ABSTRACT

Imagine a character, a Turkish historian and a Republican intellectual, a professor at a state university in Istanbul. This professor finds himself returning to an Ottoman archive whose very existence his colleagues doubt. The small room, a cell, has uncatalogued documents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Kadi court case summaries, tax registers, deeds, and imperial orders that are all written in Ottoman script (a language which combines aspects of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish) and which, as a general rule, modern citizens of the Republic cannot read. This character, whom we know from The Silent House, finds himself in a

state of crisis. We learn that he has lost his job due to the 1980 military coup that has purged left-leaning professors from universities. We know that his wife has left him and that he’s taken to drinking. He confesses that he’s “lost faith in his discipline.” His discipline, history, combines events with stories, stories which he states are like “joker cards” – that is, they introduce

contingencies that alter the meaning of historical events. Historiography, he muses, distorts the possibility of truth in history. So, as he does his research, he is preoccupied by the limits of history and the possibility of a new narrative form, one that accounts for what Hayden White would call “the fictions of factual representation” (White 1978). Faruk Darvınog˘lu’s search for historical form ends in his discovery of a

seventeenth-century Ottoman manuscript. This turns out to be an autobiographical captive’s tale about a Venetian held in Istanbul by an Ottoman hoja. The story so preoccupies Darvınog˘lu that he forgets about his research and decides to translate it into modern, standard Turkish. But he doesn’t translate his captive’s tale with attention to detail like a scholar or a historian. Rather, he makes a kind of loose “inspired translation” working between two desks. The voice from the Ottoman archive that Pamuk’s novel amplifies, as represented by Darvınog˘lu and his translation, is the voice of resistance, change, protest, and politics. This scene, to which we will return, is described in the mock “Preface” to

The White Castle, the first Pamuk novel to be translated into English (in 1990). It is his first Ottoman novel and the first to fully transgress the limits of Turkish literary modernity that had been focused on social and historical realism. Faruk Darvınog˘lu, the wavering secular intellectual who I contend represents the figure of homo secularis, haunts the entire novel. Variations of this figure, the constructed subject of secular modernity, appear in all of Pamuk’s work through incarnations from Refik in Cevdet Bey and Sons to Ka in Snow. Darvınog˘lu’s presence in the Ottoman archive represents not only a limit of Republican discursive space, but also the possibility of an intervention against secular state power. This scene serves as a preface not only to one novel, nor to Pamuk’s work as a whole, but in many respects to the tradition of the Republican novel and to the dilemmas of its cultural production. We would have to know some context – not much – to understand that a Republican historian in an Ottoman archive involved in a loose translation is a symbolic complex that represents a greater crisis of Republican modernity. Furthermore, it points to a crisis of, in the shorthand I’ll be using, “Turkishness” itself, that ineffable national essence whose secularity has been constructed as sacred through the Republican cultural revolution. As alluded to in the previous chapter, reading Pamuk’s first three novels

(which are also linked by plot associations) as a narrative cycle reveals his qualifications of the master narrative of Turkish secular nationalism through experimentation in literary form. Such a reading demonstrates that Pamuk’s revisions of literary modernity become politicized interventions against the excesses of Turkish secularism. Importantly, this politicization is also evident in his reassessment of Ottoman history, which broadly contains any number of secular national “taboos,” including the legacies of multi-ethnicity, religious diversity, cosmopolitanism, Sufism, and Islam. Pamuk’s destabilization of fixed identities and decentering of the secular telos of the Turkish novel has been characteristic of his work since TheWhite Castle. This novel, not least of

all, forecasts the beginning of postsecular trends in Turkish literature and the possibility of a cosmopolitan transnational literature situated in Istanbul. Pamuk’s transformation of Turkish literary modernity over the course of

his first three novels serves to problematize and politicize Republican understandings of the Ottoman past in a sustained challenge to official historiography. Read together, these novels recapitulate a literary history of the novel form with concerns specific to the politics of secular modernity. This analysis is predicated on the understanding that the Republican novel form mimics the nation form in its constructed historical determinism, linearity, and teleology of secularism. At the same time, the novel often transgresses the limits of the nation form and of devlet authority. Beginning with The White Castle, Pamuk not only questions the metanarrative of Turkist secular nationalism (Turkism) in its various manifestations, he is thoroughly engaged in the work of interrogating the possibility of transformations in literary modernity by reconnecting to an Ottoman cosmopolitan past. Pamuk is not interested in history with a capital “H”; he is rather in the writerly pursuit of new imaginative spaces, and new literary forms whose politics are not overt, but emerge through fiction that defines “Turkishness” through literary modernity rather than secular state power. “Turkishness,” in this sense, marks a secular national horizon that is defined by the unreconciled trauma of the partition (not just “loss” or “collapse”) of the Ottoman Empire, leading to the suppression of din. In time, as Pamuk demonstrates, contexts of din re-emerge to constitute new sites of alterity for Turkish subject formation.2