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.
Thursday, January 17th, 2008
This is the epigraph in front of Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle:
To imagine that a person who intrigues us has access to a way of life unknown and all the more attractive for its mystery, to believe that we will begin to live only through the love of that person -- what else is this but the birth of great passion?
Marcel Proust, from the mistranslation of Y.K. Karaosmanoğlu
This seems really intriguing to me: Pamuk is quoting a mistranslation into Turkish of a French text (and presumably a real, historical mistranslation), which has subsequently been (who knows, possibly mis-?)translated into English! (This book is translated by Victoria Holbrook, a new name to me -- it will be interesting to see how her rendering of Pamuk's work compares with that of Maureen Freely and of Erdağ Göknar.)
I'm not familiar with Proust and have no way of knowing what the correct translation of the quoted bit is -- not really something I can look up via Google. I wonder...
At first I didn't quite know what I would do with the book, other than read it over and over again. My distrust of history then was still strong, and I wanted to concentrate on the story for its own sake, rather than on the manuscript's scientific, cultural, anthropological, or 'historical' value. I was drawn to the author himself.
Like The New Life, The White Castle opens with its narrator finding a book to which he reacts strongly, and reading it over and over. It looks like this book is going to move in a very different direction than that one did; but it seems worthwhile just to note this commonality. Running through Pamuk's work you see a mystical importance attached to books and to stories.
Friday, January 18th, 2008
I still have not gotten to the beginning of the inner story of The White Castle and already the layering of fictions is seeming intensely complicated. The book is dedicated to "Nilgun Darvinoglu: a loving sister (1961 - 1980)" -- I read this when I first opened the book and thought, Pamuk's sister lived such a short life! Then I started reading the preface (in which the outer story is begun), and leafed to the end of the preface to see it was signed "Faruk Darvinoglu". Hmm, think I, he attributes the preface to his brother-in-law. Perhaps that is meant as further tribute to the lamented sister.
But then I read, at the end of the last paragraph of the preface,
Readers seeing the dedication at the beinning may ask if it has a personal significance. I suppose that to see everything as connected with everything else is the addiction of our time. It is because I too have succumbed to this disease that I publish this tale.
That totally knocked me for a loop. Does Pamuk have a sister who lived for the stated dates, who he is dedicating the book to? And if so, is that her name? Or is the dedication completely part of the fiction, the outer story -- or indeed part of the inner story that has taken over the life of the narrator, extruding itself into the outer story?
Update: more info here.
Saturday, January 19th, 2008
...I knew that at any moment the book would be snatched from my hand, yet I wanted to think not of that but of what was written on its pages. It was as if the thoughts, the sentences, the equations within the book contained the whole of my past life which I dreaded to lose... I desperately wanted to engrave the entire volume on my memory so that when they did come, I would not think of them and what they would make me suffer, but would remember the colors of my past as if recalling the cherished worlds of a book I had memorized with pleasure.
Cool: the inner story of The White Castle begins, like the outer story and like The New Life, with the narrator frantically reading a book, seeking to alter his consciousness through reading. Also I like seeing "the colors of my past", that brings to mind much of Pamuk's other work.
This is the fourth novel of his I am reading, and the fourth markedly different narrative style. Which is cool, I guess, his voice rings clear in each of them. It is surprising, not what I expect -- reminds me a bit of Pynchon I guess, but I think offhand that the differences in style among Pamuk's books are greater than among Pynchon's.
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
The White Castle is, like The New Life, not seeming a page-turner to me in the way that Snow and My Name is Red both did. As I read it I am encountering some very interesting bits -- like this evening I was feeling some kinship with Hoja over the question of how narrating one's experiences can communicate one's inner self -- but I do not feel invested in the characters in a way that would make me need to know what is going to happen next.
Saturday, January 26th, 2008
I'm reading The White Castle as a parable about loneliness. The narrator's and Hoja's striving after personal union reminds me of the presocratic philosopher* who postulated that every man's soul is half of a primordial unity, forever seeking its opposite. Their relationship is sadistic and masochistic and I am anxious to find out what will come of its "fulfillment" -- i.e. the eventual transference of identity which the narrator is hinting at -- from the narrator's tone I cannot believe it is going to bring him happiness.
The writing exercises that Hoja insists on starting in Chapter 5 remind me in a funny way of blogging and of online relationships generally. The two are seeking to approach each other through a textual exchange; each has his own agenda. (Hoja is clearly the motive force, but this gives the narrator freedom to play his own games without worrying about the end point of the interaction.) I identify very strongly with both characters in this passage (and can't help thinking of the table they are sitting at as the Internet):
...just as a person could view his external self in a mirror, he should be able to observe the interior of his mind in his thoughts. He said I knew how to do this but was withholding the secret from him. While Hoja sat across from me, waiting for me to write down this secret, I filled the sheets in front of me with stories exaggerating my own faults: I wrote with delight about the petty thefts of my childhood, the jealous lies, the way I schemed in order to make myself more loved than my brothers and sisters, the sexual indiscretions of my youth, stretching the truth more and more as I went along. The greedy curiosity with which Hoja read these tales, and the queer pleasure he derived from them, shocked me; afterwards he would become even more angry...
*Heraclitus maybe? Empedocles? help me out here -- I may also just be totally confused and there is not a presocratic philosopher answering to this description.
Update: Aha! John knows what I was thinking of -- this is not presocratic, but rather from Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium. Transcript here.
After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them,--being the sections of entire men or women,--and clung to that.
See also, Hedwig and the Angry Inch's adaptation of Aristophanes' speech.
...And it occurs to me, apropos the previous post, that what makes The White Castle and The New Life less engaging than Pamuk's later novels, is precisely their aphoristic quality -- the characters seem very abstract, so that even though they have many specific, individuating attributes, I don't get a sense of them as personalities. One of the things I really loved in Snow and My Name is Red, was that all of the deep thinking was very firmly rooted in the concrete individuals telling and acting out the story.
Wednesday, February 6th, 2008
But we should search for the strange and surprising in the world, not within ourselves! To search within, to think so long and hard about our own selves, would only make us unhappy. This is what had happened to the characters in my story: for this reason heroes could never tolerate being themselves, for this reason they always wanted to be someone else.
I have enjoyed the self-referential and pedantic qualities of The White Castle and have found ways to apply its lessons to my own mind; but in the end I don't think it quite works. Pamuk says what he is doing too often and too plainly for it generally to surprise; the lesson becomes dull through repetition. I find myself longing for humanity in the characters.
The narrator's assertion at the end of his story that some mystery remains in its pages, one which "intelligent readers" will seek out and devour, isn't really enough to recapture my attention -- it comes off as sort of patronizing. I am going to consider this book a piece from Pamuk's apprenticeship and treasure it more for the glimpses I can catch of his later work, than for the book itself.
Saturday, July 26th, 2008
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.
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