Relational Subjectivities: Authorial Performance and Narrative Identification in Ahmet Mithat

By Melih Levi
Submitted to Session P4880 (Tanzimat as Translation, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Conceived as a creative pursuit, translation requires a negotiation of various identities: the translator’s position is always destabilized by shifting alliances that result from identifying as/with the position of the reader and the author (which are always many). The language of choice often reveals an uncanny fetishizing of the original (often mistakenly reduced to one) so that the quality of the translation is always measured by its distance from the original: an attempt that always paradoxically invents yet another translation. When choice attains value solely through its ability to recreate meaning, it inevitably falls into the pitfalls nationalism, of reducing choice to participation and reinstating the imaginary topos that is beyond argument. Choice, however, is never only the end but also, perhaps more importantly, the beginning of action, and in literature, it sets the stage for performative undertaking: it allows, both a conscious and unconscious, subversion of one’s identity. I’ll show how the performance of authorial agency in Felatun Bey ve Rakim Efendi constructs such performative spaces where the author-reader equation short-circuits and invites an acute awareness of active modes of implication, often involving questions of accountability, complicity and resistance. At such moments of authorial intervention, the reader at once recognizes his enforced participation into an imagined community of readers and the very artificiality of such constructions. The appropriation of the authorial mode from its European counterparts does not turn Felatun into a mere imitation but a theatre, where both the reader and the author become increasingly conscious of their roles and continuously consider the social implications of getting in and out of character. Tanzimat writers stress the importance of doing away with the idea of translation as a set of choices and emphasize instead the performative stakes of translation. That movement – from choice to performance – inaugurates conceptions of identity and subjectivity that significantly differ from how Tanzimat literature has come to be studied as part or in anticipation of a nationalist project. This paper, then, will show how Felatun Bey ve Rakim Efendi promotes a bottom-up organization for Ottoman reform that is rooted in the production of relational subjectivities, and advocate for a renewed interest in translation in the Tanzimat era through the lens of performance theory.