“I am particularly interested in coup novels and how novels remember and represent violence committed during repressive regimes” – 5in10 with Başak Çandar

Başak Çandar is Assistant Professor of World Literature at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, and currently fellow of the program Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe (EUME) at the Forum Transregionale Studien. Her research investigates representations of state-violence in twentieth-century Turkish and peninsular Spanish literature.

What was intruiging to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?

Başak Çandar (Photo: private)

I don’t think I had one particular issue that I was consistently curious about, but when I was growing up in Istanbul, I do remember being fascinated by people’s ability to take the right bus to go places. This was before I learned to read, so I could not understand how people managed to know which bus to take where. It seemed almost magical that people moved around the city getting on and off buses with such purpose, when all the buses looked the same to me. It is difficult to remember how the world looked before I learned to read, but this memory reminds me that it must have been full of puzzling and intriguing moments, and that learning to read must have clarified many previously mysterious habits.

 

How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator (“elevator pitch”)?

I work on literary representations of political violence in twentieth century Turkish and peninsular Spanish literature. I am particularly interested in coup novels and how novels remember and represent violence committed during repressive regimes. (At this point someone usually asks if it’s not too depressing to study this type of literature. It is, but it is also very interesting, especially if you are curious about the intersections of literature, history, and politics).

Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative to you?

I would have to say the first three years of graduate school. In college, I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about literature because I majored in English and Hispanic Studies. However, for better or worse, my school focused mostly on literature and did not venture much into theory. So going into a PhD program in a very theoretically oriented field like Comparative Literature was both difficult and exciting. In the United States, the first three of years of graduate school are dedicated to course work. So for three years I took classes from different departments at the University of Michigan, and began to find out about the world of theory, especially literary theory. It was a highly formative experience, both because I appreciated and enjoyed reading theory, but also because the change in my focus (from literature to theory) urged me to think about the methodological and pedagogical aspects of Comparative Literature, and Literary Studies in general. I felt like I went from no theory in college classes to almost no literature in graduate school courses, and this rather drastic shift compelled me to write and teach in a way that balances literature and theory (or at least attempts to).

How is it to do research in Germany?

I have been living in small cities in the US for a while, and being in a culturally rich and dynamic city like Berlin has been very helpful for my project. Comparative Literature is an essentially interdisciplinary field, so I’ve found it very productive to attend a myriad of activities – both academic activities like symposiums and conferences, and cultural ones like plays, exhibitions, film festivals, etc. Although conventionally not considered research, these cultural activities give me new perspectives and ideas in approaching my work, especially because, broadly speaking, I work on the limits and challenges of representation. I have also benefitted from listening to the works and research of the other fellows here. For the past couple years, I have mostly been surrounded by literary scholars, but through EUME I am exposed to other disciplinary models, which helps me to reconsider the potentials of literary scholarship, and its ability to matter and speak to different disciplines.

Also, being a Comparative Literature scholar and working on Turkish literature makes Berlin a particularly vibrant and productive place for me. There is so much Turkish culture embedded in the city, and I have been able to take advantage of events like the Turkish film festival, and attend talks by various Turkish scholars. I have also given a talk at a Turkish Studies department – at the University of Duisburg-Essen – and talked to their students. These students’ experiences with and interest in Turkish Literature were, needless to say, very different from my students’ in the United States. I appreciate these aspects of my stay in Berlin, because although conventionally not considered “research,” they add a more global and varied perspective to my work.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your subject?

Comparative Literature can sometimes be a conservative field, not in its politics but in the kinds of frameworks it uses. I have found that many of the comparisons that proliferate in the field are carried out through similar frameworks, such as linguistic and geographical proximity or colonial/postcolonial relations. Especially with the pressure of emerging fields like World Literature (which came out of Comparative Literature, but uses translations instead of focusing on original language study like Comparative Literature), I think and hope that Comparative Literature will expand these frameworks and come up with new ones, without losing its interest in philological scholarship.


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