Selen Erdoğan: A Queer Take on Violence from the “Periphery” – Bilge Karasu’s Texts as Minor Literature?

For a long time, Turkish literary critics used the label ‘foreign’ when describing a certain group of texts as having a marginal or minor status vis-à-vis national literature. In the early 20th century, these minor texts were seen as “decadent,” “western wannabe” and “mimicry.” By the1950s, the pejorative label used was “closed,” meaning unreadable. These minor texts of Turkish modernity were time and again criticized for focusing too much on the private sphere, or because the author lived abroad,  because they were of mixed descent, or because the title was a foreign-sounding “Tante Rosa” and not the colloquial “Ayşe Teyze.” A common criticism was that these texts were not social realist enough or that they were about vagabond characters. They were not local enough and did not deserve inclusion in the national canon. Since the status of the ‘national’ required literary texts to have a “function,” these so-called ‘useless’ texts could not find positive critical evaluation and formed a minor lineage which would find wide readership only later. Bilge Karasu was one of the leading producers of this minor lineage of modern Turkish literature and his case provides many different angles for rethinking this label of “foreignness” within Turkish literature and the conceptual framework of minor and world literature. His texts engender questions and formulations of thinking more globally about how marginal narratives grow affinities beyond national borders. My research explores how Bilge Karasu’s texts engage with the question of violence, and with the interrelation between violence in the private sphere of queer relationships and in the public sphere of state violence by blurring the distinction between the two. What kind of a discourse on institutional violence does a gay writer from the periphery produce? What are the strategies and failures of creating a queer safe space and how are these strategies complicit with certain forms of violence while critiquing other forms?

Selen Erdoğan is a PhD student at the Turkish Literature Department of Bogazici University, Istanbul, and she resides in the United States as a Fulbright Fellow at the Comparative Literature Department of the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Political Science Department of Boğaziçi University, she recieved her M.A. from the Cultural Studies Program of Sabancı University, Istanbul, with a thesis titled “Writing with/in Irony: Sevgi Soysal’s Tante Rosa and Leyla Erbil’s Cüce”, which focuses on the relationship between irony and women writers’ subjectivity. While she is pursuing her PhD degree, about the relationship between violence and writing in Bilge Karasu’s texts, she has worked as a Turkish Literature lecturer at Sabancı University between 2015 and 2018.


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