Saturday, August 25th, 2007
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.
Friday, August 24th, 2007
...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.
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.
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.)
Monday, August 20th, 2007
Musing on Snow: I have been doing little else for weeks now, at least here in this space. What about the ending? It must be said, this is a very bleak novel -- a bleak view of Ka's life and of the situtation in Turkey. Fazıl's words in the final chapter do a little to mitigate the sense of bleakness as regards Turkey, and to make it seem like I am having that reaction because I am not familiar with the mores. But: the novel is primarily about Ka -- I think so, and Pamuk at least appears to think so as evidenced by his words in chapter 29.
So: a novel about Ka (and possibly about his reflection in Necip and Fazıl), and a fairly depressing one. But the dread in reading it was also a very sweet experience. And the thinking ahead that Pamuk makes me do was also lovely in its way, kind of like solving a crossword puzzle. I'm not sure right now, what I make of chapter 43, the last chapter but one, which did not concern Ka much -- I guess it was sort of directed at wrapping up the story, I don't think in a totally satisfactory way. It's not clear to me whether İpek and Kadife are fully characters in their own right, or foils for Ka like most everyone else in the book; it could be that if I understood the final two chapters better, I would see that they were fully realized characters.
Friday, August 17th, 2007
The first time Ka and İpek have sex, in chapter 28, Ka is detached -- "it was not the act as much as the thought of making love that occupied him." His head is taken up with images from pornography. The second time they have sex, in chapter 34, his experience is much more intense -- "he was outside time, impervious to passion; his only regret was that it had taken him a lifetime to discover this paradise... He forgot the sexual fantasies kept in ready storage at the back of his brain." The third time, in chapter 36, "They made love with such ease Ka could hardly believe it... but they were both aware that their lovemaking was neither as deep nor as intense as the night before."
Hmm... something is going on here. I am upset waiting to find out what fate is in store for their relationship.
Saturday, August 11th, 2007
Fazıl's conversation with Ka about atheism in chapter 32 is hilarious, with an edge of tragedy running through it. Some choice passages:
"...but you've been to Europe; you've met all the intellectuals and all those alcohol and sleeping-pill addicts who live there. So please, tell me again, what does it feel like to be an atheist?"
"Well, they certainly don't fantasize endlessly about suicide."
"Just be yourself."
"That's not going to be possible as long as I have two souls inside my body," said Fazıl... "It scares me to have nothing but Kadife inside my head. It's not just because I don't know her. It's because this proves I'm a typical atheist. I don't care about anything except love and happiness. ... And when I think that, my feelings for Kadife become all the more unbearable -- it hurts to know that my only consolation would be to spend the rest of my life with my arms around her."
"Yes," said Ka ruthlessly. "These are the sorts of thoughts you have when you're an atheist."
And much more.
I am beginning to think from little lines like "The pity and annoyance he could see on Ka's face made him blush with shame", that one of the central themes of this book is the experience of being socially at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the person you are speaking with, and the feelings of embarrassment and shame that that gives rise to.
Friday, August third, 2007
I am thinking a lot as I read Snow about how to structure the reading diary so as to avoid revealing important plot points, while still talking about my reaction to the story as it unfolds. I think I'm doing that pretty well.
Chapters 27, 28, 29 of Snow: The story is changing in important ways here. A lot that has only been hinted at is coming out into the open, along with an affirmation (in 27, "Only much later would he realize that -- apart from Necip -- everyone he met in Kars spoke the same code") that what is in the open is not necessarily the whole story. The narrator, who has been gradually insinuating himself into the story since Chapter 1, now has an identity and a history. And unmasks himself, saying near the end of 29, "Here, perhaps, we have arrived at the heart of our story." The story is about Pamuk the novelist trying to understand the "difficult and painful life" of his character Ka.
Saturday, July 28th, 2007
Chapter 23 of Snow contains the most detailed and almost-sympathetic presentation yet of a (bloodthirsty) Turkish nationalist viewpoint. I am not sure what to make of how familiar it sounds to me: it reads almost exactly like thousands of American conservative/hawkish opinion pieces -- ok, more eloquent than 99% of those pieces, but not different in kind.
But where do I go with this? Some possibities:
- The Turkish context is a huge factor which I am missing totally because I am not Turkish. Pamuk is writing for a Turkish audience.
- Pamuk is writing for a western audience and is eliding over distinctions that exist between our nationalists and their nationalists.
- They really are exactly the same.
What else?... Ka's ironic distance is making sense here as the only way to keep himself clear of Sunay's nationalism. If I'm understanding correctly his cosmopolitanism means the presumption is that his sympathies are with the nationalist in a dispute with fundamentalists -- my own sympathies would certainly default that way.
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