- Unsettling the Canon of the Theatre of the Absurd:Halide Edib's Masks or Souls? and Its Other Lives
A few years prior to Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros (1959) and concomitant with the Paris premiere of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (January 5, 1953),1 a famous woman novelist, journalist, and feminist activist from Turkey, Halide Edib Adıvar (1884–1964),2 published an absurdist play in English, entitled Masks or Souls? (1953).3 As Martin Esslin and other scholars started theorizing on the "Theatre of the Absurd," they explored only a Western European male canon of works, dismissing all other playwrights. Even though Halide Edib had written two versions in Turkish and published the work to be discussed in this article in English, because she was a Turkish woman playwright, her works did not receive much theoretical discussion in Turkey or in the Euro-American context prior to 2013.4 In this essay, I problematize the Euro-male-centeredness of the early theories of the theatre of the absurd, while proffering new guidelines and trajectories for absurdist drama in the Turkish and European literary and dramatic canons. I argue further that European absurdist plays, with the additional example of Halide Edib's Masks or Souls?, should be analyzed for their political critique, unsettling claims that describe post-World War II absurdist theatre as apolitical. I start with an analysis of Halide Edib's works, which will be followed by an exploration of the various versions of Masks or Souls?, focusing particularly on the political content. In the last section, I provide new trajectories (within the European and Ottoman Turkish contexts) for studying absurdist drama and contextualizing the noncanonical Masks or Souls? [End Page 275]
Aesthetics and Politics in Halide Edib's Works
The feminist, nationalist, and bilingual journalist, novelist, and playwright Halide Edib's works have not been studied systematically for their political content. Her works include twenty novels, a few of which were translated into a total of ten languages, a two-volume autobiography in English (Memoirs of Halide Edib and The Turkish Ordeal: The Further Memoirs of Halide Edib, respectively), scholarly works on history, politics, and Turkish culture (Turkey Faces West, Conflict of East and West in Turkey), a travelogue on India (Inside India), and countless articles and essays in journals and newspapers.5
Critics have often ignored her works on political history (Turkey Faces West, Inside India) and the history of culture (Conflict of East and West in Turkey) as well as the profound political repercussions of her fiction. As a young Ottoman woman writer, she was among the first women to discuss suffrage and the shortcomings of the Union and Progress Party (i.e. CUP, established in 1908) in a utopia she wrote in 1912, entitled Yeni Turan6 (New Turan). Her national romances, including Ateşten Gömlek (The Shirt of Flame) and Vurun Kahpeye (Thrash the Whore), propagated the secular values of the Kuva-yi Milliye (National Army).7 Her novel The Clown and His Daughter (1935) and its Turkish version Sinekli Bakkal (The Fly-infested Grocery Store, 1935) is critical of the rapid secularization processes of the early Republic.8 Halide Edib was close to Unionist circles before she started criticizing the militant policies of a few of the Unionist (CUP) leaders in 1916. Halide Edib was also close to Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) (1881–1937) and to the Kuva-yi Milliye leaders during the Greco-Turkish War9 (1919–1922) as she supported the Turkish struggle against the Greeks in Anatolia. After all opposition was silenced in 1925, she went into exile, and criticized the Kemalist regime in her works in English, including The Turkish Ordeal: Being the Further Memoirs of Halide Edib, Turkey Faces West: A Turkish View of Recent Changes and Their Origin, and Conflict of East and West in Turkey.
Between 1950 and 1954, Halide Edib was a member of parliament for the Democratic Party10 (DP), during which time she published Masks or Souls? In her "Siyasi Vedaname" (Farewell to Politics), she described these years in Turkish politics as a period of utter disillusionment.11 Hence, [End Page 276] within the...