Tuesday 6 November 2012

Orhan Pamuk: objects and other subjects

Orhan Pamuk was briefly in London last week. He spoke and read at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to mark the recent publication in English translation by Robert Finn of his second novel, The Silent House, written in 1983, as well as of The Innocence of Objects, the 'catalogue' of his Museum of Innocence.

It's not an unalloyed pleasure, I have to say, to hear the great writer speak English. He talks too fast and grunts and stammers and mispronounces. But a lot of what he said was so unexpected and interesting! It gladdens my heart, really, in a cultural milieu where self-presentation is all, that the large and enthusiastic audience hung on his every awkward word: this is the love a writer can inspire.

Ease is not what Pamuk is about. "Fiction should be slippery ground", he said, "and the reader uncomfortable, but rather enjoying his uncomfortable position". And that is how his talk made me feel - uncomfortable, but rather enjoying it.

Who were the other Turkish writers the English-speaking world should know better?, an audience member asked him, hoping perhaps to hear of someone new and exciting. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, said Pamuk firmly. His greatest teacher and inspiration. He's translated, but not much read (Beth has written about Tanpinar). Tanpinar is not new. A slightly baffled pause ensued.

He talked about objects in fiction, the importance of objects that appear through the eyes of the characters, that travel through a novel and appear again later. These he referred to as dwelling in a third dimension of the reader's imagination. These are important anchors in a 'slippery' narrative. He named Joyce, Tolstoy and Proust as novelists who address us through objects, through our visual imaginations. How often does someone say something you've never remotely thought about in relation to such great names?

The centrality of objects to Orhan Pamuk's imagination is something he's now brought to all our attention, of course, through the Museum of Innocence project. I liked the novel very much, and hope to visit the museum one day.


Beth said...

Oh! I never thought of that either. So glad you got to hear Pamuk in person. I'm eager to read his latest novel, and like you, loved Museum of Innocence. Thanks for this report and your thoughts...

Parmanu said...

Very nice. You are right about Pamuk's sentences while speaking in English. Even the sentences in his essays in English translation have a different quality - a British writer may have found a more succinct way to convey the same message.

I haven't read the Museum of Innocence, and I'm very intrigued by his museum of objects, which I hope to visit someday (after reading the novel).