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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2/3 (2003) 535-550

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Car Narratives:
A Subgenre in Turkish Novel Writing

Jale Parla


It is possible to talk about a literary preoccupation with cars, along with other vehicles such as carriages, buses, and tractors, in the Turkish novel from its very beginnings. These vehicles, whether carriage, train, bus, tractor, or van, appear as tropes rather than means of transportation. The generic term for vehicles that run with engines is makina (machine) in Anatolia. Makina also refers to all machines. Thus, the trope of the car becomes important in at least two ways: in its relationship to the machine and in its signification of a particular kind of space that has become meaningful in Turkish modernization.

In terms of both plot and character, the theme of automation and its primary motif, the car, seem to have inspired many a fabulation in the Turkish novel. Each execution of the theme is related, first and foremost, to that inexhaustible subject of Turkish writing, the effects of Westernization and modernization. But this is not all. As the car stories are plotted in different periods of the Turkish novel by different novelists, these stories, which begin with the seemingly innocent acquisition [End Page 535] of cars, grow into enigmatic narratives of possession and dispossession, empowerment and loss of power, function and dysfunction, maturation and infantilism, narcissism and fetishism, fragmentation and self-destruction, not to mention a whole century of estrangement and a feeling of inferiority inspired by the contact with the West.

When a certain theme becomes periodically charged with a new motif, as is the case with the theme of the car in the Turkish novel, one might be justified in suspecting the presence of a subgenre. Such, for example, are the subgenres in the Western tradition of the novel of the Bildungsroman, the Künstlerroman, the novel of bourgeois tragedies, and so on. Car novels, which we see appear at every significant turn of the sociohistorical process in Turkey, and which are undertaken by major Turkish novelists, constitute an important subgenre of the novel in the Turkish language.

If the Word Must Represent the Thing . . .

The Turkish novel's preoccupation with cars and carriages begins in the Tanzimat period, with Recaizade Ekrem's Araba Sevdası [The carriage affair]. 1 The theme of Araba Sevdası is nothingness. Among the other novels of the Tanzimat, Ekrem's novel occupies a unique place: it displays its writer's awareness of the cultural chaos of his age and represents Ekrem's perception of the dark space at the meeting of two different epistemologies where literary representation became practically impossible. 2 The novel is composed as a parody of futile writing and reading activities, as futile as the rounds made by the fancy carriages of Westernized beaus in the fashionable Çamlıca.

Bihruz Bey of Araba Sevdası is one such beau whose one fad in life is a carriage that he flaunts as he rides dressed in the most elegant and fashionable manner—without regard to the weather. (So he might be wearing a coat under the hot sun and a silk shirt on a cold day, but that does not bother him so long as his attire is European.) During one such excursion, Bihruz Bey catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman in another carriage and instantaneously becomes enamored, believing such beauty in such an elegant carriage must be a Western-educated young girl from a respectable family. (The truth is that Perives, the woman in the carriage, is one of the best-known courtesans in town and the carriage is a rented one.) Bihruz's obsession with this woman complements his craze for the carriage. The two [End Page 536] become one in his deranged mind as Ekrem depicts Bihruz's confusion in a dream:

The carriage of Perives speeds so fast down the slope that leads to Beylerbeyi that the wheels do not touch the ground. The fantastic animals that pull the carriage do not look like horses. . . . Bihruz Bey, riding a steed, follows the carriage...


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pp. 535-550
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Archived 2004
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