The soul of a city: hüzün, keyif, longing

Isin, Engin F. (2010). The soul of a city: hüzün, keyif, longing. In: Göktürk, Deniz; Soysal, Levent and Türeli, Ipek eds. Orienting Istanbul: Cultural Capital of Europe? Planning, history and environment series. Abingdon, UK and New York, NY, USA: Routledge, pp. 35–47.



This chapter engages Orhan Pamuk’s claim that hüzün is the soul – if there is such a thing – of Istanbul. Assuming first that there is such a thing but becoming increasingly troubled with hüzün, the chapter introduces an alternative, if an opposite, soul, keyif, more precisely șehrin keyfi, as the soul of Istanbul. Yet, growing increasingly sceptical of itself, the chapter opens towards a discussion on why there should be such a thing as the soul of a city. Taking its cue from the phrase, ‘reorienting Istanbul’, it begins to argue that claims to know the soul of a city – whether hüzün or keyif – are discursive constructions that orient Istanbul in both senses: it reorientalizes Istanbul as an object of desire while it Europeanizes it by shaping its direction towards the Occident. The question then becomes how these discursive constructions emerge. Answering that question requires understanding how social groups that constitute contemporary Istanbul use such images as strategies of government. If hüzün and keyif are effects over which social groups struggle to govern the city according to their taste, habits and disposition, understanding how such effects are produced and are made objects of desire becomes essential to understanding literary products such as İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Șehir (2003) or Istanbul: Memories and the City (2005).

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