KISAKUREK, NECIP FAZIL (May 26, 1904 – May 25, 1983), Turkish poet, playwright, and essayist. One of the most striking figures of modern Turkish literature, Necip Fazil combined in his life concerns for literary style and political ideology. Today he is remembered primarily for the second, but in fact his poetry, prose, journalism, and theater bring together experimentation with form and concerns about the cultural identity of the modern Turk.
Necip Fazil was born in Istanbul in 1905 of a family with ancient roots in the town of Maras in southeastern Turkey. The early death of his father and the somewhat retiring role of his mother in the family strengthened the influence on him of his grandparents, who had strong, idiosyncratic personalities. From his grandfather he acquired a knowledge of Ottoman culture and history; from his grandmother he absorbed her attempts to join the stream of Western culture and to imitate Western manners, shaped by her immersion in French novels. These sources instilled in the boy a curiosity about the West that eventually led to his reasonably wide knowledge of European culture. It also generated a suspicion of the suitability of western European values and of westernization in general as a model for Turkish modernization. This concern increased as he aged and grew into the primary focus of his later years.
He irregularly attended a number of the schools that during the nineteenth century had replaced the traditional madrasah (seminary) with programs copied from western European schools. After a five-year stint he dropped out of the Naval Cadet School in Istanbul. While registered at the Faculty of Philosophy of Istanbul University, he won a government scholarship for study abroad in 1921. As a student in Paris he refined his knowledge of French literature and culture but never received a university degree. He pursued a bohemian lifestyle, some traces of which remained for the rest of his life.
Upon his return he worked in various banks and taught at the Conservatory of Arts in Ankara, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, and at Robert College, an American missionary school with strict academic standards. His poetic pieces and short stories appeared in such Istanbul literary magazines as Yeni Mecmua, Milli Mecmua, Anadolu, Hayat, and Varlik in the 1920s. His earliest pieces show a pervasive pessimism and often highlight motifs of boredom, despair, or death combined with a search for identity.
His versification was in the modern Turkish “syllabic” style, in which he showed an originality that brought him to the attention of the literary establishment. His poems show the influence of French symbolism promoted by his predecessor Ahmet Hasim but also have aspects reminiscent of the worldview of Ottoman Sufism. Orhan Okay has described such cultural mixture and use of themes from Western sources as characteristic of Turkish writers who lived through the transformation of the Ottoman Empire. With the establishment of the Turkish Republic (1923) the change of values from Islamic to secular, at work since the nineteenth century, was greatly accelerated. For Necip Fazil the transformation brought up the problem of achieving a degree of authenticity amid the clash of two cultures, a dilemma prominent in his plays of the 1930s, such as Tohum (The Seed) and especially Bir adam yaratmak (To Create a Man).
To resolve these matters Necip Fazil adopted a philosophy that placed the East and Islam at the foundation of his outlook on life. In his autobiography Ove ben (He and Myself) he ascribed this change to the influence of a shaykh of the Naqshbandi order, Abdulhakim Arvasi, whose path he followed thereafter. Although ideologically committed to Islam, Necip Fazil never abandoned a frankly Western way of life, nor did he succeed in erasing the bohemianism of his early days, which brought him repeatedly to the gambling table.
His adoption by the younger generation of Turkish conservatives at a time when Turkish nationalism was giving way to the stronger influence of Islam may be attributed to the theme of a revival of the East first broached in his periodical The Great East (1943-1978) where he presented a critique of the emptiness of the basic social and humanistic philosophy of republican Turkey. Although frequently interrupted for long periods, the journal and the themes found in its columns, which reappeared in a number of collected essays, make up a compendium that younger conservative Turks use for ideological guidance.
Kisakurek, Necip Fazil. O ve Ben. 3d ed. Istanbul, 1978.
Mavera (Ankara) Special number on Kisakurek (July-August 1983). Okay, M. Orhan. Necip Fazil Kisakurek. Ankara, 1987.