Within the last two decades, particularly since the publication in 2003 of David Damrosch’s pioneering work What is World Literature?,1 the complex concept of world literature, which dates back to Johann Goethe, has increasingly continued to attract attention from literary scholars across the globe. Not only does this concept provide the opportunity for diverse theoretical and methodological approaches that – combined with debates on globalization, cosmopolitanism, neoliberalism, and postcolonialism – allow us to rethink national literatures in novel ways and to reconsider the very notion of national literature itself, but it also has proved to be a field of its own, albeit constantly changing and developing. In addition to (and also in a constant dialogue with) the leading theoreticians of world literature such as Damrosch, Franco Moretti, Emily Apter, Pascale Casanova, and Theo D’haen, contemporary scholars contribute to this field in fascinating ways, turning “world literature” into a “traveling concept” – which, across various historical, national, linguistic, and disciplinary contexts, is open to reinterpretation and appropriation.2 Peer-reviewed articles, regularly published in the Journal of World Literature, as well as the prolific number of monographs and edited volumes, which are part of the Literatures as World Literature series of Bloomsbury Publishing, serve as excellent examples of scholarly investigation of world literature. Turkish Literature as World Literature, edited by Burcu Alkan and Çimen Günay-Erkol, is a compelling addition to the latter series and hence can be placed in the context of recent studies on world literature, especially those that focus on non-Western literatures while problematizing and reflecting upon the complex relationship between the centre and periphery within the world literary sphere.
Another context in which this intriguing volume could be placed is the contemporary study of modern Turkish literature. Standing in continuity with Azade Seyhan’s Tales of Crossed Destinies published as part of the World Literatures Reimagined series of the Modern Language Association of America 3 and was followed by the Routledge Handbook of Turkish Literature4, the book under review here serves as an outstanding study of Turkish literature in the English language, which “offers a (re)view of modern Turkish Literature in a critically nuanced literary history” (Seyhan, p. 4). That being said, it should be noted that the editors, Alkan and Günay-Erkol, do not envision the volume “as a history of Turkish literature in the world scene” (p. 8). Instead, they aim to focus on “the post-interlingual movement of Turkish literature into the hierarchies of today’s globalized world and [seek] to examine its multifaceted dynamics” (ibid.).
The primary goal of the volume is then to explore “how Turkish literature, from the peripheries of Europe, influenced the literatures of the world” (p. 9) and also to “trace a variety of works, writers, and trends in Turkish literature that had a global impact” (ibid.). To this end, the editors claim not only to “[start] out with an important change of paradigm” by traversing “the conventional comparativist exercise that moves from the European center to the peripheries” in the reverse direction but also to practise “a grand analytical exercise” that “requires meta-analysis of several different but interrelated subjects, such as the market dynamics of translation, mobility of theories and theoretical concepts, and the geopolitics of the literary enterprise, all of which necessitate an awareness of the production of processes of literature” (ibid.). The 12 chapters in the three main parts, with the respective (rather cliché-ridden) titles – “Breathing Turkish in the World Stage”, “Turkish Literature in Transnational Waters”, and “Contemporary Forms and Cosmopolitanism” – mostly fulfil these objectives, listed by the editors in the introduction of the volume, albeit in varying ways and degrees.
While some chapters closely engage with the theoretical discussions of world literature and provide very sophisticated (comparative) analyses that reflect upon circulation, translation, and production of Turkish literature in different temporal and spatial contexts – such as Basak Candar’s chapter in part 3, titled “World Literary Refractions: Orhan Pamuk and Juan Goytisolo”, where the works of these two prominent authors are discussed and compared through Damrosch’s notion of “elliptical refraction” and his model of circulation – some others hardly even mention world literature. A case in point is Mehmet Hakki Sucin’s contribution in part 2, titled “The Influence of Nazim Hikmet on Arab Poetry”. In his chapter, Sucin turns his focus to poetry in Arabic in order to underline the inspirational impact of Nazim Hikmet on Arab poetry. Despite being a very interesting and novel read, which is supported by close readings of poems in Arabic, the theoretical aspect of this contribution is unfortunately conspicuous owing to its absence. Another shortcoming of this volume is the fact that out of a total of 12 chapters, 3 focus on Nazim Hikmet and two on Orhan Pamuk. For such a leading study, investigating the interrelationality of Turkish and world literatures, the number of authors and works covered remain very limited. In a self-reflexive manner, in the introduction, Alkan and Günay-Erkol touch upon this shortcoming and argue that their “choices were shaped by limitations of time, space and material availability” (p. 9). The final and arguably most important shortcoming of this volume has to do with its alleged claim of paradigm shift in its consideration of the complex dynamics between the centre and the periphery in the world literary sphere. According to Ahmet Nuri, who provided a detailed review of this volume, “although this challenging proposal is an explicit choice and aim of the editors and seems to critically re-think the so-called center-periphery model and the Western dominance in world literature studies, it is also inherently problematic or paradoxical”.5 In my view, too, the volume’s overall approach to the tense relationship between the periphery and the centre does not actually challenge the “inherent (and oftentimes openly) binary model of the field” (p. 8). However, it should be noted that even though the alleged paradigm shift is problematic in theoretical aspects for reasons, which are too long to list here, this approach in consideration of Turkish literature as world literature has, in fact, worked quite well in practice in this volume because it has managed to gather together fascinating chapters that investigate neglected literary encounters, influences, and comparisons, which allow us to think about Turkish literature in novel ways.
All in all, this volume is a very timely and valuable contribution to the multifaceted study of Turkish and world literature. A majority of the chapters in this volume may serve as excellent course material at undergraduate and graduate levels not only in Turkish and world literature programmes but also at comparative literature departments. One can only hope that more studies on Turkish literature in the context of world literature will follow the lead of this very important volume.
1 David Damrosch, What is World Literature?, Princeton, NJ 2003.
2 Mieke Bal, Travelling Concepts in the Humanities, Toronto 2002.
3 Azade Seyhan, The Tale of Crossed Destinies. The Modern Turkish Novel in a Comparative Context, New York 2008.
4 Didem Havlioglu / Zeynep Uysal (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Turkish Literature, Milton 2023.
5 Ahmet Nuri, Some Critical Reflections on Turkish Literature as World Literature, in: Nesir: Edebiyat Araştırmaları Dergisi 4 (2023), pp. 135-146, here p. 128.