The winner of any prize in the arts, be it awarded by a committee of members voting in a democratic fashion or by a solo blogger, will have to manage in his/her own way the automatic skepticism (and sometimes outrage) of those who disagree with the decision. I’ve read one novel by Orhan Pamuk, and have avoided reading a second (though it sits on my shelf) because I recall too vividly how mentally taxing it was reading My Name is Red. I want to read more, I just need to steel myself.
Pamuk was recently involved in a conflagration with the Turkish authorities for discussing the genocide of Armenians by Turkey in the early 1900s. The charges, interpreted by most as an attack on creative freedom, seemed to make Pamuk ripe for selection by the Nobel Committee this year.
In his Nobel lecture, titled “My Father’s Suitcase,” Pamuk spoke often about what being a writer meant to him. It’s a nice read, infused with a melancholy that I often find in writer’s emerging from countries that have been placed outside the center, outside the mainstream, until now. Places like India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt. Places where people don’t soon forget perceived slights or humiliation. There’s a kind of anger in these places, and Pamuk identifies it during the portion of his speech about why he writes. In fact, it’s the only reason for writing that he mentions twice:
As you know, the question we writers are asked most often, the favourite question, is; why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can’t do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life’s beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can’t quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.
Reading his speech, I realized that this anger reflects much of what is happening in the world today. So much anger. Some of it justifiable, much of it not (see Harold Pinter’s understandable, but poorly timed rant from last year — not angry, just shouting).
Pamuk is an angry writer who writes to be happy, like Naipaul. Too bad more of us don’t write, believe in writing, or feel that we have the option to write, instead of picking up a gun.