October 12, 2006

Orhan Pamuk!

Orhan Pamuk wins the Nobel Prize for literature. Pamuk was charged with the crime of "insulting Turkishness," charges that were dropped after outcry from Westerners.
Pamuk, 54, who gained international acclaim for books including ''Snow,'' ''Istanbul,'' and ''My Name is Red,'' went on trial last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

''Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it,'' he said in the interview.
Hoarse Engdahl, the head of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, said the controversy had nothing to do with the decision to award him the prize.
''It could of course lead to some political turbulence but we are not interested in that,'' Engdahl said. ''He is a controversial person in his own country, but on the other hand so are almost all of our prizewinners.''
Which is why we don't believe you when you say it has no effect on the decision... But, anyway, I like the support for Pamuk.

If you want to read something of his, read his New Yorker piece about his trial:

My detractors were not motivated just by personal animosity, nor were they expressing hostility to me alone; I already knew that my case was a matter worthy of discussion in both Turkey and the outside world. This was partly because I believed that what stained a country’s “honor” was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all. But it was also because I believed that in today’s Turkey the prohibition against discussing the Ottoman Armenians was a prohibition against freedom of expression, and that the two matters were inextricably linked. Comforted as I was by the interest in my predicament and by the generous gestures of support, there were also times when I felt uneasy about finding myself caught between my country and the rest of the world....

As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new √©lites, 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.


ADDED: Jeff Weintraub observes that the prize "seems like a happy ending for [Pamuk], at least for the moment. But the larger issues remain, both for Turkey and for the rest of us."

23 comments:

ignacio said...

There is a distinct tendency for for the Nobel Prize to simply travel around the world, dropping off a prize to any country or region which might feel neglected. When one looks back at the list one is soon overwhelmed by the tide of "politically correct" mediocrity.

Orhan Pamuk may still develop into a great writer, but for now the main thing he has going for him is that he's a Turk. Many Westerners are going to buy translated novels by him which they may well begin but few will complete.

dreamingmonkey said...

Kipling, Yeats, Beckett, Bertrand Russell, Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Camus, I.B. Singer, Saul Bellow, Octavio Paz, Kenzaburo Oe, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Seamus Heaney, that's what you consider the "tide of politically incorrect mediocrity?"

Pamuk is a great novelist, and furthermore he's intensely critical of Islamic authoritarianism and ought to be a wingnut favorite.

Jackmormon said...

Snow is just a wonderful book. Anybody who thinks that this Nobel selection is only political should take a look at it.

Dave said...

Istanbul is a great memoir.

Goesh said...

-and now known as His Turkeyness

Richard Dolan said...

Pamuk is certainly a reasonable choice, and far better than the last two winners, Harold Pinter and Elfriede Jelinek. The list of writers who have received the literature award certainly covers a varied lot -- Bertrand Russell? Henri Bergson? Both achieved some, now-faded prominence as philosophers, but a literature award seems a bit of a stretch. And I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the element of truth in ignacio's comment to the effect that, in choosing a writer for this award, the Nobel committee is influenced by factors, often political factors, as much as the merit of the author's work. It's also obvious that the Nobel committee feels an obligation to spread the literature prize around among languages and cultures, just as they sprinkle around the "peace" prize. With all of those extraneous factors in play, it's inevitable that the quality of the work they choose to honor is quite varied. Even with all of that, I make a point of reading at least one work by the Nobel winner each year if I'm not already familiar with the author.

Given all of the turmoil, perhaps they thought that this year's winner should come from an Islamic country. Whether that was a factor this year or not, however, the bottom line is that Pamuk is certainly a credible winner who holds his own even when measured against the best of the prior nominees.

Mortimer Brezny said...

This is so political. He's not even that good yet. If he hadn't been on trial, he might not have won it ever, or might have won it three or four books from now.

Eli Blake said...

There is something to be said for a politically motivated prize winner in Literature, however. Literature is to inform as well as entertain, and to raise to the forefront important matters, which have been either ignored or forgotten about by the sweep of history.

And let's face it. The butchery of the Armenians was the first great modern genocide, in which modern weapons of war were used specifically to exterminate a local population. Had the world taken a much more firm stand on how truly evil this was and held war crimes trials then, it might have set a precedent much like the prohibition on the use of poison gas that would have kept genocide from occurring in Europe and Asia during WWII. Whether it would have is an unknowable, but certainly the brutality of what happened deserves to be remembered.

And people love to poke fun at the Nobel committee, but considering all of the different political stripes of people from different lands that have won the various prizes, have you seen anyone say something to the effect of 'Nah, I don't want it?'

Mortimer Brezny said...

Yes, Sartre did just that.

My point was only that they could have waited until he was actually good enough, e.g., 3 or 4 books from now. I'm not calling the choice devoid of merit or poignancy.

Cedarford said...

I think the Nobel Literature Committee does a better job of keeping out of politics and fads than say the "Peace Committee" does, but it is true they tend to behave as cattle - see a field they like, then graze a bit before they move on. Throw out 3 Scandanavian writers of little world following, pick a superstar, move on to "women writers in oppressed countries", throw in a string of 2-3 indisputable heavyweights, move on to the next fad. Helps to have been "persecuted" at some time by somebody. But still, no jaws really drop with the "you got to be kidding me!!" Peace Prize type awardees. You get to perhaps read a new author, and none are totally awful...

By a neat coincidence, the same day this is announced, the French National Assembly, led by the Socialists of all people, made denying the Armenian genocide a crime, forming a neat bookend to the Turkist practice of prosecuting any Turk who says it WAS genocide. The EU warned France that the proposed law was "bad" and should be dropped because it could threaten Turkey's admittance to the EU. The French thought and voted 109-19 for the law...once again thumbing their nose at the EC bureaucrats that tried pushing their Constitution so the French and others would "meddle less" in laws that negated what the EC staff had decided on - and the French and Dutch said "Non!" pretty well on that too.

I don't like "hate thought" laws, so I'm opposed to laws targeting individuals for this_______or that______denial, saying a list of forbidden words like _________, but in this case, it is a good move because the Turks, the whole nation, has not confronted and dealt with it's darkest recent actions..on the Armenians and the Chaldeans. Turkey is now 99% Islamic. It was 90% Muslim in it's present landmass area at the start of WWI. It got ivory soap pure by doing some very dirty things.

It should never be allowed to be part of the EU until it stops playing the amnesia patient, and demonstrates substantial progress in showing Turkish Muslims seek to assimilate and are not going to play the "hostile infidels" vs. "us good Muslims" in Europe's heart.

Palladian said...

Prizes for art encourage mediocrity, faddishness, self-congratulation. There should be no prize for literature.

"Literature is to inform as well as entertain, and to raise to the forefront important matters, which have been either ignored or forgotten about by the sweep of history."

False. Literature's only obligation is to art. All the rest is a happy coincidence.

Russell said...

There's a problem with the link to the New Yorker piece.

dreamingmonkey said...

"Literature is to inform as well as entertain, and to raise to the forefront important matters, which have been either ignored or forgotten about by the sweep of history."

False. Literature's only obligation is to art. All the rest is a happy coincidence.


Okay, and the purpose of art is....

Palladian said...

"Okay, and the purpose of art is...."

Beauty, which is itself a pathway to transcendence. Beyond that, I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Keats on the subject of art/truth/beauty/imagination

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination—what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not."
Letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817)

Then there's the whole controversy over what the hell he meant in the last stanza of Ode on a Grecian Urn

(and Palladian would seem to be hinting at Keats' version of the truth/beauty conundrum)

As far as Mr. Orham Pamuk, congratulations, I still probably won't read what he's written, but kudos nevertheless.

(But, damn you for messing up the USA sweep of the Nobel Prizes)

Revenant said...

Okay, and the purpose of art is....

Entertainment. :)

ignacio said...

Non prize-winners include such great writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Anthony Powell, Hermann Broch, Philip Roth, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Cesare Pavese, Paul Bowles, Yukio Mishima, Witold Gombrowicz, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Sam Shepard, perhaps Haruki Murakami, Henry Green, in terms of influence and impact Graham Greene, Alain Robbe-Grillet, William S. Burroughs, Evelyn Waugh, Stanislaw Lem....and aren't we forgetting Virginia Woolf?

Some of the prize-winners are writers I appreciate, such as Claude Simon, Elias Canetti and Kenzaburo Oe -- none of whom deserve to be elevated in this way, but there are nonentities, even quite recently, such as Elfriede Jelinek, Imre Kertesz, Jose Saramago and Dario Fo.

The translated poets such as Odysseus Elytis: who knows?

The buzz was that the the prize was going to Ismail Kadare, of Albania (yes, he could have been the first Albanian so honored! Name one other Albanian who's been translated into English. Good luck.) -- which, as these things go, would have been okay.

It's not that Pamuk is so bad -- no one is as bad as Dario Fo -- it's just that he's not that great. He seems unfinished, like he needs more time. One gets the feeling he was once immensely impressed by Julio Cortazar, this versus "Mehmet, My Hawk." He's still working it out.

bearbee said...

Okay, and the purpose of art is....


Truth

Mortimer Brezny said...

The buzz was that the the prize was going to Ismail Kadare

Interesting. When I first heard it was Pamuk, I thought, Well, why not Kadare?

The two are similar, except Kadare is "finished" in the sense that he is a mature artist with a mature body of work. He also is very similar to Pamuk in theme and subject matter -- the only difference is that Pamuk is more politically relevant right now.

That is a shame, because it suggests making political waves and not merit was the deciding factor in this decision.

ignacio said...

Some other awfully good to great writers who didn't get the prize: Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Marcel Proust, James Joyce. These last two feel like cheating, but they were around. Sure, Knut Hamsun isn't bad, but Pearl S. Buck?

Notice I'm not mentioning, in the realm of live American writers: Norman Mailer, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates.

Revenant said...

The list of Nobel Prizes for Literature is a bit depressing.

Looking at the English-language authors, things start off really well -- great writers, immensely entertaining, who were widely enjoyed by readers in their time (and in many cases to this day) like Kipling, Yeats, and Shaw.

Then things start to slip. You start to get occasional "significant" writers with less popular appeal, like O'Neill and Buck, mixed in with talented, popular authors like Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemmingway et al.

Then you hit the late 60s. From that point on, nobody of consequence wins the award -- it becomes almost exclusively a prize awarded by literatary critics, to people read by few who aren't literary critics themselves. The only real exception is Golding, author of "Lord of the Flies".

ertengil said...

Republic of Turkiye is always willing to open up its archieves in order to prove that a genocide has not happened. If you or any of your friends know Turkish, then I would recommend you to visit the Government Archieves of Turkish Republic, if you are not able to do that, then I'd recommend you to visit the site: http://www.ermenisorunu.gen.tr/english/intro/index.html
One should be Turk in order to realise the truth about Armenians, it is not a genocide nor a war against those people. Jews were killed by Hitler, none of them remaining were rich, but Armenians were able to build up their own government after the World War I and Turkish Independence War. If they were killed like the Jews, then how would they build up their own government??
People are free to declare their opinions but only after analysing what they are talking about!!!

ertengil said...

Republic of Turkiye is always willing to open up its archieves in order to prove that a genocide has not happened. If you or any of your friends know Turkish, then I would recommend you to visit the Government Archieves of Turkish Republic, if you are not able to do that, then I'd recommend you to visit the site: http://www.ermenisorunu.gen.tr/english/intro/index.html
One should be Turk in order to realise the truth about Armenians, it is not a genocide nor a war against those people. Jews were killed by Hitler, none of them remaining were rich, but Armenians were able to build up their own government after the World War I and Turkish Independence War. If they were killed like the Jews, then how would they build up their own government??
People are free to declare their opinions but only after analysing what they are talking about!!!