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  • Surrealism and Turkish Script Arts
  • Nergis Ertürk (bio)

One would assume that in its "originary" internationalism, modernist studies today is something of a naturally, even organically comparative field of literary studies; and that it is curious, then, that only with the recent rise of something [lse supplemental to or superseding internationalism, called transnationalism (and "transnational studies") that relationships between European and non-European modernist movements have begun to be analyzed both conspicuously and rigorously. Whether we take it as the fullest development of a globalizing project always already implicit within modernist studies, or as an innovative new turn in the field, this displacement seems to draw on the idea of both material and reciprocal imaginary connection at scales and across greater distances than might previously have been accepted as plausible. Still, any such expansion of a field is bound to have both its creative and its critical exponents, and it is possible to discern at least two major strains of the new transnationalist modernist studies today. While one tendency among scholars and critics working on the edge of the field is to re-read from modernism not only the "international," but the full-blown global travel of modernist aesthetic forms and movements, another is to turn (or return) to the study of literatures in their particularized locality, continuing a critique of the parochialism of canonical Europeanist modernism and modernist studies.

A recent and invaluable contribution to the first area, for example, traces the "traffic in manifestos" across trans-European and transatlantic travel routes, sketching the elusive figure of "an international avant-garde … at large."1 For Martin Puchner, translocalization of the art of the manifesto expresses both the mobility and the diffusion of the modernization project in avantgardes, [End Page 47] rather than "the" avant-garde; what it resists, meanwhile, is the seldom explicit, yet often tacit and conventional critical figuration of a single world modernization project. Such scholars as Dubravka Djurić, Miško Šuvaković, and Miryam Sas, on the other hand, have "comparatized" modernist studies by documenting the heterogeneity of literary modernisms that those very figures of traffic and circulation can (if not in Puchner's own careful analysis) tend to obscure. In their collection Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes, and Post-Avant-Gardes in Yugoslavia 1918-1991 (2003), Djurić and Šuvaković particularize in comparison the richly diverse aesthetic cultures of Zagreb, Belgrade, and Ljubljana, in a Balkans-within-Europe disavowed as Europe's other.2 In her study of Japanese surrealism, meanwhile, Sas (in Fault Lines: Cultural Memory and Japanese Surrealism) argues for the value of surrealist juxtaposition—of distant, particular or local realities—as a model for transcultural exchange.3 In Sas's work it is Japanese, rather than European surrealism which finds the historical limits of critical models for intercultural influence. "Here," she writes of a specifically "Japanese" practice of surrealism, "the 'West' becomes a space that transcends its 'real' position and begins to function as an ideal place, a place that provides material for the Japanese writers' poetic encounters, as well as a screen upon which their fantasies may be projected."4

My goal in what follows is to supplement these new gestures of and in comparison, in both modes. My contribution is a reading of the Turkish encounter with surrealism recorded and dramatized in a unique essay by critic Ismayıl Hakkı Baltacıoğlu (1886-1978). Türklerde Yazı Sanatı ("Turkish Script Arts"; 1958), I will suggest here, maps a complexly refracted intersection of Western European and Turkish literary histories, one which we might think as exemplary in its very frustration of the exemplarity on which comparison, very conventionally, depends.5

A "socio-psychological essay on the graphology and the aesthetics of Turkish script arts," to take the work's subtitle, Baltacıoğlu's book-length essay contrasts "Turkish Islamic writing" with the geometric abstraction of Latin letters, proposing a comparative anatomy of the two Turkish alphabets used during the twentieth century. Cataloging the Arabo-Persian letters used in Ottoman Turkish, in Türklerde Yazı Sanatı Baltacıoğlu reads each letter of the pre-1928 alphabet as the scriptural paradox of a non-figurative representation of...


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