Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Hide and Seek: On Trail of Women Writers

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Hide and Seek: On Trail of Women Writers

Article excerpt

'Woman Writers of Turkey' is a project aiming to explore the history of women's literature in Turkey from 16th to 21st century.1 While defining the project, we prefer to use the word "explore," rather than "analyze" or "revise," since what we do is exploring in the literal sense of the word, searching for the forgotten and hidden women writers of Turkish literature. In an archaeological manner, we are digging the sands of the so called canons which have excluded most of the women writers through the years. Such an analysis and research has never been done before. The Turkish literature canon routinely excludes the work of the many women writers who have contributed vivid insights into the evolving Turkish society, within the Ottoman Empire and as a republic. While there are countless canons in Turkish literature, women writers rarely appear on the lists, apart from the four or five most popular women writers. What else is there? The small collection of publicised women writers give us powerful clues about women's experiences, suggesting that the knowledge and insights in the works of other women writers would be highly valuable.

In order to make biographical and bibliographical information about women writers in Turkey visible, the project aims to build a digitalized database that will provide academic papers about Turkish women writers in three languages, Turkish, English and French, and present the profile of women writers in Turkey, focusing on the analytical examination of the idea of canon. But why do we see this project vital? Why women writers? Why not other women studies issues but literature? The answer is hidden in the definition of the novel. As Merriam Webster Dictionary puts it:

Novel: An invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.

In this definition, I would like to highlight the words: "human experience."

In 1997, when German writer Bernhard Schlink's well known book The Reader was published in English, readers were confused about the subject of the book: A complicated love story between a woman who has a Nazipast, and a young boy who judges this Nazi-past of hers. By creating an unexpected plot and making us, the readers, sympathise with a Nazi character, Hannah, he was going against the accepted conventions of history, creating a work of pure "human experience." In 1997, he explained this in an interview:

It's been one of the big subjects for my generation. For many families it's a personal issue, because it pits fathers against their children. One of my favourite teachers, the one who taught me English, taught me to love the English language, also taught us gymnastics and we could see his SS tattoo. One way or the other, we all had to confront it not as a theoretical abstract, but as a very real and personal problem.2

If we generalize Schlink's experience, it would be possible to say that no matter what the big narrations of history tell us, human experience has always something more to say about it. Literature as a fictive form of human experience shows the shift from macro history narrations to micro history narrations. A shift, that is necessary for us to be able to see the whole picture of the history.

If literature is a powerful device to re-shape the narration of history, consequently literature canons also become the device of the central powers to decide whose experience should be known and whose should not.3 In terms of Turkish literature, women's experiences have either been found too dangerous to be known, or not worthy enough to be leamt.

The main question the project is built on is: Can we talk about a women's literature 'canon' in Turkey? And if it is possible to talk about a new canon that will include the women writers and focus on their individual experiences, it is equally important for us to see "how" and "why" these women writers were targeted and hidden in the first place. …

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