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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?