Home > Departmental History at UND > Another Thesis: American Scheherazade

Another Thesis: American Scheherazade

Nigar Soubra, one of my M.A. students here at the University of North Dakota will soon defend her thesis. It’s entitled “American Scheherazade: Strategic Orientalism and Hybridity in the Ottoman Tales of Demetra Vaka Brown”.

Here’s the abstract:

In the academic era of Post-Colonial scholarship, the discourse of Orientalism is particularly under close observation and it is a subject for heated debates among many Post-Colonial scholars. Since Edward Said’s Orientalism identified this discourse as a homogeneous historical and political process, the subsequent field of scholarship engaged in the process of understanding and re-defining the term of Orientalism. Post-colonial hybrid personas who were actively engaging and strategically re-addressing the course of Orientalism destabilize Said’s monolithic definition and create a ground for a more complex discussion of this seemingly diverse discourse, which extended beyond Western colonial agendas. A hybrid cultural status of a Greek-American writer and an immigrant from the Ottoman Empire, Demetra Vaka, as well as her first publication, Haremlik, are the focus of this thesis, which implements a “close-reading” of the narrative in order to understand the author’s ambivalent use of Orientalism. It is argued that Vaka Brown’s culturally in-between status granted her a privilege of authorial authority and authenticity in her representations of the East to the West. Vaka Brown ambivalently not only re-addressed the previously constructed Orientalist stereotypes but also engaged in developing Orientalist knowledge through classification and representation of cultural difference. It is argued that Vaka Brown utilized Orientalism strategically in order to establish her authorial authority based on her origins, to map the cultural differences between the East and the West, and to bring an air of commercially desirable exoticism to her narrative. In the era of American material Orientalism, when American popular culture was enchanted by the allure of exotic merchandise and the idea of escapism, Haremlik represented an authentic voice of experience and a story about the “other.” In Haremlik, Orientalism is a tool for mapping of cultural differences and a hallmark for marketing. It is argued that Vaka Brown’s strategy for representing an inherent incompatibility between the East and the West was imbedded in her nostalgic idea about the timeless and unchanging Orient. The idea of westernizing Orient threatened the author expertise on the intimately familiar Orient. Not only did the westernization of the Ottoman Empire destabilize her knowledge about the intimately familiar “other,” but also the idea of the cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire’s disintegration and the rise of Turkish nationalism threatened the existence of Greek minorities in Turkey.

Congratulations Nigar!

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