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When I want to freak myself out, “I” think about “me” thinking about having an “I.” The only thing stupider than puppets talking to puppets is a puppet talking to itself.

Daryl Gregory


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Saturday, August second, 2008

Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk

I read to the end of McGaha's Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk today -- it is a good book and I think especially useful to the non-Turkish reader (i.e. myself) approaching Pamuk's books for the second time, to clarify cultural and historical references that might otherwise be lost. Does a really good job of drawing out common threads in Pamuk's books which the disparity of voices and styles can obscure. In short -- I would strongly recommend it if you have read all or most of Pamuk's novels to date and are thinking about rereading them. It also makes brief reference to the forthcoming Museum of Innocence, which will be translated by Erdağ Göknar -- in his application for a grant to do the translation, Göknar says,

the protagonist "comes from an upper-class Instanbul family who, after two failed relationships, goes on an obsessive journey in search of places and objects that remind him of his lost loves and that, once assembled, constitute the bulk of a museum of his obsessions"
which is more than I had heard about the content of the book before now.

McGaha ends by saying,

Orhan Pamuk is only fifty-five years old and is at the peak of his creative powers. There is every reason to believe that his best work still lies ahead of him. I look forward to reading his novels for many years to come.
which -- Wow! What a lovely thought! I can't wait for Museum of Innocence. (Which not that it means anything, but I'm finding kind of charming the parallelism between its title and Robyn Hitchcock's song, "Museum of Sex".)

Note: apparently Göknar's application did not pan out; Freely is doing the translation, which will be published in October '09.

posted evening of August second, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, July 31st, 2008

A perfect harmony between form and content

McGaha's observations about My Name is Red mostly just reinforce my own thoughts about that book, so not a lot worth posting about this chapter. He included a couple of details in his summary that I totally don't remember and may not have gotten when I was reading the book, like the Erzurumis strangling the storyteller, and the storyteller's chapters dividing the book into sections; good stuff to look for when rereading. A great line:

Pamuk has said he had so much fun writing My Name is Red that his "inner modernist" kept wagging his finger and reminding him that he was a serious writer and needed to be intellectual and literary.

Also I found really interesting, McGaha's discussion of how My Name is Red is similar to, and opposite to, The Black Book.

posted evening of July 31st, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about My Name is Red

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Gün, Freely

Well this is a little surprising: in discussing the translations of The Black Book, McGaha very strongly recommends Güneli Gün's translation over Freely's later reworking. Wow! I didn't know much about Gün's translation besides that I'd heard it was unreadable -- and I know I had a lot of trouble with her translation of The Black BookThe New Life. But McGaha's recommendation, and his side-by-side comparison of the two treatments of the first paragraph, makes me want to find out more.

posted afternoon of July 27th, 2008: 2 responses
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Saturday, July 26th, 2008

-- Ohhhhh......

So I'm reading the third chapter of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk (which concerns The Silent House) and thinking, the family name Darvinoğlu sounds awfully familiar -- was it the name of one of the characters in The Black Book? And then I start reading the fourth chapter, which concerns The White Castle, and get to the following passage, which makes the scales fall from my eyes:

It was Don Quixote that inspired [Pamuk] to present his own novel as an old manuscript found and translated into modern Turkish; once that was decided, it occurred to him that it would be amusing to have the manuscript found in the archives at Gebze and translated by none other than Faruk Darvinoğlu, the historian of The Silent House.

Oh! So the characters I was wondering about in the winter have earlier roots. Wild -- I wish The Silent House were available in an English translation.

McGaha also says that some critics faulted Holbrook, in her translation of The White Castle, for including the references to The Silent House without any explanation -- this seems a little weird to me. I can't see how she could have provided any explanation within the text; maybe an afterword should have been included. Doesn't seem like it would have made a huge difference in the reading experience.

posted afternoon of July 26th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about The White Castle

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Omission

At the end of the second chapter of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk I learn that Other Colors, ostensibly a translation of Pamuk's 1999 collection Öteki Renkler: Seçme Yazılar ve Bir Hikaye, is actually a separate collection, with only about a third of the contents taken from the older book.*

All the essays on Turkish literature and politics were omitted from the English version. Replacing them were... assessments of the works of authors he admires -- ranging from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Salman Rushdie -- ...others are autobiographical or contain thoughtful reflections on his own novels.

This is surprising to me. I like the selection in Other Colors; but I'd be very interested to read Pamuk's essays on Turkish literature and politics as well. McGaha quotes a passage from Pamuk's essay (which he had written in 1974, at the outset of his career) on the Turkish author Oğuz Atay:

Pamuk argues that critics were bewildered by the novelty of Atay's novels, in which the author's voice and attitude, his peculiar tone of intelligent sarcasm, were more important than plot or character development. What is most distinctive about these novels is their style:
When the novelist puts the objects that he saw into words in this or that way, what he is doing is a kind of deception that the ancients called "style," manifesting a kind of stylization. There are deceptions every writer uses, like a painter who portrays objects. This is the only way I can explain Faukner's fragmetation of time, Joyce's objectification of words, Yaşar Kemal's drawing his observations of nature over and over. Talented novelists begin writing their real novels after they discover this cunning. From the moment that we readers catch on to this trick, it means that we understand a little bit of the novelistic technique, what Sartre called "the writer's metaphysics."

This passage seems pretty key to an understanding of My Name is Red, and how it fits in with Pamuk's other novels. I'm sorry to see neither of Atay's novels has been translated into English.

* A little thought makes it obvious that many of the essays in Other Colors could not have appeared in the earlier collection, dealing as they do with events occuring in 2005 and later. My grasp of Pamuk's timeline was not as firm when I first looked at this book as it is now.

I also went back just now to reread the preface, which makes clear that this is a separate work from the earlier collection. Look at its beautiful final paragraph:

I am hardly alone in being a great admirer of the German writer-philosopher Walter Benjamin. But to anger one friend who is too much in awe of him (she's an academic, of course), I sometimes ask, "What is so great about this writer? He managed to finish only a few books, and if he's famous, it's not for the work he finished but the work he never managed to complete." My friend replies that Benjamin's œuvre is, like life itself, boundless and therefore fragmentary, and this was why so many literary critics tried so hard to give the pieces meaning, just as they did with life. And every time I smile and say, "One day I'll write a book that's made only from fragments too." This is that book, set inside a frame to suggest a center that I have tried to hide: I hope that readers will enjoy imagining that center into being.

posted afternoon of July 6th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Orhan Pamuk

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Orhan growing up

To the extent that he had been exposed to [Sufi mystic] literature in school, he had found it boring, antiquated, and irrelevant to his own interests and concerns. Furthermore, he had always associated those texts with fanatical Islamic obscurantists and right-wing Turkish politicians. Now, as he immersed himself in three of the greatest masterpieces of the genre -- Farid ud-Din Attar's Conference of the Birds, Jelal ud-Din Rumi's Mathnawi, and Sheikh Galip's Beauty and Love -- he was shocked to discover in them all the qualities he most admired in the best Western literature (and which were so sorely lacking in modern Turkish literature): dizzying intellectual complexity, sophisticated self-consciousness, playfulness, and the most refined stylistic elegance.

Chapter 2 of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk concerns the actual story of Pamuk's childhood and young adulthood -- the story which has been transformed in various ways in many of his novels. Much of it seems very familiar to me -- mainly from The Black Book and from the essays in Other Colors. It is useful, I think, to see the ways the stories are rooted in reality; and I must say I'm liking McGaha's prose a lot -- it is elegant and easy to digest.

posted afternoon of July 4th, 2008: Respond

Tuesday, July first, 2008

Pamuk in 2005: a chronology

These are the events leading up to Pamuk's trial in 2005, as related in Chapter 1 of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk. I've converted them into tabular format for easy reference.

read the rest...

posted evening of July first, 2008: Respond

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Pamuk: a bibliography

This is the bibliography from Michael McGaha's Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk: The Writer in his Novels, which professor McGaha has graciously allowed me to reprint here. I am hoping to extend it as time goes by, and to keep the links up to date. Contributions in the comments section are of course welcome.

Note: I have added some entries that are not in McGaha's bibliography. To differentiate these I have enclosed anything I add in square brackets.

read the rest...

posted morning of June 25th, 2008: 2 responses

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

People vs. Pamuk

I'm making my way through chapter 1 of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk, which deals with the events around Pamuk's being prosecuted in 2005 for "hostility to Turkishness" and his eventual exile. Man this is confusing stuff -- not McGaha's fault, his writing is pretty terse and straightforward. But there are a lot of conflicting issues competing for my attention as I try to figure out what's going on. Pamuk is hoping to win the Nobel prize for literature (he did not, but won it the following year, at which point I think the prosecution had already happened -- I don't know if he was still living in Turkey at this point); Turkey is hoping to be considered for admission to the EU, and busy revising its laws (including the one under which Pamuk is charged) to abide by international human rights law; Turkish nationalists are opposed to the EU and see the prosecution as an avenue for preventing it. Erdoğan, a moderate Islamist, who was prime minister in 2005, had been prosecuted some years earlier (if I understand correctly) by Turkish nationalists for expressing hostility to secularism; and he could not have been prime minister if it were not for the liberalization going on to further Turkey's chances of acceptance into the EU. I want to make a timeline of events but I don't think I'm up to that point yet.

I totally want to make a hypertext version of this book's bibliography* -- it is chock full of useful articles, a lot of which are available on the web. Loving this line from Pamuk's acceptance speech when he was awarded the Friedenspreis of the German Book Trade:

Even as [the novel] relates our own lives as if they were the lives of others, it offers us the chance to describe other people's lives as if they were our own.

Note: it seemed funny at first, for Pamuk's trial to come at the front of the book, which is otherwise arranged chronologically; but as I read it is making some sense to me to have this before the novels rather than after -- it gives a sense of the environment in which Pamuk is writing and coming to write, and a context for his cosmopolitanism and Turkish identity.

*And, update: Dr. McGaha has granted me permission to post the bibliography. I hope to put it up tonight or tomorrow.

posted evening of June 23rd, 2008: Respond

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Inspiring

I find it really inspiring to read, in the preface to McGaha's Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk (which arrived in today's post, hooray!), that McGaha was able to acquire a working reading knowledge of Turkish in about six months time. (Past the age of 60!) Granted he was living in Istanbul at the time and learning Turkish was his primary activity; still it's enough to make me think I should really work at language learning, that it will not be fruitless if I apply myself.

Sylvia and I just took a ChinesePod lesson about "My Dog" (wǒ de xiǎo gǒu, a phrase Sylvia knew well from class) and learned how to tell Pixie to "come here" (guò lai) and "sit down" (zuò xia).

posted evening of June 21st, 2008: Respond
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