Istanbul: Memories and the City

/, Literature, Blesok no. 144/Istanbul: Memories and the City

Istanbul: Memories and the City

The approach to hüzün (melancholy, sadness) allows Pamuk to enter into a dialogue with some of the most important Turkish writers, who through their view of the city and their sense of belonging to it, shaped the city of Istanbul. The text also contains artistic and historical references, with Pamuk representing the neighborhoods of Istanbul from multiple perspectives. He pays homage and admires four writers whom he calls the melancholy and lonely (hüzün) four writers; Yahya Kemal Bejatli (born in Skopje), Abdulhak Shinasi Hisar, the historian Ekrem Kocu and especially Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, whose influence was crucial for his understanding of the city, its culture, tradition and history. According to Pamuk, they learned the best of French models by associating “great writing” (Pamuk, 101) with originality, authenticity, and truthfulness, which led them not only to find a substantial and authentic subject—the fall of the Ottoman Empire—but also to be proud of the city in which they were born. In the text, he points to Yahya Kemal Beyatli as an example, who lived for nine years in Paris and got the idea of ​​writing “true poetry” from the French symbolists Verlaine and Mallarmé. Then, he mentions Tanpinar who was inspired by Yahya Kemal and admired the French Symbolists as well as Paul Valéry. He also notes that Abdulhak Shinasi Hisar had immense respect for Andre Gide. In addition, Pamuk suggests that Tanpinar learned to transfer landscape into words from Théophile Gauthier. In regards to these four writers he states that they “wanted to write like the French, and there is no doubt about that.” This enthusiasm is shared by Pamuk, who, as the epigraph already shows, sees beauty in melancholy. However, this praise for melancholy should not be taken as a sign of alienation that prevents the Turkish reader from facing the reality of the country. In fact, the poetic beauty that is reflected in the ruins of the city constantly reminds the reader that the glory of the past is definitely lost. What Pamuk suggests throughout the book is that this same past should not be denied or limited to the “museums” that the chambers of wealthy Istanbul were turned into with the advent of the republic, because the Eastern heritage is not a motive for shame.

There is no doubt that Pamuk offers some interesting challenges for the reader from the very beginning of this work. Thus, the book can be read as a kind of personal memoir. At the very beginning, Pamuk introduces himself and directly relates the text to his personal life where he warns the reader:

‘’for people like me, at least—that second life is none other than the book in your hand. So pay close attention, dear reader. Let me be straight with you, and in return let me ask for your compassion.” (Pamuk, 8)

On the other hand, this somewhat enigmatic tone foreshadows Pamuk’s transformation into a kind of fictional character not very different from the “other Orhan” he invented as a child, which further complicates the book’s characterization; is it book of memories or is it a novel?  An interesting aspect in this transformation of the writer into a peculiar character is the fact that, contrary to what happens in the book of memoirs, Pamuk is not the main theme here. The writer subverts this traditional approach when he transforms his hometown into the main element of his book, even if he has declared that his city is his destiny. In that, Pamuk as a writer does not distance himself from the text and does not eliminate himself or his personal points of view from the text, but in this work, the city (Istanbul) is in the forefront, rather than a character or the author himself.

Also, the narration itself and the development of the action in the text hint at a Bildungsroman, in which Pamuk recounts his transformation from a painter to a writer during his youth with the narrative ending at the exact moment he decides to become a writer. Namely, the narration of the text directs that it is a story where the main character reaches an epiphany, accepting the reality in his life, in this case – heterogeneity in the melancholic landscape of what he calls his hometown. Pamuk’s concern for Istanbul also makes the narrative a novel about the city, where the city’s transformation serves as a counterpart to Pamuk’s own occlusion of his own identity. Istanbul is, above all, a travel narrative where the narrator moves infinitely to different parts of the city. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the text is written in poetic language, where the continuity of events develops through the author’s own life story and is a bildungsroman that follows the author’s development from his childhood until the end of his adolescence.

AuthorSanberk Yusuf
2022-07-12T12:41:43+00:00 July 11th, 2022|Categories: Essays, Literature, Blesok no. 144|Comments Off on Istanbul: Memories and the City