Author: CSSH
Time: 16:30
Location: CAS 124

Title: Modernity as Metamorphosis: Imagining the Mediterranean in the late Ottoman Empire

Abstract: Modernity has been defined in Middle Eastern studies as a set of values such as awakening (nahḍa), reforms (tanzimat), renewal (teceddüd, tajdīd), civilizational progress (muasırlaşma, ḥadātha), and nationalist movements that became prevalent in the nineteenth century due to the increasing Western influence in the region. I categorize these values under the umbrella term of what Jale Parla called değişim (transformation), a cultural vision that advocates teleological evolution. Through a comparative reading of the canonical Turkish work Hasan Mellah (1874) by Ahmet Midhat (1844-1912) and the canonical Arabic work Ḥadīth ʿĪsā ibn Hishām (What Isa ibn Hisham Told Us, 1898-1902) by Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī (1858-1930), I argue that Mediterranean is the shared trope of these texts that undermines the almost exclusive association of the nineteenth century with the transformation vision in the Ottoman historiography. My talk then undertakes a philological analysis to designate what Parla called başkalaşım (metamorphosis) as an umbrella term that corresponds to a repertoire of concepts, such as tebeddül/tabaddul, that stand for unstructured change deconstructing cultural and political boundaries. I also use the concept metamorphosis because it has symbolized in world literature the destabilization of boundaries between human and animal. This destabilization is a key marker of the metamorphosis vision in late Ottoman writings. I thus analyze the representation of animals in Hasan Mellah and What Isa ibn Hisham Told Us in the light of works on environmental and intellectual history that also examine changing notions of the animal in the late Ottoman Empire. In conclusion, my talk calls for a reframing of early modern Arabic and Turkish literatures within the context of multilingual Mediterranean cultural milieu rather than their respective national communities.

Bio: C. Ceyhun Arslan is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. His research focuses on reframing our understanding of modernity as expressed by or constructed in Arabic and Turkish literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries