The ship of Ferit Edgu, The island of Hakkari and Literature at the Limits of the World

When Goethe used the term ‘world literature’ at the beginning of the 19th century, in his own words, he wanted national literatures to break their cages and spread their wings into the skies of other literatures. Goethe and later Marx, who in the Communist Manifesto spoke of the abolition of borders and the ‘realization of the world’ under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, were of course inspired by the metaphor of the worldwide flow of capital and the creation of a unified market. Those who abolished the borders between nations were also those who promoted the flow of capital. According to this understanding, languages and literatures would enter into a closer relationship than in previous eras.

The massive violence that enabled the global mobility of capital had not yet been criticized. Therefore, there was an optimistic expectation that once the narrow borders of nations were lifted, there would be a convergence of people communicating with each other and that literature would no longer develop and excel on a national scale, but on a global scale. However, this optimistic expectation was not fulfilled. For capital was not only in the process of eliminating borders, but also of replacing them with new ones. The bourgeoisie ended some of the inequalities created by the nobility, but on the other hand created new inequalities throughout the world.

In the 15th century, studies on language and grammar were still in the service of the empires. In 1492, the Spanish humanist and linguist Antonio de Nebrija completed the first grammar book in European languages and dedicated it to Queen Isabella of Spain. In his introduction, Nebrija expressed his hopes for the book and quoted the maxim of the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla: “Language has always been the companion of empire”, Castilian will be the symbol of the world empire that Spain hopes to build” [1].

Due to this colonial and imperial context, the national languages in Europe also developed into imperial languages. Languages were used as instruments of power, and the colonial powers enforced their rule in many places by banning languages and destroying written texts. Literature became one of the instruments of colonialism.

By the end of the 19th century, there was no longer any trace of the excitement and enthusiasm that had prevailed at the beginning of the century for the emergence of a humanity and a literature of world renown. After the failed revolutions in Europe, the wave of revolution was replaced by pessimism and despair. The more the record of colonialism deteriorated and its inhumane, barbaric practices were exposed, the more impossible it became to defend the “civilizing discourse”.

At the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of nation states were founded outside Europe that adopted the methods of colonialism in culture and literature. The ‘world literature’ originally preached by Goethe and Marx could therefore not be realized in the shadow of colonial encounters.

After the 2000s, the topic of world literature was revived in academic circles. The wave triggered by Edward Said’s works ‘Orientalism’ and ‘Culture and Imperialism’ was extended by the participation of theorists from various schools and schools of thought, and a vast literature on colonialism, postcolonialism and representation emerged. Theorists from the former colonies and the metropolises of Europe and the United States rolled up their sleeves and entered into a great intellectual battle. The Kurds also found themselves within the epistemological boundaries of this colonial encounter.

Kurdish literary theory and criticism made great strides during this period. The themes and problems of modern, postmodern and postcolonial literature began to be discussed among Kurdish writers and critics. A number of approaches have been developed that draw parallels and similarities between European colonialism and the politics of nation-states, to which the Kurds belong, as well as parallels between the anti-colonial struggles of colonized peoples and the struggle of the Kurdish people.

In this context, I will contribute to these debates in the coming weeks with a series of thematic and problematic essays on world literature from a postcolonial perspective. My aim is to stimulate these debates around a book, a person or an event.

I would like to begin my analyzes with Le Hekari Demsalek [A Season in Hekari] [2] by Ferit Edgu. Le Hekari Demsalek is a very famous novel whose film adaptation has received as much attention as the novel. The novel has an autobiographical basis and tells the story of a writer who is exiled to Hekari for military service and his experiences in Hekari. The general opinion of the novel is positive, as the author is a dissident and leftist and does not persecute people. However, on closer examination of the novel, the codes and stereotypes of colonialism become clearer and more concrete.

The novel resembles Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in the way the protagonist, the author, describes himself. Hekari is described as an island on the top of a mountain, not by the sea, where the protagonist’s eyes are opened by a shipwreck.

‘Accident’ and ‘island’ can be read as two metaphors used to disguise colonial conditions. The accident metaphor serves to exclude from the analysis the factors that brought the ship and its captain to these ‘islands’. The island metaphor also serves to obscure the relationships of the colonial cities to the imperial metropoles. Edgu never mentions how a place where half of the population consists of soldiers can be described as a desolate place and what history brought these soldiers to these mountains [3].

I wonder what discourse of history and literature would put Robinson Crusoe and Ferit Edgu on a ship and randomly drop one in the middle of the sea and the other on an island in the mountains so that these foreign lands, outside of time and language, would be reincorporated into history?

Robinson lived in the age of the development of the bourgeoisie and had the strength and faith to fulfill his mission. Although he never mentioned it, he received enough support from British army. However, people like Ferit Edgu, who was sent into exile by the state to serve as a soldier ‘in a far corner of his country’, could neither carry out their educational activities under the supervision of the state, nor could they oppose the state. Under the influence of state-imposed pedagogical training and official discoursive politics, he could not wage a war of liberation together with the “island people” in question. Faced with his own helplessness, he remains alone with melancholy and colonial pornographic fantasies [4].

Robinson Crusoe is defined as one of the symbols of colonial literature. In response to this novel, a series of novels were written that tell the story of the colonial encounter from the perspectives of the islanders [5]. These novels are artistically very competent and represent not only a reaction, but also a very conscious intervention and correction.

The world literature referred to in the introduction of this article is not created and developed by the flow of capital or the unilateral influence of the colonizers, but by the works written by the peoples whose languages are forbidden and whose existence is denied.

In this context, let us ask the following question: Has there been a literary response from Kurdish literature to the novel A Season in Hakkâri?

Footnotes:

[1] Serdar Şengul, ‘Grammar and Fire: Two Tools of Linguistic Imperialism’,https://botantimes.com/gramer-u-agir-du-amuren-emperyalizma-linguistik/

[2] Ferit Edgu, Le Hekari Demsalek, (tr. Nejdet Kaya), Cervantes, 2020.

[3] op.cit, p. 7

[4] For an analysis of colonial fantasies, see. Haymatlos Suat, ‘Pornographic Pit in the Eye of the Colonizer: A Season in Hakkari, Four Seasons in Batman’, https://sonhaber.ch/somurgecinin-gozundeki-pornografik-cukur-hakkari/

[5] Michel Tourniner, Friday or the Pacific Arab, 2021; JM Coetzee, Enemy, Can, 2022.

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