BIOLOGICAL DEBT, ILLNESS, AND THE LIMITS OF THE NATION-STATE IN WOMEN’S WRITING IN TURKISH
A talk by Dr. Şima İmşir (İstanbul Şehir Üniversitesi)
Thursday, November 29th, 5-6.30pm.
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.