Pamuk’s Nobel Is A Family Affair


Guardian Unlimited
Friday October 20, 2006

The anger and delight which greeted Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel prize in
Turkey are no surprise, says Elif Shafak. Turkey has always expected
novelists to provide more than words

When news that Orhan Pamuk had won the Nobel prize for literature
reached Turkey, the literary world and wider society were split
in two. Pride and condemnation went side by side. After all Pamuk
has never fitted into the role which Turkish society demands of its
novelists. Dedicating all his life to literature, he has always been
more absorbed in his own fictional world than the "real" world outside.

Ever since the end of the 19th century Turkish society has been in a
hurry. Abdullah Cevdet, one of the most radical thinkers of the late
Ottoman Empire, asked despairingly "how long has it taken the western
world to reach the level of civilisation that they now enjoy? Four
hundred years perhaps? Can we wait that long?" His conclusion was
that in order to catch up with western civilisation the flow of time
had to be speeded up. This was the task that fell upon the Turkish
intelligentsia – to quicken the flow of history, to expedite the
process of westernisation – placing writers at the forefront of
efforts to mould Turkish society.

With the establishment of a modern, secular Turkey, literature took
on an even greater role. The new elite, depicting the new regime as
a fundamental transformation from eastern civilisation to western
civilisation, aimed to make culture the cement of the modern
Turkish nation-state. For them modernisation and secularisation
meant a complete detachment from the past, a mistrust of anything,
of everything associated with the Ottoman heritage. The Turkish state
elite was ready to speed up the flow of history from above.

So the novel – a literary genre which was new, modern and, unlike the
old tradition of poetry, utterly western – gained a unique position.

No wonder then that a novelist is always more than a novelist in
Turkey. He is, first and foremost, a public figure. Novelists are the
"babas", the fathers of their readers. They are loved and hated, looked
up to and looked down upon. This is a society which is writer-oriented,
not writing-oriented.

Orhan Pamuk has been working against this background for years. He
writes with great passion and determination, all the while endorsing,
publicising and internationalising the Turkish novel. As conspicuous
as his books have been, he himself has always remained almost
unreachable. If he has been any kind of "baba" to his readers he has
only been a detached father more inspired by his own imagination
than by his nation. Perhaps it is this that triggers some sons,
some segments of Turkish society, to attack him.

As a Turkish woman writer, I too have often felt out of tune with the
baba tradition. While the son-society keeps discussing the implications
of this award, I am filled with delight, pride and optimism. Pamuk’s
Nobel is not only a great honour for him and for the richness of
Turkish literature, but also a sign of the great contribution Turkey
can make to world culture if and when it reaches out beyond national
borders and nationalist debates.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS