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Sezen Aksu and My Lingual Bafflement by bayripley
30/05/2011, 08:51
Filed under: art, music | Tags: , , , ,

Sezen Aksu has finally released her latest album last week. In her last album dating 2009, she sang her own songs that were previously sung by others, and there were only 2 “new” songs in it. She kept a low profile in 2010, except her surprise in Tarkan’s album, and her involvement in the Referendum debate. I was among those who did not cared what she said but appreciated an artist’s bold stance taking in that intense discussion. As always, even her involvement in politics was different than her peers in music industry. Anyway, she finally released some marvelous 10 songs this month, and I feel like I have been drugged since the first moment I listened to it.

But this entry is not about Sezen Aksu, or her new album. This entry is about how I can’t write about Sezen Aksu in English, and why this is a great thing.

When I was 15 years old, something terrible happened, and I was introduced to literature. I did not only read some great writers, but I also learned that literature, as a life component, was like food, alcohol, and sex: Mind-blowing experiences that years of tradition offer to a 21st century individual. However, as American commercials for alcoholic beverages put it, they should be “consumed responsibly”.

I personally succeeded limiting myself before I got too much of them. (Yes, food topic is debatable, given my “development”, “framed” by more uncomfortable jeans every month) Only literature, which should be understood more than texts, was kept out of this limitation, and the results might have been catastrophic. After a painful undergraduate experience in International Relations, I am doing anything but IR now. I have incorporated my love for moving images with sound, and my Proustien point of view to my studies, but I have reached to a point of speechlessness when a friend of mine asked what my hobbies were. I replied; I study my hobbies, those moments when you escape from this world. I read theories that frame them, with a determination of writing my own one day. I consume so much literature, now I may have lost my affection for literature. Sezen Aksu proved me wrong.

English is the academic language of the era, and even in Turkish Studies, I am entitled to publish firstly in English to accomplish whatever I am trying to accomplish. My training for the last year has heavily been in English, and I have managed to express even some very personal issues in this language. The more I mastered the language, the more it became vocal in my personal expression. Turkish has been reserved for amicable moments, or depression, or silenced memories as well as for some kick-ass poetry or novels. I can’t and probably won’t write about Cemal Sureya in English, ever. I did not know that until I listened to Sezen Aksu’s latest album.

I wanted to write something here about her fantastic songs, or how they are connected with each other, or how you can trace Cemal Sureya’s shadow in them; but I couldn’t. Her songs were so sacred, were so emotional, so about human life and my own journey, they seemed too deep for my academic English. I wanted that motherly touch of Turkish, for expressing such intense experience. I needed words that grew up with me. I needed expressions that only Sezen Aksu could tell and understand, and we would pick Turkish to depict our eternal connection. She definitely succeeded her goal, she kissed me, and I did not have enough competence in English to describe that moment. I did not transfer her to my academic realm, and she stayed in a very reserved lingual space for me.

Listen to her, she will probably do the same for you, and maybe you will find your own language by that.


Berlin Neden Çıplak or How do you answer such a question? by bayripley
04/05/2011, 05:43
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Part 2: “Nedim Gürsel’s Çıplak Berlin, should it be translated to English, and/or German? If yes why?”

The professor asked the question during a class investigating the Turkish-German interrelations in culture, and of course his guidance suggests us to answer the question in lines with the Transculturality or Otherness aspects of the class. I will try to do that. In addition, the question conveys a sub question: Which language should it be translated to if not to both? This blog entry will only comprise my reasoning for an English translation. Translating the text into German promises some additional reasons to each single reason I propose here.

This book has to be translated to English because it is written by Nedim Gürsel, because it is written by a Franco-elite, and because it is written in and for Berlin.

Nedim Gürsel Effect

Nowadays, I use “X or Y Effect” almost too much in my works. I just coined something called “Balikesir Effect” in Turkish Literature, with the help of a true Balikesirli, Secil Uluisik. My dear readers, you will have to wait for this effect to be explained until the publication of my latest study on Sabahattin Ali. Anyway, let’s talk about this Nedim Gürsel Effect now.

He is neither the best novelist, nor the best short story writer of his time. His novels are never attributed to undeniable literary success or distant literary critique. Some of his novels were considered “fabrication” by historians (Boğazkesen), some others were protested by Islamists for their controversial content (Allah’ın Kızları). He is also among those writers who were accused and tried for what they had written in late 2000s. Nedim Gursel is the less publicized, less popular figure among supposedly top-notch, worldwide authors of Turkish language, like Pamuk or Shafak, who were also brought in front of courts because of their literary works. He is a less tumultuous example for accusing if not prosecuting authors, thinkers, and artists for their works of art in late 2000s Turkey. Political historians, cultural theorists, literature scholars will go back to our times to capture the zeitgeist, and they will investigate these moments of shame for Turkish legal system and governance. They will need look at what these authors wrote about daily life, or Nazism, or Nazım Hikmet, or being an author. Çıplak Berlin is an accused author’s accounts on these issues. He was not yet a member of that club when he was writing this specific book, but it is amazing to see how much words of his were devoted to Nazism in Berlin, a post-Cold War city with a non-healable scarce all over.

A Franco-elite

Categorization is a dangerous attempt in any moment of academic career. However, I can’t resist because Nedim Gürsel comfortably falls into the fallible category of mine, “Franco-elites” of Turkey. Those Franco-elites are mostly Galatasaray High School graduates, with exceptional competence of French language and literature, fair interest to World Literature, and respect to the milestones of Turkish literary field. This book is a great example for this general background. Gürsel acknowledges Nazım Hikmet or Attila İlhan, sometimes talks about mainstream writers of Russian and German literature, he admits that he even had not read Faust before(p.57). On the other hand, his references to French writers are admirable. From each chapter, as a student with mediocre French literature background, I learned another French author. This is so common for this type of “Franco-elite”. They live in and between Paris and Istanbul, they incorporate French poetry almost always with the French, original version followed by a Turkish translation, they are romantic, they love eroticism, they love “love” and they are really good in reflecting Paris. Such accounts of love, romanticism, French life by Turkish intellectuals should be available to English speakers. Their persona and work is not only important about this specific “elite”. Their work is also important to trace how certain educational institutions affected the literary scene in Turkey, and in France. Gürsel has been awarded numerous literature prizes in France. This is just another interaction contradicting the current Franco-Turkish relations. Turkish Prime Minister might call a European parliament “French” in a derogatory manner; certain Turkish elite has done their share to ignore negative political interactions as such. Elites becoming hubs of cultural dialogue is the main reason for advocating the translation to other languages.

Berlin in Berlin

My first visit to Berlin took place in February 2009, when I was a student in Paris. As a prospective Franco-elite, something I never became due to my inexplicable attachment to the home of the brave, I went to Berlin and basically… hated it. My sole admiration was directed to Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, at the heart of Berlin, and that was it. My roommate and I did not buy a guide, we did not visit any tourism portals before taking off, and we ended up seeing basically nothing. Of course we have seen some remains of Berlin Wall, went to Checkpoint Charlie, and got some pictures in Berlin Dom, but that was the whole story. I felt something in Berlin, something inerasable, something mute, and could never tell it.

However, Nedim Gürsel succeeded breaking my silence. In certain paragraphs, I felt like he abducted those words and ideas from my mind. During his long visit in Berlin, funded by a German cultural institution, he wrote his observations, which were almost duplicates of my ideas. Therefore, his account of Berlin redacted in Berlin is also my Berlin in Berlin. This reason stands out a very personal one: by having Gürsel’s Çıplak Berlin translated, I will have my own feelings translated, too. That’s what the translingual expression “killing two birds with one stone” actually means.

Additional reasons are only course-related, and are not going to be explored in detail. This book has a lot of intertextual, translingual passages, and it is imbued in a way projecting the author’s situation. There are French and Turkish poetry, a grand collection of important literary names, some self-evaluation, and great examples of Turkish male-centered but passively imaginary eroticism under heavy influence of Zürafa Sokak . Translating this book into English, and German means translating this experience, it means translating an eroticism tradition; it means more than translating one book.

Now I realize, translating a book is never translating one book. However, translating some books is more than translating a book. Çıplak Berlin is a worthwhile one. I can’t wait for noticing some non-Turkish speaking colleagues or students of mine referencing this book in future.

Berlin Neden Çıplak or How do you answer such a question? by bayripley
03/05/2011, 06:09
Filed under: art, college | Tags: , , , ,

Part 1: Literature in Practice

One day, a professor of mine walked in the class with a bunch of books in his hands, and asked: Do you think those books should be translated? Why and why not? 10 of those books were in German, 3 in Turkish, and one in English. They were trapped in the language they were written in. He let us chose one, and we would come up with our answer after two weeks. I came up with these blog entries, which are a little more than my specific answer to his question.

This first entry is going to cover my ideas about a literature course. Second will be based on my actual answer to the question of “Nedim Gürsel’s Çıplak Berlin, should it be translated to English, and/or German? If yes, why?”

This main idea of this entry is of course influenced by this very course: German 506: Representing the Other. We have done similar stuff, like organizing a mini-symposium. I believe, especially in upper division of undergraduate education, such a course would be fun to teach, and very useful to take.

Working in the field

I have had a rigorous political science education during my undergraduate years in Galatasaray University and Sciences-po de Paris. Practice was sometimes more useful than the theory. I took classes in which we focused on practice of whatever we were learning. My active years in a student club, which underscored practical learning, also helped me in coming up with this idea. I suggest there is a course, which lets the student “practice” literature—or at least get accustomed to some professional activities in the literary field. Maybe professors around the world are doing it, and I don’t know about that yet but I think there should be a class called “Literature in Practice”.


In that class, there should be an assignment each week: One week, students should be the editors of their classmates, suggesting their insight about a pre-written work. They can also come up with a book idea, develop it with all the aspects, and maybe “design” the book rather than writing it. Another week, they can get into translation, and compare two forms of translated texts or two translated versions of one single text. They might investigate how writers interact with their translators, or how they get involved or stay out of the whole translation process. If they were a translated author, how would they react to the intervention of other agents? Even a little assignment could be designed on that: Some students would write stuff, others would translate it, and some others would conduct the translation process. Another week, they should come up with ideas on how “marketable” a literary work is, or design some campaigns for the promotion of the work. A week can be wholly invested into international and national copyright issues, covering mainly literary works with different examples. This last suggestion is the subject for a semester-long course in Law Schools, but maybe a lecture covering basic issues in intellectual property law, especially on written works, can be useful. Another week can be devoted to the presentation of recent debates, or documenting latest discussions in the field. Creating a calendar, marking the award deadlines or book fairs, can also be an assignment in the course. There can be many other examples to diversify and enrich the content of the course.

Total BS or an alternative?

I can hear some literature devotees screaming, probably cursing me or taking me as one of those douchebags who are trying to commodify the literary field more than it is now. I assure you I am not. I am strongly bounded to literature, and profoundly believe in its non-professional, authentic core—where writing only serves itself and is done for the sake of the writer’s intention, not the publisher’s benefit calculations. However, such practice can be really helpful for students who are thinking about working in publishing or even thinking of becoming academics, who will one day eventually have to work with some publisher for his own work.

What do you think folks? Would you take such a course?

Sex and the City 2: Politics? They should have said: No, thanks! by bayripley
20/06/2010, 10:16
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

After a one week delay because of the Flotilla incident, in other words one of the biggest crises of Turkish Foreign Policy, Sex and the City2 (SatC2) has came to Turkish movie theaters. It “carried on” by a special Vogue dossier, great excitement among fans, and much controversy. Since many of you have seen it or will never see it but wonder what do I think of the movie, here is what I am gonna say about it.

Now the clichés

They got/look so old, except Samantha! But this is a must for aging fans. People want to see a certain similarity with the characters. 80s sequence was hilarious. Penelope Cruz and Liza Minnelli were two great surprises for those who didn’t know beforehand. Stanford’s wedding was fabulous. Dresses were generally fine but Carrie’s best man crown sucked. They were the most stylish characters of all time, even in the desert! Although it was very nice to see again SatC characters, the movie was generally boring and received horrible critiques. Its imdb rating is currently 3.8 out of 10. We all know that. I am gonna focus on something else.

My dear professor at Sciences-po, Pierre Leglise-Costa used to say: “Every Hollywood movie has a political message. Even King Kong. Even the most stupid American movie.” These messages embedded in films do not necessarily mean the US government finances these movies (although they do it sometimes!) It is a generally known fact that even the lightest movie has a message, and unfortunately even our beloved SatC characters say that. Let’s have a simple look at that.

First the Financial Crisis

The world has gone through a terrible crisis in 2008, and its effects are still so visible in Europe. So grave that, people told Greece to sell her precious islands to pay its debt! USA was hit first, Wall Street crashed, lots of New Yorkers got fired, many lost glamour in their lives. Horrendous critiques were directed to the crème de la crème of New York. After a while, US economy has picked up but not so greatly. However, SatC characters do not suffer from that at all! Our lovely Carrie, who whined about her credit card debts during 6 long years, has never mentioned any financial problem. Well, that’s true that she got married to Mr. Big, but were her financial problems that easy to solve? The only time she mentions the crisis is the sequence where she tells us that they did not put her apartment into market because it was not the best time. It is clear that, in that series, although we watch four New Yorkers, Carrie is the one that complies most with New York image. Samantha is a wanderer, Charlotte is so New England and Miranda has her own Philly roots, but Carrie is New York! And, the second movie tells us we know everything wrong about current NYC. New York is doing just fine; don’t bother fired bankers, empty apartments, crushed economy. Such an illusion!

Secondly, Osama bin Laden

Well, you haven’t heard of him lately, right? The dreadful image of 2000s belongs to him because of his terror, and beard. Remember those days when Western police killed people only based on their Arabic looks? Well, they will not probably be back for a long time because all the Arabs are at the service of Americans now. It is the “New Middle East” which is still “the Middle East”, where Charlotte automatically refuses using her Jewish last name. In the movie, the image of “Middle East” is clear: A copy-paste city in the middle of desert, heavily censored life, unbelievable rules of clothing, eating, living, f**king, and many many many Arabs under the snobby shadows of Yorkers. America may not have captured its biggest enemy, bin Laden, but it has put all the Arabs and some Indians under their control, it teaches them how to dress under their black burkas, it diffuses its writers’ books to desperate women all over the world. And everyone should learn that freedom is fucking on the beach!

I remember those times when SatC was only about relationships. This movie has said some, and very valuable ones like “designing your own relationship rules”; but SatC2 is definitely not enough for its fans. It was also political in a certain way that I personally could not even smile at.

They are talking about SatC3. I am not sure if it is gonna be done after this one’s low profile in the box office. But this is a warning: Leave politics to Jack Bauer and 24! Deal with our own issues, and never let Carrie wear a stupid crown like that again!

30/11/2009, 23:11
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

Sadi Güran, an illustrator from Istanbul, recently became known to me thanks to a friend. Sadi, has been part of many projects. The one who drew my attention is NETAME which is a graphic novel combined with a selection of songs performed by Deniz Cuylan, following a story written by Senem Akçay. The artists explain that the story, illustrations and the music are all intertwined and that all three forms of expression complete each other. The result is NETAME, available in stores in Turkey, since 2007. More info and some of the songs can be found here, at the myspace page of NETAME.

Sadi Güran, also works on his personal website, available here, where he publishes his art and markets a selection of t-shirts and bags with his designs on them. They definitely look very good. Though, it is a disappointment that the website doesn’t let you shop with your credit card. You need to put an order with a money transfer via bank accounts, which makes it very troublesome. Another option to buy those designs is to visit the shop called “Giyenzi” on Kadıköy Bar Street “Kadife Sokak”, in Istanbul.

Other notable works of Sadi, are the illustrations for a fashion catalogue for Özlem Süer, CD booklet illustrations for the band Anima and other works which were exhibited in Stockholm, Paris, New York and Münster.

You can see more of Sadi Güran’s illustrations and some more info on his work at his personal deviantart page, which is here.