American Writers in Istanbul

“Everybody is writing their Turkey books” Rose Macaulay once wrote in her lovely travel book Towers of Trebizond. This one is Kim Fortuny’s. Kim, it seems, is a professor of American Literature at a university in Istanbul.

I love Istanbul – who doesn’t, right? Topkapi and St. Sophia, ancient crossroads of empire which was itself an empire. Turkey is ‘Asia Minor’ as it was called in the Bible, the most important country in Christendom then. Hosting the council of Nicea – Turkey is even the place where St. Nicholas (Santa Clause) is from. It is old, with places dating deep into prehistory like Gobleki Tepe. In the east, “Western Armenia” (though if I called it that in Istanbul I would likely be jailed), the ancient seat of Urartu (RRT, they didn’t use vowels back then. Or maybe Ararat – there are no vowels in Hebrew either? Noah’s kingdom?) A kingdom every bit as grand, and older, than the Parthians or the Medes. Great Armenia once reaching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. Full of conflict, as Robert Kaplan writes “every country imagining their greatness in the territorial possession of their moment of most national expanse” of course coming into conflict with every other country at their moments of national expanse as empires ebb and flow.

I was hoping Fortuny’s book would read like “A Moveable Feast” or “The Warmest Country”; a book about wonder and writing and inspiration. Instead, it was dry. In the intro, which was almost unreadable, I found the reason. And it started wrong – because the whole book seems to be focused on criticizing American writers for their own ‘prejudices’ (read observations or opinions) which Fortuny found “hegemonic”. Now, anybody who uses the word “hegemony” must be taken with a grain of salt. That is leftist trope. It’s meaningless, the point I suppose being it proves the author is cool enough to realize that all prejudices are acceptable, in fact sort of fun, as long as they are not American. Because Americans are powerful, America is powerful, and that is the one unforgivable sin.

Some of this book was interesting. I found the reflections on Hemingway thoughtful, because I really am not a huge fan of his writing. In the section on Dos Passos I discovered a book of his I am going to buy, so that was good. Seems Dos Passos was consumed with the “Armenian question”, I find writers to understand Armenia to be the best ones – maybe because I’m a writer who understands Armenia. I found the reflections on Twain tiresome. But the whole thing basically read like a Masters Thesis by a woke grad student. They really are a tiresome, cheerless lot – those who use the word hegemony. Cynicism is the opposite of wonder, and wonder is the founding philosophy of our civilization. Wonder is what made us great.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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