Selim Kuru: “Unruly Acts of Desire: A Sixteenth-Century Vision of Sexuality in the Ottoman Empire”

Posted on December 19th, 2013 in Events

February 27th, 3:30 pm in Encina Hall West, Room 208 (616 Serra St., map)

Winter 2014 Workshop Series: Inside and Outside Islamic Literature?

Selim Kuru  (University of Washington), “Unruly Acts of Desire: A Sixteenth-Century Vision of Sexuality in the Ottoman Empire”

In the first decade of the 16th century, Mehemmed Gazali (d. 1535), compiled a collection of jokes on the topic of sexuality, which he rendered in an original composition in both prose and poetry. Gazali, an itinerant Anatolian theologian who worked as both a professor and a judge in various towns, named his work, The Book That Repels Sorrow and Removes Anxiety and presented it to a favorite courtier of the Ottoman prince. Gazali’s declared intention was to produce a well-crafted work that evoked laughter in the reader and thus served to console those experiencing difficult times. The work, however, rife with obscene content and grotesque imagery, reads as an incitement to denigrate sexual acts and cause moral disgust, a provocation against bodily functions. It also provides a galvanizing vision of particular professions and communities. In this presentation, I explore the concept of obscenity as it appears in Gazali’s text. This exploration entices a historical appreciation of obscenity in a particular work and context and also provides a better understanding of various types of writing and modes of canon formation in the pre-modern Ottoman Empire. I argue that Gazali’s use of obscenity challenges our modern sensibilities concerning the sexually defined body and bodily thinking. That is, Gazali’s work calls us to reconsider norms that constitute our sense of self as inviolable and accomplishes this by drawing the disgusting to the center of high literary composition.

Selim Kuru is Associate Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His research and teaching interests include print and manuscript cultures, sexuality, literary history, Ottoman and modern Turkish language and literature. Among his publications are “The Literature of Rum: The Making of a Literary Tradition: (1450-1600)” (in S. Faroqui and K. Fleet (eds.) The Cambridge History of Turkey, Cambridge, 2012), “Reading Memories of Homosociality: Towards Resistance to Modernist History” (Cogito, 2011), and “Naming the Beloved in Ottoman Turkish Gazel: The Case of Ishak Celebi” (in A. Neuwirth et. al. (eds.) Ghazal as World Literature II: From a Literary Genre to a Great Tradition, The Ottoman Gazel in Context, Ergon Verlag, 2006).

Papers are available to Stanford affiliates upon request.

[Co-sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature]

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