Sometimes, those Swedish academics get it right. The Nobel Prize in Literature 2006 goes to Orhan Pamuk, “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”
From an interview with The Borzoi Reader:
To be influenced by the western ways of portraiture is a dilemma for the traditional Islamic painter who is devoted to repetition and purification of traditional forms. Beyond this lie two different ways of seeing, painting, and even representing the world. One is that of seeing the world through the eyes of any individual person—looking at things from our humble point of view. The other is seeing the world through God’s eyes, from high above as the Islamic painters did, and perceiving the totality of, say a battle from above. The latter is more like seeing with the mind’s eye, rather than the eye itself.
I tried to tell my story in the manner of these Persian masters. These two distinctive ways of seeing the world and narrating stories are of course related to our cultures, histories, and what is now popularly called identities. How much are they in conflict? In my novel they even kill each other because of this conflict between east and west. But, of course, the reader, I hope, realizes that I do not believe in this conflict.
From the Nobel Academy site, a comprehensive bio-bibliography.
Pamuk’s NYRB page; this is from his May 2006 essay, Freedom to Write:
But to respect the humanity and religious beliefs of minorities is not to suggest that we should limit freedom of thought on their behalf. Respect for the rights of religious or ethnic minorities should never be an excuse to violate freedom of speech. We writers should never hesitate on this matter, no matter how “provocative” the pretext. Some of us have a better understanding of the West, some of us have more affection for those who live in the East, and some, like me, try to keep our hearts open to both sides of this slightly artificial divide, but our natural attachments and our desire to understand those unlike us should never stand in the way of our respect for human rights.
From Pamuk’s interview with The Paris Review:
…This theme of impersonation is reflected in the fragility Turkey feels when faced with Western culture. After writing The White Castle, I realized that this jealousy—the anxiety about being influenced by someone else—resembles Turkey’s position when it looks west. You know, aspiring to become Westernized and then being accused of not being authentic enough. Trying to grab the spirit of Europe and then feeling guilty about the imitative drive. The ups and downs of this mood are reminiscent of the relationship between competitive brothers.
From a New Yorker profile:
Pamuk waved me out onto the balcony. He pointed to the illuminated mosques on the far shore, then to a Russian oil tanker plowing north on the Bosporus toward the Black Sea. As he was describing the bridges across the Golden Horn, a muezzin, that buzzy summons to prayer present in all Orientalist narratives, wailed reliably in midsentence, and Pamuk laughed. “Sometimes my agent will call from New York, and the muezzin will start,” he said. “You can tell that at the other end of the phone line he is thinking, Ah! The exotic East!”
The Complete Review has links to the collected reviews of Pamuk’s Istanbul, My Name is Red and Snow.
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