The Formation of Literary Canons in History of Turkish Literature


  • Zehra Donus EROGLU



The term ‘canon’ is derived from the Greek word ‘kanon’, which refers to a law, criterion, or rule. It implies a criterion for determining what is true or authentic. In the context of literature, the concept of canon is associated with works that serve as examples or criteria for subsequent literary works, and that can become classical masterpieces. The canonization of art typically occurs in two ways. The first occurs through the natural process of people appreciating certain works, leading them to become classics. The second occurs in a ‘guided (goal oriented)’ manner in which certain authorities, such as political parties, governments, or ideologies, shape the canon to serve their interests. It is observed that many countries use literature and art as cultural tools to promote the national identity and ideology to individuals and society, viewing them as a means of cultural control. The inception of contemporary Turkish literature can be traced back to the 'Tanzimat Edict' of 1839, which sought to revitalize various areas, including literature, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. With the conclusion of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire came to an end and the Turkish Republic was established. During the war years spanning 1911 to 1923, national sentiments and ideas became prominent themes in Turkish literature. Upon the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, national sentiments and specific ideas continued to exert their influence on the country's literature due to the prevalent awareness of Turkish identity that many felt needed to be instilled in society. The works produced by authors for this purpose are considered as part of the national literature. The newly established state aimed to adopt contemporary norms and, in this context, introduced reforms in every sphere of Turkish life. Literature was utilized as a tool to encourage public acceptance of these reforms, and the literature produced for this purpose was referred to as ‘revolution literature’. When examining the history of Modern Turkish Literature, one can observe literary works that fit within the framework of a ‘national literature canon’ or ‘revolution canon’. These works aim to present new values, ideas, and understandings to society by devaluing or criticizing old ones. This process of guided transformation is also known as ‘dirigisme’. Throughout history in Turkey, various groups (Kemalists, Marxists, nationalists, Islamists) have created ‘guided literature’ to teach or persuade others to adopt their ideologies. Poets and writers who were constrained by the political regimes, ideologies, and dominant powers of their time often reacted through an ‘anti-canon’ or ‘dissent canon’ strategy, resisting the official canon that political powers sought to establish. As a result, literature and art placed increasing importance on irony in language and expression. Utopias were also explored in ‘dissent canonical texts’ as a means of escaping from the unhappy present world.

Keywords: Literature, Art, Canon, Dirigism, Guidance



22-01-2024 — Updated on 12-02-2024


How to Cite

EROGLU, Z. D. (2024). The Formation of Literary Canons in History of Turkish Literature. Journal in Humanities, 12(2). (Original work published January 22, 2024)