Song and stage, gender and nation: the emergence of kanto in late Ottoman İstanbul
Blackthorne-O'Barr, Erik Aldritch Charlemagne (2018) Song and stage, gender and nation: the emergence of kanto in late Ottoman İstanbul. [Thesis]
This thesis aims to explore the formative period of “kanto,” a genre of Turkish-language musical theatre and dance which arose in Istanbul during the early 1880s, and was characterized by short, humorous songs of satirical or erotic nature. In particular, this thesis examines kanto theatre as emblematic of the social, political and sexual discourses prevalent during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876-1909). In contrast to earlier studies, kanto is understood here not simply as a synthetic genre of performance adapting Western cabaret to Ottoman tastes. Instead, this thesis aims to show that kanto was, in its original form, the product of an urban youth subculture which directly reflected the cosmopolitan and multiethnic setting from which it arose. Furthermore, this thesis places kanto within the rich Ottoman tradition of satirical theatre, albeit influenced by continuing processes of heteronormalization and national redefinition. In the first chapter of this thesis, the broad contours of late Ottoman kanto culture are outlined, with kanto performers and their audiences analyzed according to categories of class, gender, ethnicity and age. Kanto singers, predominantly Greek and Armenian women, were both conscious of their own identities and yet also quintessentially Ottoman in their performative styles and stage characters. In the second chapter, kanto is examined as the final cultural product of a long process of Ottoman heteronormalization, which is traced through the evolution of Ottoman erotic dance. In the last chapter, the effects of nationalist and orientalist discourse on the representations of ethnic types in kanto theatre are discussed, with a particular focus on depictions of Roma and Iranians. Ultimately, this thesis aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of how kanto culture was intertwined with the cosmopolitan character of late Ottoman urban social life. This connection would make the performance of early kanto increasingly untenable in the era of nationalist Turkish Republic, despite several attempts at adaptation and revival.
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