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We say to the apathetic, Where there's a will, there's a way, as if the brute realities of the world did not amuse themselves each day by turning that phrase on its head.

José Saramago


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Friday, August 24th, 2007

Two new books

I went to the bookstore yesterday and got two new books: My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk, and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, she whose name is at the top of this blog. (The latter I got on the recommendation of Matt Weiner, the former on that of Dr. Snarkout.)

posted evening of August 24th, 2007: Respond
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A Learnèd Turkish Dog

At the beginning of My Name Is Red, I am mostly noticing ways it is different from Snow -- a bad habit and probably not useful. Snow began very vividly and pulled me right in; Red by contrast seems gauzy and amorphous. I am trying to get a handle on the narrative structure -- each chapter is first-person, but it's up to the reader to figure out who is speaking.

The dog (or possibly "storyteller impersonating a dog") who narrates Chapter 3 has me grinning and flashing on Mason & Dixon.

posted evening of August 24th, 2007: Respond
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...Reading on; as of the beginning of Chapter 4 I find myself irreversibly hooked:

As I stare at people's faces, I realize many of them believe they're innocent because they haven't yet had the opportunity to snuff out a life. It's hard to believe that most men are more moral or better than me simply on account of some minor twist of fate... wandering the streets of Istanbul for four days was enough to confirm that everyone with a gleam of cleverness in his eye and the shadow of his soul cast across his face was a hidden assassin. Only imbeciles are innocent.

posted evening of August 24th, 2007: Respond
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Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Imperfection

Here is a very interesting passage from Chapter 4 of My Name Is Red. The master illuminator is showing his apprentice a classic example of the genre:

"This is by Bihzad," the aging master said... "This is so Bihzad that there's no need for a signature."

Bihzad was so well aware of this fact that he didn't hide his name anywhere in the painting. And according to the elderly master, there was a sense of embarrassment and a feeling of shame in this decision of his. Where there is true art and genuine virtuosity the artist can paint an incomparable masterpiece without leaving even a trace of his identity.

Fearing for my life, I murdered my unfortunate victim in an ordinary and crude manner. As I returned to this fire-ravaged area night after night to ascertain whether I'd left behind any traces that might betray me, questions of style increasingly arose in my head. What was venerated as style was nothing more than an imperfection or flaw that revealed the guilty hand.

A couple of reactions:

  • I wonder whether Erdağ Göknar is an inferior translator to Maureen Freely. Some of the constructions here seem a little bit strained. (Whereas for Snow, I found the easy fluency of the language to be a major selling point.)
  • I of course disagree with the narrator about the æsthetic status of style; I believe I have already made stabs, here and elsewhere, at stating that I think the ultimate goal of good art is to achieve complete identity between the artist and the audience -- to "put you in his head". So style is a primary criterion of great art.
  • That said I like the way the narrator states his case a lot. My first thought is that it demonstrates a Platonic world view; each individual artist is striving to transcend -- or "is judged by how far he can transcend" -- his identity to approach the ideal Artist, to create the ideal Work of Art.
  • The juxtaposition of "failure to create the ideal Work of Art" and "failure to commit the Perfect Crime" is fun.

posted morning of August 25th, 2007: Respond

Shame

Snow and My Name is Red are very different books. One thing I am thinking (at this early point) they might have in common, is a theme of embarrassment and shame motivating the principal characters. Is that too broad I wonder?

The only electronic source I have been able to find for Nezami's poetry in translation, is this version of the tale of Hüsrev and Shirin at the Mediæval Sourcebook. -- Oh wait, strike that, that is only an excerpt, and the exact same text is at the Wikipædia link as well.

(Note: a difference between the books is, My Name Is Red seems to be much faster reading than Snow, where reading 15 or 20 pages in a day would seem like a lot, and where I would put the book down for a couple of days and have plenty to chew on. This book is much more difficult to put down, at least in its early portions. I think I will go read some more.)

posted afternoon of August 25th, 2007: 1 response
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Sunday, August 26th, 2007

From the East

My Name is Red is set in Istanbul in 1591, at the height of the Ottoman Empire's power. In discussions of the innovation of artistic style (which I referenced yesterday), the innovation is generally identified as coming "from the East" and/or from Europe. But now in Chapter 12, in "Butterfly"'s ج fable, I see the princess of Kasvin identifying the æsthetic tradition which identifies artistic style as a flaw, as coming "from the East" -- she does not say this in a derogatory manner, which is how I had read the previous references.

So this is making me wonder whether Ottoman culture saw itself as not at all innovative. "From the East" makes sense (I think) as a description of the source cultural traditions; my understanding is that Turks originated in central Asia and migrated to the west, to Anatolia. (My understanding is also that "Ottoman" means the same thing as "Turk"; that could be totally wrong.) In this case "from the East" would have a separate meaning when it was used to identify the source of traditions, and when it was used to identify the source of putatively pernicious innovations.

posted morning of August 26th, 2007: Respond

I Will Be Called a Murderer

I have gone very quickly from having trouble with the narrative structure in My Name is Red to being totally entranced by it. I particularly love the variations on "my name is" in the chapter titles. "I Will Be Called a Murderer"! That strikes home before I even start reading.

posted evening of August 26th, 2007: Respond

Aging and Death

"Stork"'s fable ب (in chapter 13) contains what may be my favorite line in the book thus far:

Once upon a time, not so very long ago and yet not so recently, everything imitated everything else, and thus, if not for aging and death, man would've never been the wiser about the passage of time.

(As far as the translation: I really like the inelegance of "would've never been the wiser". I think it sounds a little funny, but in an arresting way, not an annoying.)

...Cool! I found a magazine about translation (sadly in Spanish, which I do not read) with the original of this passage and translations into Spanish, English and French:

Her şeyin her şey tekrar ettiği ve bu yüzden yaşlanıp ölmek olmasa insanın zaman diye bir şeyin varolduğunu hiç farkedemediği ve âlemin de zaman hiç yokmuş gibi hep aynı hikâyeler ve resimlerle resmedildiği hem eski hem yeni bir zamanda, Fahir Şah'ın küçük ordusu, Selahattin Han'ın askerlerini, Semerkantlı Salim'in kısa tarihinde de anlattıği gibi, "perişan" etti. (Orhan Pamuk)

En un tiempo no demasiado lejano pero no demasiado cercano, cuando todo se repetía de tal manera que de no ser por el envejecimiento y la muerte los hombres no habrían percibido que había algo llamado tiempo y cuando el mundo era ilustrado con las mismas historias y pinturas como si el tiempo no existiera, el pequeño ejército del sha Fahir "pulverizó" a las tropas del jan Selahattin, según se cuenta en la breve Historia de Salim de Samarcanda. (Rafael Carpintero)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago yet not so recently, everything imitated everything else, and thus, if not for aging and death, man would've never been the wiser about the passage of time. Yes, when the worldly realm was repeatedly presented through the same stories and pictures, as if time did not flow, Fahir Shah's small army routed Selahattin Khan's soldiers -- as Salim of Samarkand's concise History attests. (Erdag M. Göknar)

Jadis, naguère, tout n'était que répétition du même, á l'infini. En ce temps-là, s'il n'y avait eu la décrépitude de l'âge et la mort au bout, les hommes n'auraient pas eu la conscience du temps, ne voyant pas le monde passer comme il va, mais suivant la série, immuable, des histoires et des images, répétées à l'infini. Jusqu'au jour où, selon la Brève Chronique de Salim de Samarcande, la petite armée de Fâkhir Shah "fit mordre la poussière" aux soldats du Khan Salâhuddîn. (Gilles Authier)

(The context is an article about Pamuk titled "Un autor en busca de tres traductores" by Rafael Carpintero, which I'm guessing means "An author in the (grasp?vision?...?) of three translators"....no, "in search of" says the Spanish dictionary.)

posted evening of August 26th, 2007: Respond

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Two unrelated passages

I am finding that the narrators I identify most closely with in this book are Esther (who reminds me fairly strongly of a like-named relative of mine) and Shekure. As I was reading this passage in Shekure's narration:

Just then, when I saw that he'd opened his pink mouth like a child would have, I unexpectedly felt, yes, like putting my breast into it. With my fingers on his nape and tangled in his hair, Black would place his head between my breasts, and as my own children used to do, he'd roll his eyes back into his head with pleasure as he sucked on my nipple...

I realized that I would never be able fully to understand it without also thinking about these lines from Robyn Hitchcock's Globe of Frogs:

And when she feeds the flowers
Up they rise their pretty little heads
And when she waters them
They glow and smirk and smile in their beds
For what it's worth.

Update: Hm, well this post is getting me some interesting search engine referrals anyway...

posted morning of August 30th, 2007: Respond
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The dreams we recount

Here is what Shekure has to say about dreaming, in Chapter 26:

Dreams are good for three things:

ا :  You want something but you just can't ask for it. So you'll say that you've dreamed about it. In this manner, you can ask for what you want without actually asking for it.
ب :  You want to harm someone. For example, you want to slander a woman. So, you'll say that such-and-such woman is committing adultery or that such-and-such pasha is pilfering wine by the jug. I dreamed it, you'll say. In this fashion, even if they don't believe you, the mere mention of the sinful deed is almost never forgotten.
ج :  You want something, but you don't even know what it is. So, you'll describe a confusing dream. Your friends or family will immediately interpret the dream and tell you what you need or what they can do for you. For example, they'll say: You need a husband, a child, a house...

The dreams we recount are never the ones we actually see in our sleep. When people say they've "seen it," they simply describe the dream that is "dreamed" during the day, and there's always an underlying purpose. Only an idiot would describe his actual nighttime dreams exactly as he's had them. If you do, everyone will make fun of you or, as always, interpret the dreams as a bad omen. No one takes real dreams seriously, including those who dream them. Or, pray tell, do you?

It is impossible to pick from this cornucopia a signature line -- so much in it that just arrests your thoughts and makes you backtrack, retrace the steps of reason that have brought you to where you are.

posted evening of August 30th, 2007: Respond
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