'We cannot have love without lovers': Sexuality and Self-fashioning in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul
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AbstractThis paper presents a preliminary discussion of how male same-sex intimacies were understood and represented by the Ottoman state in the eighteenth century. The concept of the state is not a coherent and static natural object that the historians must focus their gaze on in order to discern a certain practice. Drawing on Paul Veyne’s insightful reconsideration of Michel Foucault as the “completely positivist historian” of practice, relation, and exceptionality, I see the state itself as a mundane “objectivization” or a correlation of a certain determined practice that gives rise to its own corresponding object. My real concern, in other words, is with the relational, heterogeneous, and exceptional character of elaborate forms of practice or the multiple ways in which Ottoman men experienced their relationships and enacted their masculinities. This paper also aims to open up a space for queer others of the Ottoman past whose voices, I believe, have been lost in the midst of a series of broad diachronic divisions taken for granted by the long-range, constructionist histories of sexuality in the Ottoman and Arab-Islamic Middle East: the divisions between pre-modern sexual acts and modern sexual identities; between masculine, bearded adult men and effeminate, beardless boys; between the dominant male penetrator and the subordinate “female” penetrated; and between spiritual love and sexual lust. Elsewhere I have shown how such divisions naturalize what, in most cases, were either regulatory normative ideals imposed by medical, legal, and religious texts or representational strategies by which social commentators and writers of conduct literature reinforced an image for themselves of a self-restrained, moral manliness or simply literary tropes that were used to entertain an elite group of literate urban men of learning. Let it suffice to say that the entire demarcation of sexual acts from sexual identities is simply wrong. David Halperin’s argument that nothing in Foucault’s work “prohibits us from inquiring into the connections that premodern people may have made between specific sexual acts and the particular ethos, or sexual style, or sexual subjectivity, or those who performed them” is exceptionally useful here. In this paper, therefore, I will not get into the tired nominalist debate of whether the category of homosexuality can be applied to the pre-modern Middle East or not. I will approach male homosexuality as a dissident and productive practice, relation, and way of life in order to place it in a wider social, cultural, and economic context of masculinity, violence, and male friendship. Delice contributed this invited paper to the "Desiring and Deorienting the Middle East at Pembroke" lecture series at Cambridge University. The central concern of these seminar series is to look at contemporary Middle and Near East through unaccustomed angles, as an attempt to unfix the Eurocentric categories and narrow the epistemological gap by informing ourselves about seemingly less political aspects of the everyday life region. By starting a conversation about the region, the seminar series aim to use desire as a central theme. Desire enables a gripping discussion at multiple levels: gendered, political, social, and religious. Desire provides an ontological ground to normative makings of sexuality, while, it also expands our conceptual horizons about the Middle East where the public discourse is shaped through terms of yearning for change, transformation, and development in a variety of vocabularies that advocate for multiple ways of envisioning a better future. The seminar series are composed of bi-weekly events combining conversations with grass root activists, journalists, artists, filmmakers, along with seminars, workshops, film screenings and discussions with academic and non-academic experts.
TypeConference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Delice, Serkan <http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/view/creators/Delice=3ASerkan=3A=3A.html> (2017) 'We cannot have love without lovers': Sexuality and Self-fashioning in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul. In: Desiring and Deorienting the Middle East at Pembroke, 2 June 2017, Pembroke College, Cambridge University.