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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2011


In his memoir Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk argues that Istanbul is the site of intense hüzün (melancholy) caused by the loss of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, like other inhabitants of the city, that is, Istanbullus, his life is imbued with this inescapable melancholy. Taking issue with the apparent anachronism of Pamuk's historical argument, I show how he constructs and naturalizes this association between Istanbul, melancholy, and loss of empire by creating a literary genealogy for his claim. Using the Bakhtinian concept of chronotope (a schema that recognizes and explains the patterns of fusion of time, space, and emotion as thematic constellation or narrative pattern), I argue that what Pamuk identifies in and derives from the writings of his predecessors is the chronotope of Istanbul. I show how Pamuk constructs the hybrid literary canon and tradition (that references Balzac and Joyce as much as it does Beyatlı and Tanpınar) in which he locates himself in the process of deriving this chronotope.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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Author's note: I thank my reviewers for their comments and critiques. I am grateful to Beth Baron and Sara Pursley for all their help and guidance.

1 Jan Morris, “A Map of the Heart,” The Guardian, 2 April 2005.

3 Peter Levine, “Istanbul Melancholy,” 30 October 2009, (accessed 15 May 2011).

4 Huyssen, Andreas, Other Cities, Other Worlds (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008), 21CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Pamuk, Orhan, Istanbul: Memories and the City, trans. Freely, Maureen (New York: Vintage, 2006), 3Google Scholar. All quotations come from this edition.

6 Idem, The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 1329Google Scholar.

7 Bakhtin, M. M., “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1981), 84Google Scholar.

8 Ibid., 142.

9 Valerie Nollan uses the concept of the chronotope similarly in her analysis of the Russian steppe as the spiritual locus of Russian identity, in “Russia as a Chronotope in Works by Ruralist Writers: Toward a Philosophy Art,” in Bakhtin: Ethics and Mechanics, ed. Nollan (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2004), 75–93.

10 In adapting here Flaubert's famous words about his character Madame Bovary, I am guided by Pamuk's self-declared identification with him (p. 287).

11 Bakhtin, “Forms of Time,” 92.

12 Here are some examples from the Turkish original: geçiverir, açıverince, ölüvermesi, itiraf ediverir, söyleyiverirdi. Pamuk, Orhan, Istanbul: Hatiralar ve Sehir (Istanbul: Yapi Kredi, 2003), 52Google Scholar, 101, 115, 209, 259.

13 He writes, “If I am to convey the intensity of the hüzün that Istanbul caused me to feel as a child, I must describe the history of the city following the destruction of the Ottoman Empire” (p. 91).

14 Pamuk, The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist, 155–78.

15 This is a feeling he has not only on the ferry but also during his walks of immersion in the city later. This explains the absence of a specific date for the second birth, because the integration of its vision into life takes time and maturation. Pamuk narrates the ferry episode both as a linear story and as a collage of disparate times that lead both to it and from it.

16 This chapter not only provides a historical framework for narrating Pamuk's discovery but also serves as an antidote to the young man's sense of uniqueness in two ways. First, it shows that something is never a single thing, but rather is always multiple things according to one's viewpoint. The title of “conquest or decline” does not pose a real juxtaposition. The historical event is both of those things when viewed from the different camps involved. Second, we see the destruction caused by an assessment of reality only from one angle because it lacks a useful critique. The plundering of Greek property in the 500–year celebration of the Turkish conquest is one such shameful example of a self-righteously narrow view of reality. The “March 1972” date expands the irony by placing the event exactly a year after the 12 March 1971 coup and serving as a check on any gushing celebration of military victory.

17 This is a direct allusion to the episode in Huzur (Peace) where the protagonists Mümtaz and Nuran discuss how a young person should find his/her place in life, describing Mehmet the Conqueror as one of the models of youthful genius who cannot be emulated. Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi, A Mind At Peace, trans. Göknar, Erdag (New York: Archipelago Books, 2008), 143Google Scholar. In Gürol's, Ender translation, Inner Peace (Madison, Wisc.: Turko-Tatar Press, 2007)Google Scholar, it is on page 103. Sultan Mehmet also appears in Pamuk's The Black Book, trans. Maureen Freely (New York: Vintage International, 2006) as the favorite disguise of the protagonist Celal.

18 Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot (New York: St. Martins, 1968), 216. “Rastignac, now alone, took a few steps toward the top of the cemetery and saw Paris winding tortuously along both sides of the Seine, where the lights were beginning to come on. His eyes became glued almost greedily on the area between the column of the Place Vendome and the dome of the Invalides where the high society he wanted to penetrate lived. He threw a glance over that humming hive as if to suck its honey for a quick foretaste and said these ambitious words, ‘It's you against me, now’” (my translation, from the French original of Balzac's Père Goriot, p. 216).

19 Pamuk writes in The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist, “I went like Balzac's hero Rastignac, to look down on Paris from the heights of Père Lachaise Cemetery” (p. 125).

20 Joyce, James, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: St. Martins, 2006), 154Google Scholar.

21 Pamuk references Nerval throughout his oeuvre. For example, Jenny Colon, the actress who was the greatest love of Nerval's life, but who never requited his love, is invoked as a brand name (like a Kate Spade) for the upscale bag that Kemal buys from the sales girl Fusun, which captures the course and tragic outcome of his obsessive love for her in The Museum of Innocence, trans. Maureen Freely (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

22 As Pamuk writes in the chapter on André Gide in his collection of essays Other Colors (trans. Maureen Freely [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007]), the negative views of Western writers were either censured and cut in translation by the Westernizing elite out of disbelief and pain or were internalized as part of Westernized Turkish identity, creating a complicated internal conflict that Pamuk says he also suffers from (pp. 205–13).

23 Pamuk presents his depression throughout, mostly in indirect ways, but there are direct references, such as this startling admission: “until the age of forty-five, it was my habit, whenever I was drifting in that sweet cloud between sleep and wakefulness, to cheer myself by imagining that I was killing people” (p. 21).

24 Here is an example of Pamuk's identification of his family as an Ottoman family: “until the year before I was born, different branches of the family had (as with many large Ottoman families) lived together in a stone mansion” (p. 9). Fittingly, as Pamuk mentions, most children in his family, including his brother and himself, are named after Ottoman royalty.

25 Both Beyatlı and Tanpınar define hüzün as the symptom of a cultural trauma, as a confusion over values caused by the loss of a former value and belief system that imbued life with meaning, but they have no desire to go back to the empire. There is a split between their cultural and political stances, which makes them difficult to be appropriated by different ideological camps. This is especially exemplified in their identification of the centrality of religion as the basis of the older harmonious way of life although they were not religious themselves.

26 All the following translations are my own, from Beyatlı, Yahya Kemal, Kendi Gök Kubbemiz (Istanbul: Istanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1999)Google Scholar.

27 Dün Fenerbahçe'de gördüm / Iri bir zümrüt içindeydi bahar . . .; Bu derin zümrütte / Biz de cananla beraber varız. From the poem “Fenerbahçe” in ibid., 60–61.

28 Körfezdeki dalgın suya bak bir göreceksin: / Geçmis gecelerden biri durmakta derinde:/Mehtab . . . iri güller . . . ve senin en güzel aksin / Velhasıl o rüya duruyor yerli yerinde! From the poem “Gecmis Yaz,” in ibid., 138.

29 O yazın, ah o engin çagda, / Geçti en son günü Viranbag'da. From the poem “Viranbag,” in ibid., 146.

30 Gunler kısaldı. Kanlıca'nin ihtiyarları/Bir bir hatırlamakta geçen sonbaharları. From the poem “Eylül Sonu,” in ibid., 59.

31 Karadan sevkedilen yüz gemi geçmis Halic'e; / Son günün cengi olurken, ne safakmis o safak, / Üsküdar, gözleri dolmus, tepelerden bakarak, / Görmüs Istanbul'a yüzbin melegin uçtugunu; / Saklamıs durmus, asırlarca hayalinde bunu. From the poem “Istanbul'un Fethini Gören Üsküdar,” in ibid., 29.

32 Beyatlı, Yahya Kemal, Siyasi ve Edebi Hatıralarım (Istanbul: Istanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1973)Google Scholar.

33 Nüket Esen argues that Pamuk uses various points of view, such as that of his younger self and of foreign travelers, in order to get to the truth of Istanbul through its various surets (manifestations) and that his method is informed by the Islamic conception of essence as that which can never be directly grasped but only partially understood through its manifestations. Esen, “Sehrin Suretleri: Anlatısal Odak Olarak Istanbul,” in Orhan Pamuk'un Edebi Dunyasi, ed. Esen and Kılıç (Istanbul: Iletisim, 2008), 265–72. Pamuk directly explores the discrepancy between face (representation) and essence through the theme of hurufism in the Black Book and his screenplay, Gizli Yüz (The Secret Face) (Istanbul: Can Yayinlari, 1991).

34 Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi, Huzur (Istanbul: Dergah Yayınları, 2004), 177Google Scholar (p. 205 in the Göknar translation and p. 146 in Gürol).

35 Pamuk cheekily expands this appellation to a bawdy reference when he mentions his friends’ envy at the fact that his girlfriend is sleeping with him. The real reclining woman in the book is the grandmother, who is directly connected with Renoir when she is described as “a round, relaxed woman from a Renoir painting” (p. 116). Time stopped for her with the death of her husband. Her reclining pose and her whole-morning breakfast ritual in bed, however luxurious, show her paralysis, which is so central to Pamuk's schema of hüzün.

36 The transfer of shaping authority from Istanbul to Pamuk in the reversal of cause and effect between them is also reflected in the transformation of the meaning of hüzün from a historical idea into a personal experience. The shifting of foreground and background in the representation of the two aspects of hüzün as collective and historical on the one hand, and as personal and psychological on the other, is like the French painter Pierre Bonnard's reversal of interior and exterior spaces, accomplished by playing with the boundary-marking images of windows and doors in his pictures. Bonnard is mentioned as Pamuk's model on pp. 277, 328, 332, 336.

37 (accessed 16 May 2011). The entry entitled Hüzün at the cassandra pages, dated 5 October 2006, has generated a long list of international posts in which readers identify with hüzün and point out that it exists in other cultures: “the Japanese would call hüzün, Mono no aware; the Germans, Weltschmerz; African Americans, the Blues; perhaps the Hopi call it Koyaanisqatsi.” In these examples, the word hüzün, with its wider currency, facilitates the translation of different languages into each other while showing the commonality of the emotion.

38 The translation of Huzur into English and German is one concrete example of this literary recirculation. Huzur has two English translations, which I have cited. The German translation is: Seelenfrieden, trans. Christoph Neumann (Zurich, Germany: Unionsverlag, 2008).

39 It is no accident that in Istanbul Pamuk pays homage to the “Miş” tense in Turkish (p. 8); this is a dialogic tense that allows one to speak in one's voice but always with the accent of other people, acknowledging that one's utterance already belongs to somebody else.

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