Child of Agony, Nurdan Gürbilek
Metis Nonfiction
Cultural Criticism

a proposed edition of essays
from two books:
Vitrinde Yaşamak (1992)
Kötü Çocuk Türk (2001)
Nurdan Gürbilek
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About the Author
One of the foremost cultural critics in Turkey, Nurdan Gürbilek is the author of Vitrinde Yaşamak (Life in the Shopwindow, 1992), an analysis of the cultural dynamics of the 1980s in Turkey. Her other publications include Yer Değiştiren Gölge (Shifting Shadow, 1995) and Ev Ödevi (Homework, 1999), collection of essays on modern Turkish writers. She is also the author of Kötü Çocuk Türk (Bad Boy Turk, 2001), an analysis of some of the significant images and tropes in modern Turkish literature and popular culture. In her last book Kör Ayna, Kayıp Şark (Orient Lost, 2004) Gürbilek explores the sexual anxieties accompanying the Ottoman-Turkish literary modernization. Nurdan Gürbilek also edited, translated and introduced Son Bakışta Aşk (Love at Last Sight, 1993), a collection of essays in Turkish by Walter Benjamin. She is currently working on a book on Dostoyevsky’s "underground tragedy" and its counterparts in modern Turkish literature.
Other Books from Metis
Vitrinde Yaşamak (Life in the Shopwindow), 1992
Yer Değiştiren Gölge (Shifting Shadow), 1995
Ev Ödevi (Homework), 1999
Kör Ayna, Kayıp Şark (Orient Lost), 2004 (Orient Lost), 2004
Mağdurun Dili (Language of the Downtrodden), 2008 (Language of the Downtrodden), 2008
Nurdan Gürbilek
Child of Agony
Cultural Climate of Turkey

Vitrinde Yaşamak (1992), Kötü Çocuk Türk (2001)

A collection of essays on Turkey’s cultural climate in the last decades from a most insightful literary and cultural critic. The first two essays of this collection, "Life in the Shop Window" and "Return of the Repressed", attend to the 80’s – a period of radical economic, political and cultural change following the coup d’état of 1980. Nurdan Gürbilek argues that this was not only a period of oppression of speech but also a period of explosion of speech; an incitement to speech. A period when two seemingly opposed cultural strategies, the old one of repression, forbiddance and annihilation and the new one of provocation, assimilation and incorporation came together, weaving a cultural fabric that had significant results in shaping the cultural climate of modern Turkey. Gürbilek also argues that this was a period of cultural pluralism – a result of the collapse of the modern Kemalist identity. Years of the "return of the repressed"; the voices that were previously repressed by the Kemalist project of modernization, the voices of the Islamic and Kurdish opposition, those of the lower and peripheral cultures, of women and queers and also the discourses of desire and sexuality returned to a relatively liberal cultural market ready to incorporate rather than suppress.
       The following essays on Turkishness and evil explore the rather sinister cultural climate of the 1990’s and 2000’s when the efforts to redefine the Turkish identity predominated the cultural scene. She takes as her point of departure some of the significant images and tropes in modern Turkish literature and popular culture: popular arabesque songs of the 70s and 80s, the figure of the snob in modern Turkish literature, a news article on the death of a porn star, an oddly popular poster illustration, the child hero archetype in urban popular culture… With utmost care and justice Gürbilek weaves these into a keen understanding of their political, social and cultural significance, exploring Turkishness not as an autonomous and essentialist local truth but rather as an impasse always already shaped in relation to the modern world, as a double-bind that has always produced oppositional sentiments in the cultural sphere. This is where the desire to be the other coincides with the fear of losing one’s self in the other, where xenophilia is simultaneous with xenophobia, and the feeling of inadequacy is concurrent with a reflex of self-defense. And evil here has to do with the unleashing of all things dark and sinister when the liberal promise fails to deliver, when the shop windows cease to dazzle and the struggle for livelihood turns bitter in urban wilderness. Where do "Turkishness" and "evil" converge? And how do we gain insight into these moments of convergence?
Life in the Shop Window
Return of the Repressed
Death of a Stranger
Child of Agony
Bad Boy Turk I
Bad Boy Turk II
Dandies and Originals
Nuh Köklü, Radikal Kitap Eki, 23 November 2001
"Gürbilek experiments with a ‘close reading’ of Turkishness. She offers a new route in a world that is often overlooked, ignored, hence misread due to all the prejudices that infiltrate the reflections on being Turkish. Amongst all other road maps drawn for this terrain, the one that she offers is different not because it claims to be the correct route, but rather because it takes into account all that we come across on the way."
Mahmut Temizyürek, Türkiye'de Eleştiri ve Deneme, TÖMER Yayınları, 2002
"The fundamental concern and aim of these essays is to reveal the Turkish cultural identity along with the formations that shape that identity and the current day, to elucidate with examples what moves that identity, what hurts it, what brings it to tears, but also what it desires, what it excludes and when, what it is pampered with, and what infuriates it."
from "Life in the Shopwindow"
The decade following the coup d’état of 1980 was one of the most repressive periods in modern Turkish history in terms of its political, institutional and human consequences; it was a period of severe official oppression and prohibition. But contradictorily, it was also a period of radical cultural change which the word "repression" alone is unable to account for – a period which signaled the birth of a rather new cultural strategy; a more positive, liberal and modern regime of power which seeks to transform rather than forbid, to incorporate rather than annihilate, to provoke rather than suppress. The juxtaposition of these seemingly opposed strategies –the old one of repression, silencing of speech, and the new one of excessive verbalization, an "explosion of speech"– yielded a peculiar cultural climate of contradictions. Political oppression and glittering shopwindows, systematized torture by the police and insistence on a much celebrated individuation, military repression of the Kurdish guerillas and the rise of "peripheral" culture, prohibition of speech and a highly provoked appetite for it, barrenness of cultural standardization and the diversity of cultural pluralism all shared the same scene in the 80’s... Click for more 

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