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Berlin Neden Çıplak or How do you answer such a question? by bayripley
04/05/2011, 05:43
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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.