Revisiting the Colonial Legacies: Reading African Literature in Spatiotemporal Frames

Author: Leyla Burcu Dündar (Baskent University, Ankara, Turkey)
Speaker: Leyla Burcu Dündar
Topic: Linguistic Landscapes
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Turkey has deep historical and cultural relations with the African continent dating back centuries to the Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey’s interaction with Africa until almost the 2000s was limited. A colonial power that controlled a vast territory from Southeast Europe to Western Asia, and from the Middle East to Northern Africa for six centuries, Ottoman Empire was eventually dismantled and occupied by Western Allies following World War I. Consequently, the young Republic of Turkey emerged by fighting against Western imperialism. So Turkey is not a case of decolonisation, but rather “an obligatory self-de-imperialisation”. Yet several reflexes mimic the post-colonial situation, as Turkish national identity was constructed against a West, which was both the enemy and the ideal simultaneously. This contradiction left an inerasable mark in the collective subconscious, which still makes itself visible in literature.

Within this contextual background, Turkey’s publishing sector has proliferated and turned into an industry in the last few decades. Thus, a rapid increase in African literary works translated into Turkish has been remarkable in recent years. In order to comprehend and analyse this tendency, it is crucial to investigate the field regarding the mediations between literature and society. This paper aims to map and illustrate the corpus of African literature in Turkish, since the publication of the first novel from the continent in 1966. Then the translations covering a vast geography with immense linguistic and cultural wealth as well as diversity will be categorised in terms of historical focus, geographical distribution, linguistic limitations and literary priorities. Finally, the transformation of the African literary scene in Turkey over the decades will be scrutinised with special regard to the political climate and ideological aspirations. Reflecting on the legacies of colonial domination, the motivations behind Turkish translation history will be deciphered, as it is shaped by the standards of the Western literary canon to a large extent.

Keywords: African literature, Turkish publishing industry, politics of translation, colonial legacies.