Bwog Lecture Hopper David Berke attended tonight’s Heyman lecture, starring Orhan Pamuk with Andreas Huyssen. Special Brinkley cameo towards the beginning!
Deep in the catacombs of the Kraft Center, Nobel Prize Laureate/MEALAC professor Orhan Pamuk spoke to a basement of eager listeners, the packed room filled beyond capacity. The literary luminary, who moonlights as a controversial political figure in his native Turkey, discussed art, persecution, language and a curiously conceived museum. Andreas Huyssen, chair of Germanic languages, mediated the evening, and outgoing Provost/Bwog’s undying AP US history love Alan Brinkley kicked things off with a brief introduction.
Pamuk trained as a painter for years, then switched to studying architecture before making the jump to novelist. Not surprisingly, Pamuk cited “visuality” as a seminal element of his work. Pamuk and Huyssen are currently teaching a seminar about the relation between literature and pictures (the aptly titled Words and Pictures), and his most recently released English translation—an essay collection titled Other Colors—also includes photographs. Explaining his interest in long form fiction, Pamuk asserted that the novel “kills all other literary forms,” a statement both audacious and fun to act out on my bookshelf, Jonathan Swift-style. To Pamuk, this “killing” has had international implications, for, in his mind, globalization did not begin in the late 20th century, but started with the worldwide spread of novelistic writing a century ago.
The conversation then turned to Pamuk’s political past. Three years ago, after commenting on the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish minority, Orhan received death threats and was put on trial for offending Turkishness. Pamuk was acquitted and remains outspoken on those issues.
“We have to be able to at least talk about it,” Pamuk said of the contentious topics.
Pamuk also restated his desire for Turkey to join the European Union. He sees membership as a potentially liberalizing agent, bringing free discourse to the country and making Turkey “a more open society.” The chief reservation among his fellow countrymen is that membership would dissolve Turkish culture and identity, but Pamuk dismissed such concerns.
The discussion then veered back to literature, with Huyssen questioning Pamuk about his fears of unoriginality à la Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. The “texture” and uniqueness of our historical age, according to Pamuk, offers a “cheaply earned originality” to writers. Sadly, his assertions did nothing to quell the anxiety of all the literary critics looking to write scholarship on literary influence who fear the inevitable comparisons to Bloom.
Nearing the end of the discussion, Pamuk revealed details from his forthcoming novel, which will hopefully be translated into English and released next year. The Museum of Innocence follows a broken-hearted lover who collects artifacts related to his lost paramour and creates a museum of his memorabilia. Though Pamuk jokingly admitted that he “used a lot of verbiage of a love story to promote the book,” the novel chiefly a bitter critique of love. His main character spends years trying to escape from it. Having written the book, Pamuk is now creating a real-life museum based on his novel, enlisting Turkish artists to make some of the lovelorn artifacts. The move underscores his appreciation for the visual.
Lastly, Huyssen questioned Pamuk if he enjoyed teaching at Columbia.
“The word is not ‘enjoy’ here,” Pamuk responded sarcastically, eliciting a silent “amen” from the heart of every Columbian. Although happy with his time here, Pamuk expressed no interest in writing a “campus novel.” His settings will remain Turkish.
The question and answer session that followed was surprisingly productive, with the token lecture crackpot mercifully absent. Pamuk delved deeper into his previous free speech discussion, and mused on the strengths and weaknesses of Turkish language (a profusion of handy tenses and a disappointing lexicon, to anyone who is considering writing a Turkish novel).
The lecture concluded, and the students in attendance shuffled off to “enjoy” the rest of the night studying.