DIALOGISM BETWEEN EAST AND WEST: Halide Edib's Masks or Souls?

By Andrea, Bernadette | Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, October 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

DIALOGISM BETWEEN EAST AND WEST: Halide Edib's Masks or Souls?


Andrea, Bernadette, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies


Halide Edib's Masks or Souls?: A Play in Five Acts brings together an unlikely cast of characters1: William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the premier poet and playwright of the English Renaissance2; Ibn Khaldun (1332- 1406), the Maghrebian founder of modern historiography; Tamarlane (1336-1405), the Mongolian world conqueror; and Nassir-eddin Hoja (c. 1300-1400), the Anatolian religious scholar, spiritual teacher and trickster. The links between the latter three-who epitomize the scholarly, military, and spiritual achievements of the Islamic middle ages-are self-evident. Moreover, Tamarlane and Nassir-eddin Hoja's paths literally crossed in the Anatolian city of Akshehir, from which the latter hailed and within which the former established his court when conquering the otherwise unassailable Ottomans. The historical Ibn Khaldun similarly encountered Tamarlane during the conqueror's siege of Damascus. Though rooted outside Dar al-Islam, or the Islamic world, Shakespeare leads this cast of "outstanding characters" as one who "belongs to all mankind for all time" (Masks or Souls? 7).3 Ibn Khaldun is similarly honored as the pattern for humane scholarship, whereas Tamarlane remains notorious as the prototypical dictator. Although Nassireddin Hoja "left no written masterpiece of any kind" (8), and therefore may be less well known on the world stage, his sage humor enables the synthesis of masks and souls that renders him the forebear of Shakespeare's wise fools and existential philosophers. Edib, in addressing what for her constitutes the central dilemma of modernity, doubles these historical prototypes with twentiethcentury manifestations: Shakespeare's spirit reappears as the cosmopolitan reporter, Will Shake; Ibn Khaldun's spirit illuminates "English, French, American and other European Professors" (8); Tamarlane's spirit infuses the fascist dictatorships of Edib's era, represented by Hitler and Mussolini in general and by the thinly veiled "Bay Timur, the dictator and the Prime Minister of Turkey in the late twentieth century" (8).4 The final doubling results when the Hoja's spirit "descended and entered the body of Nuzhet Nassir," a twentiethcentury free spirit alienated from the "machine-era" dominating "modern Turkey as well as . . . America and other European countries" (9). By the end of the play, as we shall see, the transposition of "Shakespeare" into "Shake" (homonym for "Shaykh," meaning Sufi spiritual teacher) dialogically assimilates the English "Bard" into the Turkish Islamic idiom of Nassir-eddin Hoja.5

In advancing the thesis that Edib in Masks or Soul?, her only Englishlanguage play, assimilates Shakespeare as the soul-mate of this famous Hoja, I endorse Hülya Adak's theorization of cross-cultural dialogue, particularly between the Islamic "East" and the Christian "West," as requiring "intersubjectivity" to circumvent orientalist dichotomies that have traditionally prevented understanding ("Intersubjectivity" 4). Orientalism, as Edward Said has influentially defined it, consists of the "Western projection onto and will to govern over the Orient" (95). While not operative in the colonial register during the era of Shakespeare or before-when the English (and Europeans more generally) remained subaltern to the advancing Islamic empires of the Ottomans and, for a brief period, of Tamarlane's expansionist forces-orientalist discourses increasingly manifested themselves through modern Western European colonial incursions into the Islamic world from the late eighteenth century onwards. The lands of contemporary Turkey, while never colonized by Western Europeans, were occupied in May 1919 by "the Great Powers and their protégés" (Ahmad 2).6 The successful resistance to this attempt to carve up the remains of the Ottoman Empire into Western European protectorates resulted in the formation of the Turkish Republic on 29 October 1923. Though not a postcolonial nation in the strict sense, modern Turkey continues to face the legacy of a discursive Orientalism that targeted the "terrible Turks" from the medieval era onwards precisely as a means to contain Western Europeans' sense of inferiority vis-à-vis the Ottoman Empire at its height. …

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