Thursday, September 20th, 2007
I went over to Montclair Book Center today and picked up a wealth of Pamuk: The White Castle, The New Life, The Black Book, and his new collection of essays, Other Colors.
First thing I read was his notes on My Name is Red, written during an airplane flight immediately after he finished checking the final copy. He says he is worried about the outer story of the novel, "that the mystery plot, the detective story, was forced, and that my heart wasn't in it, but it would be too late to make changes." I can totally understand him feeling that way -- it seems to me like it must have been a huge amount of work integrating the two stories and getting the product to flow naturally. He offers his aplogies to "my poor miniaturists" for "the intrusion of a political detective plot that would make my novel easy to read." But he doesn't need to worry about it (well obviously, duh, he won the Nobel Prize...), the outer story not only makes the book easier to read, but adds layers of meaning and beauty to it.
I posted at KIDLIT about reading some of these essays to Sylvia.
Sunday, September 23rd, 2007
I picked up Other Colors again and started reading from the beginning, which turns out to be a very good order in which to read this collection. I am not quite getting the narrative sequencing Pamuk alludes to in the preface, but still I like it.
The third essay, "Notes on April 29, 1994", which the author notes was written as part of a project in which "Le Nouvel Observateur asked hundreds of authors to describe their activities on April 29 in whatever corner of the world they happened to be that day."* (sort of like Jarmusch' Night on Earth?) -- this piece is utterly fabulous -- at every sentence my mind is running ahead with new worlds of possibility. Here is an incomplete sampling of the stuff I was thinking about while reading these few pages:
TELEPHONE: His first sentence is "I disconnected the phone and ... a moment arrived when I imagined that someone was trying to reach me at that very moment to speak to me about ... a matter of huge consequence, but could not get through." Yeah, totally -- I would immediately start worrying about that. And I wonder, by "disconnect the phone" does he mean actually yank the cord? turn off the ringer? Weren't answering machines available in Istanbul in the '90's? -- And I don't actually know if they were but I assume.
LETTERS, LOGOS, AND BRANDS: the mention of Islamist Refah Party at the end of the previous paragraph leads very nicely into the conversation about a proposed boycott of their supporters, mingling with an allusion to consumerism in Turkey. The teaser about "a simple calculation" makes me wonder.
STREETS AND AVENUES: The statement at the beginning of this paragraph that Turkey has been plunged into an economic crisis within the past few months anchors the essay in time again. The disjointed scenes of people on the streets make me start imagining the city more clearly -- particularly striking is "men ... clutching sandwiches or cigarettes or plastic bags stuffed with money as they watched the rise of the dollar on the electronic notice board." The "madman who had recently arrived in the neighborhood" is awesome, and seems like he might be more anchored than anybody else on the street. "We had a few laughs."
JOKES, LAUGHTER, AND HAPPINESS: The drinking protests seem very nice to me (remind me a little bit, in a different context, of "Drinking Liberally"), I like Pamuk's humorous approach to the conflict between Turkish intellectuals and Islamic Refah Party (which we see again in Snow): but I don't really know anything in particular about this conflict except via Pamuk. Here is the first mention of Rüya that includes her age. I guess she is about 18 now, wonder what sort of an adulthood she is embarking upon.
ISTANBUL'S NOISE: More of the city. And now I am flashing on Almodovar's Madrid in Volver, which Ellen and I watched yesterday (and loved!), and thinking Oh my god, Almodovar could make such great movies with Pamuk's material. I don't know anything about the movie industry in Turkey, I wonder how much of a one there is. It doesn't look from IMDB like Pamuk has done any screenplays or had any of his books adapted; I would very much like this to happen but only if the right person were to do it.
TELEVISION: Again, Almodovar -- he could so totally capture this sentence:
After supper, I could tell from the synthetic colors flashing in their windows that quite a few people kept changing channels just as I did: a bleached-blond chanteuse singing old Turkish songs, a child eating chocolate, a woman prime minister saying everything was going to turn out fine, a football match on an emerald field, a Turkish pop group, journalists arguing about the Kurdish question, American police cars, a child reading the Koran, a helicopter exploding into flames in midair, a gentleman walking onto the stage and doffing his hat as the audience applauds, the same woman prime minister, a housewife telling an inquiring microphone a thing or two as she hangs up her laundry, an audience applauding the woman who has given the right answer in a general knowledge quiz...
And movie or no, the pacing of the text in that sentence is just perfect. There is no possible way to improve on it.
NIGHT: The noise of the city and the appearance of its streets -- very different now.
FEAR, PARANOIA, AND DREAMS: Again with the disconnecting the phone. The dread he describes here is pretty easy for me to identify with.
TOTAL: Such a sweet, and optimistic, ending for this essay. So terse. I find it hard to believe I have only been reading for about 3 pages.
*Some of the essays have a note at the top describing their origin and date of creation. I wish more of them did.
Wednesday, September 26th, 2007
I want to write about how I'm finding the essays in Other Colors about Pamuk's relationship with his daughter. Not sure what to say though, beyond that I'm loving them. They don't offer the special insight into character that I've thought is the best thing about his novels -- in such short pieces the characters are necessarily ciphers, indeed he plays that up a bit, especially in "When Rüya is Sad". I just love the quick beauty of these pieces, and the mood they convey -- little impressionistic gems.
Saturday, September 29th, 2007
I have read nearly to the end of the first section of Other Colors, titled "Living and Worrying". A couple of interrelated things: I think this section title is very apt; the essays seem to me to show Orhan in the world but not part of it, worrying about what is going on around him. I referred to some of the essays below as "impressionistic gems"; and while I don't understand everything that is communicated by calling something "impressionistic", I am going to tentatively say that it describes this book well. Where I am going with this is, roughly, that I'm not getting a good sense of Pamuk as a character, though I am certainly getting a wealth of insights about his surroundings. (Note: the prose is so fluid and comfortable, it is frequently impossible to distinguish my own insights from Pamuk's.) At first I found this a little surprising, since characterization is such a core strength of his story-telling; but thinking about it further, probably not such a strange thing, that such a wonderful story-teller would be shy about opening up his own psyche.
The "Earthquake" essay (and I'm presuming the next one, which is called "Earthquake Angst in Istanbul") is amazing in its evocation of the chaotic scene following the earthquake. Pamuk is a master of description and in these few pages gives me a sense of being there, being able to see the fallen buildings and debris. Something that really struck me (after a lifetime of reading opinion pieces about how poor planning contributes to damage and loss of life in eartchquakes, hurricanes etc.) is how Pamuk mentions in passing or just alludes to the substandard construction of apartment buildings on the islands south of Istanbul, the corruption that allowed contractors to evade construction codes, and lets the reader fill in the blanks.
Update: I noticed the Times review came out today. A very positive review although it seemed to focus a little more on Pamuk's life and work than on this book itself. Like maybe the reviewer did not know just what to make of the book? I was surprised they waited this long to review it.
Wednesday, November 7th, 2007
Reading Pamuk's essay "How I Got Rid of Some of my Books", this evening, I was identifying almost completely with its author. The reader's complaint about having too many books and not wanting the ownership attachment to the contents of his library is, well, kind of commonplace* -- I've heard it voiced by many different people, felt it myself too; but Pamuk's voice is so distinctively concise, rings so true, I felt like the essay was me speaking. This is something I get with a lot of the books and stories and essays that I really enjoy, I will identify myself strongly with the author/narrator (or sometimes with a character) and perceive the book as being about me. Egotistical maybe but it can be very pleasant.
So then I was reading his next essay, "On Reading: Words or Images", where he lists three pleasures he takes from reading:
- The pull of the other world I mentioned earlier. This could be seen as escapism. Even if only in your imagination, it is still good to escape the sadness of everyday life and spend some time in another world.
- Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six, reading was central to my efforts to make something of myself, elevate my consciousness, and thereby give shape to my soul...
- Another thing that makes reading so pleasurable for me is self-awareness. When we read, there is a part of our mind that resists total immersion in the text and congratulates us on having undertaken such a deep and intellectual task...
And I thought (note that I was here not identifying strongly with the text, I was outside it taking notes) Hmm, I would agree with all of those points -- but I would add 4. The opportunity to identify with the author. But well, this is really in opposition with point (3), identifying with is the same as immersing yourself totally in the text -- so they are opposite poles both with some attraction for me. I think immersing myself too quickly and uncritically in a text can lead to lazy reading, and that this journal is in part a way of working to keep myself from reading that way. Real immersion of the kind that comes through understanding the text, is a consummation devoutly to be wished -- I had a lot of this when I was reading Snow. In "How I Got Rid of Some of my Books", Pamuk references Flaubert, whose works I have never read, but this statement makes me want to:
Flaubert was right to say that if a man were to read ten books with sufficient care, he would become a sage. As a rule, most people have not even done that, and that is why they collect books and show off their libraries.
*As is the opposite sentiment, expressing the exhilaration of having books and the love of books as physical objects -- the two sentiments can coexist quite contentedly within one reader -- indeed Pamuk gives voice to the latter one just a few pages later in "The Pleasures of Reading", when he says:
After finishing certain pages of this wondrous book, my eyes would pull back from the old volume in my hand to gaze at its yellowing pages from afar. (In the same way, when I was drinking a favorite soft drink as a child, I would stop from time to time to gaze lovingly at the bottle in my hand.)
-- which image reminds me strongly of Sylvia.
Sunday, November 11th, 2007
Over at Unfogged, they're talking about books people are embarrassed about not having read. For me this usually comes up (nowadays I mean -- ten years ago I was incessantly feeling embarrassed about my lack of intellectual achievement) in the context of books which I should have read in order better to understand the book that I am reading at the moment, and enjoying, and I'm feeling like the enjoyment is a false consciousness because I don't have the background necessary to actually enjoy the book.
Like last night on the way home from the Truman Sparks show, I was reading Pamuk's marvellous introduction to the Turkish edition of Tristram Shandy, and my dormant feelings of embarrassment about being unable to get through Sterne were reawoken -- I thought I had gotten over that during the group read at Is There No Sin In It?* last year. Other authors Pamuk is making me feel bad about my lack of acquaintance with: Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Victor Hugo.
But Pamuk also gives me hope that I may pick Shandy up again someday:
Behind the smoke and noise of his anger, there is the knowledge that great literature is what gives man his understanding of his place in the scheme of things, and so, reminding himself that writing is one of the deepest and most wondrously strange of human activities, he picks up the book again in a moment of solitude.
*What is the standard formatting to indicate a no-longer-active web site? It seems kind of weird to italicize the name of a blog, but a link would not be appropriate.
Monday, December third, 2007
My brother asks in e-mail, "Really, did you actually love 'Aguirre, etc.' or did you just understand that it's a Great Film?" by way of saying that he understood it to be Great Film but did not find anything to enjoy in the film itself. This is interesting to me because (a) I did actually, authentically enjoy this film and (b) I worry, when I am liking something that I know is Great, about whether my enjoyment is real.
In "On Reading: Words or Images", Pamuk says,
When we notice [our surroundings while reading], we are at the same time savoring our solitude and the workings of our imagination and congratulating ourselves on possessing greater depth than those who do not read. I understand how a reader might, without going too far, wish to congratulate himself, though I have little patience for those who take pride in boasting.
So that is the worry when I tell myself I loved Aguirre, the Wrath of God or My Name Is Red or whatever -- how do I distinguish between the externally-directed pleasure of fancying myself a connoisseur of fine film or literature, and the internal, actual pleasure of understanding and appreciating the work in question? I have an unexamined prejudice that the former pleasure is in bad faith, is boastful and something to be ashamed of.
Herzog's (and Kinski's) genius is certainly front and center in Aguirre -- it seems to me like it would be difficult to watch the movie without having the thought that it is the work of a genius, that it is Great Film. But, I'm not quite sure how to put this, the movie itself is so powerful and moving, the second-hand attributes of the movie are not primary in my mind while I'm watching it.
Saturday, April 5th, 2008
...as he read, he identified first with the usher, then with the brawling audience, then with the çörek maker, and finally -- good reader that he was -- with Celâl.
A couple of jottings in furtherance of my essay idea:
-- The Black Book
- Identity confusion is important in Pamuk.
- I started to formulate this statement while I was reading Other Colors, and have since seen it borne out in The White Castle, The New Life, and especially The Black Book.
- Does this statement also apply to Snow and My Name is Red, which I read before it occurred to me? (beyond the obvious detective-story aspects of Red) -- the answer may well be yes but I think I would need to reread them with this in mind, to be sure. If not, it might seem appropriate to think of this as something Pamuk had "outgrown".
- The confusion that I'm talking about is (frequently) a confusion between the roles of Author and Reader. So it's an easy step to take, to confuse yourself-as-reader with Pamuk-as-author. Or so I think.
- As a side note, I wonder how this plays into my impression of these 5 novels, which is that each of them is written in a distinctly different style and voice -- though I think I can hear shades of the same voice underlying each -- if Pamuk is serious about giving up his identity when he writes that would help explain the differences. An alternate explanation is that there are four different translators involved in creating English versions of these five books -- only Maureen Freely has two translations. But I don't think those two are particularly more similar to each other than any other pair.
- I think the experience of losing track of one's identity while reading a story is a wonderful thing; it might be the primary reason I read novels. Understanding this is something I am taking away from reading Pamuk. Is this the same as saying "I read for escape from my everyday life", which seems banal and not really worth thinking about at length the way I have been doing? In Pamuk's novels it seems to be doing a lot more work than that.
- What larger ideas if any does this lead to? How is the beauty of Pamuk's books explicable in these terms? Would such an explication be "criticism"? (Note: I've had an ongoing conversation with myself about what is criticism, and is it something I would be able to write, for a while now.)
Monday, April 14th, 2008
This evening I saw the first James Bond movie I have ever seen: From Russia with Love. How did I like it? Well, I liked it. It seemed extremely similar to North by Northwest, which is a great movie to resemble. Didn't have Hitchcock's genius, maybe, so a lot of the attempts at wit came off as corny and a lot of the dialog was flat; but the photography was lovely, the action exciting, the plot twists not always expected.
Why did I watch the movie? I saw a reference to Goldfinger in Pamuk's Other Colors, and then read this letter in the NY Times, pointing out that Pamuk had the wrong movie in mind. Thought, I've never seen a Bond movie, maybe I'll see about it, added it to my Netflix queue.
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
Speaking of Other Colors, this blog looks very promising. Orhan Pamuk category and all. Links to video of a conversation between Pamuk and Rushdie.
Speaking of Orhan Pamuk on video, here is a recent appearance at the NYPL. And nobelprize.org offers a half-hour interview with the author. Plus, here is Maureen Freely discussing translating Pamuk's work.
More posts about Other Colors
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