Tag Archives: Turkey

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul (2003)

The child Orhan Pamuk looks into the mirror on the wall and sees another Orhan, another boy just like him, somewhere in Istanbul. It is the opening scene in Istanbul, Pamuk’s memories. The scene refers to Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, the moment in a child’s life that it becomes aware of its own subjectivity, representing a permanent structure in life. As such, it is the writer that awakes in the little boy Orhan Pamuk, as such it is the starting point of the order of the Imagination.

The Quest for Turkey in our time is not just a quest of Turks or Istanbullus, but as much a quest of the West. When Turkey seeks itself, it finds itself for a part in the West. When Europe seeks itself, inevitably a part of Turkey presents itself and its quest as we define our own borders. The influx of immigrants is not just a motion from the outside into Europe, it’s also a force set in motion within us. When Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in 2006 this was a recognition for Pamuk’s masterly literary works, but it was also acknowledging the West’s search to redefine itself. And not without coincidence, can we find a part of the answer to this search in Istanbul, or as it used to be known, in Constantinopel, the old center of the Roman Empire that reinvented Christianity and which held a magic appeal for hundreds of years to western authors.

In Istanbul, Pamuk’s words describe Istanbul, and he confesses in his own words: when I describe Istanbul, I describe myself, and when I describe myself, I describe Istanbul. Pamuk recognizes this himself explicitly and to the full extend, toward the end of his memories of Istanbul, a city literally divided by the Bosphorus, with one half laying in Asia, and one half in Europe. This literal spleen is by Pamuk described as the melancholy, or huzun in Turkish, that both dominates the city as himself. It is obvious that Pamuk cannot separate himself when he thinks of the city where he lived all his life. Continue reading

Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red (2001)

Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red (2001), 413 p.

This year Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and although I am reluctant to be led by the opinions of the Nobel Committee because of its highly politicized opinions, I made an exception this time. So I overcame my hesitation, because of the relevance of Pamuk’s inner debate that he expresses in his works, the place of Turkey in many intellectual debates in Europe, the growing influence of Turkish culture within Europe and my ignorance of it as a European, and because this summer I travelled through Turkey, visiting Istanbul and the Turkish west coast.

Right from the first pages of Pamuk’s work you are convinced that reading My Name is Red will be worth while. The serenity of style reveals the mastership of writing that lacks the rush of less talented authors who seek to compensate by immediately exposing to the reader their magic hustling of their vocabulary, like in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews for instance. Instead, Pamuk’s style indulges me from the beginning in the same endearing sympathy that the works of Dostoewsky generate and impose on the reader, and similarly Pamuk too takes the time he needs to build up and deepen the characters that play out his plot.

The central pattern in My Name is Red is woven by several threads that are based on historic references. The poem Khosru and Shireen (=sweet) by the praised Persian poet Nizami mirrors the love story between Black and Shekura (=sugar). The Book of the Soul makes up the layer of reflection on life after death according to the Qur’an, and the quote from the Qu’ran about the difference between the seeing and the blind captures the discussion in and traditional suspicion of Islam about the place of visual arts. And Pamuk certainly doesn’t stop here in building layer upon layer within his story. Continue reading