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Learning Turkish

2011-05-01
Spitzer, Leo
Emigration is translation. Written by Leo Spitzer in 1934, “Learning Turkish” offers a glimpse into the historical circumstances of his and other German academics' exile in Istanbul—an exile that plays a foundational role in comparative literature, as Erich Auerbach, Edward Said, Aamir Mufti, and Emily Apter have argued. Spitzer's attempt to analyze the characteristics of the Turkish language while that language was transforming amplifies recent critical attempts to understand “modern Turkey's nation-based and state-directed poiesis” (Yaeger 11). Bridging the gap between exile in Istanbul and the modern Turkish language, “Learning Turkish” introduces complexity to contemporary paradigms of global comparatism and identifies symptoms of literary studies' relocation to the context of a new nation-state; the article exemplifies the complicity between local nationalisms and cultural imperialisms and illuminates, on a personal level, how linguistic estrangement becomes a way of negotiating the experience of deportation, of emigration, and of the foreignness of adoptive cultures for Spitzer.