Cultural Studies MA student Aslı Ece Koçak attended American Comparative Literature Association’s (ACLA) 2018 Annual Meeting, which took place at the University of California, Los Angeles between March 29th and April 1st, 2018. The ACLA's annual conferences have a distinctive structure in which most papers are grouped into twelve-person seminars that meet two hours per day for three days of the conference to foster extended discussion. Ece participated in the seminar titled “Theorizing Empathy and Violence: The View from Linguistic and Geographic Peripheries,” and presented her paper titled, “The Possibility of Trauma Writing and the Force of Empathy in Leylâ Erbil’s Three Headed Dragon.” Her participation in this conference is funded by Travel Grant for FASS Graduate Students.
Abstract: Leylâ Erbil’s Three Headed Dragon is a novella intertwining urban, national, and personal memory in Turkey. In this paper, this novella is analyzed as a case of disseminatory trauma writing by looking closely at several terms and experimental punctuation employed; particularly varak (a constitutive force for the memory of a deceased son), and abis (a site for collective amnesia). Varak is Arabic for document and abis is borrowed from French. It is argued that Erbil uses these contrasting terms as a metaphor for Turkish literature’s crisis of identity, symbolizing Turkey’s convoluted national history. The protagonist is a woman whose son had been killed in the aftermath of the 1980 coup but she doesn’t know how. The testimony of a woman who lost relatives during the 1978 Maraş Massacre becomes a reference for the narrator. This implies that losing relatives under oppressive regimes is a collective experience in Turkey. Our narrator empathizes with the testimony because she sees something of her own story in it, and the women’s stories gradually become one. Believing that people of Turkey are tainted with the sin of the history of state violence, Erbil provides a radical example of the generative force of empathy in her literary oeuvre, revealing how collective complicity can be reconciled. This paper refers to LaCapra and Derrida, focusing on how the narrator creates a middle voice that contains the possibility of empathic unsettlement in a Turkish context and literature’s capacity to represent violence.