8. Spiraling Back in the Relative Present: Logical Consistencies in “Çingene” Representations in the 1990s


The discursive power of Kaygılı’s book lies in several stylistic and narrative features. The author purportedly narrates actual events that took place around 1914-19, and places himself in the book as the narrator of events that occurred in his lifetime. The references to actual locales, neighborhoods, and people of Istanbul ground this work as a realistic portrayal. Thus this story’s pertinence is not to be seen as limited to an Istanbul intellectual’s narrative portrait of a sense of urban place and moral order at a particular point in time. His fascination with “çingene” lifestyles and his perception of moral danger born of contact with “çingene” communities and their purportedly contaminating life style continued to be drawn upon in the 1990s as a scholarly resource and for insight into the character of urban “çingene.” Hence scholars and journalists continue to use the information in this book as a factual resource on actual communities, their residency patterns, and for references to known Roman musicians in their accounts of contemporary, as well as historical, Turkish Roman. In this way, a period story of Istanbul Roman communities has come to be seen as a social truth, due to its resonance with social pre-formed understandings of “çingene” character in the mind of urban readers. Writers have also reproduced Kaygılı’s text transcriptions of songs in later sources, such as the example of a Romanes-language lullaby (Kaygılı 139: 11). This lullaby has been repeatedly inserted as an example of a Romanes language song in later sources (Irmak 1999: 6; Sakaoğlu 1995: 36). Thus not only standing for a social truth, this fictional text has become a resource for the scholarly reconstruction of Turkish Roman history.

However, it is significant to note the evaluations of moral decay that link images of social disintegration from the 1990 novel and subsequent movie, Heavy Novel/Heavy Roman, to the critics’ responses to Ciguli’s comic and entertaining acts. The decline of moral judgments, cultural bankruptcy, and the degradation of music originally associated with taverns and drinking establishments (taverna and meyhane), in the words of one critic, “now as common as gum in the mouth” signify for critics and intellectuals a malaise of civilization (medeniyet).

The symptom and cause are linked in the persona of the “çingene”, a persona which non-Roman have created, maintained, and into which they have invested their own cultural ---as well as economic---capital.

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