Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Orhan Pamuk: The fight for a novelist's soul

Novelist Orhan Pamuk faces trial in December for referring to his country’s massacre of 30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians. He presented a powerful case for a novel’s power to liberate, in Frankfurt last weekend, upon accepting the 2005 Friedenspreis, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Maureen Freely translated his stirring speech for Guardian Review:

What drew me to the streets of Frankfurt and Kars was the chance to write of others' lives as if they were my own. It is by doing this sort of research that novelists can begin to test the lines that mark off that "other" and in so doing alter the boundaries of our own identities. Others become "us" and we become "others".

A Turkish novelist who fails to imagine the Kurds and other minorities, and who neglects to illuminate the black-spots in his country's unspoken history, will, in my view, produce work that has a hole at its centre.

Pamuk’s problems don’t restrict themselves to a writer’s need for looking grim realities in the face. He must also be a keeper of truth and conscience. His country Turkey is a bridge between the Western and Islamic worlds. Given its liberal history, it has a vantage position to moderate the “clash of civilizations” dialogue which is so much in currency today. But for that to happen, it must first confront its past. Every nation must come to terms with its history, however bitter the outcome. Turkey would also have to face the Armenian genocide sooner or later. Pamuk, the person, has been inconvenienced by the trial, but in the ultimate analysis, it is Pamuk, the novelist, who will have had the fortune of launching this crucial debate.

Pamuk says it’s a novelist’s task to imagine other realities, to delve into the minds of the silenced, the oppressed, the victimized, and give them a voice. Empathy: a singular quality that every writer must possess. Vikram Seth had shared similar sentiments in an interview a few days back, saying that half the world’s problems would vanish if we only learnt to put ourselves in others’ shoes. For Pamuk, the larger political implication of the trial is only a distant addendum to his solitary fight for the soul of the novelist.

The political tone of the article doesn’t take from some of the thrills of reading that Pamuk outlines for us. He also delves into how the act of reading is as transforming as that of writing:

We have all known the thrill of going down the path that leads into someone else's world, and engaging with that world, and longing to change it, as we engross ourselves in the hero's culture, in his relationship with the objects that make up his world, in the words the author uses, in the decisions he makes and the things he notices as the story unfolds.

Sometimes I try to conjure up, one by one, a multitude of readers hidden away in corners and nestled in their armchairs; I try also to imagine the geography of their everyday lives. Then, before my eyes, thousands, tens of thousands of readers will take shape, stretching far and wide across the streets of the city, and as they read, they dream the author's dreams, and imagine his heroes into being, and see his world. So now these readers, like the author himself, are trying to imagine the other; they, too, are putting themselves in another's place.

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.


1 comment:

bookroach said...

some people have it in them to say it like they think. pamuk takes us through the collective imagination of readers, you, me and anyone who reads. he says it with extreme simplicity and yet conveys the meaning perfectly. my favorite books have been the ones where i have delved into the world of the protagonist, almost living her life, knowing her like my second self. an alter world, thats what my best books have gifted me with.