Tropes for the Past: Hayden White and the History/Literature Debate

By Kuisma Korhonen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

Claire Norton


Fiction or Non-fiction? Ottoman Accounts of the Siege of Nagykanizsa
Introduction

The Habsburg-controlled castle of Nagykanizsa in present-day Hungary was captured by the Ottomans in 1600 after a three-month siege. The following year, in 1601 the Ottoman commander Tiryaki Hasan Pasha successfully defended the castle when it was besieged by a Habsburg led coalition. A detailed account of Hasan Pasha's defense during the second siege is given in a corpus of twenty-five manuscripts dating from 1616 to 1815. These manuscripts are not identical copies of each other, but neither are they distinct individual works. Rather they are sufficiently similar to warrant classification together as an interrelated corpus. The common consensus in contemporary Ottoman scholarship is that gazavatname (campaign narrative) manuscripts such as these represent a hybrid genre; less than history yet more than fiction. It is frequently argued that although historical material concerning past battles may be embedded in these narratives they are recounted within a framework of popular literary traditions and therefore historical realities are subordinated to epic and religious motifs.1 Thus they conform more to the genre of epic than history and are consequently classified and analyzed as [popular] literature not history.2 However, both the rubrication and reception of these manuscripts and other re-inscriptions over the past four hundred years suggests that they have not always been received thus and that their (non-) fictional status is more complex.

This article will explore the manner in which audiences recognize and construct the dichotomies of fiction/non-fiction and story/history through an examination of the contested fictional status and genre of these Nagykanizsa narratives. In particular, I will foreground the role framing, rubrication, intertextuality and fictional 'non-fiction' sources have in determining the received status of the narrative. Through such a discussion a number of the problems inherent in traditional representationalist explanations of fiction and genre classi-

1 See Colin Imber, [Ideals and Legitimation in early Ottoman History,] in Süleyman the Magnificant and his
Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World
, edited by Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead. (Lon-
don and New York: Longman, 1995), pp.142-44.

2 Franz Babinger, Geschichtsschreiber der Osmanen und Ihre Werke (Liepzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1927), p.156
n. 2 describes the corpus of gazavatnames mentioned above as [folk books] which are [considerably divorced
from the truth.] Agah Sirri Levend, Gazavat-nameler ve Mihaloğlu Ali Bey'in Gazavat-namesi (Ankara: Türk
Tarih Kurumu Yaymlarmdan / XI. Seri, No. 8 Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1956), pp. v and 1 also refers to
gazavatnames as 'literary texts' and hikaye (story). In contrast, Christine Woodhead, [Perspectives on Süley-
man] in Süleyman the Magnificant and his Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World, edited by
Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead (London and New York: Longman, 1995), pp. 171-2 describes
gazanames (the singular of gazavatname) as historical works and campaign monographs.

-119-

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