Friday, October 13, 2006

[Nobel Prize]

Art and Politics.

Orhan Pamuk is a controversial figure in Turkey. Actually, it seems that he's not controversial so much as hated. His principle crime is talking--not writing--about Turkish purges of Armenians and Kurds:
Pamuk earned Turkish government ire last year when he talked in an interview with a Swiss newspaper about the World War I massacre of 1.5 million Armenians and the deaths of 30,000 Kurdish separatists in the 1980s and '90s. Ultra-nationalists in Turkey persecuted him and he was soon prosecuted under the Turkish penal code for "insulting Turkishness, the republic and state institutions". Although the charges were dropped as a demonstration of the social progress needed for membership in the European Union, the law remains on the books.
If this morning's NPR story is accurate, it sounds like most Turks agreed with the government. The very fact that he is lauded by the West has made him a traitor to Turkey. I suppose the Nobel is in some ways an affirmation of the tension--the Swedes love to use the award to tweak oppressive regimes almost as much as rewarding literary merit.

(I've never read a word of Pamuk's prose, but by all accounts, in this case, his literary stature seems widely regarded as equal to his political. The Times offers this description of his books: "...multi-layered, allegorical, sometimes fanciful, Proustian in their attention to detail and Borgesian in their dazzling complexity.")

This is an interesting case. I suspect righties will seize on it as an example of Muslim oppression, evidence that they could use a little of that good 'ol American democracy. Of course, that cuts both ways--these are the same righties who want to silence Hollywood and who in past eras attempted to jail Allen Ginsberg for obscenity (he mentioned gays!), among others.

All art is dangerous, to greater or lesser extents. The best art seeks truth and, using the power of metaphor, symbol, and form, the truth it produces is often more potent than bland facts presented in the news. Pamuk, writing honestly, seems to have struck a raw Turkish nerve. But what if he turned his attention to France, which yesterday approved a law that makes it illegal to deny the Turkish genocide Pamuk referenced. Would he be as charitable to a country that forbids schoolgirls from wearing a head scarf? What ironies might he locate; what indictments might result?

The best of art is transparent and honest, without agenda. Pamuk seems to have hit this mark, and the Nobel committee, almost in spite of themselves--this is the group that awarded Dario Fo their prize in '97--have given his work a larger stage. I have known of him for a few years, but only now has this awareness become motivation to go buy a novel. I will, however, avoid reading it as a political document.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

You should put Snow on your reading list - it's one of the best novels I've ever read.