Oğuz Atay - Probably the most eminent novel of twentieth-century Turkish literature, a work that won high critical acclaim and popular following, Tutunamayanlar offers an endless series of tragicomic observations, an expansive and critical panorama of Turkish manners, attitudes and clichés through a profound sense of irony, parody, dark humor and existential questioning
Oğuz Atay, Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected), 1971-1972.
When it comes to Turkish literature, we are lamentably deprived. The gaping lacuna is what is considered by many to be the greatest 20th-century literary achievement in Turkey: Oğuz Atay’s experimental, linguistically complex novel of ideas Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected). It has been quite a while since it was put up on the UNESCO site as an important literary work in need of English translation, and, just like German Espinosa’s masterpiece The Weaver of Crowns, it still remains unavailable for a host of the prospective readers. Granted, the author’s use of different varieties of Turkish such as the heavily arabicised Ottoman Turkish and the purist, reformed Turkish, the so-called Öztürkçe, renders the job of the translator extremely demanding, but not unfeasible. The conclusive proof of that is the Dutch translation of the novel published four years ago. At the moment it is the only translation of Otay’s book into any other language, so, I guess, we should congratulate the Dutch on having the privilege to read the cult classic.
The plot of the novel focuses primarily on the quest of engineer Turgut Özben to find out the reason for his friend’s suicide. The investigation leads the main character to the array of different texts left by the deceased, and the further Özben proceeds with his inquiry, the closer he approaches his own radical transformation. If it sounds like something written by Orhan Pamuk, you should not be surprised as Otay has exercised considerable influence on the Nobel Laureate. Within the context of Turkish letters, Otay was a trailblazer whose innovative techniques left a lasting impression on the next generation of writers. The manner in which the story of Özben’s search is presented took the Turkish reader at the time by surprise, which partly explains why Otay’s novel received due recognition much later, already after the writer’s untimely death at the age of 43. As one of the Dutch translators of the novel Hanneke van der Heijden writes:
The literary form of Atay’s novel was not exactly what readers were used to either: the unbridled stream of consciousness, all kinds of short texts in different genres, that cut across the story, such as a poem of 600 lines plus commentary, a chapter of 70 pages, written without a single comma or full stop – it may remind us, the readers of today, of James Joyce, of Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and other western modernist writers – writers Atay was very familiar with. But, as the critic Ahmet Oktay once remarked, the number of Turkish readers that in the beginnings of the seventies had read Ulysses, was no more than ten.
The more pity that most of us who have read Ulysses and seem to be ready for this seminal text of Turkish modernism have to live with our frustration for an unknown period of time. Maybe learning Turkish or Dutch could be a more realistic alternative to waiting for a quality English translation to materialise in the foreseeable future.
Hanneke van der Heijden has her own blog dedicated to Turkish literature. Most of it is in Dutch, but the written version of her talk on the translation of Tutunamayanlar is available in English. It’s the best article about Otay’s novel in English you will find on the Web, and I urge you to check it out. - - theuntranslated.wordpress.com/
It’s often surprising to see how literature resists globalisation, how famous books in one language can be kept a secret from readers in other languages for many years. Dutch masterpieces, many of which have not been translated into German, French, English, or Turkish, are a good example. How many readers outside of The Netherlands and Flanders have heard of Gerard Reve, Hella Haasse or Willem Frederik Hermans, and the novels they wrote? Who knows the poetry of Jan Slauerhoff or Lucebert?
Unfortunately, many Turkish literary masterpieces share this fate. A prominent example is the novel Tutunamayanlar (‘The Disconnected’) by the author Oğuz Atay. Oğuz Atay started typing the first sentences some time in 1968. Since its publication in 1971/1972 Tutunamayanlar has had 49 reprints. Over the years Atay’s debut novel became one of the best selling Turkish titles ever, even in illegal prints: the thick book is a sine qua non of many stands selling pirate editions in the streets. Forty years after its publication, the novel and its author are still vividly discussed in Turkish internet forums and on Facebook.
Yet, except for the Dutch translation by my colleague Margreet Dorleijn and me, which came out under the title Het leven in stukken in November 2011, the novel has not been published in any other translations. Ms Sevin Seydi made an English translation at a very early stage, ‘while Atay was still writing his book’, as his biographer Yıldız Ecevit put it. But until now no publishing house in the Anglophone world has published an English translation. The few publishing houses abroad that did publish translations of Atay’s work, didn’t choose Tutunamayanlar but other titles: the Swiss publishing house Unions Verlag chose Bir bilim adamının romanı, published as ‘Der Mathematiker’, a biographical novel about the famous mathematician Mustafa İnan. In Germany publishing house Binooki published Atay’s short stories, Korkuyu beklerken, under the title of Warten auf die Angst, as did the French Editions L’Harmattant (‘En guettant la peur’). Atay’s other work, the novel Tehlikeli oyunlar (‘Dangerous games’), a play with the title Oyunlarla Yaşayanlar (‘Those who live by games’), his diary and an unfinished piece of fiction Eylembilim (‘Science of action’), has thus far not been translated into any other language. Still, the very first book that comes to the mind of Turkish readers whenever Atay’s name is mentioned, is the very first novel he wrote, a book that over the years reached cult status: his debut Tutunamayanlar.
Let’s start with the book the way a reader starts, or rather someone seeing the book in a bookshop: with the title, Tutunamayanlar as it is called in Turkish. The title word is a noun derived from the verb tutunmak ‘to hold on to (sth.)’. The negative, expressed by the infix –ama–, adds the meaning of ‘not being able to’, an inability, which at the same time, however, has a touch of unwillingness to it. As a noun the word is a neologism which was coined by Atay; the popularity of the novel made the word enter the Turkish language.
Who are these ‘tutunamayanlar’, the ‘disconnected’ as they are called in the English translation, or ‘griplozen’ as we named them in Dutch? Maybe we should first listen to Oğuz Atay, or rather to one of his characters, Selim Işık, to let him explain the characteristics of this species. It will also give you a taste of the style of the book – but only partly, because the novel contains many different styles. One of the texts that interrupt the story line in this dazzling novel, is an entry on the ‘Tutunamayanlar’, a lemma to be included in the Encyclopeadia of Strange Creatures.
Since I’m one of the Dutch translators, I’d like to read the passage from our translation – it will give you some idea of what the translation sounds like. Though Dutch is the mother tongue of some 22 million Europeans, 17 million Dutch and 5 million Flemish, it is not widely known outside of the Netherlands and Belgium. Therefore, just to make sure, I should maybe quickly explain that Dutch belongs to the Germanic languages, together with languages like English, German, Norwegian and Danish. Although the languages in this group share close similarities, Dutch is certainly not a dialect of German, or a mixture of German and English, as is often thought. For centuries, it evolved independently from the languages spoken in its neighbouring countries. Speakers of German, English, Danish, or any other Germanic language, will usually not understand Dutch without language instruction. Flemish-Dutch is spoken in the Northern part of Belgium; it’s a variety of the Dutch as it is spoken in the Netherlands. Although there are differences in accent, grammar and vocabulary, Dutch and Flemish are mutually understandable.
For those among you who don’t know Dutch the Turkish original will be shown on the screen.
Griploze (Erectus Disconnectus): onbeholpen en schichtig dier. Kan zo groot worden als een volwassen mens en vertoont daar oppervlakkig gezien ook veel gelijkenis mee. Klauwen en vooral nagels zijn echter niet erg sterk. Is niet in staat om in bergachtig gebied steile hellingen te beklimmen, heeft dan geen grip. Daalt hellingen bij voorkeur glijdend af (waarbij vallen vaak voorkomt). Lichaamsbeharing is verwaarloosbaar. De ogen zijn groot maar het zicht is slecht ontwikkeld. Naderend gevaar wordt daardoor vaak te laat onderkend.
De mannetjes slaken smartelijke kreetjes als ze alleen gelaten worden. Dezelfde kreten gebruiken zij voor het lokken van wijfjes. Griplozen houden zich meestal op in de holen van andere dieren (zolang die hun aanwezigheid kunnen verdragen). Ook vestigen ze zich wel in verlaten nesten. Ze kennen geen familiestructuur. [...]
Religieuze spijswetten verbieden het eten van deze diersoort. Toch wordt erop gejaagd en komt het vlees illegaal op de markt. Griplozen laten zich eenvoudig bejagen. Indien men hen met begripvolle blik aankijkt, komen ze zonder meer naderbij. Daarna is het een koud kunstje om ze te doden. De Gemeentelijke Keuringsdienst van Waren heeft een verbod ingesteld op het slachten van griplozen; ze zouden drager zijn van voor de mens schadelijke micro-organismen. Medici zouden meermalen hebben vastgesteld dat mensen na het eten van griplozenvlees symptomen vertoonden als matheid, lichte verveling, gewetensnood van onduidelijke herkomst en oprispingen van onverklaarbare schuldgevoelens. [...]
Doordat ze altijd met gebogen hoofd lopen, stoten ze overal tegenaan en hebben ze over hun hele lijf blauwe plekken en verwondingen. Weekhartige mensen die griplozen in dergelijke toestand aantroffen hebben wel geprobeerd de dieren te domesticeren. Maar gezien hun onvermogen zich naar huiselijke regels te voegen is het bijzonder lastig hen als huisdier te houden. Ze kunnen zonder aanleiding hun baas aanvallen. Als ze vervolgens op straat worden gezet, weigeren ze te vertrekken. Ze blijven dan dagenlang smartelijk janken bij de voordeur en werken zo hun baas op het gemoed. [...] (1)
Tutunamayan (disconnectus erectus): beceriksiz ve korkak bir hayvandır. İnsan boyunda olanları bile vardır. İlk bakışta, dış görünüşüyle, insana benzer. Yalnız, pençeleri ve özellikle tırnakları çok zayıftır. Dik arazide, yokuş yukarı hiç tutunamaz. Yokuş aşağı, kayarak iner. (Bu arada sık sık düşer). Tüyleri yok denecek kadar azdır. Gözleri çok büyük olmakla birlikte, görme duygusu zayıftır. Bu nedenle tehlikeyi uzaktan göremez.
Erkekleri, yalnız bırakıldıkları zaman acıklı sesler çıkarırlar. Dişilerini de aynı sesle çağırırlar. Genellikle başka hayvanların yuvalarında (onlar dayanabildikleri sürece) barınırlar. Ya da terkedilmiş yuvalarda yaşarlar. Belirli bir aile düzenleri yoktur. [...]
Din kitapları, bu hayvanları yemeyi yasaklamışsa da, gizli olarak avlanmakta ve etleri kaçak olarak satılmaktadır. Tutunamayanları avlamak çok kolaydır. Anlayışla bakışlarla süzerseniz, hemen yaklaşırlar size. Ondan sonra tutup öldürmek işten değildir. İnsanlara zararlı bazı mikroplar taşıdıkları tespit edildiğinden, Belediye Sağlık Müdürlüğü de tutunamayan kesimini yasak etmiştir. Yemekten sonra insanlarda görülen durgunluk, hafif sıkıntı, sebebi bilinmeyen vicdan azabı ve hiç yoktan kendini suçlama gibi duygulara sebep oldukları, hekimlerce ileri sürülmektedir. [...]
Başları daima öne eğik gezdikleri için, çeşitli engellere takılırlar ve her tarafları yara bere içinde kalır. Onları bu durumda gören bazı yufka yürekli insanlar, tutunamayanları ev hayvanı olarak beslemeyi de denemişler. Fakat insanlar arasında barınmaları – ev düzenine uyamamaları nedeniyle – çok zor olmaktadır. Beklenmedik zamanlarda sahiplerine saldırmakta ve evden kovulunca da bir türlü gitmeyi bilmemektedir. Evin kapısında günlerce, acıklı sesleriyle bağırarak ev sahibini canından bezdirmektedirler. [...] (2)
Summary of the novel
I will tell more about the reception of the novel and about some of the translational aspects, but let me first give you a short summary of Tutunamayanlar.
One morning in the second half of the twentieth century, ‘on a site in the northeast of the big city, between points with a latitude of fourty one degrees, zero zero minutes one second North, a longitude of twenty nine degrees twelve minutes East and twenty nine degrees twelve minutes one second East’, Turgut Özben wakes up and reads the news of Selim Işık’s suicide in the paper.
The former soul mates Selim Işık and Turgut Özben, who met at university while studying to become civil engineers, lost touch with each other once Turgut got married. Although in their student years both of them decided never to give in to the bourgeois life style and the expectations by society, Turgut finds himself married, a father of two daughters and employed as an engineer working in an office.
Shocked by the news of Selim’s death, Turgut starts reconsidering his own life: how did he get to the point where he’s now? He recalls his memories of Selim, their days together, their conversations and debates, and comes to the conclusion he never really knew Selim. In order to find out who he was and what drove him to kill himself, Turgut traces some of Selim’s other friends – all of them unknown to him, as Selim didn’t like to introduce his friends to one another, even kept them strictly apart. Turgut visits Selim’s mother, finds all kinds of texts written by Selim, meets his friends Süleyman Kargı, Metin, Esat and his sister Aysel, gets into contact with Selim’s former girl friend, Günseli. And from every story by Selim’s friends, from every text written by Selim, a different Selim arises.
The more Turgut makes efforts to enter Selim’s world, the more he becomes alienated from his own life and routines. Finally, in order to read Selim’s diaries, given to him by Günseli, he sets off on a journey, knowing he won’t come back to his family and his regular life. He and Olric, the inner voice that has started to join him during this exploration, the one he is in constant dialogue with, finally get on a train. They crisscross the country until they get off at a distant railway station, and disappear in the crowd.
Maybe this comes across as a rather simple story line for such a fat novel – a novel which is presented to the reader as Turgut Özben’s manuscript, published on his request by a journalist. Though the book could be called an adventure story, Turgut’s adventure is not so much an adventure taking place in the outside world, an adventurous journey full of action. His is rather an adventure in the inner world, one that explores ideas and values. An adventure that at the same time takes place in the realm of language. The joy to play with language and to extend the possibilities offered by it as much as possible, the heartbreaking struggle with the shortcomings of language literally burst from the pages. The story line itself is intersected with an abundance of other texts and exposés – texts written by Selim mostly, such as a play, a long poem with a commentary, entries for an encyclopaedia, letters, diaries, an old document listing the principles of a secret society, police records of their meetings etc. It is this overwhelming abundance, this creative outburst that so many readers find attractive. But this very same quality made one of the first critics of Tutunamayanlar cry out that ‘the guy had apparently written down every bloody thing that came to his mind!’
Unfamiliar form and themes
Indeed, when we speak of the popularity, and even cult status, of Atay’s novel, we must add that it wasn’t until 1984 that Tutunamayanlar started to become popular, that is some 12 years after the book was first published. Atay himself unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see the success and recognition he had hoped for. He died in 1977.
In 1970, right after Atay had finished the manuscript of Tutunamayanlar, his book received a literary prize awarded by the radio and television channel TRT. Still, there were hardly any publishers willing to take the risk of publishing the voluminous debut novel of an unknown engineer – for just as the characters in his debut, Atay was as an engineer by profession. Finally, by the end of 1971, a new and small publishing house, Sinan, ventured to publish the book. The publisher lacked the money to bring out the whole novel, and split it into two volumes, which were published several months after one another.
What was it that made publishers so hesitant, and critics so critical?
‘What I had in mind when writing Tutunamayanlar, was something very simple,’ Atay remarked in an interview in 1972, soon after his debut was published. ‘I simply wanted to describe mankind. [...] I don’t have the talents of a great novelist who turns individuals into puppets whose strings he pulls as he likes. I have no big theories to apply to my characters, no big ideals I let them pursue.’
Today’s readers might consider this statement as an open door. But the climate of the seventies was extremely polarised, and ideological differences between people could easily turn into fatal fights. It was a violent climate which eventually, in May 1971, resulted in a harsh coup. In the literary circles at the time, novels that ‘praise people to the skies for not making up their minds’, as one critic put it, were not particularly appreciated.
In addition, Atay is rather critical when it comes to the world of left wing hard liners. He criticizes the authoritarian and inconsistent behaviour some of them expose. What’s worse, it’s not a criticism coming from someone from the outside: before Atay embarked on his first novel, he had been writing for left wing magazines himself. He knew their world from within. Surely critics were not amused by the disillusionments apparent in his novel: most critics, most of the prominent magazines, were left wing.
But it was not just the unusual content that made readers frown. The literary form of Atay’s novel was not exactly what readers were used to either: the unbridled stream of consciousness, all kinds of short texts in different genres, that cut across the story, such as a poem of 600 lines plus commentary, a chapter of 70 pages, written without a single comma or full stop – it may remind us, the readers of today, of James Joyce, of Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and other western modernist writers – writers Atay was very familiar with. But, as the critic Ahmet Oktay once remarked, the number of Turkish readers that in the beginnings of the seventies had read Ulysses, was no more than ten. As a matter of fact, Ulysses was translated into Turkish in 1992, and translations of Pale Fire (‘Solgun Ateş’) by Nabokov, and Man without Qualities (‘Niteliksiz Adam’) by Robert Musil didn’t appear before the nineties either; the original editions of these novels were hard to find, and required an excellent proficiency in the original languages. To his Turkish readership Atay’s literary experiment was, in other words, rather unusual.
In fact, criteria that were often applied to evaluate novels, that is: the formulation of clear-cut political stand points, expressed in a transparent, conventional literary form, were the heritage of the 19th century, when the remainders of the Ottoman empire were undergoing huge and comprehensive political and societal reforms. Many intellectuals and artists were at the forefront of this political movement. They considered it their task and responsibility to take part, and they used their works of art as a means to convey the new ideals. In the same period, under the influence of western, notably French literature, the genre of the novel entered Turkey. Thus, important representatives of Turkish literature considered individualism and playfulness as something close to a mortal sin. Atay committed both.
In Atay’s novel not uniformity is the norm, but pluriformity, expressed in a literary form that is as pluriform as the many forms taken on by Selim, varying according to the angle Turgut looks from, the people he talks to, the texts left behind by Selim. This brings the question to mind what we are, what makes us the person, the individual we are? What distinguishes us from others? What does it mean to be oneself? As much as we can raise this question with regard to the individuality of a person, we can ask ourselves this question in relation to a culture, a civilisation, a society. Considering all the different influences that affect and have affected a culture, what is it that distinguishes a particular one from all other existing cultures? It is this issue that is one of the core questions in Atay’s debut novel, and in many other texts he wrote.
It is an issue which is also addressed by other Turkish authors preceding Oğuz Atay, however different their work may be from what Atay wrote: Examples are Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil with novels like Kırık hayatlar (‘Broken Lives’) Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Yusuf Atılgan – again, authors whose work has hardly been translated into other languages.
Uniformity in the new republic
Considering the history of modern Turkey, it’s not surprising that the issue of the identity of a culture is so often referred to and explored in literature. Few countries have seen such an intense orientation to another culture or have experienced such a disruptive cut off from their past and their cultural traditions as Turkey in the process of transformation from empire to republic.
When the Ottoman empire lost more and more of its power and territory, while being threatened at the same time by internal ethnic nationalist movements that demanded independence for their own people, a transformation process was undertaken which showed a strong orientation to the west – as much in economic terms as in military, political and cultural questions. In 1923 this resulted in the establishment of the republic of Turkey by Atatürk and his companions.
But it was a scattered country the new regime inherited, poor and traumatised, with a glorious past that had gone to pieces, and an unclear future ahead. One of the main issues the new rulers were facing was how to mould a new national identity which would hold together the patchwork of different ethnic, religious and social groups that inhabited the remainders of the Ottoman empire – a diversity which, I think, is still one of Turkey’s most striking features for anyone coming from abroad. Since precisely this diversity was considered to be one of the main causes of the decline of the empire, the new focus was on uniformity.
In the process of creating a new national identity which was to include all inhabitants, regardless of their ethnic, linguistic or religious background, two elements played a key role: Turkish history and the Turkish language. Both of them were used as a means to unite the inhabitants of the new nation state. Very soon after the proclamation of the republic, the new regime established two institutes under direct state control: the Turkish History Society (Türk Tarih Kurumu; 1931), and the Turkish Language Society (Türk Dil Kurumu; 1932).
Clearing the language
The Turkish Language Society was appointed the task of standardising the language, making it apt to be the symbol of Turkish national unity. To this end, drastic language reforms were implemented. The replacement of the Arabic alphabet by the Latin one (with minor adaptations for Turkish sounds) is one of the best known reforms. From 1929 onwards texts could no longer be printed in the Arabic alphabet (although many people kept writing their private notes, their letters and diaries in the so called ‘old letters’. The diaries and manuscripts of the author Tanpınar (1901-1962), for example, are written in Arabic script.).
Although less well known abroad, the reform of the language itself, of its lexicon and grammar, was at least as far reaching as the alphabet reform. A large scale campaign was started to replace Arabic and Persian words and their grammatical structures by what was called Öztürkçe, ‘pure Turkish’ equivalents. These replacements were often borrowed from dialects spoken in Turkey, or from Turkic languages in Central Asia, such as Tatar. But words were also newly coined, gluing together different Turkish stems. However, to free a language from all external influences is a venture which is doomed to fail: what is endemic? The further back one goes in history, the more even the most original things prove to be borrowed or influenced by ‘the other’. In order to counter any objections and contradictions, the Sun Language Theory was constructed, a pseudoscientific linguistic hypothesis proposing that all human languages are descendants of one Central Asian primal language. According to this theory, Turkic is the only remaining language which is still more or less the same as this primal language, thus implying that eventually every word or morpheme is Turkish.
In pursuing this purification campaign, the Turkish Language Society issued lists of pure Turkish (Öztürkçe) words to replace their Arabic and Persian counterparts. This often affected very frequent daily words such as in the case where örneğin, a pure Turkish neologism, was proposed to replace the common mesela, of Arabic origin. In its extremes, the purification campaign resulted in a newspeak of long-winded descriptions, often made fun of with neologisms like çok oturgaçlı göturgeç ‘bringing device with many sitting devices’ for otobüs, ‘bus’. That these newly formed words were not always comprehensible is also clear from the fact that in many books written in Öztürkçe, the daily, normally used Arabic or Persian word is given in brackets. Some of the pure Turkish new formations survive until this day, others died a very early death.
Though Arabic and Persian were associated with a past that was to be forgotten as soon as possible, French, the language of the new Leitkultur, was very popular among reformers. Thus, French loan words and borrowings, such as konfirme etmek ‘to confirm’ or empoze etmek ‘to impose’, were frequently used in pro-western movements.
This stringent language policy, in combination with the wilfulness of reality, resulted in two parallel varieties of Turkish, both of which were highly ideologically coloured. Öztürkçe, the pure Turkish, or zuiverturks, zuivertaal as we translated it, was associated with left wing, progressive movements – an amalgam of different political tendencies, including kemalist and nationalistic ones; the language of conservative segments in society, on the other hand, had a more Arabic/Persian taste to it. In addition, pro-westerners liked to flavour their Turkish with French loans, a role that was later taken over by English.
Language became, in other words, a medium for expressing ideological preferences. At least: it was perceived as such. Since in the polarised society of the seventies there was hardly such a thing as ideologically neutral language use, anyone opening his mouth, or writing something on a piece of paper, was forced to choose between Öztürkçe or an Arabic/Persian variant – and was judged accordingly. For people not wanting to be included in either of the ideological camps, language became a true Scylla and Charibdis, a constant navigation between two undesired extremes.
Language varieties in Tutunamayanlar and their translation
In Tutunamayanlar Atay pushes the prevalent range of language variation even further. As a modernist writer, he doesn’t simply reflect an objective reality. On the contrary, he perceives reality as something that can’t be reached, can’t be discussed, because language, the order of language, always stands in between object and subject. ‘Language is the mirror of our lives,’ says Turgut with a sigh. A mirror indeed, reflecting, but not showing what is behind.
Thus, apart from the Öztürkçe and the more Arabic/Persian flavoured variant of Turkish, Tutunamayanlar includes texts in a stately official Ottoman as it was used in previous centuries, containing hardly a single word in Turkish; there’s a text in semi-Gök-Turkish, the language attributed to the Central Asian stem of Gökturks, living in the 8th century, the supposed ancestors of all Turks; and there are fragments of horrid translations of French texts, a Turkish full of halfheartedly turkificized French words.
Finding equivalents for the different language varieties was obviously one of the biggest challenges in the process of translation. Dutch was never subjected to such a stringent language policy as Turkish (and frankly, I assume few languages have been). Trying to find two parallel, coexisting varieties of Dutch, to exactly meet the nearly diglossic situation in Turkish, would be a mission impossible. But like all languages, Dutch too has been exposed to the influence of foreign languages in the course of history. The French occupation at the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century, left its marks on Dutch. Like in negatie – ontkenning ‘denial’, there are quite a lot of pairs of synonyms, one with Romanic, the other with Germanic roots. Often the Romanic word has an old fashioned, or a more stately connotation. French was a language with high prestige, in schools, in trade, and in daily life. Until far in the 20th century, many upper-class families in the Netherlands used French at home, for dinner conversation for instance, and raised their children in this language.
In Flanders, the north of Belgium, contact with French lasted longer and was more invasive. As a consequence the resistance against incorporating French loan words into Flemish has always been much stronger than in The Netherlands. Punaise, for example, a loan from French, is the common word for ‘drawing pin’ in The Netherlands, paraplu for ‘umbrella’; in Flemish however, Germanic loan translations are often preferred to French loans. Instead of punaise one uses duimspijker, that is ‘thumb nail’, instead of paraplu regenscherm, ‘rain screen’.
In our translation, we used this dichotomy of Romanic vs Germanic rooted words in order to translate the Arabic/Persian and the Öztürkçe variants. In cases of excessive use of Arabic/Persian words we chose from a Romanic (French / Latin) vocabulary existing in Dutch; in cases of Oztürkçe, we used Germanic words or invented words made of Germanic roots.
An example of a part from the book with an excessive amount of Öztürkçe words:
5- Gökçın Karma: Azılı bir düzen yağısıdır. Orta boylu, kaslı, saçları dökülmeye başlamış, gökçeses (müzik) düşkünü, günbatımına (akşam) değin çadırında bağırır (şarkı söyler). Saçları dökülmeye başlayalı bıyık bıraktı. Okuduğu betikler tüm yabancı dildendir. Olaydan birkaç gün önce bütün betiklerini at uşağına armağan etmiş (uşağı da salıvermiş) ve gece gündüz demeden Bilig-Tenüz okumaya vermiş kendini.
5. Gökçin Karma: vurig weerstrever van de heersende orde. Van gemiddelde lengte, gespierd, kalend, groot liefhebber van hemelklank (muziek), bulderbrult (zingt) van ochtendstond tot avondstond in zijn zeildoekspansel (tent). Laat zijn snor staan sinds zijn haar is gaan uitvallen. Leest alleen leesklanktekenbanden (boeken) in vreemde talen. Heeft een paar dagen vóór de geschiedenis echter al zijn leesklanktekenbanden aan zijn rosknecht gegeven (en die rosknecht ook weggestuurd) en leest nu dag en nacht in de ‘Wereldzee van Wijsheid’.
An example of a fragment in some kind of ‘high Ottoman’, with many words from Arabic or Persian origin.
6 Takdir-i İlâhi’nin mümkün kıldığı nev-i beşerin idame-i hayat edebilmesi için elzem olan muvazene unsuru ise, Müşfik Salgan’ın şahsında tebellür eder. İlâhî Uzviyetin küçük beyni mertebesinde addedilmesi iktiza eden ve tevazunun müşahhas misâli olan Ulu Salgan, Nâmütenâhi Orkan’ın kuvvet ve kudretini, cemiyyetin âlî menfaatleri için tahdit ve tesbit etmek üzere mevcuttur. Şöyle ki: [...]
6 En waarlijk, het element van equilibrium, conditio sine qua non voor het voortbestaan der menselijke species, door de Goddelijke Voorzienigheid mogelijk gemaakt zijnde, manifesteert zich in de persoon van Salgan de Liefhebbende. De Grote Salgan, die in het Goddelijk Lichaam dient te worden beschouwd als het cerebellum, en die de incarnatie is der ootmoedigheid, existeert teneinde de macht en kracht van de Grenzeloos Grote Orkan te limiteren en fixeren ten behoeve van de sublieme belangen der societas. Op zulk ene wijze dat: [...]
A fragment of a bad translation of a French novel, the French shining through conspiciously in the Turkish:
En sevdiklerim de tercüme romanlardı:
Lagranj, Lökok’a sert bir nazar atfetti. Aşağı Löretanya’nın bu iki muannit serserisi için mutavaat kabul etmez bir vaziyet hasıl olmuştu. Her ikisi de müthiş bir hâlet-i ruhiyenin esiri olmuşlardı. Lökok, nevmîdane konuştu:
- Hissiyatına mağlup oluyorsun. Mersiyer bu elim vaziyetten bilistifade, Margörit’i avucunun içine, o menfur arzularına ram etmek üzere ve gayri kabili red bir şekilde bu toprakların üzerinde bize hayat hakkı tanımayarak alacaktır.
Ik hield het meest van vertaalde romans.
Langrange wierp Lecoq een strenge blik toe. Aan deze twee obstinate schavuiten uit Nederlauretanië deed zich thans een circumstantie voor in welke enige mate van indulgentie onacceptabel zou zijn. Beiden verkeerden in een horribele état d’esprit. Lecoq sprak vol van desperatie:
- Gij valt ten prooi aan uw gemoed. Mercier zal zeker deze deplorabele toestand utiliseren en Marguerite inpalmen om haar zodoende met zijn abjecte désirs te doen instemmen en hij zal ons in deze contreien niet langer dulden.
Before looking at some examples from the translation, I mentioned the publishers’ and readers’ initial hesitations and their disinterest in Tutunamayanlar. The book was considered too different to ever reach a large audience. By now, though, the book is widely popular. To conclude this talk, I want to summarize what happened in between.
Another violent coup, on 12 September 1980, brought political life in Turkey to a temporary end. Many political activists were arrested, and put in prison for years. Turkish society which had been polarised and politicized to such a high extent, was depoliticized in a very short time. Outside Turkey, the dominant political ideologies lost their importance when the Iron Curtain came down. They were largely replaced by consumerism.
It was a bitter time in Turkey, which not only killed political, but also cultural life. Many people didn’t survive, or were damaged for the rest of their lives. After a while however, there was also some relief: a relief at the loss of a straitjacket of ideologies, of being forced to choose from a fixed number of alternatives. In this new climate Atay was welcomed as a kindred spirit, ironical about the status quo – not out of bitterness or indifference, but out of grief and revolt, because one could think of such a different kind of life too.
At the same time, thanks to my Turkish colleagues and their publishers, more and more translations of western modernist literature, and of academic studies on modernist literature appeared in Turkish. These helped readers and critics to value Atay, not only as a sincere human being, a kindred spirit, but also as an avantgard artist.
Modernism and postmodernism so intensively explored by Atay for the first time in Turkish literature, was further elaborated by authors that came after him. Orhan Pamuk is the best known of his inheritors, but also younger authors (whose work has not yet been translated into Dutch) like Ayfer Tunç and Hakan Günday are among them. Recently, Ayfer Tunç described Atay’s influence as a kind of dna, that via his novels was passed on to young authors, hereditary material that they in turn will pass on to next generations. Turkish literature, in sum, has changed since the nineties, it has become more playful, and it owes this quality to a large extent to Oğuz Atay.
(1) Oğuz Atay, Het leven in stukken. Amsterdam: Athenaeum, Polak & Van Gennep, 2011. Original title: Tutunamayanlar. Translated from the Turkish by Margreet Dorleijn and Hanneke van der Heijden.
(2) Oğuz Atay, Tutunamayanlar. İstanbul: İletişim. (First published: 1971/1972).
This is a slightly revised version of a talk I gave in Istanbul at The Netherlands Institute in Turkey on 26 January 2012.
Oguz Atay, While Waiting for Fear, forthcoming, Contra Mundum Press