Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman is writer in residence at Koç University in Istanbul. Her first book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, is available in paperback.

Diary: Pamuk’s Museum

Elif Batuman, 7 June 2012

In 2010, I moved from California, where I had lived for 11 years, to Turkey, where I had never stayed longer than a month or two. I had been offered a job as writer in residence at a private university in the forest on the northern edge of Istanbul. When I got there, I found out that the university had no writer in residence programme. It didn’t even have a writing programme. There was just me. The two living beings I saw with the most regularity were a campus groundsman, who always seemed to be standing in the bushes when I left the house, and an obese one-eyed black cat.

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and creative writing: disciplines which differ in their points of reference (Samuel Richardson v. Jhumpa Lahiri), the graduate degrees they award (Doctor of Philosophy v. Master of Fine Arts) and their perceived objects of study (‘literature’ v. ‘fiction’). Mark McGurl’s The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, a study of Planet MFA conducted from Planet PhD, might not strike the casual reader as an interdisciplinary bombshell, but the fact is that literary historians don’t write about creative writing, and creative writers don’t write literary histories, so any secondary discourse about creative writing has been confined, as McGurl observes, to ‘the domain of literary journalism’ and ‘the question of whether the rise of the writing programme has been good or bad for American writers’.

On Complaining: How to Stay Sane

Elif Batuman, 20 November 2008

Flaubert the satirist buried Bouvard and Pécuchet alive beneath an avalanche of names and things and methodologies; Roudinesco the philosopher is offering us a conceptual shovel. What one immediately notices about this shovel is its close resemblance to the avalanche: Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida looks very much like a vast ledger full of entries for ‘people who have become things’. (Would Bouvard and Pécuchet feel or think any better if they found such a thing in the garden shed?) For most of its length the book has the same ‘talking-head’ effect that initially seemed to be an object of parody. As in Flaubert’s dictionary, ideas and names rain onto the page in a chronologically chaotic barrage: Roudinesco is the kind of writer who breezily refers to ‘the tradition of philosophical conceptuality to which belonged names like . . . Gaston Bachelard, Spinoza, Hegel, Montesquieu and Freud’. As Flaubert’s dictionary is alphabetically ordered, so Roudinesco proceeds from one argument to the next on the basis of puns or metaphors.

Into the Eisenshpritz: Superheroes

Elif Batuman, 10 April 2008

The term ‘graphic novel’ is dismissed by most of its practitioners as either an empty euphemism or a marketing ploy. As Marjane Satrapi puts it, graphic novels simply enable ‘the bourgeois to read comics without feeling bad’; according to Alan Moore, they allow publishers to ‘stick six issues of whatever worthless piece of crap they happened to be publishing lately under a glossy cover and call it The She-Hulk Graphic Novel’.

If you’re​ 18, without any experience of your chosen branch of higher education, your best hope of advancement – of learning to think like your elders – is to listen to your...

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w00t: The Fabulous Elif Batuman

Christopher Tayler, 17 February 2011

Turgenev could be read in English from 1855, Tolstoy had British and American disciples, and Dostoevsky was, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s view, ‘a devil of a swell, to be sure’....

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