Conference: “Biological Debt, Illness and the Limits of Nation State in Women’s Writing in Turkish,” Dr. Şima İmşir (Istanbul Şehir University), A-130, 5PM November 29 (EN)

Dear Colleagues and Students,

As part of the Center for Turkish Literature Speaker Series, Dr. Şima İmşir will give a talk entitled “Biological Debt, Illness and the Limits of Nation State in Women’s Writing in Turkish”

Thursday, November 29, at 17:00 (5pm).
The talk will take place in A-130.
Refreshments will be available afterwards.

Şima İmşir is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at İstanbul Şehir University. She completed a B.A. in Comparative Literature at Bilgi University in 2009 and an M.A. in Women’s Studies at İstanbul University in 2012. She worked as a research assistant in the Women Writers of Turkey project (sponsored by TÜBİTAK) between 2010 and 2012. She holds a Ph.D. degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Manchester where she worked on illness and literature. Her research interests include theories of biopolitics, disability and gender, and history of social Darwinism.

The talk will be in English.

Abstract: Science, technology and medicine functioned in the Ottoman Empire of the nineteenth century and onwards as focal concerns in regulating populations as sources of economic growth and military power. Such concerns led to positivism, determinism and social Darwinism functioning as methods of understanding, measuring and controlling populations. These debates remained intact after the foundation of the Turkish republic, defining members of the nation as healthy and fit, and by doing so gave them a “biological debt” with remarks such as “A person proves that he is a good citizen by protecting his life.” In other words, the “ideal” citizen was ideologically defined as healthy, sturdy and reproductive, and health became a prerequisite for what constituted a nation. Gender, especially, occupied a central role in the heteronormative definitions of what an ideal citizen’s body should look like and what was expected of it.

Functioning as a vanguard element in such discourse, works of literature instrumentalized metaphors of illness: healthiness and unhealthiness became useful and subtle themes for discussing broader subjects such as nation-making, race, modernization and citizenship. Taking its cue from Giorgio Agamben’s understanding of bare life and state of exception, this talk will discuss publications by medical authorities, members of parliament as well as pieces of fiction of the twentieth century, more specifically Kerime Nadir’s Hıçkırık and Halide Edib’s Mev’ut Hüküm, in relation to the nation-building project, and argue that illness as an object of focus presents the potential to reveal what is left outside the imaginary borders of nation.