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Tarantino in the Ottoman Empire: Glorious Viziers, Pulp Fiction, and Scrambled Narratives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2024

Olivier Bouquet*
Affiliation:
Université Paris Cité, CESSMA, Institut Universitaire de France, Paris, France

Extract

I wanted to break up the narration, not to be a wise guy, a show guy, but to make the film dramatically better that way. . . . A novelist would think nothing about starting in the middle. And if characters in a novel go back and tell past things, it's not a flashback, it's just telling a story. I think movies should benefit from the novel's freedoms.— Quentin Tarantino1
I wrote a prosopography twenty years ago. I published a biography two years ago. In the first case, I offered the collective biography of 282 servants of the late Ottoman period (1839–1909).2 In the second case, I presented the monograph of a grand vizier from the second half of the 18th century, Halil Hamid Pasha (1736–85).3 In the former, I delivered an academic work (stemming from a PhD dissertation) focused on the study of the careers of central and territorial administrators. In the latter, I recounted the rise and fall of the head of the Sublime Porte. A priori, these two books had nothing in common, except that they dealt with pashas. If I mention them together here, it is not to describe the personal evolution of my research. It is to shed some light on an observation that is regularly made, that is, of the inadequacies of the biographical genre in Ottoman history.4 It is to reflect on how to remedy this situation.

Type
Review Essay
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press

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References

1 “Interview with Quentin Tarantino, Peter Brunette/1992,” in Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, ed. Gerald Peary (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 23.

2 Bouquet, Olivier, Les pachas du sultan: Essai sur les agents supérieurs de l’État ottoman (1839–1909) (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2007)Google Scholar.

3 Bouquet, Olivier, Vie et mort d'un grand vizir: Halil Hamid Pacha (1736–1785), Biographie de l'Empire ottoman (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2022)Google Scholar.

4 Terzioğlu, Derin, “Tarihi İnsanlı Yazmak: Bir Tarih Anlatı Türü Olarak Biyografi ve Osmanlı Tarihyazıcılığı,” Cogito 29 (2001): 284–96Google Scholar; Aksan, Virginia, “The Question of Writing Premodern Biographies of the Middle East,” in Auto/Biography and the Construction of Identity and Community in the Middle East, ed. Fay, Mary Ann (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 191200CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Imber, Colin, “Review of The Sultan of Vezirs: The Life and Times of the Ottoman Grand Vezir Mahmud Pasha Angelović 1453–1474,” Journal of Islamic Studies 14, no. 1 (2003): 116–18Google Scholar; Adak, Hülya, “Gender-in(g) Biography: Ahmet Mithat (on Fatma Aliye), or the Canonization of an Ottoman Male Writer,” Querelles 10 (2005): 189204Google Scholar; Bouquet, Olivier, “L'autobiographie par l’État sous les derniers Ottomans,” Turcica: Revue d’études turques 38 (2006): 251–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Türesay, Özgür, “Tarihyazımı ve Biyografinin Dönüşü,” in Halil İnalcık Armağanı, vol. 1, Tarih Araştırmaları, ed. Takış, Taşkın and Aksoy, Sunay (Ankara: Doğu Batı Yayınları, 2009), 329–49Google Scholar; Akyıldız, Ali, “İnsanı Yazmak: 19. Yüzyıl Osmanlı Biyografi Yazıcılığı ve Problemleri Üzerine Bir Değerlendirme,” Osmanlı Araştırmaları 50 (2017): 219–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Menchinger, Ethan L., The First of the Modern Ottomans: The Intellectual History of Ahmed Vasıf (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Carney, Josh, “Re-Creating History and Recreating Publics: The Success and Failure of Recent Ottoman Costume Dramas in Turkish Media,” European Journal of Turkish Studies 19 (2014): 121Google Scholar; Ergin, Murat and Karakaya, Yağmur, “Between Neo-Ottomanism and Ottomania: Navigating State-Led and Popular Cultural Representations of the Past,” New Perspectives on Turkey 56, no. 4 (2017): 33–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ayşe Bozkurt, “Frames of Erdoğanism: The Pasts Future of ‘Payitaht: Abdülhamid,’” Futures Past of the Ottomans Conference, 12 October 2023, Université Paris Cité, Paris.

6 Özçetin, Burak, “Tarihin Kötüye Kullanımları: Popülizm, Nostalji ve Yeni Türkiye'nin Tarihi Dizileri,” Toplumsal Tarih 306 (2019): 3642Google Scholar. See also Carney, Josh, “Resur(e)recting a Spectacular Hero: Diriliş Ertuğrul, Necropolitics, and Popular Culture in Turkey,” Review of Middle East Studies 52, no. 1 (2018): 93–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Peirce, Leslie, Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire (London: Icon, 2018), 342Google Scholar.

8 She returns to the methodology of biography in Peirce, Leslie, “Writing Biography with Limited Sources and Few Models: The Case of Hurrem Sultan,” in Ottoman War and Peace: Studies in Honor of Virginia H. Aksan, ed. Castiglione, Frank, Menchinger, Ethan, and Şimşek, Veysel (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 283–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Mendelsohn, Daniel, An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (New York: Harper Collins, 2017)Google Scholar; Mendelsohn, Daniel, Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Polan, Dana, Pulp Fiction (London: British Film Institute, 2000), 28, 35, 37CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pezzotta, Elisa, The Prison of Time: Stanley Kubrick, Adrian Lyne, Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino (New York: Bloomsbury, 2022), 167–94Google Scholar.

10 Imber, “Review,” 116.

11 İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilâtından Kapukulu Ocakları (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1943–44); Osmanlı Devletinin Saray Teşkilâtı (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1945); Osmanlı Devletinin Merkez ve Bahriye Teşkilâtı (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1948); Osmanlı Devletinin İlmiye Teşkilâtı (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1965).

12 İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı, Çandarlı Vezir Ailesi (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1974).

13 Roderic H. Davison, Nineteenth Century Ottoman Diplomacy and Reforms (Istanbul: Isis, 1999), 119–41. See for instance Mithat Sertoğlu, IV: Murad (Ankara: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 1987).

14 In addition to the studies mentioned in the rest of this article, here are a few examples from the last ten years: Benjamin Fortna, The Circassian: A Life of Esref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent (London: C. Hurst, 2016); Hans-Lukas Kieser, Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018); Erdal Kaynar, L'Héroïsme de la Vie Moderne. Ahmed Rıza (1858–1930) en son temps (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2021); Christine Philliou, Turkey: A Past against History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2021). For the premodern period, see Muzaffer Özgüleş, The Women Who Built the Ottoman World: Female Patronage and the Architectural Legacy of Gülnuş Sultan (London: I. B. Tauris, 2017); and Peirce, Empress.

15 Günil Özlem Ayaydın Cebe, “Biography: Modest Champion of Ottoman-Turkish Literature,” in Selected Studies on Genre in Middle Eastern Literatures: From Epics to Novels, ed. Petr Kučera and Hülya Çelik (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2023), 264–306. See also Aksan, “Question,” 196.

16 Bekir Kütükoğlu, Vekayi'nüvis. Makaleler (Istanbul: İstanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1994), 211–16; Feridun Emecen, “Osmanlı Kronikleri ve Biyografi,” İslam Araştırmaları Dergisi 3 (1999): 83–90; Akyıldız, “İnsanı Yazmak,” 226–28.

17 Robert Dankoff, The Intimate Life of an Ottoman Statesman: Melek Ahmed Pasha (1588–1662) as Portrayed in Evliya Çelebi's Book of Travels (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), 7, 16.

18 Cemal Kafadar, “Self and Others: The Diary of a Dervish in Seventeenth Century Istanbul and First-Person Narratives in Ottoman Literature,” Studia Islamica 6 (1989): 121–50; Jan Schmidt, The Joys of Philology: Studies in Ottoman Literature, History and Orientalism (1500–1923), vol. 1 (Istanbul: Isis, 2002), 155–63, 165–286.

19 M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, Ataturk: An Intellectual Biography (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); Dana Sadji, The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), 38–76; Kaya Şahin, Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World (Cambridge, UK : Cambridge University Press, 2013); Menchinger, First.

20 Hatice Aynur, “Autobiographical Elements in Aşık Çelebi's Dictionary of Poets,” in Many Ways of Speaking About the Self: Middle Eastern Ego-Documents in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish (14th–20th Century), ed. Ralf Elger and Yavuz Köse (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 17–26; Jan Schmidt, “First-Person Narratives in Ottoman Miscellaneous Manuscripts,” in Elger and Köse, Many Ways of Speaking, 159–70; Aslı Niyazioğlu, Dreams and Lives in Ottoman Istanbul: A Seventeenth-Century Biographer's Perspective (London: Routledge, 2016), 2–3.

21 Ali Akyıldız, Mümin ve Müsrif Bir Padişah Kızı Refia Sultan (Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2001); Derin Terzioğlu, “Man in the Image of God in the Image of the Times: Sufi Self-Narratives and the Diary of Niyāzī-i Mıṣrī (1618–94),” Studia Islamica 94 (2002): 139–65; Howard Crane and Esra Akin, eds., Sinan's Autobiographies: Five Sixteenth-Century Texts; Introductory Notes, Critical Editions, and Translations (Leiden: Brill, 2007); Michael Nizri, “The Memoirs of Şeyhülislam Feyzullah Efendi (1638–1703): Self, Family and Household,” in Elger and Köse, Many Ways of Speaking, 37–46; Un Ottoman en Orient: Osman Hamdi Bey en Irak (1869–1871), ed. Edhem Eldem (Paris: Actes Sud, 2010); Kitâbü’l-menâmât. Sultan III. Murad’ın Rüya Mektupları, ed. Özgen Felek (Istanbul: Türk Tarih Vakfı, 2012); Edhem Eldem, V: Murad’ın Oğlu Selahaddin Efendi'nin Evrak ve Yazıları, 2 vols. (Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2019, 2021).

22 İsmail Erünsal and Heath Lowry, The Evrenos Dynasty of Yenice-i Vardar: Notes and Documents (Istanbul: Bahçeşehir University Press, 2010); Vazken Khatchig Davidian, “Portrait of an Ottoman Armenian Artist of Constantinople: Rereading Teotig's Biography of Simon Hagopian,” Études Arméniennes Contemporaines 4 (2014): 11–54; Edhem Eldem, “The Search for an Ottoman Vernacular Photography,” in The Indigenous Lens? Early Photography in the Near and Middle East, ed. Markus Ritter and Staci G. Scheiwiller (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018), 29–56; Olivier Bouquet, “Imperial Genealogies and Ottoman Nobility in Republican Turkey: Reassessing the Distinction Between Public and Private Archives,” Turkish Historical Review 13 (2022): 289–305.

23 Gülru Necipoğlu, The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire (London: Reaktion, 2005), 23; Betül İpşirli Argıt, Rabia Gülnuş Emetullah Sultan (1640–1717) (Istanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2014), 211–35; Hedda Reindl-Kiel, “The Must-Haves of a Grand Vizier: Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha's Luxury Assets,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 106 (2016): 179–221; Olivier Bouquet, “Un grand vizir dans sa maison. Édition de trois inventaires après décès (1785),” Turcica: Revue d’études turques 47 (2016): 187–236; Özgüleş, Women; Christine Isom-Verhaaren, “Tracing the Life of Hüsam Bey: Career Paths in the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Navy,” in Castiglione et al., Ottoman War and Peace, 291–314, 300–2.

24 Fikret Sarıcaoğlu, Kendi Kaleminde Bir Padişahın Portresi: I. Abdülhamid (1774–1789) (Istanbul: TATAV, 2001); Feridun M. Emecen, Zamanın İskenderi Şarkın Fatihi Yavuz Sultan Selim (Istanbul: Yitik Hazine Yayınları, 2010); Abdülkadir Özcan, IV. Murad: Şarkın Sultanı (Istanbul: Kronik Yayıncılık, 2016); Feridun M. Emecen; Kanuni Sultan Süleyman ve Zamanı (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2022).

25 As a counterexample, Hans-Lukas Kieser chose to open his biography of Talaat Pasha at the most important moment in his career and in the history of his time: the start of the Armenian deportations in April 1915 (Kieser, Talaat, 1–6).

26 On nonlinear subjective temporalities in novels, suffice it to mention Marcel Proust, James Joyce, or Virginia Woolf. On “complex narratives” or “modular narratives” in “puzzle films,” see David Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006); Janet Staiger, “Complex Narratives, An Introduction,” Film Criticism 31, no. 1/2 (2006): 2–4; Allan Cameron, Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Warren Buckland, ed., Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2009); Jan Simons, “Complex Narratives,” in Hollywood Puzzle Films, ed. Warren Buckland (London: Routledge, 2014). On the “90s narrative revolution,” see Peter F. Parshall, Altman and After (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012), 4–5.

27 See, for instance, Theoharis Stavrides, The Sultan of Vezirs: The Life and Times of the Ottoman Grand Vezir Mahmud Pasha Angelović 1453–1474 (Leiden: Brill, 2001); Şefaattin Deniz, Safranbolulu İzzet Mehmed Paşa Ve Dönemi: Bir Osmanlı Paşasının 69 Yıllık Serencamı (Istanbul: Bilge Kültür Sanat, 2016); Mehmet Yılmaz Akbulut, Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa. Paşalar Çağının Şeyhülvüzerası (Istanbul: Timaş, 2022).

28 As an example of a biography focusing on the subject's political career, see Kieser, Talaat.

29 Cornell Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman Empire: The Historian Mustafa Ali (1541–1600) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 4.

30 Ergin and Karakaya, “Between,” 42.

31 Şahin, Empire and Power, 15–23; Menchinger, First, 13–27; Kieser, Talaat, 41–44.

32 Claude Cahen, “Note sur l'esclavage musulman et le devshirme ottoman,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 13, no. 2 (1970), 211–18; Vassilis Demetriades, “Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Devşirme,” in The Ottoman Emirate, 1300–1389, ed. Elizabeth Zachariadou (Rethymnon, Crete: Crete University Press, 1993), 23–31; Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 134–42.

33 Gilles Veinstein, Les esclaves du Sultan chez les Ottomans. Des mamelouks aux janissaires (XIVe–XVIIe siècles) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2020), 241–46.

34 Julia Eckel, “Twisted Times: Non-linearity and Temporal Disorientation in Contemporary Cinema,” in (Dis)Orienting Media and Narrative Mazes, ed. Julia Eckel et al. (Bielefeld, Germany: transcript, 2012), 274–91, 281–85.

35 Charles Ramírez Berg, “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect,’” Film Criticism 31, no. 1/2 (2006): 5–61; Pezzotta, Prison of Time, 167–94.

36 Mendelsohn, Odyssey, 31–32; see also Mendelsohn, Three Rings, 20–22, for example of ring composition in book 19 of The Odyssey in which the hero is recognized by his old nurse Eurycleia; Sara Watson, “Conversion in Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey: Reworking the American Memoir,” in Daniel Mendelsohn's Memoir-Writing: Rings of Memory, ed. Sophie Vallas (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2021), 109–20.

37 Berg, “Taxonomy,” 27.

38 See Alain Corbin, The Life of an Unknown: The Rediscovered World of a Clog Maker in Nineteenth-Century France, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

39 Christine Philliou, Biography of an Empire: Governing Ottomans in an Age of Revolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010).

40 Richard L. Chambers, “Ahmed Cevdet Paşa: The Formative Years of an Ottoman Transitional” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1968).

41 Virginia H. Aksan, An Ottoman Statesman in War and Peace: Ahmed Resmi Efendi, 1700–1783 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 15; Jane Hathaway, Beshir Agha: Chief Eunuch of the Ottoman Imperial Harem (Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 2005), 7–15; Philliou, Biography.

42 Bouquet, Vie et mort, 118.

43 Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, Histoire de l'Empire ottoman depuis son origine jusqu’à nos jours (Istanbul: Isis, 1992–2000), vol. 14, 152.

44 Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravélou, A Past of Possibilities: A History of What Could Have Been, trans. Stephen W. Sawyer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2021).

45 Isom-Verhaaren, “Tracing,” 297. Also see Şahin, Empire and Power, 15; and Peirce, Empress, 8–9.

46 For analogies between prosopography and “modal biography” (i.e., “the biography is not that of a singular person, but rather that of an individual who concentrates all the characteristics of a group”; my translation), see Levi, Giovanni, “Les Usages de la biographie,” Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations 44, no. 6 (1989): 1325–36Google Scholar.

47 Bouquet, Olivier, “Lire entre les tombes: Une grande famille de morts, les Halil Hamid Pacha-zâde (1785–1918),” Turcica: Revue d’études turques 43 (2011): 483540Google Scholar; Bouquet, Olivier, “Le vieil homme et les tombes: Références ancestrales et mémoire lignagère dans un cimetière de famille ottoman,” Oriens 39, no. 2 (2011): 331–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 For an example of tracking a family over several centuries, see Heath Lowry, The Evrenos Family and the City of Selânik (Thessaloniki): Who Built the Hamza Beğ Câmi'i and Why (Istanbul: Bahçeşehir University Press, 2010).

49 I would like to extend the remarks of Marc Aymes in his review of Philliou, Christine, Biography of an Empire, in International Journal of Middle East Studies 44, no. 2 (2012): 347–50Google Scholar.

50 Cameron, Allan, Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Bordwell, The Way, 19.

52 Aymes, review of Philliou, 348.