Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Imagining Turkish Literature: Between the French Republic of Letters and the Ottoman Empire

  • Author(s): Haddad, Jonathan
  • Advisor(s): Tlatli, Soraya
  • et al.

This study traces the emergence of the category “Turkish literature” within the French-speaking scholarly community in eighteenth-century Europe. By uncovering forgotten debates in the eighteenth century among French scholars, courtiers, and diplomats about the existence of Turkish literature, I show how the articulation of the notion of literature drew boundaries between France and the Islamicate world. These debates offer insight into how competing definitions of “Turk” and “literature” conditioned whether the French Republic of Letters integrated or excluded Ottoman “men of letters.”

My analysis of French definitions of Turkish literature highlights two core themes: politeness as literature and the borderlines between French and Ottoman. In the chapter “Worthy of Crossing the Sea,” I show the fluidity of both categories in the words of Jean de Laroque. A journalist writing for the widely read Mercure de France, Laroque used his native Marseille as a template for his beliefs about the Muslim Ottomans, leading him to define literature as an active commerce among persons. In a series of letters published in the periodical Mercure de France between 1732 and 1738, Laroque emphasizes the role of the court in policing the society of men of letters. The following chapter, “People before Print” builds on this court-centered and interpersonal definition of Turkish literature, arguing that the reactions of the Parisian academic milieu to the establishment in 1727 of the first Arabic movable-type press at the Ottoman court contrasts with ongoing cultural exchanges between French and Ottoman diplomats. Rather than representing a threshold, I reveal, print was actually ancillary to the activities of the Republic of Letters. Rather, French men of letters perceived Turkish literature as the product of Ottoman elite formation and the circulation of manuscripts. These manuscripts, in turn, provided the source material for a number of translations of Oriental tales. The chapter “The Snake in the Library” examines the collections published by French Orientalists Pétis de La Croix, Caylus, and Cardonne from 1707 to 1770. Close readings of these three authors’ adaptations bring to light the representation of a “Turkish style.” Over the course of the century, this style comes to replace references to Ottoman poetics with a generic and self-referential Orientalist literary corpus. Together, the analyses conducted in these three chapters demonstrates the importance of elite and court-centered practices to the integration of Islamicate culture within the Republic of Letters.

Ultimately, the findings of this dissertation contribute to two fields of study that have witnessed a resurgence of interest in recent years. First, by exhuming long buried debates about Turkish literature, I provide a more comprehensive account of the movement of Muslims and the circulation of Islamicate culture in Europe in the eighteenth century. In addition, I add my work to an emerging critique of center-periphery models of “world literature” by retracing the historical processes by which Orientalism comes to absorb Turkish literature into the French Republic of Letters.

Main Content
Current View