Week 13 – Orhan Pamuk, continued

Please share your thoughts on the readings for this week. What themes about the Mediterranean appear in Pamuk’s writing about Istanbul? How does he capture views from locals and outsiders of the city? How do different historical changes leave a trace on this city?

8 thoughts on “Week 13 – Orhan Pamuk, continued

  1. I enjoyed the readings from this week, I feel like we got to see more of his life growing up and the social expectations of kids in Istanbul. I thought it was interesting to see how his relationship with his brother effected his career path in chapter 32. In chapter 34, Pamuk frames the outsider views and insider views he simultaneously had towards his city “Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, part of me longed, like a radical Westernizer, for the city to become entirely European […] but another part of me yearned to belong to the Istanbul I had grown to love” (323). The different historical changes left both Western and Eastern yearnings for the people of Istanbul. There were those who wanted to become more European and then there were those who wanted to preserve their traditions that the Westerners would consider Eastern.
    With this split identification (between Western and Eastern identity) the people of Istanbul have being unique to the city, are there similar split identities in the Mediterranean?


  2. Chapter 34: To Be Unhappy Is To Hate Oneself and One’s City

    This reading to me was the most powerful one in all of the book, as it’s all about Pamuk’s own inhibitions and unhappiness growing up and it stemming from his dissatisfaction with Istanbul and projecting all of his problems upon the city. He brings up the concept of huzun agains from earlier, and he sums up his feelings about Istanbul very poetically on page 323, “If a painting looked like Istanbul, then it wasn’t a good painting; if it was a good painting, it didn’t look enough like Istanbul to suit me. Perhaps this meant I had to stop seeing the city as art, as a landscape.” He has become disillusioned with the city and what it used to mean to him.
    Are sentiments like these common among the citizens of Istanbul – that beautiful paintings of old are no longer satisfactory, and that proper representations of the mediterranean aren’t flattering anymore?

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  3. The theme that fascinates me the most is the idea of the “East” and the “West”. We previously discussed how Turkey wanted to be apart of the EU and be labeled as European so, so bad. I think certain people want to be identified with one region or the other because of the stigmas that come with the labels. However, in our readings, I can see that Istanbul is really neither the East or West, but a mixture. Pamuk uses the example of just becoming his own type of westerner. In Chapter 31, Flaubert is searching for a specific image of the “East” and travels to Istanbul and can’t find “it”. Although Pamuk is not an outsider, he is aware of the pulls of the East and West within his country. Some locals want to move forward and modernize into European and others feel strongly to their traditional, Eastern roots – It causes friction.

    Which do you think is the most important identity… being Mediterranean, Eastern, or Western?


  4. On another note, I think the section regarding masturbation in Ch 33 is related to the honor and shame theme in our course. People around the world have their own viewpoints about masturbating, but the way Pamuk’s classmates respond when they find out he did “it” was the perfect amount of drama… referring to it as a habit-forming drug that you can never stop once you start. Pamuk’s friend believed that he was damned because he also fell to the “drug”.


  5. In chapter 26, Pamuk describes a Turkish Poet, Yahya Kemal, and a Turkish novelist, Tanpinar, as walking the streets of Istanbul’s poorest neighborhoods “looking for signs of a new Turkish state”. These writers had a perspective that could be described as the locals perspective, where the ones before them, who hailed from Western Europe who’s names were Nerval and Gautier, gave the perspective of an outsider looking in to Istanbul’s complexities. It shows the two perspectives on page 247, where Pamuk describes Tanpinar as taking the observations of the French writers over the poor neighborhoods and turning it into the “huzun” theme we see throughout the book. This shows that the feeling of “huzun” may only be felt by those who are indigenous to Istanbul but can be felt when reading or observing the works of outsiders that visit the city and speak of its demise. In his paintings, described in chapter 28, Pamuk would be able to incorporate buildings and structures from different times in Istanbul’s history under the rule of different great historical empires such as an arc from the Byzantines. Although perhaps the greatest influence in Istanbul is the remnants of the Ottoman empire, at every turn, history precedes Istanbul. Whether it be the Byzantines, Ottomans, WWI, or WWII.


  6. In this reading there was much discussion on the split identities in Istanbul, Western and Eastern. This has caused a lot of friction within the region and although Pamuk was not an outsider, he was still capable of observing Istanbul’s differing identities from an outsider perspective and see what was considered Western and Eastern in his country. Those who wanted to advance and modernize, be considered more European, take on the Western perspective. Those who wanted to remain more traditional and closer to their roots took on the Eastern perspective. I also enjoyed how this section did brought to light more of Pamuk’s life as he was growing up and he shared his view on the city he grew up in. He once had love for the city but as time went on things changed, became more European, until he felt he didn’t even recognize Istanbul. He had much dissatisfaction in this, thinking that Istanbul was no longer “art” to him. I found this change to be quite interesting, but it does show how things had changed drastically in Istanbul over time.


  7. Chapter 32:

    In this chapter, Pamuk talks about his relationship with his older brother. He refers to the memories he fought with his brother and was competitive with anything they did to prove who was stronger, more clever, more knowledgeable, and more skillful at the task at hand. He explained how his mother used this rivalry to her advantage and made everything a competition. For example, “Whoever puts on their pajamas and goes to bed first will get a kiss.” Pamuk describes that this process made her sons more virtuous and prepared for the world that they are growing up in. Pamuk itched for melancholy and later accepted that the mood of defeat, obliteration, and degradation allowed him a respite from all rules that needed to be learned. This feeling of defeat made him feel free. Pamuk would use this as motivation to paint, and would prepare himself for a bad painting until it was not bad. When Pamuk used the city of Istanbul’s melancholy huzun, he found himself loving what he did more, and would feel the darkness fade away.


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