Words Set Free
Chapter One begins by tracing the displacement of the classical Ottoman discursive network and the emergence of Ottoman Turkish as a “telecommunications technology” in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the intensification of translational and print practices, language began to function as an autonomous medium, making accessible unseen and unheard-of distant worlds; accompanying this development was a new discourse of phonocentrism that identified the diglossia of Ottoman Turkish and its writing system as an “inadequacy.” The chapter explores the multiple, contested literary consequences of this transformation, focusing on two early novels thematizing the “communications revolution” from alternate sides of Ottoman Turkish diglossia: Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s Müşahedat (“Observation,” 1891) and Recâizâde Mahmud Ekrem’s Araba Sevdası (“The Carriage Affair,” 1896). I suggest that Midhat’s vernacular writing, both enchanted by and fearful of open communicability and translatability in Ottoman Turkish, instrumentalizes literature for the containment of the revolutionary possibilities inherent in the linguistic upheavals of the mid-nineteenth century. With Ekrem, in contrast, modern literature emerges as an extraordinary domain, through which writing momentarily escapes the determinations of both classical logocentrism and modern phonocentrism, folding back on itself in a movement of repetition marked by irreducible otherness.
Keywords: Ahmed Midhat Efendi, Müşahedat (“Observation”), Recâizade Mahmud Ekrem, Araba Sevdası (“The Carriage Affair”), communications revolution, Ottoman Turkish language, Ottoman Turkish novel, vernacularization
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