Sunday, May 10th, 2009
I just made a fun, pleasant discovery; looking back at the Orhan Pamuk interview I was reading last night, I wanted to check whether the Paris Review had published a copy of it on the web. Turns out they did [PDF], and what's more it contains reproductions of a few pages of Pamuk's manuscript notes for The Black Book. Beautiful!
Sunday, July 27th, 2008
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.
Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
But Galip is insane.
(I'm stretching, stretching these last two chapters of the Black Book because I just don't want the story to end!)
--The Modesto Kid
I've become very attached to the following reading of the events portrayed in The Black Book. It seems like it might be susceptible to an Occam's Razor argument.
- In Chapter 19 ("Signs of the City"), Galip goes insane.
- The second half of the book takes place in a different reality than the first; that is to say, Galip's insanity has the effect of moving him into a different world. What is happening in the old reality of the first half is not really germane to the discussion.
I'm not sure what this gets me -- I don't want to say, the events described in the second half of the book are the flow of our reality, because they seem so rooted in paranoia; and I also don't want to say, they are Galip's fevered hallucinations as he lies on a hospital bed in "the reality outside the story", because that seems banal to me.
Later, when he himself went over to Aunt Hâle's, he looked at the great purple flowers on her dress and saw that they were printed on a background that was the exact same shade of pistachio green. Was this a coincidence, or the strange leftover from thirty-five years ago, or a reminder that this world, like the gardens of memory, still shimmered with magic?
Pamuk's interjection in the last chapter ("But I Who Write") is a stroke of genius. We the readers are allowed, encouraged, to privilege our own readings of the novel's events over what the author intended. This passage moves me to tears:
That night, Galip saw Rüya among the baby dolls in Alâaddin's shop. She had not yet died. Like the dolls around her, she was blinking and she was breathing, but only just; she was waiting for Galip, but he was late; he just couldn't manage to get there; he just stood there at his window in the City-of-Hearts Apartments, staring at Alâaddin's shop in the distance, watching the light stream from its window onto the snow-covered pavement as tears rolled from his eyes.
Monday, April 21st, 2008
I am finding this next-to-last chapter of The Black Book, "The Crown Prince", bountiful fodder for my thoughts. Thinking further tonight I reckon my initial reaction was a little hasty and missed: that Galip is insane, and so is the Crown Prince he is telling about; and that Pamuk is by no means writing a manual for healthy living -- I can make of his book what I want to, but his role as a novelist is to conjure and to describe.
I was wrong about the prince only destroying western books: he also burns The Thousand and One Nights and has the Mathnawi removed from his residence -- it seems significant to me that he does not destroy this book, but that might just be me reading in.* I will remember this line when next I'm reading Rumi: "Every time he leafed through the stories in this utterly disorganized book, he found himself identifying with the dervish saint who believed disorganization to be the very essence of life." -- I have never heard that said about Rumi or about Sufi but it seems like a glorious doctrine.
After battling with books and the voices inside them for ten long years, Prince Osman Celâlettin Efendi finally realized he would only become himself if he could speak in his own voice, and speak forcefully enough to drown out the voices in those books.
The prince's realization here mirror's Celâl's column in Chapter 23, "A Story About People Who Can't Tell Stories" (Ooh! A-and! I had totally forgotten that his column in Chapter 16 is called "I Must Be Myself"!) -- his ultimate unspoken recognition that he is not an author, that he has no story to dictate, brings "the very silence that both men sought. Because it was only when a man had run out of stories to tell that he came close to being himself, the Prince would say." -- this Prince puts too much importance on generalizing from his own experience.
Off to read some more...
*And why no reference to the Koran?
The Crown Prince's idea that the books you read define the content of your soul -- that you are the narrative voices from the books you've read -- is interesting to consider in light of religion: if the only book you have read is your faith's holy scripture, you are completely defined by the faith. This is a pretty obvious reading I think but Pamuk did not really make it explicit (yet). I didn't really notice this last night but all the books the prince talks about ridding himself of are western; I expect he is not forgetting the Islamic texts and probably not the non-Islamic Turkish and Persian writings that make up the Oriental portion of his personality. (Update: Went back to check my memory; this is incorrect.)
(...Also, of course, very much worth bearing in mind that while Pamuk was writing this book, he was moving from an "ultra-Occidentalist" mindset to a more nuanced view of Turkish culture, and reading classical Persian texts for the first time.)
Sunday, April 20th, 2008
Once upon a time, there lived in our city a prince who discovered that the most important question in life was whether to be, or not to be, oneself. It took him his whole life to discover who he was, and what he discovered was his whole life.
This penultimate chapter of The Black Book is really knocking me around. The childish prince's discovery about reading is what I have been getting out of this book and much of Pamuk's other writing, but he (and he seems to be speaking for Celâl/Galip? -- And is it right to think that Pamuk is making this duality into a personification of Istanbul?) is taking it the opposite way from how I have been. His notion that "it was incumbent on me to free myself from all those books, all those writers, all those stories, all those voices" seems wrong to me: those voices are my "self", and I've been reading as if this were what Pamuk was saying/pointing out -- as if Galip's insanity were rooted in a failure to acknowledge this illusory/transitory nature of identity.
...Hoping to find some answers in the final chapter, though that may be the wrong thing to hope for... Awesome passage below the fold. More thoughts about this chapter collected here.
Because to spend an entire life waiting to become the ruler of an empire would drive anyone mad; because to watch one's elder brothers dream the same dreams and then succumb to madness, one by one, was to court the same dilemma; because the dilemma -- to go mad or not to go mad -- was a false one; because they could not help going mad, if they recalled -- if only briefly, during their interminable wait -- that their forefathers had, upon ascending to the throne, traditionally had all their younger brothers strangled. His illustrious ancestor Mehmet III was a case in point -- upon becoming sultan, he'd ordered the deaths of 19 younger brothers, some of whom were still at their mothers' breasts -- and seeing as anyone could read about that incident in any historical account of the era, seeing as it was his duty as a prince to acquaint himself with the history of the empire over which he might one day rule, just to read about a sultan killing his younger brothers was enough to drive a prince mad; because if, after years of wondering if or when he might be poisoned or strangled or killed in a way that was later made to look like a suicide, a prince went mad, it was his way of saying, "Count me out of the race"; because waiting for the throne was like waiting for death, and madness, the easiest escape route, was also the perfect expression of his deepest and most secret desires...
Wednesday, April 16th, 2008
(From this interview with Horace Engdahl, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.) Pamuk published The White Castle while he was in New York, being "his wife's husband" -- she was studying for her doctorate at Columbia University.
I had a little room at the library in which I wrote more than half of The Black Book. And very typical of a non-Western person coming through main cultural centers of Western civilisation, say London, Paris, New York, and then having a sort of an anxiety about his cultural identity, and, ah... I lived these things, and I faced the immense richness of American libraries and culture; and I began to ask myself, what is Turkish culture? What am I doing there? And at that time, I used to think that Turkey's cultural identity should only be a sort of ultra-Occidentalism.
There, at the age of 33, I began to read old Sufi allegories, the whole classic texts of Islamic mysticism -- most of them are classical Persian texts -- with an eye on Borges, on Calvino: they have told me to look at literary texts as sort of structures which have metaphysical qualities. I have learned from Borges and Calvino to delete the heavy religious vein of classical Islamic texts, and see these texts as sort of, em, geometrical shapes; metaphysical structures and allegories; parables full of literary games.
Also some interesting stuff in the interview about fluidity of identity and how that plays into his novels. Engdahl mentions René Girard -- Pamuk confirms that he likes what Girard has to say but says he came to Girard's stuff late in life; Engdahl asks if Pamuk sees jealosy as playing a major role in his work, and Pamuk agrees that it does.
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
Istanbul was an open book to him now; it harbored no secrets.
Galip's unravelling continues in Chapter 30 -- he accosts a stranger on a bus, asking "What does this snow signify? What does it augur?" -- and the reader is complicit in his insanity. The dream he recounts in this same interaction is breath-taking.
I'm having a little trouble reading this chapter -- I have started it over a couple of times thinking I'm missing the point. Today when I restarted it I was approaching it from an angle of "maybe Pamuk has blown his wad, Galip already became Celâl in the last two chapters, if he's going to spend the next hundred pages talking about the same thing there is a lot of potential for it to get boring." But I started to get excited about the story again as I was reading -- now it's seeming like Galip's eventual metamorphosis may be into the city of Istanbul. (Particularly interesting in this regard is that Freely is translating the names of Istanbul streets in this chapter, which I do not think she has been doing in the rest of the book -- it seems totally appropriate here.)
Saturday, April 5th, 2008
Tyler Cowen says of Pamuk's books that "The Black Book is the one to read last, once you know the others." I wonder how true this is, and why. I am, coincidentally, reading The Black Book last (leaving aside that I never finished The New Life -- Cowen thinks I would understand it better if I had knowledge of "how Dante appropriated Islamic theological writings for his own ends," which is certainly possible), and it does seem like a good position in the reading order for it. On the other hand I have recommended it to some friends who have not read any Pamuk, principally on the basis of their liking Pynchon -- this book seems to me to have a lot in common with Pynchon's writing, which I don't think any of Pamuk's other books do, particularly much.
I think Snow is a great book to have read first -- principally because I relate very strongly to the lines from its first few pages that I quoted here -- Ka driving into the blizzard is (in certain ways) like me starting to read Snow.
You became someone else when you read a story -- that was the key to the mystery.The chain of mystery in The Black Book is spiralling wider and wider in Chapter 24. The story seems to have taken Galip's paranoid break with reality smoothly in stride and assimilated that into the "reality" of the book. Galip's identification with Celâl is a done deal; and now we are seeing Celâl as having discarded his own identity in favor of Rumi's*. In addition Celâl has asserted in the previous chapter, that being able to tell stories, to command the attention of an audience and (I am reading in) thus to weaken your audience members' identities and to intermix your own self into them, is a primary element of human existence, something without which a person is anguished and "helpless in the face of the world!"
Meanwhile the unknown caller is competing with Galip for Celâl's identity, and Galip has a moment of suspicion that he has been lured into "a deadly trap."
*I have not read nearly enough Rumi -- I reckon I am going to be missing a lot of nuance in this portion of the book. The story about Shams of Tabriz in Chapter 22, for example, is widely divergent from what I read about him in the closest reference work to hand; I don't know what to make of this.
...Well here is a program about Rumi which speaks of a disputed account of Shams being murdered by Rumi's disciples. So the Wikipædia article is just incomplete I guess. (The Wikipædia article on Rumi does mention the murder, and does not even say that it is disputed.) That program also links to some readings from Rumi in Persian and in translation.
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