To solve Turkey's culture clash, old elite must yield to free speech
An interview with Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk about his latest book, 'The Museum of Innocence.'
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Nathan Gardels: Inserting yourself as the famous writer Orhan Pamuk into your new novel, "The Museum of Innocence," you say, "This is not simply a story of lovers, but of the entire realm, that is, of Istanbul."
At the end of the novel your protagonist, Kemal, who is building a museum to display the objects of the times he spent with the woman he loves, Fusun, says: "Yes, pride is the crux of it. With my museum I want to teach not just the Turkish people but all the people of the world to take pride in the lives they live."
What prompted you to choose this theme and spend 10 years writing a novel about it?
Orhan Pamuk: The habit of collecting, of attachment to things, is an essential human trait. But Western civilization put collecting on a pedestal by inventing museums. Museums are about representing power. It could be the king's power, or, later, people's power.
This has generally not been present in the non-Western world. There, the collector has been an individual who is doing something peculiar. He cannot be proud about what he is doing since his collection is not something that categorizes the larger human experience. On the contrary, it only signifies points of his own personal reality.
However, in the last 50 years, the non-Western world is catching up with museums because it wants to represent its power. Most of the time such museums are about the power of the state. They are crude exercises, like waving a flag. This new museum mania avoids representing reality in an artistic or personal way. Power is more important than art or the person. That is the trend.
So, in my novel, where Kemal collects the teacup, cigarette butts, bedroom door handle, and other items of Fusun's, he is building a museum not to power, but to the intimate experience of love, to an individual life. My point is that, whatever a life is made of, its dreams and disappointments, is worth taking pride in.
In building my own museum in Istanbul, I am very close to my character Kemal. I don't want to exhibit power, by express my interiority, my spirit. A museum should not be flags – signs and symbols of power – but intimate works of art. It should express the spirituality of the collector.
Gardels: How do you define the "innocence" you are venerating in the museum, which figures in the title of your novel?
Pamuk: I don't explain my book titles. They are not summaries, like "War and Peace." They add one final twist to the story. When my readers ask, "Why this title?" I always reply, "Because it provides one more opportunity to think about the meaning of the book."
Gardels: Well, here is a reading from one perspective. At one point you refer to "the innocent charm" of daily life. The ordinary moments Kemal sat around the dinner table at Fusun's parents smoking, drinking raki and watching TV in the evening take on an almost sacred cast. Nothing spectacular or sophisticated is going on. But there is a deep happiness in this ritual nonetheless.