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The Situation of Turkish Literature in the German Polysystem:A Descriptive Study
Posted on Saturday, September 15 @ 12:25:44 EDT
Topic: Globalization

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Europe is a place in minds.
Milan Kundera


By presenting its own literary works to its people, each society aims at improving its literary culture. Society also attempts to satisfy the various needs and wants of its members by providing, according to certain criteria, a variety of literary works from different cultures and countries via translation. These criteria may or may not benefit the source culture. The main point is, in general, the enrichment of the target culture. The criteria of selection and reception of works depend on different factors.

Generally these factors include the social constitution of the target culture, foreign policies, cultural changes. power relationships, the position and conditions of source and target culture. the lack, loss, or crisis of identity of the target and source cultures, and economical wealth; in other words, socio-economic-political factors. On the other hand, random selection may be a factor, which seems to be unlikely, especially, when we consider today's international politics. Nothing appears to be without a reason. Particularly, when it comes to translation, the situation even becomes more complex, as translation is an interdisciplinary, interlingual, and intercultural activity.

Each culture and each nation has its own criteria and approaches in selecting literary works to be translated into its language. The purpose of this study is to analyze and discuss available data in order to draw conclusions about factors that have played a role in the selection and reception of Turkish literary works in the German polysystem.

Primary and secondary metatexts on Turkish literature have been analyzed with the intention to find out data that is useful in evaluating the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem. For this purpose, we have attempted descriptively to analyze three factors considered to have an impact on the reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem with the intention of determining the degree and reason of their influence. This topic has been approached from three perspectives: the image of the 'other' and identity crisis, post-colonialism, and 'the making of culture repertoire.'

The problem in this study is that there are three parties--Turkey as the source culture, Germany as the target culture, and the group of Turkish immigrants representing both source and target cultures. This group makes the discussion complex because it exhibits characteristics of both source and target cultures; however, on the other hand, it seems to be the key to explaining the situation of selection and reception between Turkey and Germany.

Translations have become a need for the individual living in intercommunicative societies. However, the selection and reception of certain 'goods' depend on the selective perception of the individual. Things that are of interest to the individual are perceived instantly, whereas events and facts which are not concerning her/him, are perceived over time if at all. The same situation can be applied to translations. No one translates a book just to do a favor to the author; in some way there has to be a purpose in translating; the request may come from the publisher, the translator, or someone else. That is also the point in the reception of translations. People read because of need, the need being determined by the individual her/himself. Factors that can have an effect on the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem have been studied. According to the results of these studies, it is possible to say that "[e]ach selection involves a targeted decision because it leaves the others out. There is a series of factors that affect the selection; national policies, publishing house policies, the reputation of the source text in its own country; its power, society's general intentions; the mood prevalent in society at that time [...]" etc. (Kuran Burçoglu 1997: 165).

The main factors of this study are the image of the 'other' and identity loss/lack/crisis. As a result, it can be asserted that the image of the 'other' seems to play an important role in the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem, because it reinforces the Westerner's idea of the East. The launch of Nazim Hikmet and Aziz Nesin's translations in Germany in the 1960s was affected by a different factor: their interpretation as the ideological reflection of the 'other' in this country (Kuran Burçoglu 1997:166). The translations of Sabahattin Ali's books have only been published in the former Democratic Republic of Germany (DDR), a selection in accordance with Sabahattin Ali's ideological views. Writers professing unorthodox ideologies do not have a good chance in the German polysystem. Mesut Caner explains this situation briefly, "When the works do not contain an overdose of oriental exoticism or political bruises, then they are simply not interesting. Thus, Thousand and One Night stories or just prejudiced statements are published" (www.literaturca.de).

Carbe (2001:2) supposes that the reason why Orhan Pamuk, Nedim Gürsel, and Yasar Kemal have drawn great attention is that they succeeded in narrating in an orientalistic way, which was in line with the Europeans' expectations. She also claims that even before World War 1, the interest was rather slight, and those who were interested in Turkish literature were Orientalists and Turcologues. This seems to be a fact, since also in his article dated 1917, Hachtmann appeals to his readers and colleagues to appreciate, read, and translate Turkish litereature, and even to learn Turkish. It is certain from his way of writing that he was an admirer of everything related to Turkey. On the other hand, according to Carbe, the German reader is neither curious about nor interested in the events or changes occurring in the Orient. The only way to make the German critic and reader have a look into a piece of Turkish literature is for the author to offer some bright exoticism, mysteries of the world of the Harem, or revelations about the otherwise invisible hierarchic structures. Consequently, the German critic/reader only expects to read the cliches that are prevalent in her/his mind, which is a drawback in the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem.

On the other hand, literature showing the Turkish people without a distinct identity caused a change in the attitude of Turks living in Germany. Instead of keeping silent, the second and third generations decided to turn up their voices; instead of adaptation, they have chosen the way of protest and provocation (Carbe 2001:4). Pazarkaya (1982:193) explains the rise in the number of translations from Turkish into German after the 1970s with the "socialization process" of the Turks living there. At that time around 1.5 million Turks were living in Germany; by now this number has increased to approximately 3 million. Turkish has become, after German, the most widely spoken language in Germany. Under these conditions, the Turkish people living in Germany may have lost some of their identity, because especially the third generation living there has become to some extent hybrid by adopting the German culture at the expense of their Turkish background. One may think now that this may be a reason for having Turkish literature flourish there, but Beatrix Caner states the opposite. Interest in Turkish literature remains low, and because many Turkish immigrants cannot read in German or at all, it cannot flourish as expected. Another genre has developed as a possible result, similar to the post-colonial one, either written in Turkish and translated into German, or written totally in the German polysystem by subverting the German language. It is a fact that those born in the 1960s have become rather active in immigrant literature; however, the attention that they have drawn is only temporary (www.literaturca.de). It still is an example of 'transfer' of 'imported' goods.

Nevertheless, Beatrix Caner, while admitting that many Turkish works have been translated into German, doubts that the number of publications is commensurate with their quality. The same concern is also expressed by Pazarkaya regarding translations into Turkish. He argues about the reason why so many translations appear in Turkey, while relatively few translations of Turkish authors are being published in the West. His explanation is, that this may be because Turkey's literature is the literature of an economically and politically underemancipated country. This idea is very close to what Jacquemond (1992) suggests in his article on post-colonialism. From Jacquemond's explanations it can be deduced that the colonizing or dominating power is also powerful in imposing its language, literature and culture on the weak and backward. This certainly sets its limits upon the selection and reception of works belonging to the weak. The impact of such an attitude causes other changes in weak societies. In the post-colonialist era, post-colonial writers started to write in the language of the former dominant power, so that they had the opportunity to subvert the language with their own culture-specific writings. The same has happened in Germany. For instance, Carbe says that it is hard for Turkish literature to be even recognized there as literature. For publishing houses, translations from Turkish represent a risk. Beatrix Caner explains the situation by stating that even the most famous Turkish authors do not sell more than 2000 copies in Germany. The similarity with post-colonialism starts at this point. The Turkish community has started to establish its own publishing houses, and Turkish writers living there now write in German. There are examples of Turkish writers who subvert the German language in the same way post-colonial writers do. Turkish immigrant writers deal with subjects about Turkey, write about or introduce Turkish writers, and prepare anthologies of Turkish literature.

It was said that translation depended on need; in 1917 Hachtmann attempted to convince his readers that they needed to read Turkish literature; the success of his exhortations was moderate but better than in the post-war situation (1945-1960). It took nearly two decades for Germans to become to some extent interested again in Turkish literature. The main reason for the interest was the migration of Turkish workers to Germany in the early 60s, but this interest weakened again after 1960. The underlying implication is that Germans were unfamiliar with the 'other' men and women coming to work in their country, and this might have resulted in the growth of interest in Turkish literature in order to get to know the newcomers. Nevertheless, this interest was moderate, as data has also shown. An actual increase in the number of translations from Turkish into German occurs after the 1980s, since by then the second generation living there had grown up and was in search of an identity. They suffered the hardship of being cultural hybrids; they knew that they were of Turkish origin, but were assimilated into German society; otherwise they would have experienced the conflicts the first generation had faced. Instead, they chose to "[...] bring[ ] in goods to fill in certain functions which [we]re absent in the target" (Even-Zohar 1997:378). These goods were 'imported' from the country of their origin. Furthermore, they adapted themselves to both the German and the Turkish culture. Consequently they had transferred these goods so successfully that they then started to produce their own hybrid source texts. If a research were carried out about the origins of publishing house owners' publishing Turkish literature and translators translating Turkish literature, it would probabaly find that these people are themselves Turks or in some way have a Turkish parent, spouse or some other relative, or that they have studied Turcology, or have studied in Turkey. For instance, today there are well-known publishing houses like Ararat, Dagyeli, Önel and Literaturca, which are owned and managed by Turks. Veysel Atayman and Ömer Faruk (in Aker 2001), for example, recognize that their purpose in founding a publishing house after the 1980s was to participate in cultural planning and express their own views. Furthermore, Latife Tekin maintained in a speech at Yildiz Technical University that she had taken up writing in order to re-establish her world view which had been shattered after the collapse of the military regime in 1980. Turkish people living, working, and writing in the German Polysystem are now shaping and expressing their images of themselves and proving their identity. Although Carbe and Caner maintain that the interest has lessened in recent times, they, as well as Pazarkaya, are optimistic about the next generation growing up in Germany.

In this study it is described how and why the image of the 'other' may have a negative impact on the target culture if it does not wish to become informed about the 'other' and her/his identity. Furthermore, the problem of owning an image that has no identity may be a drawback in the reception of one's literature. On the other hand, as power is related to image and identity, the economically, socially, and politically powerful target culture is not willing to accept the weak source culture if it does not fit into the target culture's expectations.

However, if the two countries discussed here were not Turkey and Germany, linked by a minority from the former living in the latter, the consequences might have been different. As is, the situation of these two countries seems to fit the pattern of post-colonialism. Because Turks live and produce in Germany, the flow of cultural transfer appears to continue as long as one of the sides is in need of the goods. There even exists the possibility that the exchange, somewhat one-sided today, becomes bidirectional in the future.

In terms of factors having effects on the selection and reception of Turkish literature into the German polysystem, the conclusion can be drawn that certain factors may have both a positive and a negative impact; in cases like the one discussed here, negative effects are likely to be turned into positive under appropriate conditions; in other cases these factors might have been turned out completely negative. In our case the results are mixed; a plausible explanation might be that here two different cultures live in one target society, one of them being of a hybrid nature with both imported and indigenous elements. Therefore, even if it is not as strong as the target culture, this hybrid still has a certain power that allows it to act as a mediator between its own source culture, i.e. its origin, and the target culture it lives in; its flexibility is provided by its character of cultural hybrid.

The results are then:

the image of the 'other' plays an important role in the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem;
the concept of identity crisis of the 'other' has an effect on the target culture because it wishes to perceive the 'other' in a weaker position than itself;
notions of post-colonialism provide a comprehensive explanation for the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem, and for the creation of immigrant literature in Germany,
the role of import and transfer is not only important in the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem, but also in having created a new genre.
The difficulty in this study is the existence of an immigrant group. Even if the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem is not as one would desire, it is used by this migrant group to insert their culture into the target culture, i.e. to make the target society aware of its existence. In one way, it seems to be a representative of Turkish literature; in other ways it represents itself. In this case, the conclusion may be drawn that beside the above results, the fact that cannot be denied is that immigrants play a major role in the selection and reception of Turkish literature in the German polysystem.

by Serpil Türk Hotaman


Carbe, M. (2001): Blind für den Brückenkopf? Türkische Literatur im deutschen Sprachraum. In: Literatur und Kunst, NZZ Online, 10.11.2001
Eker, A. (2001): Publishing Translation in the Social Sciences since the 1980's: An Alternative View of Culture Planning in Turkey (unpublished M.A. Thesis), Bogaziçi University.
Even-Zohar, I. (1997): The Making of Culture Repertoire and the Role of Transfer. In: Target, 9(2). pp. 373-381.
Hachtmann, O. (1917): Die Neuere und Neueste Türkische Literatur: Eine Einleitung zu Ihrem Studium. In: Die Welt des Islams, Band V, Heft 1/2. pp. 57-77.
Jacquemond, R. (1992): Translation and Cultural Hegemony: The Case of French-Arabic Translation. In: Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology. (ed.) Andre Lefevere. London and New York: Routledge, pp.139-158
Kuran Burçoglu, N. (1997): 'Öteki' Imgesinin Olusmasinda Çevirinin Belirleyici Rolü. In: 1. Uluslararasi Çeviri Kolokyumu Bildiri Kitabi, Çevirinin Ekinsel Yönleri, Hasan Ali Yücel Anisina, YTÜ, Müt.Ter.Ana. B.D. Istanbul 23-25 Ekim 1997, pp. 164-170.
Pazarkaya, Y. (1982): Rosen im Frost: Einblicke in die türkische Kultur. Zürich: Unionsverlag.

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