Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An Encounter With Pamuk

The cycle of Dileep Padgaonkar's entry and exit with the Times continues. His piece on Orhan appeared in the Hindu today, which makes this item double-newsworthy. The piece is important because it broaches Orhan's personal predilections and insecurities. Pamuk hails from a liberal westernized family.

This eclectic approach allows him to be critically engaged in Turkey's perennial dilemma — how to live in a westernised fashion in a country that is essentially non-western — without inviting the charge of being either parochial or deracinated. He is sceptical of the secular, westernised elite for, in his view, its relentless hostility to religion has steadily deprived it of a spiritual core, a vacuum Islamists have sought to fill with increasing success. But he has no patience for the latter either since they seek to cast a spell on ordinary people with their anti-modern, indeed reactionary, religious rigidity.

What confirms his eclecticism is his pariah status among each and every brand of turkish intellectuals (even the Left, yes).

This approach, he said, has often been misunderstood, especially at home. Turkish intellectuals who have grown on the staple diet of Kemal Attaturk's hard secularism have accused him of playing footsie with religion. The Islamists, recalling his defence of Salman Rushdie after Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa, accuse him of blasphemy. Veteran leftists assert that their former comrade has sold out to the West. And of course his views on the human rights situation in the country infuriate the military and political establishment.

And finally, a personal rejoinder on the melancholy, or huzun in his work:

A strong sense of nationalism, Mr. Pamuk told me, is an important element in the mental and emotional baggage of the Turks. In school, children have been taught to regard the rest of the world as a dushman, as the enemy. He said the legacy of this ambiguous dushman is to be found everywhere: in the military and political establishment, among Marxists, many of whom moved over to the ranks of the Islamists in the wake of the implosion of the Soviet empire, and of course among Islamists themselves. The melancholy, or huzun as it is known in Turkish, stems from such ambiguity.

The WP link supplies an enchanting definition. Don't miss it.

According to Orhan Pamuk, the melancholy of Istanbul is huzun , a Turkish word whose Arabic root (it appears five times in the Koran) denotes a feeling of deep spiritual loss but also a hopeful way of looking at life, "a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating." For the Sufis, huzun is the spiritual anguish one feels at not being close enough to God; for Saint John of the Cross, this anguish causes the sufferer to plummet so far down that his soul will, as a result, soar to its divine desire. Huzun is therefore a sought-after state, and it is the absence, not the presence, of huzun that causes the sufferer distress. "It is the failure to experience huzun ," Pamuk says, "that leads him to feel it." According to Pamuk, moreover, huzun is not a singular preoccupation but a communal emotion, not the melancholy of an individual but the black mood shared by millions. "What I am trying to explain," he writes in this delightful, profound, marvelously original book, "is the huzun of an entire city: of Istanbul."

The fight for a novelist's soul

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