„Occidentalism & Cinema“
The digital workshop Occidentalism and Cinema: East-West Dialectics in Audiovisual Culture conducted as part of the DFG research project Aesthetics of Occidentalism. Yücel Çakmaklı’s Islamic-Turkish Millî Sinema (“National Cinema”) (1964-2006) took place November 26-27, 2020, at the Institute of Media Studies at Philipps University of Marburg.
F.l.t.r.: Dr. Simone Pfeifer, Dr. Robert Dörre and Dr. Deniz Güneş Yardımcı
In the workshop, researchers from Germany and Turkey discussed discourse-analytical approaches to Occidentalism from a media-aesthetic perspective and thus made an important contribution to the relationship between (Occidentalist) discourse and aesthetics. Based on the project’s research interest in examining media-aesthetic intrinsic qualities for their potential to contribute to the constitution of Occidentalist discourses, the researchers have reflected on the dichotomous relationship between Orient and Occident and the connection between conservative politics and Islamic-oriented media cultures, as well as any other discourse dynamics. The media aesthetic analyses of the researchers, who have each shaped the Orient-Occident debate from different disciplines and perspectives, have explored how cinematic images are active in the production of such conservative politics. Participating in the two-day workshop were Dr. Ömer Alkin (project director of the research project „Aesthetics of Occidentalism“), Prof. Dr. Savaş Arslan from Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Prof. Dr. Dilek Kaya from Yaşar University, Izmir, Dr. Simone Pfeifer and Dr. Robert Dörre from Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Dr. Deniz Güneş Yardımcı from Bilgi University, Istanbul, Dr. Ayşe Çavdar from Philipps University, Marburg, and M.A. Aysel Özdilek from the University of Hamburg participated. The lectures revolved around topics such as the founder of an Islamic conservative director, Yücel Çakmaklı, Turkish cinema, migration cinema and jihadist video strategies.
F.l.t.r.: Dr. Ayşe Çavdar, Prof. Dr. Savaş Arslan und Dr. Ömer Alkın
The first day of the workshop was opened with the introductory lecture by Dr. Ömer Alkin. With a discourse on the different conceptions of Occidentalism, Alkin laid out the theoretical-discursive framework of the concept of Occidentalism. Different theoretical approaches were described and discussed. Following Edward Said, Michel Foucault, Ian Buruma, Avishai Margalit, Fernando Coronil, and Meltem Ahıska, Alkin dealt with the foreign and self-constructions, discourse strategies, representational practices, and discourse dynamics of the dichotomous geopolitical context of West and non-West.
F.l.t.r.: Aysel Özdilek MA., Prof. Dr. Dilek Kaya und Prof. Dr. Malte Hagener
Following the introduction, Prof. Dr. Savaş Arslan gave a lecture on the topic From Drama to Melodrama: The Turkish-Western Dialectics in Yeşilçam Cinema, in which he dealt with the historical development of Islamic-conservative cinema in Turkey. In doing so, Arslan focused on the film culture of Yücel Çakmaklı, the founder of an Islamic conservative cinema of Turkey. For this, Arslan presented a 13-minute excerpt from a video interview with Çakmaklı, in which he questioned Çakmaklı about his Islamic-Turkist film programming of a Millî Sinema („National Cinema“). Turkey’s popular Yeşilçam film culture was discussed both formally-aesthetically and in terms of its narrative properties as a „reference cinema“ for Turkey’s various political film programs.
Excerpt from the introductory presentation by Dr. Ömer Alkın
In her presentation Heroes trapped in their fairy tales: Landscape of insatiable spirits in Memleketim (1975, TR), Dr. Ayşe Çavdar dealt with the development of political Islamism in Turkey based on her dissertation. In doing so, Islamism was described not only as a political and hegemonic claim of Muslims, but also as an effective ideology that is instrumentalized as a hegemonization of Muslims‘ collective affects and emotions. Through her comparative film analysis from Turkey’s rich body of popular cinema (Yeşilçam) and literary examples, Çavdar identified narrative strategies and archetypes related to the symbolic language and rhetoric of the AKP government which is currently in power in Turkey.
The third contribution of the first day was given by Prof. Dilek Kaya. In her presentation Crossroads (1970,TR): Islamicizing Modernity, Cinema and Melodrama, Kaya used Yücel Çakmaklı’s first feature film „Birleşen Yollar“ (TR, 1970) to negotiate the discursive strategies of the film against the background of the history of modernization and the emergence of Islamic cinema in Turkey. In doing so, Kaya noted that the narrative conventions of the Yeşilçam melodrama were also adapted in this film. Compared to the melodramas of 1970s Yeşilçam cinema, the lecture described the discursive construction of Turkish modernization in Çakmaklı’s film as an appeal for an Islamic way of life. Kaya summarized the adoption of popular narrative strategies on the one hand and a formulation of modernization as Islamization on the other as a „reconfiguration and Islamization of the mainstream,“ which was interpreted as a backlash against the hegemony of the secular ideology of the time.
Excerpt from the presentation Crossroads (1970,TR): Islamicizing Modernity, Cinema and Melodrama by Prof. Dr. Dilek Kaya
The first day of the workshop ended with the lecture by Aysel Özdilek (M.A) on Body Politics and National Identity: Women’s Fashion in Yeşilçam. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics and Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity, Özdilek negotiated the entanglement and interrelation of the body, fashion, politics, and patriarchal ideology. Using popular Yeşilçam films of the 1960s and 1970s as examples, Özdilek made clear that costume and fashion have different functions and meanings. Among other things, they function as symbolic metaphors for the social class, habitus, self-optimization, or „technologies of the self“ of the film characters.
The second day of the workshop began with a presentation by Dr. Ömer Alkin. In his paper on Media Aesthetics of Occidentalism, Alkin examined, among other things, symbolic and visual constructions of meaning in Yeşilçam cinema, following Meltem Ahıska’s concept of „critical occidentalism.“ The analysis of time and space constructions in the film „Memleketim“ (Yücel Çakmaklı, TR, 1974) was related to Ahıska’s train metaphor using a selected film scene as an example and interpreted with Turkey’s desire for westernization on the one hand and its constant failure to achieve modernity on the other. The lecture focused on the question of the specificity of visual constructions of „social reality“ and their investigation from a media-aesthetic understanding and from the perspective of visual culture (Mitchell 2015).
Another interesting presentation entitled The West Behind the Mask – On the Aesthetics of Othering in Jihadi Videos was given by Dr. Simone Pfeifer and Dr. Robert Dörre. The visual and narrative features of the jihadist video „Fitrah: The West Behind the Mask“ were analyzed in the context of Gayatri C. Spivak’s concept of othering. In addition to elaborating the „aesthetics and dimensions of othering,“ the researchers engaged in a detailed analysis of the social media strategies used to bring the jihadist video to the public.
Excerpt from the presentation The West Behind the Mask – On the Aesthetics of Othering by Dr. Simone Pfeifer and Dr. Robert Dörre
The last lecture of the workshop was given by Dr. Deniz Güneş Yardımcı. Yardımcı’s lecture, titled Post-Migration Cinema: Transnational Aesthetics, Transnational Identities, dealt with the East-West dialectic in post-migrant cinema. She focused on the conceptualization, historicization and aesthetics of (German-Turkish) migrant as well as post-migrant cinema.
In the final discussion of the workshop, the past days and lectures were intensively discussed. The discussion, in which the researchers critically dealt with the existing binary categories and their reproductions (East-West), revolved around topics such as hegemonic/discursive and aesthetic categories of analysis, the necessity of their circumvention, but at the same time their impossibility, as well as the political consequences of those disputes due to their permanent reproduction. These categories were thus used to discuss the possibilities and limits of deconstructing dichotomous conceptions. With Mouffe’s and Laclau’s theory of „signification,“ Alkin pointed to the ideological danger of those representational-logical categories such as West, East, Orient, Occident: With increasing discursive preoccupation, there would be a danger of signifying the designated meta-categories to such an extent that a vicious circle of symbolic zero-valence (empty signifiers) would emerge from it, thus producing the concepts into inevitable hypercategories together with their reversibility and polysemy.
The attempt to overcome the categories of representation reproduced not only in scientific but also in global social discourse with the help of aesthetic categories of analysis and to think beyond geographical boundaries opened up new perspectives and research questions in the field of media aesthetics as well as hegemonic-ideological approaches. The contributions of researchers from different disciplines discussed the conception and dimensions of Occidentalism with a special focus on audiovisual culture, media use practices, media aesthetics and body discourses. Thus, the workshop Occidentalism & Cinema: East-West Dialectics in Audiovisual Culture provided an important contribution to the shift in perspective in the debate on Occidentalism and audiovisual culture.
© Hayriye Kapusuz, 16th February 2021
The report on the conference is available at: https://www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-8906