Saturday, 9 December 2006

Orhan Pamuk has given his Nobel Prize lecture. He talks about his father, who had aspirations to be a writer, but could not pull himself away from a life of financial success and friendships. He also positions himself in the canon:

I would like to see myself as belonging to the tradition of writers who – wherever they are in the world, in the East or in the West – cut themselves off from society, and shut themselves up with their books in their room. The starting point of true literature is the man who shuts himself up in his room with his books.

Pamuk recollects images and feelings to do with his father's library of 1500 books. He admits that he was lucky to have had a father who gave so much importance to the written word. He recounts the sorry state of the arts in Turkey in the 1970s, when he was deciding whether to become a writer. The suitcase full of jottings that his father leaves him to open after his death speaks to Pamuk. He resents the fact that literature was, for his father, something to be indulged in away from social congress, in secret.

He reflects on the meaning of happiness; whether to seem to agree with everyone else could provide this elusive ingredient of life. Or whether being alone and shut up in a room could provide it.

For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us, the wounds so secret that we ourselves are barely aware of them, and to patiently explore them, know them, illuminate them, to own these pains and wounds, and to make them a conscious part of our spirits and our writing.

He meditates on the role of the writer. He wonders if it is childish for the writer to want to imagine a world without a centre, a world where all of humanity can share common troubles and joys.

What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kind ...

He lists the many reasons why he writes. He wishes his father could be there to see him receive the prize.

It is a very moving and sensible speech. Read it.

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