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Dystopias of Turkish Modernity: Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book and Bilge Karasu’s Night

February 25- April 1, 2021
Thursdays, 6:00-8:00 p.m. (six sessions)
online via Zoom


This Delve seminar looks at two acclaimed authors of modern Turkish literature and their dystopian novels, The Black Book and Night.

Dystopian narratives portray oppressive systems, and they display a deep suspicion of power structures and their alliance with scientific progress and technology. Published in 1985 in the aftermath of a brutal military coup in Turkey, Night depicts a violent secretive regime set out to murder its dissidents. Dystopian imagery of an unnamed city is permeated with dismembered bodies, silence, and angst. Reminiscent of Kafka’s works, Night raises the question of the relationship between power and justice. The multiple narrators of Night with their ever-shifting identities leave the reader with a profound sense of uncertainty.

In a similar vein to Night, The Black Book (1990), arguably the most complex among Pamuk’s novels, intimates a reflection on writing and authorship. What begins as a story of disappearances, initiating the protagonist’s search for his vanished wife, turns into a quest for the beloved as well as for a master-writer figure. Thus, the plot unfolds as a mystery implying both a mystical yearning and a self-transformation. Along with Pamuk’s cardinal theme of selfhood and identity, The Black Book conjures the author’s native city, Istanbul, in multilayered images through its cultural history, past and present, as ingrained in collective memory. Pamuk’s novel represents multiple references to the history of Turkish modernity, the Ottoman-Turkish novel, Islamic literary and philosophical texts, and the social topography of Istanbul’s bourgeois neighborhoods.

We will explore both novels, focusing on narrative strategies, style, and structure, in short, aesthetic traits of the respective text. When reading Pamuk and Karasu together, we may hear voices of other writers across the globe and over the centuries, such Dante, Borges, Kafka, Faulkner, Calvino, Robbe-Grillet, Bataille, and many others. Your own critical ventures into Night and The Black Book and the pleasure of reading remain as the primary objective.

Night by Bilge Karasu. Translated by Güneli Gün, with the author. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994)
The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk. A New Translation with an Afterword by Maureen Freely (Vintage: 2006)


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DELVE: Dystopias of Turkish Modernity
$ 240.00

Ülker Gökberk

Ülker Gökberk is Professor Emerita of German and Humanities at Reed College.  She earned her Ph.D. in Germanics at the University of Washington (1986) and her M.A. and B.A. degrees in Philosophy at the University of Istanbul.  She has been at Reed since 1986. Her forthcoming book is titled Excavating Memory: Bilge Karasu’s Istanbul and Walter Benjamin’s Berlin.
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