Appreciation for Tanpınar crosses Turkey’s borders

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, the 20th century Turkish author best known for his novel “Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü,” or “The Time Regulation Institute,” used to complain during his lifetime that his work was underrated; that he could not realize his ideals.

However belatedly, this 20th century author’s appeal is expanding day by day; so much so that there is a sort of “literary rush” -- both from academic circles and from bookworms -- to the oeuvre of Tanpınar, who used to say he was subjected to “assassination through neglect.”

This newfound curiosity in Tanpınar was highlighted earlier this week in a two-day international symposium in İstanbul, held on the sidelines of the İstanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (İTEF), Turkey’s first international literature festival, which ended its four-day run in its second year on Tuesday.

Academics, editors and translators of Tanpınar’s work, which has been translated into more than 30 languages, took part in the symposium, a joint effort by the Kalem Literary Agency -- the organizers of İTEF -- and the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s Turkish literature department.

Titled “The Time of Tanpınar in Turkey and in the World,” the symposium was held on Monday and Tuesday at the university’s Fındıklı campus, which hosted a large group of guests who attended the symposium in order to take a closer look at the world of a writer whose work speaks to people from all walks of life.

The first day of the symposium got under way with a session in which authors Orhan Okay, Enis Batur and Doğan Hızlan recounted Tanpınar and his life story, followed by other sessions where literary translators from around the world spoke about Tanpınar’s work and contemporary poets recited several of Tanpınar’s poems.

A documentary on Tanpınar opened the second day of the symposium, where a session titled “Novelist Tanpınar” featured speeches by academics Seval Şahin and Erol Köroğlu. In her speech, Şahin, a specialist on contemporary Turkish literature, argued that “Mahur Beste” (Song in Mahur) was a novel composed “in the manner of an orchestra where each protagonist makes his/her voice heard.”

In the meantime Köroğlu, who presented an analysis of Tanpınar’s work that switched back and forth between literary styles, put forth in his presentation on how Tanpınar was influenced by the work of such masters as Marcel Proust, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Stendhal, highlighting similarities between protagonists Tanpınar created and those created by these literary giants.

Tanpınar’s 1949 novel “Huzur,” which was translated into English last year under the title “A Mind at Peace,” was also discussed during the symposium, with specialists arguing that the book was intended as “a comprehensive project that recounts the traditional Turkish culture,” as opposed to the general conviction that it is basically the story of a man’s love for a woman.

Süha Oğuzertem, another academic and literary critic who specializes in contemporary Turkish literature, also delivered a speech, during which he almost summarized the entire story of “Huzur,” which, he argued, actually “reveals its entire course in its first six paragraphs.” The symposium also explored Tanpınar’s poetry skills, of which the author once said, “I know what poetry is, and I couldn’t write it,” in a letter to literary translator-critic Adalet Cimcoz.

Poet Ömer Erdem explained why Tanpınar is today known as a novelist rather than a poet. “He knew what poetry really should be. What lies behind his confession that he ‘couldn’t write poetry’ is a political misfortune rather than a poetic insufficiency because Turkey has eaten away at him. There is a Tanpınar who could not write his own poetry. … Tanpınar’s poems were mere imitation, the imitation of his self.”

Musa İğrek, İstanbul
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