Realism and the Transnational Imaginary
in Turkish Popular Culture
When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish nation, died in 1938, his body was moved from Dolmabahçe, the last palace of the Ottomans in Istanbul, to a vast and austere mausoleum in Ankara, the capital he created in the center of the new republic. When President Turgut Özal died in Ankara in 1989, his body moved in the opposite direction, ending up, after a funeral service in Fatih (a stronghold of Islamist politics), to the Süleymaniye Mosque, which dominates the historic “old city. ” He was interred in a family plot, in close proximity to the mausoleum of another religiously minded populist liberal prime minister, Adnan Menderes, who was ousted and executed after a military coup in 1961. Thus “the uniform and unified Kemalist holy cosmos has yielded to a type of symbolic ambiguity, ” remarked Günter Seufert and Petra Weyland (1994, 85), and the focus of this ambiguity is Istanbul. This chapter is concerned with popular cultural images of what one might call, following Seufert and Weyland, an “ambiguous Istanbul”: images that mediate the way its inhabitants perceive and act in a dramatically changing urban environment. This exercise raises a more general set of questions, of resonance outside Turkey. Is nationalist modernism in the Middle East a spent force, and if so, what is replacing it?
Modernity, following Max Weber's somewhat pessimistic diagnosis, has often been imagined as a total transformation, of one cloth, as it were, and a predominantly European and North American experience at that. Anthropologists have more recently begun to argue that this is a more complex and fragmented experience, that “modernities” should be spoken of in the plural and examined ethnographically, and that the preeminence of the European experience (and the subordinate relation of other modernities to it) should be questioned (note, e.g., Armbrust 1996; Faubion 1993; Miller 1994). Turkish modernity has, since 1923, been framed by the state's