116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Outrageous Obscenities, Sexual Identities: Imposing Self Over Ottoman Erotica

Selim S Kuru, University of Washington

Sixteenth century Ottoman scholar and poet Gazali Mehemmed's lengthy prosometric mock treatise in high literary Turkish on sexuality is a unique manifestation of literary expertise that is transgressive with its vocabulary and themes. Studying this text in the US through lense of identit politics has been a challenge in coming to terms with my own sexual desires and experience. This paper provides an account of this scholarly and personal struggle.


Gazali Mehemmed (d. 1535 in Mecca)'s Book that repels sorrow and removes anxiety complicates modern understandings of Ottoman Turkish/Islamicate literatures. The prosometric text that is composed in seven chapters focuses on various topics related to sexual intercourse and sex objects of men. Marriage, boys, girls, adult men and women, masturbation, animals, prostitution are evaluated as relevant topics for a mock treatise in order to display the horrors of sex through intricately organized of jokes, stories, and poetry.

This literary work has been preserved in 11 manuscript copies , the earliest available copy being produced approximately 50 years after the author's death. The corpus presents various textual challenges due to the fact that it had become an under the pillow book for readers, even though its literary inventiveness had been celebrated by contemporary literary critiques. Composed around the same time as Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, this work hadn't received scholarly attention until I prepared a preliminary critical edition and an English translation for my dissertation (Harvard University, 2000). While I am preparing a better edition and translation of this literary monument, I have faced reactions in various venues that I had the chance to present my work on the Book that repels sorrow and removes anxiety and these reactions converged my inner struggles in dealing with my own sexuality. The text's rejection of sexuality by presenting sexual acts as the most abject, meanwhile, juxtaposed with its original employment of high literary language and poetry, keeping me constantly amazed.

In this paper, drawing on the historiography of this particular work of literature through commentary by contemporary Ottoman authors and by modern scholars, I investigate my own emotional reactions to the text that is framed by my own personal engagement with literature and its functions as manifested in my own social circles, from my life in Turkey to my PhD studies in the US and my current position at the University of Washington.

Putting a text that constantly creates technical, intellectual and personal challenges in the center of my scholarly life, has been fruitful and condemning at the same time. This presentation will hopefully help me to untangle the possible causes behind the personal challenges Book that repels sorrow and removes anxiety set me up against.