Your posts from last week were so interesting– so full of ideas, representing so much engagement with the texts and with each other– that I really wish we’d met to talk about them. Since we didn’t, I want to carry a few of your ideas from last week into this week, too, as we get into the last set of critical readings that are paired with The Museum of Innocence.
And I also want to start talking about essays, annotations, and thesis, so you can have these things in mind as we talk about other things. One of our readings for this week is Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Essay,” which is a short inventory of the ingredients we should find in every good piece of academic writing. Let’s focus on the first two “elements”– thesis and motive– this week and use them to organize our discussion about the rest of the texts. We’ll also start talking about “keyterms,” and I’m going to start adding a tab to that part of the blog as well so we can accumulate references that may be useful for you as you start your thesis.
OK! I hope we’ll talk this week about the various kinds of “distance” you describe. I was interested to hear you talk about the icy quality of the affective/emotional engagement that Pamuk constructs between his reader and his protagonist– and I was really interested to hear you read this kind of distance in terms of class, gender, and cultural/geographic distance. (I think there are a wealth of paper topics here!)
Stacey wrote a really elegant paraphrase of Casanova’s argument, which seems relevant for this discussion. She writes that “Pascale Casanova’s “Literature as a World” in short lays the claim that if a country does not have a high standing in either the economic or political worlds, the works of it’s writers are less likely to see the world beyond their countries borders.”
Pamuk comes from a nation that is marginal–that is, without high standing– in the “world literary space” that Casanova describes, but Pamuk’s novels circulate broadly nonetheless through nations that have historically been central in that global sphere. That means that it’s kind of remarkable that we have access to his novels at all, and it raises a question: What does Pamuk do in this text to bring a reader like you into it, even though that is statistically unlikely to happen?
We might use that question ^^^ as a way into the more general question that Maggie asks: “What makes some literature valuable and some not? Not necessarily good, just valuable. Not because of a literary rebirth or a city, but why we still read “the classics” when are they still classics, or are they outdated?”
This is a question with particular pertinence when we’re talking about literature of the contemporary period, like Pamuk’s. How do we recognize a contemporary classic when we see one? By what criteria should we decide whether Pamuk’s work is valuable or not?
And is the distance that you’re describing a sign of high value, or low?
A number of you also talked about the effects to which we see the novel’s setting and its other characters through Kemal’s eyes. (In theoretical terms, we could say that Kemal focalizes the novel.) But there’s also a paradox here. Seeing the world through the protagonist’s eyes isn’t the same thing as identifying with him, as Anjila suggested:
“Distance is also used in order to limit the audience, and to focus on Kemal. In the text, it states, ‘With all my will, I resolved to extract myself from this bed, this room, and these objects that had aged so beautifully, that were so heavy, with the fragrance of happy love, each one murmuring, creaking, rustling of its own accord’ (Pamuk 157). From this quote, we see only Kemal’s perspective, which is what we see throughout the book. The audience is never truly addressed, but Kemal’s perspective is always on display without giving the audience too much into his emotions.”
This will lead us also into the readings from Wilde and Lukacs about the kinds of truth we expect to get from a realist novel. If you were going to use one of these theoretical texts to develop an essay question– or a thesis, or a motive– how would you do it? What keyterms might help you, and how might you use them?