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The Republican discourse of progress has established a strong link between Turkey's modernization and the absolute power of light. As the Turkish word aydin (enlightened) replaced the Ottoman münevver (intellectual), the obligation to be enlightened along the dictates of Kemalist precepts became a national imperative. This over-valuation of light in the cultural and ideological spheres has provoked some Turkish novelists to interrogate the clichés of the symbolism of light versus dark, by obscuring their writing with the twilight colors of shadowy zones. Their texts challenge the reader to dig up what lies beyond the shadows and behind the mists with which these writers have chosen to darken their tales. As the intellectual tradition of modern Turkey has evaded doubt, uncertainty, and indeterminacy, the majority of Turkish novelists have opted for novels of clarity, sited on the axis of conviction and invested with moral certitude. The genealogy of the writers of the dark and dim zone of doubt, disillusionment, and frustration, however, has generated the more intriguing, if not more interesting, novels.
With little Ottoman and less French, the tragicomic hero of an early Turkish novel, Araba Sevdasι (1896; “The Carriage Affair”), finds himself at a semantic impasse before a line in a French poem that reads, “[K]elime şeyi resmetmeye borçlu ise” (“[I]f the word could represent the thing”). Frustrated, he throws the poem away, grumbling, “[T]ous les poètes sont fous” (“[A]ll poets are fools”). This defiant gesture marks the beginning of the linguistic issue the Turkish novelists confronted during the first century of the Turkish novel (1870–1970). The reformist objective of these novelists was the employment of a vernacular style to appeal to the readership of an emerging print culture. The subsequent nationalist attempts to simplify the Turkish language led, in Geoffrey Lewis's words, to the “catastrophic success” of the “language revolution” of the republican era and had dire consequences for the development of the novel in Turkey.
The Turkish novel became a national chronotope proper with the founding of the Republic in 1923 and the emergent conception of the national geography following the War of Independence (1919-1922). This was the Anatolian territory, with Ankara as the new capital of the nation instead of İstanbul which had been the Ottoman Empire's center for almost five centuries. Anatolia became the motherland on which the national consciousness of the new nation would be inscribed. In the novels of the republican era, Anatolian iconography and mythography illustrate how this setting became a persistent element of narrative structure as a significant topos in both senses of the word: as place and theme. An inquiry into the permutations of the theme of Anatolia since the War of Independence will reveal the changing attitudes and ideas related to Turkish nationalism and its most outstanding component, the cult of the father personified by Atatürk. This essay, however, does not only aim at a survey of an ideology's history via literature; it also investigates the Anatolian iconography and mythography, as they figure in the Turkish novel of the republican era, and touches upon the various narrative strategies that major Turkish novelists have employed in their search for the right form for this important content, the right form to either reinforce or undermine a sacred story.
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