look at the greatest collection of those early, oral epics that evolved between the ninth and 11th centuries: the "Book of Dede Korkut." The primary element of the Turkish epic tradition in Anatolia for several centuries, it was finally written down in the 14th century.

From the 13th century onward there has also been a folk poetry tradition in Turkish literature, often strongly influenced by the Islamic Sufi tradition and often deeply intertwined with song as a supporting element. Never skip out on Yunus Emre, the always unforgotten Sufi master, poet and exemplary philanthropist.

In sharp contrast to the tradition of Turkish folk literature, Turkish divan literature tended to embrace the influence of Persian and Arabic literature and language, thus contributing a good deal to the development of the Ottoman Turkish language. In sharp contrast to folk literature, Ottoman divan poetry was very standardized and ritualized. Metaphoric and symbolic expressions dominated and allowed room for various interpretations.

Ottoman prose was not very developed nor did it contain any examples of fiction -- this is why prior to the 19th century you will not be able to find anything like European romance, short story or novel literature.

The emergence of a 'National Literature Movement'
Between 1839 and 1876, the Tanzimat (reorganization) period, large parts of the Ottoman system were restructured with the aim of modernizing and rescuing the deteriorating empire. Many of the reformists called for literature to turn away from the Persian and Arabic divan tradition to the folk tradition. For the first time since the two streams of Turkish literature began to be recorded, they were set to once again cross paths.

Interestingly, it was along with this rising national consciousness that a trend of Westernization entered the Ottoman Empire. Under strong French influence, in particular, new literary genres were introduced. "Taaşuk-u Tal'at ve Fitnat" (Talat and Fitnat in Love) by Şemsettin Sami became the first Turkish novel, published in 1872.

Meanwhile, the Young Turks, a coalition of reformers opposed to the late authoritarian Ottoman government, came to identify themselves with a specifically Turkish national identity. Naturally, the rising nationalism was also reflected in the literary traditions of this period, labeled "National Literature" and emerging in the years before the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The three writers most representative of the movement were Ziya Gökalp, a kind of self-appointed national educator, Ömer Seyfettin and Ali Canip Yöntem.

In 1928, five years after the proclamation of the republic, the Latin alphabet was introduced to replace the Arabic-based Ottoman script. Additionally, the Turkish Language Society (TDK) was established in 1932 to carry out linguistic research, to purge from the language foreign words (i.e., Persian and Arabic, but also languages used by clans, particularly Kurdish). The aim was to develop a "clean" Turkish. Needless to say, a great treasure of cultural influence was lost.

Literary modernism in the new republic
In the early years of the republic the writings of Sait Faik Abasıyanık and Sabahattin Ali started a new trend in Turkish literary modernism: the reflection of daily life and events, opinions and expectations in Turkish literature. Similarly, the "village novel" tradition, founded soon thereafter, described the life of the generally less fortunate in Turkey's villages and small towns. Famous writers in this tradition are Kemal Tahir, Orhan Kemal and Yaşar Kemal. The last figure surely gained the most international fame not only for his prize-winning novel "İnce Memed" (Memed, My Hawk, 1955) but also for his firmly leftist political stance.

Another important novelist you should look out for is Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. Outside of both the social realist and the village novel traditions, he illustrates impressively the clash between East and West in modern Turkish culture and society.

Keep an eye on the more modernist and existentialist Oğuz Atay and his novel "Beyaz Mantolu Adam" (Man in a White Coat, 1975), the often surrealistic Onat Kutlar with "İshak" (Isaac, 1959) and never miss out on the perfectly satirical short story writer Aziz Nesin!

Talking about contemporary poetry in particular, one name you should never overlook is that of Nazım Hikmet Ran. A firm Marxist, he wrote revolutionary poems with an esthetic which even today touches the hearts of many. He was the one who introduced free verse into the Turkish language and, thus, founded a socialist tradition which became common among many Turkish writers of the 1960s.

In the following years, Turkish poetry would experience two more big movements. The poem collection "Garip" (Strange, 1941) by Orhan Veli Kanık, together with the works of Melih Cevdet Anday and Oktay Rifathe, became the base for the "Garipçiler." Their aim was to create a popular art for the people beyond all formal restrictions and with a rough colloquial language and ordinary topics. Even more abstract and heavily inspired by the Western movements of Dada and Surrealism was the subsequent "İkinci Yeni" (Second New) movement, including writers such as Turgut Uyar, İlhan Berk and Edip Cansever.

So, after these excursions into the past, let's provide you with the latest bestsellers in the Turkish world of literature. First and foremost is Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. His most famous works include "Beyaz Kale" (The White Castle), "İstanbul" and, more recently, "Masumiyet Müzesi" (The Museum of Innocence).

Other authors also include a number of women. Look out for Elif Şafak, Perihan Mağden and Latife Tekin.

1 comment:

darvish said...

Ha, I guess Cinlerin Efendisi doesn't count as Turkish literature.

http://www.insanyayinlari.com.tr/CATALOG/book.aspx?ID=468

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Streams Crossing Paths
By Kristina Kamp, "[STARTING UP IN TURKEY] A short history of Turkish literature" - Today's Zaman - Istanbul Turkey
Wednesday, January 14, 2008

The popularity of Turkish literature is on the rise. Since Turkey was featured as a guest of honor in last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest literature event, Turkish literature has been put under the spotlight once again and many of its contemporary writers have gained international popularity overnight.

Taking into account, however, that the beginnings of Turkish literature actually date back a good 1,500 years, there is still much to discover. Today's Zaman will now take you on a short journey into the long history of Turkish writing.

Indeed, the oldest known Turkish writings date from the late seventh century. The so-called "Orkhon inscriptions" were found on obelisks in the Orkhon River valley in today's Mongolia; however, it took until the Seljuk victory at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 -- after which the Turks began to settle in Anatolia -- for a written literary tradition to come into being.

For the following 600 years, however, the orally based Turkish folk literature was kept separated from the newly written classical, or divan literature, of the emerging Ottoman Empire. Let's have a look at these two early streams.

Turkish folk literature is in fact nothing else than the collection of a number of pieces of -- mostly anonymous -- singers and storytellers. Thousands of fairytales, jokes and legends reflect the people's everyday life struggles and experiences. One of the most famous figures in this respect is Nasreddin Hoca, a joker who appears to be somewhat stupid and who, thus, tends to drive his neighbors crazy, though in the end all of his stories have a moral to them.

For the more epic tradition in Turkish folk literature you should definitely look at the greatest collection of those early, oral epics that evolved between the ninth and 11th centuries: the "Book of Dede Korkut." The primary element of the Turkish epic tradition in Anatolia for several centuries, it was finally written down in the 14th century.

From the 13th century onward there has also been a folk poetry tradition in Turkish literature, often strongly influenced by the Islamic Sufi tradition and often deeply intertwined with song as a supporting element. Never skip out on Yunus Emre, the always unforgotten Sufi master, poet and exemplary philanthropist.

In sharp contrast to the tradition of Turkish folk literature, Turkish divan literature tended to embrace the influence of Persian and Arabic literature and language, thus contributing a good deal to the development of the Ottoman Turkish language. In sharp contrast to folk literature, Ottoman divan poetry was very standardized and ritualized. Metaphoric and symbolic expressions dominated and allowed room for various interpretations.

Ottoman prose was not very developed nor did it contain any examples of fiction -- this is why prior to the 19th century you will not be able to find anything like European romance, short story or novel literature.

The emergence of a 'National Literature Movement'
Between 1839 and 1876, the Tanzimat (reorganization) period, large parts of the Ottoman system were restructured with the aim of modernizing and rescuing the deteriorating empire. Many of the reformists called for literature to turn away from the Persian and Arabic divan tradition to the folk tradition. For the first time since the two streams of Turkish literature began to be recorded, they were set to once again cross paths.

Interestingly, it was along with this rising national consciousness that a trend of Westernization entered the Ottoman Empire. Under strong French influence, in particular, new literary genres were introduced. "Taaşuk-u Tal'at ve Fitnat" (Talat and Fitnat in Love) by Şemsettin Sami became the first Turkish novel, published in 1872.

Meanwhile, the Young Turks, a coalition of reformers opposed to the late authoritarian Ottoman government, came to identify themselves with a specifically Turkish national identity. Naturally, the rising nationalism was also reflected in the literary traditions of this period, labeled "National Literature" and emerging in the years before the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The three writers most representative of the movement were Ziya Gökalp, a kind of self-appointed national educator, Ömer Seyfettin and Ali Canip Yöntem.

In 1928, five years after the proclamation of the republic, the Latin alphabet was introduced to replace the Arabic-based Ottoman script. Additionally, the Turkish Language Society (TDK) was established in 1932 to carry out linguistic research, to purge from the language foreign words (i.e., Persian and Arabic, but also languages used by clans, particularly Kurdish). The aim was to develop a "clean" Turkish. Needless to say, a great treasure of cultural influence was lost.

Literary modernism in the new republic
In the early years of the republic the writings of Sait Faik Abasıyanık and Sabahattin Ali started a new trend in Turkish literary modernism: the reflection of daily life and events, opinions and expectations in Turkish literature. Similarly, the "village novel" tradition, founded soon thereafter, described the life of the generally less fortunate in Turkey's villages and small towns. Famous writers in this tradition are Kemal Tahir, Orhan Kemal and Yaşar Kemal. The last figure surely gained the most international fame not only for his prize-winning novel "İnce Memed" (Memed, My Hawk, 1955) but also for his firmly leftist political stance.

Another important novelist you should look out for is Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. Outside of both the social realist and the village novel traditions, he illustrates impressively the clash between East and West in modern Turkish culture and society.

Keep an eye on the more modernist and existentialist Oğuz Atay and his novel "Beyaz Mantolu Adam" (Man in a White Coat, 1975), the often surrealistic Onat Kutlar with "İshak" (Isaac, 1959) and never miss out on the perfectly satirical short story writer Aziz Nesin!

Talking about contemporary poetry in particular, one name you should never overlook is that of Nazım Hikmet Ran. A firm Marxist, he wrote revolutionary poems with an esthetic which even today touches the hearts of many. He was the one who introduced free verse into the Turkish language and, thus, founded a socialist tradition which became common among many Turkish writers of the 1960s.

In the following years, Turkish poetry would experience two more big movements. The poem collection "Garip" (Strange, 1941) by Orhan Veli Kanık, together with the works of Melih Cevdet Anday and Oktay Rifathe, became the base for the "Garipçiler." Their aim was to create a popular art for the people beyond all formal restrictions and with a rough colloquial language and ordinary topics. Even more abstract and heavily inspired by the Western movements of Dada and Surrealism was the subsequent "İkinci Yeni" (Second New) movement, including writers such as Turgut Uyar, İlhan Berk and Edip Cansever.

So, after these excursions into the past, let's provide you with the latest bestsellers in the Turkish world of literature. First and foremost is Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. His most famous works include "Beyaz Kale" (The White Castle), "İstanbul" and, more recently, "Masumiyet Müzesi" (The Museum of Innocence).

Other authors also include a number of women. Look out for Elif Şafak, Perihan Mağden and Latife Tekin.

1 comment:

darvish said...

Ha, I guess Cinlerin Efendisi doesn't count as Turkish literature.

http://www.insanyayinlari.com.tr/CATALOG/book.aspx?ID=468