Week 12.1 & 12.2 Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul

Pamuk describes an emotion specific to the city of Istanbul that he describes as “huzun”. What is this emotion? How does it relate to the city’s history as a former capital of Empire to a marginalized city of the east. More generally, how does the east/west tension of the Mediterranean reflect on Pamuk’s memories of the city? How does the east/west dichotomy structure the culture and feelings of this city?

10 thoughts on “Week 12.1 & 12.2 Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul

  1. Huzun, as defined by Orhan Pamuk in “Istanbul – Memories and the City”, is known as a deep set melancholy; a pensive sadness that arises for an entire community that is mourning for it’s lost history as a once mighty empire. Ruins and dirt replace archways and monuments without anything done to keep them in good condition. And this feeling does not seclude itself to those passing on the street. The feeling seeps its way into everything about Istanbul life. Families crumble, business are lost, ports are set ablaze; thus is the way of life. But this is not a depressed and hated feeling. Orhan, and by his writings, an extension of Istanbul citizens, feel honor at the huzun. The black and white view of the city is a comfort that they all share and internalize as a nostalgia for a time they cannot regain. The few areas of comfort are known to all. The ruins of the old time and the Bosphorus. By going about these areas, the people feel clarity and calm and experience the huzun not as a continuous battle to be cured, but as a way of living.

    To Orhan, this feelings has been circulating through his life since childhood. He is able to go on for three pages in his book on all the things in the city that spark the feeling of huzun for him. For those who live in the west, this feeling is odd and mysterious. Westerners live in a time of persevered history. Everything is kept in good condition and the best of the times are reflected in newer arts and culturally celebrated. Those of the city of Istanbul live in a cultural poverty where the celebrated cultures of the past can only be seen in the ruins. Westerners can name areas of historical importance while Istanbul citizens would use markets and coffee shops to direct people about. And even amongst these ruins, lies an influence of western touch. Poets and artists long to capture the feeling of Istanbul but occupy a style following western art. Writers write of the beauty of the darkness, but move away and remain under western influence. Thus, even in a feeling of melancholy for a once mighty city, is still tainted and made even more despairing for the sole fact that the city does not remain completely theirs. And yet the battle rages on for the city that is difficult to understand to an outsider. Music such as Turkish pop in 1980s capture the emotion and allow others to feel the, expressed, “something between physical pain and grief”. Artists like Antoine-Ignace Melling crafted images that dismissed the western view of centralism and instead focused on the infinities of Istanbul and everything encompassing its views. Thus, Istanbul is distinguished, by Orhan, as a city that lives like it is an old 1950s film. It’s world is in black and white but its emotions and people are strengthened by the tones.

    If I am left with any question, it is for how to better understand the minds of those who live there for myself. I am at a loss still. Experiencing only my western society of colorful lands and bright people, I just wonder how the citizens love to remain there. Even with the explanations and examples in the reading, and be it due to my obvious western influence, I still find the feeling of huzun incredibly hard to imagine and even harder to subject one’s self to in a constant life style. I just wonder about it.


  2. Pamuk describes huzun as an emotion a large group of people or a community feel and have in common. It is the Turkish word for melancholy, and it is used in an almost spiritual sense. It is like a feeling of loss or a deep ache for the past that the people of Istanbul feel due to living in a city that is now a shadow of its former greatness. Pamuk also writes that the people embrace huzun, so they resign themselves to feelings of poverty and grief, and giving up. Istanbul can connect strongly to this feeling because after being part of the great Ottoman Empire, the city has nothing but ruins to remind them that it is not a great city anymore. Istanbul had fallen into poverty and forgotten by the West, but there are constant reminders in the ruins and the architecture of the Ottoman Empire and how things used to be. Pamuk mentions how different the West is from Istanbul, like how Hollywood has taken away the Turkish film market and how artists and poets want their work and Istanbul to be westernized. The new Westernized culture slowly chips away at the old Ottoman culture so that there is little left, which adds to the melancholy huzun emotion. The overall feeling towards the western culture coming into Istanbul was a little resigned, but the city had declined so much that people were just accepting anything, and they did not have pride in their city like a lot of cities in the west do.
    My question is that, how can Istanbul grow out of the emotion huzun, and do the citizen even want to grow out of it?


  3. Vanessa Vining

    In the book Pamuk describes the term “huzun” to mean a sort of sad, nostalgic yearning for the past or something that has been lost to the past that had great material or spiritual meaning. He seemed to have had a fairly decent childhood, one filled with imagination, innocence, whimsy and unadulterated by harsh facts and reality so it is no wonder he misses the past. To me it seems that Pamuk views the once glorious history of Istanbul as “huzun,” as if it is something that is lost forever and cannot be returned, something that is a spiritual loss to Istanbul and its people. As far as the east versus west dichotomy that Pamuk presents in his stories it seems that everyone in Istanbul believed that it was best to be west even though no one was certain why this had to be the case.

    A bit of a side note but I really have to point out the past tense that Pamuk mentions in the beginning of the book about how in Turkish there is a tense that is used to describe things that people “remember” even though there was no way they could have possible seen those events unfold. I don’t know, for some reason I really liked that.


  4. The word huzun is used by Pamuk to describe the specific melancholy those of Istanbul feel, a communal feeling of loss for the once great city that now lays impoverished and forgotten . Pamuk writes in the pages of chapter one “I’ve spent my life either battling with this melancholy or (like all Istanbullus) making it my own” (6). I believe this quote explains the meaning he wishes to convey when he writes huzun. He explains the specifics of huzun, how it can prevent restoration while also encouraging it, how some of Istanbul would feel reluctant to direct a foreigner through the cities ruins.
    He also writes huzun to signify this unique feeling the people who have lived in Istanbul share as the world forgets them and the once great city. The relationship between the west and east reflects in Pamuk’s memories by the struggle the people of Istanbul for keeping their own identity. History of the east and history of the west both are evident in the ruins of Istanbul, and this is a reason some western travelers see Istanbul with this ‘mysterious’ air, because in contrast of historical cities in the west, the great momuments of yesterday are not perserved in Istanbul.
    My question is can something as mood really be ingrained into a society? Can huzun be considered a norm passed down from generations?


  5. Chapter 20, Religion
    Pamuk writes of religion and God and how faith intertwined with the society around him growing up. He writes of God being a woman in his mind, and that she was not interested in those of his status. Pamuk writes, “I don’t remember ever asking for Her help or guidance. I was only too aware that She was not interested in people like me: She only cared for the poor” (176). He goes on to say that whenever his relatives wished for Gods assistance for the poor or the tragically hurt, he felt it was a way of consoling the guilt of not doing anything beneficial to help. Pamuk writes that religion went in hand with guilt in his personal frame of reference. The relationship of religion those around him had shaped and influenced how he viewed the different classes. Pamuk wrote that he once thought that the poor believe because they were poor. After attending mosque with his maid, Pamuk began to see how the Nation State and the Religious Poor created each other. He reflects on the portrayal of the none religiously secular as being fanatic or obsessed with Her words rather than the States words, and that it was the fury of these people, who his family and the Turkish secular bourgeoisie were weary of (178).
    My question is this secular ideology being pushed as it was during Pamuck’s childhood? In class it was mentioned briefly of the state of affairs in regards to Istanbul and Turkey. How is the religiously devote viewed by the Turkish bourgeoisie today?


  6. Chapter 19: Conquest or Decline? The Turkification of Constantinople

    Pamuk writes about how the Turkification of Istanbul is viewed as either a defeat or a triumph depending on whether you’re in the west or in the east. “For Westerners, May 29, 1453, is the Fall of Constantinople, while for Easterners it’s the Conquest of Istanbul.” He notes cultural differences when his wife was studying at Columbia University; she was called nationalistic for calling it a conquest, even though that’s how she was taught to view it growing up in Turkey. He talks about how Istanbul is extremely nationalistic, and that to call it Constantinople is a huge insult to its citizens. The Turkish government even sanctioned mobs to rampage through the city and destroy property owned by Greeks and other minorities.
    My question is that how was Turkey able to be a part of NATO when it harbors such xenophobic views and anti-Greek hatred? What kind of message does that send to its would-be allies?


  7. In chapter 19, Pamuk recalls the stories of his family of a very high tension time in Istanbul. This so dramatically explains the high tension between the western and eastern ideals, as well as nationalism and religion in the extremely diverse city. Pamuk recalls as a child visiting stores of the Greeks who were descendants of the Byzantium times before the Ottoman empire took control of Constantinople. Referring to the city as Constantinople could even be seen as a “nationalist” name and especially referring to the change of leadership as a conquest rather than the fall of Constantinople would have the same affect, according to the authors wife. He even goes to explain that even more greeks have left Istanbul in the most recent 50 years than in the 50 years following the conquest of the city.

    Now religion and heritage had become an issue. Following the bombing of the house in Cyprus where Atuturk was born, Muslim people of Istanbul went to the streets to riot and purge Greek shops and rape Armenian and Greek women. He compares these riots and the brutality of them to soldiers of the past who had committed some of the same heinous acts. Every non-muslim was at risk of being killed if caught in the midst of the mob. Perhaps the most clear example of this seperation of population that Pamuk describes is one that his brother had hung a Turkish flag in the truck of his uncle, where the truck was completely unscathed in the morning following the riots. This little message proves that this was a very meticulously carried out riot, unlike those we see in cities elsewhere, where there was a clear target and community of victims and these were the Greek descendants and those not of the Muslim faith.


  8. Chapter 25: Under Western Eyes

    In this chapter, Orhan Pamuk talks about how when we create something, to some degree we all care about what foreigners and strangers think of us. Pamuk describes how Istanbul writers always have, “one eye” always on the west. In this, meaning that when Istanbullus read on western observations, residents can be heartbroken when these readings are taken too far because the country is trying to westernize what writer think are important. Andre Gides travel through Turkey in 1914 hurt Turks by using the term more like a racial slur and saying the Turks clothing is ugly and that western civilization is superior to all others, Pamuk uses as an example. Pamuk describes that we only look at what the criticizers say and not all the other writers complimenting Istanbul. He explains that we look at these insults and analyze them to see if they are correct and what happened to the city to cause these reasons. Pamuk explains the different perspectives of western writers during the past of Istanbul and how they can change a lot. At the end of the day however, it does not affect Istanbul in anyway and it helps clean up some of the not so good qualities of the city, but it is unique for its eastern qualities, not western. My question is, what would happen if Istanbul did not become influenced by the western writers?


  9. Chapter 19 talks about the divide in how the western and eastern halves of Istanbul view the date May 29, 1453. Even after more than 500 years, the west still views this date as the fall of Constantinople, while the eastern half views it as the conquest of Istanbul. This is due to the fact that one side identifies as Greek and Christian, while the other identifies as Ottoman, Turk and Islamic. The tension between these two identities has been so intense that both the Turkish President and Prime Minister chose not to attend the 500 year anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul in 1953, since they found it potentially disrespectful to the cities Greek and Christian minorities.


  10. Huzan is the feeling of melancholy in Turkish. As the beginning of the book points out with the quote from Ahmet Rasim “The beauty of a landscape resides it its melancholy.” So what exactly does this huzan come from for the residents of Istanbul? In history Istanbul was a thriving center of trade and cosmopolitanism when it was the capitol of the Byzantine Empire. After that empire fell the Ottoman Empire rose to power and now Istanbul once again was a dominant power as its capitol. But after the World Wars the Ottoman Empire could no longer sustain itself and it fell along with its prosperity. As Pamuk and other inhabitants of Istanbul reflect on the former prosperity and happiness that Istanbul experienced in the past they began to feel this huzan as a sense of mourning. Pamuck states that after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, “the world almost forgot that Istanbul existed.” He later states, “For me it has always been a city of ruins and end of empire melancholy. I’ve spent my life either battling this melancholy or (like all Istanbullus) making it my own.” They feel this huzan because the city is closely linked to their identity.


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