Esra Canpalat, M.A.


E-Mail: ecanpala[at]

Title of the Dissertation

Istanbul Memory: Transculturality and Documentary Gestures in Turkish Literature from the Turn of the Millenium. A Comparison of Mario Levi, Orhan Pamuk, and Elif Shafak

Project Description

There is a tendency observable in postmodern and contemporary Turkish literature towards foregrounding the multilingual and multiethnic side of Turkey, in order to rid oneself of monocultural nationalism and to bring the cosmopolitan past (e.g. in cities such as Istanbul) to mind. In her study Sehnsucht nach Sinn (“Desire for Sense”, 2005), which deals with the literary semantization of history in the contemporary Turkish novel, Priska Furrer notes that the interest of Turkish writers in historical topics has increased since the 1980s, especially with regards to the Ottoman and Islamic past. This has led to a revision of the historiography imposed by Turkish nationalists after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic, which denied any connection to the Ottoman Empire. It was not only the Islamic past that became a point of reference for Turkish writers. So too did the experience of minorities, whose rights were to a greater or lesser extent protected in the multi-confessional Ottoman Empire.

One of the most prominent representatives of this tendency is the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Orhan Pamuk, who, in his historical novels, employs a pluralistic aesthetic to present Istanbul’s past. The melancholy look-back at the Ottoman legacy of Istanbul reaches a highpoint in his memoirs. In Istanbul: Memories and The City (“İstanbul. Hatıralar ve Şehir”, 2003), Pamuk highlights the multicultural elements of a now inexistent Istanbul. Elif Şafak’s novel The Bastard of Istanbul (2006) also deals with the hybridity of language and culture. By connecting the fates of an Armenian family and a Turkish family, Şafak points to the linguistic and cultural similarities between the two Anatolian ethnic groups – a fact that is rejected by the Turkish government, especially through denial of the Armenian genocide. But Mario Levi’s novel Istanbul Was a Fairy Tale (“İstanbul Bir masaldı”), already published in 1999, offers a Turkish-Jewish perspective on the cosmopolitan character of Istanbul. In his novel, Levi presents almost fifty different multicultural protagonists living in Istanbul from the decline of the Ottoman Empire to the 1980s.

This dissertation will illustrate how the four authors try to document and capture the traces and lives of minorities in a literary fashion, in order to rescue them from the nationalistic discourse of erasing and forgetting. The main focus is on the various narrative and multimedia methods of documentation and archiving used by the authors. In addition, I want to show how the authors, at the same time, discuss these modes of documentation in a meta-reflexive and critical way. Moreover, my aim is to present the pluralistic and hybrid past of Turkey as a counter-concept to the construction of national identity. The documentary reserve regarding minorities and the Ottoman Empire is the counterpart to the documentary excess of the secularist-Kemalist state apparatus. I want to make clear how the narratives of the aforementioned authors try to create a transcultural threshold – as opposed to both documentary reserve and excess respectively – in which, on the one hand, hybrid concepts of identity can take effect and, on the other, the existence and the actions of marginalized groups can be documented. My research interest focusses on this intertwining of the transcultural and the documentary. Drawing on theories of transculturalism and hybridity, I want to analyze how the interlocking and mutual dependence of different cultures affect documentary discourses.

Scholarly Career

  • Since 09/2020: Doctoral Student at University of Cologne, Department of Middle Eastern and South East Asian Studies
  • 10/2016 – 04/2020: Doctoral Student Member of the DFG Graduate Research Group on “Documentary Practices. Excess and Privation”, Ruhr-University Bochum
  • 2013 to 2016: Master studies in General and Comparative Literature, Ruhr-University Bochum
  • 2012/13: Participation in the Learning-by-Researching-Project “From the manuscript to the published book” (“Vom Manuskript zum Buch”)
  • 2008 to 2013: Bachelor studies in General and Comparative Literature and Art History, Ruhr-University Bochum


Edited Volumes

  • Gegen\Dokumentation. Operationen – Foren – Interventionen. Transcript 2020 (together with Maren Haffke, Sarah Horn, Felix Hüttemann and Matthias Preuss).
  • Literatur und Sexualität. Beiträge zum Studierendenkongress Komparatistik 2014. Ch. A. Bachmann Verlag 2015.
  • Rudolf G. Binding: Opfergang. Hrsg. von einer Gruppe Studierender am Lehrstuhl für Komparatistik der Ruhr-Universität Bochum unter Leitung von Stephanie Heimgartner. Ch. A. Bachmann Verlag 2013.


  • “Girls are not allowed to ride” – Die Verbindung von Raum und Mobilität mit Genderkonzepten in Kathy Ackers Don Quixote which was a Dream, in: Canpalat, Esra/ Graß, Rebecca/ Herhausen, Sarah et al. (ed.): Literatur und Sexualität. Beiträge zum Studierendenkongress Komparatistik 2014. Ch. A. Bachmann Verlag 2015, pp. 93–104.
  • “Orange Peels” – Foodways und Transkulturalität in Mario Levis
    İstanbul Bir Masaldı und Elif Şafaks The Bastard of Istanbul“, in: Dimitriadis, Pavlos/Dinges, Serafin/Maresch et al. (ed.): Literatur & Ritual. Beiträge zum Studierendenkongress Komparatistik Berlin 2017. Ch. A. Bachmann Verlag 2019, pp. 173-184.


  • „Türkisch oder Deutsch, Deutsch oder Türkisch? Identitätsdiskurse in interkultureller Literatur“, given on June 11, 2018 within the framework of the seminar „Aspekte der Sprachvermittlung“ at Institut für Germanistik und Kommunikation. TU Chemnitz
  • „‚Madame My-Exiled-Soul‘: Minderheiten und ihre Zugänge in zeitgenössischer türkischer Literatur. Orhan Pamuk und Elif Şafak im Vergleich“, given on October 6, 2017 at Jahrestagung der GfM 2017. Zugänge, October 4–7, 2017, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • „‚I can scrawl and I can crawl‘ – Die Zeichnungen und Kritzeleien in Kathy Ackers Blood and Guts in High School als Dekonstruktion patriarchalischer Sprach- und Sexualtheorien”, given on June 8, 2017 at the 17th DGAVL Conference. Schrift und Graphisches im Vergleich, June 6–9, 2017,  Ruhr-University Bochum
  • „Orange Peels: Transkulturalität und Foodways in Mario Levis İstanbul Bir Masaldı (Istanbul war ein Märchen) und Elif Şafaks The Bastard of Istanbul“, given on June 10, 2017 on the 8th Student Congress in Comparative Literature (SKK). Literatur und Ritual,  June 9–11, 2017, FU Berlin
  • “Hurt Flowers – The Presentation of Female Bodies in Turkish Soap Operas”, given on July 1, 2017 on the NECS conference 2017. Sensibility and the Senses,  June 29–July 1, 2017, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3
  • „Multilingualität und -kulturalität als identitätsstiftendes Moment in Orhan Pamuks İstanbul. Hatıralar ve Şehir und Elif Şafaks The Bastard of Istanbul“, given on July 27, 2016 on the 21st World Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA). The many languages of Comparative Literature, July 21–27, 2016, University of Vienna.
  • „‚Gastarbeiter, Missverständnisse, hybride Identität – Darstellung von Arbeit in türkischer und deutsch-türkischer Literatur. Birsen Samancı, Fakir Baykurt und Emine Sevgi Özdamar im Vergleich“, given on June 18, 2016 at the 7th Student Congress in Comparative Literature (SKK). Literatur und Arbeit, June 17–19, 2016, Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich.
  • „Girls are not allowed to ride“ – Die Verbindung von Raum und Mobilität mit Genderkonzepten in Kathy Ackers Don Quixote which was a Dream“, given on June 28, 2014 at the 5th Student Congress in Comparative Literature (SKK). Literatur und Sexualität, June 27–29, 2014, Ruhr-University, Bochum.


  • Summer Semester 2017: Block seminar “Literatur und Feuilleton”, Insitute for German language and literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Ruhr-University Bochum


  • Cooperation in the conception and organization of the Workshop “(Self-) Documentation, (Self-)Performance and (Self-)Constitution of Gendered Cultural Identity and Literature” with Dr. Sraha Lightman (London) and Jun.-Prof. Dr. Béatrice Hendrich (Cologne), January 24, 2018, Ruhr-University Bochum (together with Dr. Véronique Sina (Cologne))
  • Cooperation in the program organization of the conferene “Against\Documentation” (organized by the research training group “Documentary Practices. Excess and Privation”), November 8–10, 2018, Kubus der Situation Kunst – Museum unter Tage, Bochum (together with Pia Goebel and Robert Dörre)
  • Cooperation in the conception of the 5th Student Congress in Comparative Literature „Literature and Sexuality“, June 27–29, 2014, Ruhr-University Bochum.