Saturday, December 17, 2005

Orhan case adjourned

The trial against Orhan Pamuk was adjourned within minutes of its commencing today when the defence put forth the contention that Pamuk’s comments were made before the law that makes it a crime to insult the national identity had come into force. While that may earn Pamuk reprieve when the case comes up for its next hearing on Feb 7, Pamuk in unlikely to gloat over the defence’s rather lame excuse in light of the spirit in which the remarks were made. It is akin to suggesting that Pamuk must be let off only because he made the comments in the nick of time. That is not very heartening for the reputation of an author on whose able shoulders rests not only the need for self-introspection within Turkish society but also the freedom and the discretion of a writer to bring to light injustices and wrongdoings.

Pamuk’s reaction to the developments hasn’t emerged in the media yet. Knowing him, it won’t be charitable. The silence may be for the sake of saving himself 3 years in gaol, but it is likely to singe the soul of one of the foremost activist-writers of our times.

Will be tracking the case as it moves along.
Pamuk displays his genius in his latest write-up by drawing attention to the larger malaise of globalization affecting erstwhile traditional socities like India and China. I shall not refer to its more contextual contents because that has received a lot of media coverage already, including on this blog.
That said, the drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.
It is extremely important for writers to chronicle the ordinariness of lives caught in the cross-currents of such global conflicts. That is the only solace this rapid change can offer to those who cannot otherwise make sense of the benumbing transitions.
In a later passage, he questions the neocon philosophy of the Bush empire because it is seriously hampering the case of "western" democracy that people like him are trying to promote in their countries.
As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression. But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.
Pamuk is being smart in extending the essentially parochial debate to larger themes of our times, namely globalization and the war in Iraq. Ironically, his being hounded has landed him in a unique spot from which his comments on such unrelated topics will also draw notice. More power to him.

Orhan Pamuk: The fight for a novelist's soul

No comments: