Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pamuk on the Novel in East/West Dialogue

For those just joining us, we read Orhan Pamuk's Snow last month, just prior to the inauguration of this blog, and both the book and the author are showing some staying power in terms of our interest in supplementary material that helps us digest what he's all about. Here's a little more material for the file.

This Guardian article, is essentially a speech he gave recently in accepting a German peace prize. He says of Snow:

I am using this story as a way into the subject that I am coming to understand more clearly with each new day, and which is, in my view, central to the art of the novel: the question of the "other", the "stranger", the "enemy" that resides inside each of our heads, or rather, the question of how to transform it.

A novelist's politics rise from his imagination, from his ability to imagine himself as someone else. This power makes him not just a person who explores the human realities that have never been voiced before - it makes him the spokesman for those who cannot speak for themselves, whose anger is never heard, and whose words are suppressed.


As we all know: wherever there is too much pride, and whenever people act too proudly, there is the shadow of the other's shame and humiliation. Wherever there is someone who feels deeply humiliated, we can expect to see a proud nationalism rising to the surface. My novels are made from these dark materials, from this shame, this pride, this anger and this sense of defeat. Because I come from a nation that is knocking on Europe's door, I am only too aware of how easily these fragile emotions can, from time to time, take flame and rage unchecked. What I am trying to do here is to speak of this shame as a whispered secret, as I first heard it in Dostoevsky's novels. For it is by sharing our secret shames that we bring about our liberation.


These are the times when we feel humility, compassion, tolerance, pity and love stirring in our hearts: for great literature speaks not to our powers of judgment, but to our ability to put ourselves in someone else's place. Modern societies, tribes and nations do their deepest thinking about themselves through reading novels; through reading novels, they are able to argue about who they are; so even if we have picked up a novel hoping only to divert ourselves, and relax, and escape the boredom of everyday life, we begin, without realising, to conjure up the collectivity, the nation, the society to which we belong.


This is also why novels give voice not just to a nation's pride and joy, but also to its anger, its vulnerabilities, and its shame. It is because they remind readers of their shame, their pride, and their tenuous place in the world that novelists still arouse such anger, and what a shame it is that we still see outbursts of intolerance - that we still see books burned, and novelists prosecuted.

This second (older) reflection from the New York Review of Books also emphasizes the shame and humiliation theme in his response to the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

This is the grim, troubled private sphere that neither magical realistic novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism of popular travel literature manages to fathom. And it is while living within this private sphere that most people in the world today are afflicted by spiritual misery. The problem facing the West is not only to discover which terrorist is preparing a bomb in which tent, which cave, or which street of which city, but also to understand the poor and scorned and "wrongful" majority that does not belong to the Western world.

I recommend reading the Guardian article in particular in its entirety.
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