Esra Coker Körpez | Yesim Basarir – Section report

Nr. 18    Juni 2011 TRANS: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften

Section | Sektion: City as the Literature of Transformation

Section report

Esra Coker Körpez [BIO] | Yesim Basarir [BIO] (Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, Turkey)

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 Konferenzdokumentation |  Conference publication


A city’s international cosmopolitan character not only relates to America’s immigrant history but also to the current globalized urban experience that permeates at the end of the twentieth century.  In this panel, each city becomes a storied destination and a transnational trope in the course of ideas and values shaping literary imagination and finds resonance in the postmodern mind that liberates localized cultural identities into the anonymous collage of urban styles of living. Traditional rural identities are replaced by manifold urban identities who try to take advantage from the vast opportunities that city life offers.

Yesim Basarir participated in CCKS Virtual INST world conference with her paper entitled American City as a Transnational Space in Turkish Travel Writing. Her paper deals with the works of a group of recent Turkish authors who owe their popularity in Turkish literature largely to travel writing, and even more specifically to city writing. As Basarir suggests, it is often observed that American big city—in the lead of New York—is situated at the very center of Turkish travel literature and perceived as both a “place of desire” for self who enjoys to be part of its cultural milieu and as a gateway to develop an amusing sense of “non-belonging” in an alien urban space having a distinctively transnational character. Basarir further claims in her paper that American metropolis, activating the agents of both belonging and non-belonging on the part of the cosmopolitan traveler, offers a self-transforming experience which metaphorically takes the form of an ordeal testing the capabilities of self to achieve survival in a land codified by advanced urban typology and eclectic cultural memory. According to Basarir, this very experimentation with the American built environment and urban performance also helps promote a better understanding of self’s own cultural standing in relation to the issues of identity and alterity. American big city, in Basarir’s paper, is also studied as an ultimate urban frontier and a recurrent challenge in the westward expedition of Turkish authors.

Esra Coker Körpez’s paper entitled Progress as Self-Transformation: Self-Help Literature and Cosmopolitan America deals with major American success stories in order to illustrate the parallelisms between self-help rhetoric and the social values and cultural codes of American urban life.   Parallel to a city’s vision that must be innovative and ambitious, self-help literature also endorses a narrative that emphasizes transformation, change and progress. Coker claims that similar to urban life, self-help classics also provide the opportunities and supportive mechanisms that enable individuals to break with the inertia of the past and develop their full potentials.  Thus, urban life that fosters a privatized concept of the self whose potential of growth is unlimited and inexorable, also becomes a suitable playground for the selling and marketing of self-help literature.

Maria Diaconu’s paper, entitled (Re)writing New York in Post 9/11 Novels, is also associated with the idea of endless possibilities of self-making, but it deals  with the impact of September 11 and its aftermath on the American cultural agenda. Diaconu emphasizes that in American popular culture, the city, particularly New York, is associated with social and cultural mobility or variety and in a way is a testimony to the success of liberalism and individualism. This “salad bowl” where the eccentric individual is accepted as such among other equally eccentric selves and one can preserve one’s singularity as long as one conforms to the liberal ideology of individualism and social and economic mobility seems to embody the success story of what Sacvan Bercovitch has called “the American ideology.” This conglomerate of individualist selves and haven for the eccentric is not however devoid of a dark side, often being represented as a decadent topos of capitalist hubris. In the popular imagination, this hubris fueled apocalyptic dreams of an outer threat bent on destroying the city and its multitudes.  Like other papers in the panel “City as the Literature of Transformation,” Diaconu’s paper deals with the connection between the city and the individual self, adding to this the dimension of conflict, which complicates the discourse. At the same time, her interest also lies in the manner in which the city’s transformation mirrors and shapes that of the American collective unconscious.

Leman Giresunlu in her study titled, City, Literature and ‘Regeneration through Violence’ in Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Orhan Pamuk and Haruki Murakami argues that these selected authors place emphasis upon cities’ literary and popular aspects maintaining their memorable quality as repositories of culture. These cities’ literary cultural aura, their glow, gilt and glamour function as props, taking major historical conflicts at their center stage. These conflicts bear the classical tensions of “wilderness and civilization, progress and violence” as elaborated in Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Leman Giresunlu argues that these selected works contemplate upon aspects of regeneration deriving their cue from violent moments in history. If in Zafón’s novel the Spanish Civil War constitutes of a major moment in time, Orhan Pamuk in My name is Red locates his narrative into 16th Century Istanbul, while in Auster, the time line maybe retrieved as much earlier to 12th century France, with echoes in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and its conflicts extending into Auster’s contemporary New York and Paris and in exchange for their cultural values. In this respect, stereotypical depictions of cities with their internal cultural rifts, oscillating between tradition and liberalism intertwined, likewise pave the way towards a transformative mindset.

In her paper entitled City as a Life-Giver in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Nuray Onder argues how the different cities in Europe in The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway serve as a relieving source for the people who have lost their sense of being and try to replace this emptiness by drowning themselves in alcohol, dance and sexuality. The locale for this purpose is mainly the capital of France, Paris, which is associated with gaiety and entertainment. Jack Barnes  and the others including Brett, Robert Cohn, Bill Gordon, and even Count Mippipopolous share the joyous atmosphere of Paris and this sense of space help them forget what they have experienced before. Likewise, another locale which collaborates in the relief of the characters is the various spots in Spain. Jack Barnes and his company pursue their expedition in which they try to forget themselves in bull fighting and fishing. These two are the kind of sports which serve as the vehicles to help forget about their past. Onder concludes her paper by elaborating that mainly Paris and the other cities in Spain function as the life giving source to the people of the “Lost Generation.”


 Inhalt | Table of Contents Nr. 18

For quotation purposes:
Esra Coker Körpez | Yesim Basarir: Section report City as the Literature of Transformation –
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 18/2011.

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