Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Comparative Cosmopolitanisms and the Case of Orhan Pamuk

"This is an author that creates an immediate and almost childish joy of reading. He has stolen the novel, one can say, from us westerners and has transformed it to something different from what we have ever seen before ... His roots in two cultures ... allows him to take our own image and reflect it in a partially unknown and partially recognisable image, and it is incredibly fascinating." -- Horace Engdahl
Especially after reading Bruce Robbins' "Comparative Cosmopolitanisms," I am struck by the relevance of the debate accompanying Turkish author Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize, awarded just last year. The press surrounding the announcement in 2006 painted the author's work as an important nexus between East and West, particularly as the contemporary struggle for Turkey's membership in the EU wages. In interviews as well as in critical assessments of his oeuvre, the subject of dual cultural identity comes to the fore. It is less a divided, conflicted identity, than one that straddles two traditions within the shifting, local culture of his homeland. Turkey makes an endlessly interesting case for the interactions of the local and global.

Given the canonizing impulse of the Nobel Prize and the loaded reality of awarding it to a Turkish author, how can we tie this case with Robbins' treatment of "third world metropolitan celebrities"? Compared with Salman Rushdie, whom Tim Brennan places in a group of removed, palatable (to Westerners) "cosmopolitan commentators on the Third World," what does Pamuk's work do? Andrew Finkel, a London-based journalist, has said that Pamuk "wasn't afraid to be an intellectual," and thus "changed what people thought a Turkish novel would be." Who is/are the target reading public(s) and what does this mean for his inclusion in the Western academies?

I'm particularly interested in the assertion that to be truly politically engaged/engaging is to be rooted in the national. As he deals indisputably in the local as well as the historical specificity of his childhood, draped in artful nostalgia, where would you place Pamuk (and authors like him) in this ongoing discussion?

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