Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar was born in Istanbul on June 23, 1901 and died in Istanbul on January 24, 1962. Due to his father’s duty as an Ottoman judge, Tanpinar spent his childhood in various towns and cities of Anatolia, and he returned to Istanbul in 1918 to pursue his higher education. He first attended the Faculty of Veterinarian Science for a year and transferred to the Darülfunun Faculty of Letters, where he studied history and then philosophy. Later, he transferred to the Department of Literature, because he wanted to take classes from Yahya Kemal Beyatli, whose work had great influence on him. During his university life, he studied western as well as Divan literature. He had the opportunity to learn the works of Divan poets Baki, Nefî, Naili, Nedim and Seyh Galip. In 1923, he graduated from the Faculty of Letters and was appointed to Erzurum as a schoolteacher. He worked as a teacher of literature at various secondary schools in Konya, Ankara and Istanbul. After the death of the renowned literary figure and academician Ahmet Hasim in 1933, Tanpinar was appointed to the Academy of Fine Arts as lecturer of art history. In 1939, he started working at Istanbul University as a professor of contemporary Turkish Literature. From 1942 to 1946, he worked as a representative of the province of Maras. From 1946 to 1948, he worked as an inspector for the Turkish Ministry of National Education. Afterward, he returned to his academic position at Istanbul University and taught fine arts and literature until the end of his life. The gravestone of the poet features his most famous verses: “I am neither inside time / Nor am I completely outside of it.”

Tanpinar took his first steps into the literary world in 1920, with his poem “Musul Aksamlari” (“Musul Evenings”), which was published in the literature journal Altinci Kitap. His poetry carries influences of Ahmet Hasim rather than that of Yahya Kemal Beyatli, whom he admired. His interest in philosophy surfaced in his novels in the form of his characters settling accounts with their inner realities. His essays, on the other hand, dealt with daily social problems related to Eastern and Western lifestyles.

While Tanpinar wrote his poems in the style known as “Bes Hececiler” (“Followers of the Five Syllable”), in his novels he has dwelled on the inner human truth, and as a thinker he wrote about the challenges of internalizing Eastern and Western lifestyles and values. Tanpinar stated that “Western civilization develops constantly, however it does so without severing ties with its history and renaissance. Furthermore, it safeguards its material and spiritual values. Just like they have done, we need to change the “old,” and to strive to become a better society; however while doing this, we need to make use of our own values rather than blindly imitating the West. We need to protect our own values.”

Time is one of the prominent themes that appear in Tanpinar’s stories and novels. The commonly accepted opinion is that Tanpinar has been influenced by Marcel Proust. Both Tanpinar himself and his characters are longing for times past. The past is both individually perceived time and the past of the nation. In Tanpinar’s novels time is prominent as an aesthetic element, and a literary device. Huzur, which appeared as a daily series in the Milliyet newspaper between February 22nd and June 2nd 1948, and which was later published in 1949 in book form, is one of his most important works. The most significant feature of the novel is that it adheres to the principle of unity of time, as its action takes place in a 24-hour timeframe. In the novel, time has been established through the characters conveying their memories into the present. In the other novels, it is possible to see a spiraling plot of the same type that goes back and forth between past and present. As far as the subject matter goes, Huzur ,deals with the search for peace that the intellectual of the Republican period undertakes.

Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü deals with the relationship between the individual and society. It relates the problems and challenges that Turkey encountered in the process of internalizing Western civilization. Tanpinar’s novel Sahnenin Disindakiler relates the years of national struggle. The novel deals with the experience of people who remained uninvolved with the war of independence. His characters sometimes plunge into the past to remember the changes that took place and are left lonely in their yearnings. Mahur Beste narrates the story of an unhappy love.

Just like his poetry Tanpinar’s novels and stories are also dominated by dream sequences. Tanpinar describes this as “establishing the state of dream in language.” Dreams mentioned here are also a form of creativity. Hence, while dreams take on a psychological function in Tanpinar`s works, at the same time they form the aesthetic basis of the work. Hence, the subconscious of Tanpinar’s novel and story characters are conveyed with clues. Thus a journey to the inner world of the character is achieved, and this mystical adventure is conveyed through a complex, dream-like plot.

It would appear that through his character and his works Tanpinar believes in the necessity of embracing the new, and in fact he elevated novelty. However his works do feature a sense of emotional pain related to the slow disappearance of Ottoman civilization and culture, and of values that created them. All these novels, stories and poems carry traces of folk and divan literature and are enriched through repetition of the feeling of nostalgia.

Tanpinar’s works include the following: Poetry; Siirler (Poems, 1961), and Bütün Siirleri (Complete Poems, 1976).

Novels; Huzur (Peace, 1949), Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü (Institute for Setting Watches, 1962), Sahnenin Disindakiler (Those Outside the Scene, 1973), Mahur Beste (Mahur Tune 1975), and Aynadaki Kadin (Woman in the Mirror, 1987),

Stories; Abdullah Efendi’nin Rüyalari (Abdullah Efendi’s Dreams, 1943), Yaz Yagmuru (Summer Rain, 1955), and Hikayeler (Stories, 1983).

Essays; Bes Sehir (Five Cities, 1967), Yahya Kemal (1967), Edebiyat Üzerine Makaleler (Articles on Literature, 1969), and Yasadigim Gibi (As I live it, 1970).

Screenplay; Iki Ates Arasinda (In the Crossfire) is the screenplay adaptation of Sahnenin Disindakiler but it was only discovered posthumously among his notes).

Monographies; XIX. Asir Türk Edebiyati Tarihi (The History of 19th Century Turkish Literature, 1942), Tevfik Fikret (1937), and Namik Kemal (1942).

Translations; Alkestes (Original by Euripides 1974), Medea (Original by Euridipes 1943), Yunan Heykeli (The Greek Statue), Original by Henri Lechat, 1945.

Works that have been turned into motion picture; Abdullah Efendi’nin Rüyalari (Directed by Metin Erksan, 1975), and Yaz Yagmuru (Directed by Tomris Giritlioglu, 1995).

* Biographical information about Ahmet hamdi Tanpinar has been compiled from the work entitled Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation, photograph courtesy of Ara Guler.


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