- Art that Scars:Literary Reenactments and Self-Conscious Representations in Si te dicen que caí and Kar
This article brings together two novels from disparate contexts and separated by three decades: Spanish author Juan Marsé's 1973 novel Si te dicen que caí and Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk's 2002 novel Kar. The basis for the comparison is neither geographical nor historical, nor is it based on points of encounter between the Turkish and Spanish literary worlds, which are arguably rare. Rather, my contention here is that the marked similarity between Marsé and Pamuk's approaches to fictionalizing state violence gains significance precisely because of their distance geographically, linguistically, and historically. The novels' similarities foreground important questions regarding fictional representations of state violence in contexts where that violence is still contested, even as its legacy continues to shape the present.
I argue that Si te dicen que caí and Kar utilize a particular self-reflexivity, which they construct in very similar means in order to negotiate the challenges of representing state violence fictionally. As writers like Elaine Scarry and J.M. Coetzee have suggested, fictional representations of state violence pose unique challenges for readers and writers alike, because they must navigate ethical and aesthetic imperatives that derive from their complicated relationship with verisimilitude. These challenges are largely unresolvable, because they are inherent to the relationship between fiction and state violence. Accordingly, Marsé and Pamuk's works do not resolve these challenges; instead, they navigate [End Page 1337] them by representing them. The works purposefully underscore the pitfalls of representing state violence by inserting these challenges into their plots. The novels not only represent state violence, but also narrate the process of representing state violence. The resulting self-reflexivity and metafiction become the novels' means of establishing an ethics of representing state violence fictionally.
Although Spain and Turkey are rarely brought together in contemporary literary studies, there are numerous tempting overlaps between these contexts. Turkey and Spain are successors to early modern empires that derived their authority in large part from religious identities: the Ottoman Empire functioned as the Islamic Caliphate for over five centuries, while the Spanish Empire expanded its territories in the name of Catholicism.1 In twentieth-century Turkey and Spain, repressive states emerged in reaction to pluralist tendencies, centralizing power to construct an ethnic and religious unity at odds with the diversity of their respective populations.2 To be sure, state repression followed different trajectories in Turkey and Spain, but in both contexts it has been a deeply entrenched reality that not only affected political and social life, but also decidedly shaped literature, among other forms of cultural production.
Following the Civil War (1936–1939), General Francisco Franco established a dictatorship in Spain that lasted over three decades. While Turkey never experienced a full-fledged dictatorship, political repression has been a constant. Since transitioning into a multiparty [End Page 1338] system in 1946, Turkey experienced three military coups (1960, 1971, 1980). Although the military never took over power indefinitely—its longest regime lasted three years following the 1980 coup, after which it transferred power over to civilians—the depoliticization measures,3 as well as the violent repression that accompanied the coups themselves had drastic effects. The coups had different motives in practice, but they were all responses to a perceived threat by the military to the unitary and Kemalist character of the nation.4 These successive coups made state violence a deeply ingrained reality in Turkey, a fact that is evident in the authoritarian tendencies of the current AKP government, in addition to the thwarted coup attempt of July 2016 that resulted in a state of emergency which lasted two years.
Despite being hailed as largely successful, the Spanish transition to democracy never cut ties with the dictatorship, allowing officials of the Franco regime to participate in the democratic system. The transition was marked by the so-called pacto de olvido (pact of forgetting), an implicit agreement to overlook the injustices of the Franco dictatorship rather than bring its officials to justice. The pacto de olvido culminated in the Amnesty Law of 1977, which guaranteed that there would be no indictment of the crimes...