Orhan Pamuk: A Museum For The Person, Not For Power

By (Nathan Gardels)

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. This interview by Nathan Gardels was adapted for The WorldPost from the current issue of NPQ.

The accompanying video is a segment from Katherine Keating’s “One on One” series for The WoldPost.

WORLDPOST At the end of your novel, “The Museum of Innocence,” the protagonist, Kemal, who is building a museum to display the objects of the times he spent with the woman he loves, Fusun, says “Yes, pride is the crux of it. With my museum I want to teach not just the Turkish people but all the people of the world to take pride in the lives they live.”
What prompted you to choose this theme, spend 10 years writing a novel about it and then building a museum devoted to it?

Orhan Pamuk The habit of collecting, of attachment to things, is an essential human trait. But Western civilization put collecting on a pedestal by inventing museums. Museums are about representing power. It could be the king’s power or, later, people’s power.

This has generally not been present in the non-Western world. There, the collector has been an individual who is doing something peculiar. He cannot be proud about what he is doing since his collection is not something that categorizes the larger human experience. On the contrary, it only signifies points of his own personal reality.

However, in the last 50 years, the non-Western world is catching up with museums because it wants to represent its power. Most of the time such museums are about the power of the state. They are crude exercises, like waving a flag. This new museum mania avoids representing reality in an artistic or a personal way. Power is more important than art or the person. That is the trend.

So, in my novel, where Kemal collects the tea cup, cigarette butts, bedroom door handle and other items of Fusun, he is building a museum not to power but to the intimate experience of love, to an individual life. My point is that, whatever a life is made of, its dreams and disappointments, is worth taking pride in.

In building my own museum in Istanbul, I am very close to my character Kemal. I don’t want to exhibit power but express my interiority, my spirit. A museum should not be flags–signs and symbols of power–but intimate works of art. It should express the spirituality of the collector.

WORLDPOST How do you define the “innocence” you are venerating in the museum, which figures in the title of your novel?

At one point you refer to “the innocent charm” of daily life. The ordinary moments when Kemal sat around the dinner table at Fusun’s parents smoking, drinking raki and watching TV in the evening take on an almost sacred cast. Nothing spectacular or sophisticated is going on. But there is …read more

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