On the poetic practices of a “singularly uninventive people” and the anxiety of imitation

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This paper addresses the fundamental question of imitativeness vs. originality in Ottoman poetics. By positing translation (terceme) as the central practice of literary transfer, fresh arguments are offered to shift focus away from sterile discussions of imitation onto related strategies (telif, creative mediation, and nakl, appropriative transmission) that challenged the central “repetitive” practice of translation in “the order of resemblance” (Foucault 1971), thereby stimulating the dynamics of the Perso-Ottoman “interculture” (Paker 2002). Especially important are two arguments that connect Ottoman poetics with translation and transmission: that telif did not signify “original” in opposition to terceme, that the Qur’an was accepted as the ultimate Original in view of its “miraculous” creation (i’jaz); and that any theory of Ottoman literary translation would have to be posited at the very root of Ottoman poetics in conjunction with the concept of the Qur’anic Original.


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