By Nour Al-Ali
By appropriating western terms and concepts about “orientalism,” Eastern authors such as Orhan Pamuk are challenging traditional lines of academic discourse, a scholar from Istanbul’s Dogus University said during a December 4, 2013 presentation.
“Orientalism has the potential to be disoriented,” Assistant Professor Esra Almas remarked in her talk, which drew an audience of about 40 people at the American University of Sharjah library.
The term, proposed by the late Edward Said in Orientalism, reflects how western scholars viewed the Earth’s eastern region in previous decades, she explained. While “orient” originally had negative connotations, she added, Eastern authors such as Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize, have employed aspects of “orientalism” to their advantage, writing about their cities using western perspectives as if they are on the outside looking in.
Melancholia, for instance, was a concept introduced by 19th century western writers in their literature on Istanbul, she said, noting that huzun, its Turkish counterpart, was already familiar to locals. Pamuk, she said, worked the notion into his 2003 memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, by writing about its mists and what she described as its otherness and intangible sadness.
The hour-long talk, entitled “Disorienting the Oriental(ist): Reading the Mists of Istanbul,” was arranged by AUS professors Rana Raddawi and Kevin Gray. Almas also gave lectures in two English literature classes the following day.
Raddawi said that the talk was important because it discussed “an author and a culture that are related to the Arab region and the East in general.”
The lecture also sent a “message to students and faculty at AUS that there are other renowned writers in … world literature than Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Hemingway,” said Raddawi.
Junior Marziah Rashid, an English literature major, found the talk to be enlightening but a “bit incoherent [as] it didn’t follow a flowing sequence.”
Nour Al-Ali is an English literature and mass communication double major senior at the American University of Sharjah.