Blue Dreams, Black Disillusions: Literary Market and Modern Authorship in the Late Ottoman Empire
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Why would a successful young novelist write the story of a failed poet told from the point of view of a sympathetic narrator, and why would this failed protagonist then become a role model for the next generation of litterateurs? Focusing on the last decades of the nineteenth century, this dissertation explores the ways in which a set of contextual factors, such as the proliferation of printing technologies, the rise in literacy, governmental efforts at standardizing education and the emergence of journalism as a professional field, impacted perceptions of authorship in the Ottoman imperial capital, thus changing the definitions of success and failure in the field of literature. Using one of the most controversial literary texts of the time, Halit Ziya’s Mai ve Siyah, the story of a “failed” poet, as a gateway to the emotional states of Servet-i Fünun writers, a leading - albeit small - group in the literary debates of the time, I argue that the effort at regulating the realms of education and publishing by the palace during the second half of the century had the unintended consequence of encouraging a more individual engagement with the written text, thus creating young litterateurs who yearned to align their artistic production with their own aesthetic inclinations and to express their existential dilemmas in the face of a changing world, not only through the texts they wrote but also through the outfits they sported and places they frequented. This went hand in hand with the new possibility, created by journalism as private enterprise, of making money outside the realm of the state or the protection of a powerful patron while producing literary texts, an unprecedented prospect for Ottoman litterateurs, one that also challenged the foundations of the ‘official slavery’ system where wealth and status were to be endowed solely by the sultan, and solely at his pleasure. This dissertation thus demonstrates the strong repercussions this period had for generations to come, setting new terms for literary production, publishing and journalism.