Bodies of Exception: Literary Representations of Illness in Women's Fiction in Turkish, 1912-1994

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Sima Parker

Abstract

The present thesis examines ideological and discursive constructions of physiological, neurological and psychological diseases in women writers' fiction in Turkish in relation to the nation-building project of Turkey in the twentieth century. While the Turkish nationbuilding project deployed biopolitics to regulate population, this research has focused on bodies of exception and their potential to undermine the normative discourse on healthy bodies of 'ideal citizens'. Taking my cue from Giorgio Agamben's theorization of the figure of homo sacer and the state of exception, I have explored whether sick bodies of women are situated in the state of exception. For this research, I have selected texts across the twentieth century - from the Balkan Wars in 1912 as a significant cornerstone that signalled the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the end of the Cold War during which the relationship between citizens' bodies and the state has drastically changed due to three coup detats and violence among civil groups of left and right. Since gender occupied a central role in the heteronormative definitions of what an ideal citizens' body should look like and what was expected of it, I have specifically focused on women writers and their fiction on female characters' illnesses in a number of genres. The analysis provided focuses on Halide Edib's national romances Handan, Atesten Gomlek (The Shirt of Fire), Mevut Hukum (The Promised Verdict) and Tatarcik; Kerime Nadir's melodramas Hickirik (Sobbing) and Posta Guvercini (Carrier Pigeon/Dove); modernist works of the Cold War period Tezer Ozlu's Cocuklugun Soguk Geceleri (Cold Nights of Childhood) and Sevim Burak's Afrika Dansi (African Dance), and post-Cold War short stories by Asli Erdogan, Yitik Gozun Boslugunda (In the Void of a Lost Eye) and Tahta Kuslar (Wooden Birds). In order to present a detailed portrait of the central place of health in the nation-building project of Turkey, my first chapter presents a historical analysis of the official state discourse through speeches and publications by the members of the parliament and prominent health officials of the first half of the century. Here, I argue that the Turkish nation-building project set out to define every individual body as an asset to the well-being of the nation, thereby gave every citizen a biological responsibility with remarks like 'You need to protect your health in order to be a good citizen'. My second chapter focuses on Halide Edib Adivar's national romances, approaching her oeuvre as a bridge that reflects the change in the normative definitions of ideal woman. It is my argument that the change in Adivar's use of illness in her novels is representative of the approach towards illness in the modern Turkish republic with her later works replacing the sickly heroines with healthy ones. Similarly, in my third chapter I focus on Kerime Nadir's melodramas and approach her novels as texts where the wounded masculinity caused by the lost Ottoman Empire is healed and saved by the sacrifice of the heroines. As the heroines devote their life energies to heal and raise the heroes, they gradually lose their health only to be replaced by their healthy and sturdy daughters or younger companions. In my final chapter, I focus on modernist works produced during and shortly after the Cold War, and discuss the change in the function of the sick bodies. In these works, writers embrace the images of sick bodies as tools of resistance to authoritarian regimes. It is in this period, the docile bodies of the previous works are charged with resistance and their borders are shattered. With the state applying torture and violence on citizens' bodies, sick bodies turn into weapons and become revolutionary.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2018