Melancholic Modalities: Affect and Contemporary Turkish Classical Musicians


ACLS Fellowship Program




Before melancholy was pathologized as an individual’s medical condition after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Ottomans employed diverse terminologies that rendered melancholy as a positive, communal experience. This project interrogates normative assumptions about melancholy through present-day musicians who champion, teach, and perform Turkish classical music, a genre substantially rooted in the musics of the Ottoman court and elite Mevlevi Sufi lodges. Typically dismissed as the remnants of Ottoman nostalgia, the melancholy intentionally cultivated by contemporary Turkish classical musicians emerges as reparative, pleasurable, and spiritually redeeming. “Melancholic Modalities” explicates the diverse terms, musical repertoire, improvisation gestures, and embodied practices of Turkish classical musicians who deploy and circulate melancholy in sound. Based on extensive ethnographic and archival research, this project illuminates the constitutive elements of musicians’ melancholic modalities in the context of emergent neoliberalism, secular nationalism, political Islamism, and the politics of psychological health in Turkey today.