Week 4

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?

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15 Responses to Week 4

  1. Venessa says:

    In regard to the question of what Pamuk does to draw the reader into the story, he uses Kemal’s little snippets to explain certain items, customs, etc. with an international audience in mind. For instance, Kemal says “Aunt Nesibe was particularly fond of this formulation, familiar to Turkish readers, which foreign guests to our museum might not readily understand, due to its manifold applications – ‘to pay a visit,’ ‘to drop by,’ or ‘to spend some time with someone’ – not to be found in the dictionary” (Pamuk 295). Pamuk, through Kemal’s voice is mindful that he his book is not only for Turkish people, but also for anyone interested in literature. He keeps that thought throughout the text, as he explains different facts throughout the novel, for the benefit of the foreign reader. That is one aspect that makes Pamuk’s novel valuable. He interacts with a foreign audience through his narrative, which is something not common in international novels. Pamuk tries to unite readers in a sense, so that they can become a part of this book’s and the museum’s culture. Not only is he trying to create a sense of unity among foreign readers to Turkish readers, but he also wants everyone to have a shared experience while reading this novel, through the objects and the memories behind each. In relation to Wilde’s “The Decay Of Lying” the fact that we do not get the full range of emotion from Kemal, would make the novel, in Wilde’s view, a good work of art. Because Kemal’s character is distant and not portrayed in a realistic way, that produces a good piece of literature. According to Wilde, “The only real people are the people who never existed, and if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his personages he should at least pretend that they are creations, and not boast of them as copies. The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is. Otherwise the novel is not a work of art” (Wilde 5). The creation of characters that are not based on real people is the expression of the author, and rationalizes a work of art. If characters were based in realism, then a disconnect to the truthfulness and beauty of the piece of literature is produced, which would not be called art. The fact Kemal hides the deepest parts of himself from the reader is what makes the novel a work of art, because the deception of who is he makes the novel interesting.

  2. Emily Abrams says:

    In light of the striking ending of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, I find myself reevaluating my commentary about the novel’s constructed distance and my own personal distance from Kemal’s emotional journey. Throughout the novel, I felt as a reader that there was a constant knowledge gap so necessary for my immersion within the narrative. Such distance I easily attributed at the surface level to my general unfamiliarity with Istanbul culture and geography, and the physical distance from actual museum. On a deeper level, I felt increasingly disconnected with Kemal’s character as the full extent of his obsessive hoarding and veneration of Füsun’s possessions was revealed. The looming question, then, was why exactly Kemal was telling this story. Suspense plays a key role in drawing a reader into Pamuk’s peculiar novel. The climactic end arguably brings sense to Kemal’s emotional turmoil but, more importantly, closes the distance readers like myself may have felt throughout the novel.

    Füsun’s suicide brings sense to the emotional weight Kemal places on the objects in his museum. In his loss, even the most distant reader can feel sympathy for Kemal. Maybe, prior to this revelation, Kemal’s professed love for Füsun might have been the sufficient reason for his collection. To other readers, considering themselves as external viewers, as I did, his collection could have been perceived as purely obsessive, coupled with prolonged perplexity. We’re left constant asking a series of questions, such as why would Kemal make a museum for a woman that had all but disappeared, was later found married, and by all circumstances unattainable?
    Füsun’s death provides one definite answer: to memorialize a true love lost. Even if some find parts of his collection peculiar—such as retrieving 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette butts—empathy is nevertheless extended to Kemal in the wake of such a painful loss. Tragedy thus serves as a vehicle for resolving many questions to Kemal’s actions that otherwise have appeared obsessive – a heart breaking “aha” moment, a moment of full understanding. When Kemal poignantly reflects, “Truly I knew then, in the depths of my soul, that we had come to the end of our allotted portion of happiness, that our time had come to leave this beautiful realm, by way of racing toward the plane tree,” we, the readers, are left to digest his sorrow in the best way we can (487-488). Garnering empathy/sympathy, I believe, are some of the most effective tools that draw readers in an author’s text.

    Surely, as others in this class have noted, Kemal’s accounts of Turkish items, historical moments, culture and tradition all serve the purpose of drawing readers into the novel. Personally, it is the mental factor—the ability to connect with a protagonist mentally or emotionally—that draws me into the narrative. Here, Georg Lukàcs’ “The Epic and the Novel” delivers useful frame for which readers could consider Museum of Innocence an epic. Lukàcs describes, “The epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within; the novel seeks, by giving form, to uncover and construct the concealed totality of life” (60). Undeniably, in 531 pages, Orhan Pamuk delivers by all accounts an epic, chronicling decades of pining, love, loss, life after loss and commemoration (albeit, seemingly prolonged at times). Maybe someday we will visit the museum, with our novel’s included ticket in hand, and see for ourselves Kemal’s totality of a life in the pursuit of love and unexpected loss.

    A big question that remains in my mind is what does Kemal mean about his museum in the following line: “I could display my life—the life that first my mother, and then Osman, and finally everyone else thought I had wasted—where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.” What exactly is this “lesson” that Kemal mentions? Is it one of caution? Warning about not pursuing happiness when it comes knocking? Or, maybe, Kemal is giving us a greater lesson: what some may perceive as a life wasted may in fact have been a life well-lived.

  3. Deepika Khan says:

    Looking back at my response for week three of the blog, I noticed that I did not address the “distance” Orhan Pamuk creates between the reader and Kemal’s story. Though he undoubtedly creates distance through the use of class, gender, and cultural/geographic elements, I believe the greatest technical method Pamuk utilizes to keep his readers at bay is his choice of words. There are various places and endless names that appear throughout “The Museum of Innocence.” I don’t think I have ever read a book that had so many different characters with unique names mentioned in 83 chapters. Pamuk purposefully writes as a Turkish writer writing an originally Turkish novel for presumably a Turkish audience in mind. But I would argue that Pamuk also tries to close the large gap between Western and Eastern societies and cultures by asking questions in an attempt to understand the Western world. For example, while visiting a hotel in Paris, Kemal contemplates, “What did these Europeans think about me? What did they think about us all?” (Pamuk 496). I regard ‘all’ as all those that are not a part of the Western culture, particularly us in this class (considering we are American students reading a Turkish novel). Kemal goes on to conclude that most “Proud Ones” (Pamuk 503), collectors that are unashamed to show off their collections to the world, are from the West. The last chapter, in particular, invites readers from all over the world to directly engage with the text. Kemal admits ultimately he wants his museum to “teach not just the Turkish people but all people … to take pride in the lives they live” (Pamuk 518), regardless of whether or not they feel shameful of the events of their life. Furthermore, while talking to Pamuk outside the Merhamet Apartments, Kemal emphasizes his desire for “visitors to the museum and people who read [Pamuk’s] book” to eventually “understand us” (Pamuk 531). Including an actual ticket stub to the museum in the contents of the book encourages people of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, etc. to close the gap between them and those regarded as the ‘others.’ I think we recognize a contemporary classic when we see one by the way it is written. Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” is written in a modern form of English that is easy to understand, whereas the early translations of Plato’s “The Republic” were no doubt difficult to read. Writing in modern English may make a text contemporary, but what makes it a classic? I’m not sure how to answer this question but hopefully, we can discuss it in class.
    After reading Georg Lukàcs “The Epic and the Novel,” I would categorize Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” as an epic. Lukàcs states, “the epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within” (Lukàcs 60), much like Kemal’s journey to find true “happiness” in life with Füsun (Pamuk 511). What makes Pamuk’s novel an epic is the full circle love story of Kemal and Füsun, which unfortunately ends in the latter’s tragic suicide. Many years later, on the 50th anniversary of his lover’s birth, Kemal joins Füsun in the afterlife. Pamuk’s protagonist achieves a “totality of life” by eventually finding true happiness before his untimely death (Lukàcs 60).

  4. If I could I think I’d build an essay around Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying.” I really like how it can be juxtaposed with Harvey’s elements of the academic essay. For example when Wilde writes “as one knows the poet by his fine music, so one can recognize the liar by his rich rhythmic utterance, and in neither case will the causal inspiration of the moment suffice” in intersects with a lot of what Harvey writes about stance, orient, and style. The essay, if anything else, is meant to be persuasive, more than informative at times. When reading them language is used subtly to convey a certain biased, whether intentionally or not to the reader.

    However, this also raises the subsequent question of “Is it more important if parts of the essay are true or not?” To use an anecdote that happened to you vs. one that didn’t but is more fitting. To skew a memory so it makes the scene more poignant in writing and so you have a better introduction, or to use a made-up one entirely is also relevant to this. While true, unlike fiction you can’t just make up facts, you can certain make up parts of the essay.

    “The final revelation is that Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art” writes Wilde. To treat the essay any more true than fiction is perhaps, absurd. For the key terms I would pair it with “fact/fiction, true/false, and realism” because these two really highlight those lines and how often they’re not totally definable within the essay. How many pieces for the times are based on carefully crafted and edited pieces that didn’t really happen? How many essays has any one of us handed in for a class and wrote about something false in order to make the theme/meaning of the piece “true.”

    “There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it too true” seems to sum it up a lot better than I can and while this could lead to a lot of debate on “well then-do you want an essay of lies?” I think to be said about style it makes it clear; write what the reader needs to see not in order to understand your “facts” but to feel them.

    Maybe this means the form of the essay is more fiction than non-fiction. Maybe it means taking facts and allowing your biased to shine through the prose is what brings it alive. Maybe to make up you craft a perfect vision to show someone “Look how I interpret these truths, now can you see them my way?”

    I don’t think there’s really one set way to analyze it and the less someone worries about true/false is something to save for a second or third draft. It’s more about interpretation. Unless you’re writing about politics. But I mean this in more of an “analyzing literature/movies/video games/etc” sort of way.

  5. Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” continues to create a sense of distance between the reader and the protagonist, even as the text comes to a close. He writes, “Careful readers will remember that it was this same retired constable whom I had asked to track down Fusun and her family eight years before” (Pamuk, 465). Yes, I saw that Kemal addresses the readers however he never uses the word “you.” He uses “readers” to addresses us, which made me feel distant from the protagonist. I noticed that he addresses us, the readers, a bit more towards the end of this text. Kemal tells us how, “We can draw a veil over those two months that preceded the past nine years.’ Actually, dear reader, it was a month and a half, less than two days” (Pamuk, 457). When Fusun tells Kemal, she is a virgin and should forget the two months she had an affair with him; Kemal corrects her by telling us how long the affair actually lasted. Here, he was a bit more affectionate with us by using the words “dear reader.” We also see how important this relationship was to Kemal because he not only remembers how many months this affair went on for, but the days as well.

    Moving away from Pamuk’s text I wanted to focus on Georg Lukacs’s “The Theory of the Novel” for a bit. Lukacs states, “The epic hero is, strictly speaking, never an individual. It is traditionally thought that one of the essential characteristics of the epic is the fact that its theme is not a personal destiny but the destiny of the community” (Lukacs, 66). Lukacs explains how an “epic hero” is not one person, instead it deals with the fate of a community. One could write a paper on a text discussing an epic hero. I would, first, have people read Lukacs’s text and see what ideas stand out to them. Then, I would have them read Gordon Harvey’s text to understand what a motive and thesis is. I would want them to remember that motive is, “the reason, which you give at the start of your essay, why might someone want to read an essay on this topic, and hear your particular thesis argued” (Harvey, “A Brief Guide to the Elements of the Academic Essay”). When they’ve finished reading these two texts, then I would create an essay question for people to answer about epic heroes.

  6. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    After finishing Pamuk’s novel, I am still contemplating the text’s allure to foreign readers. Increasingly, I am coming to believe that the novel succeeds in drawing in an international audience not through ample references to particular relics of the time, nor through Kemal’s pandering within the narrative to the museum guest and reader, but instead through the sheer force of a grave tale of human suffering.

    It’s worthwhile, if obvious, to point out in the start that not all deeply sad books garner the audience that Pamuk’s text does. This is, I assume, for a slew of reasons unrelated to the work of fiction itself – everything from publisher, to time and location released, to reputation of the author, to translation status—could be the cause of a disparate popularity of Pamuk’s novel over, say, the equally “valuable” writing of someone in another corner of the world. It is more interesting, I think, to consider the popularity of the text as a product existing within Casanova’s “world literary space.” In other words, to think about why Pamuk’s novel is appealing or valuable to foreign audiences, ignoring the path that the work first took to reach this audience. Following again the idea of distance that my classmates so interestingly wrote about last week, there is something quite fascinating to be said about this novel’s relationship with its reader.

    While there is distance created (imposed?) between the work and the non-Turkish reader due to the lack of knowledge about geography, society, and other hallmarks of life during that time and in that place, as well as distance due to the way in which Kemal tells this story – as a museum guide walking us through his lovelorn years — I detect a sense of camaraderie between reader and the novel’s protagonist. Because of his affair with Füsun, Kemal is exiled from his echelon of society in Istanbul. By the close of the novel, his days still pass on the outskirts of this once-familiar circle. As the reader progresses through the novel, and thus through the Museum of Innocence itself, they become more acclimated to the society from which Kemal has fallen. In a sense though, we foreign readers never fully acclimate – and, I would argue, neither has Kemal from his tragic fall. The distance imposed on a reader through consuming this novel in translation and through navigating the various other boundaries previously mentioned pushes us not further from the narrative but, rather, more surely into it. As readers, even when we cannot relate to or understand the references within the text, we can all understand, feel even, the visceral hurt that comes from losing someone once loved. We may not know the movies that graced the screens of outdoor summer cinemas in the mid-70s, but the dull pain that remains through heartbreak transcends national boundaries and time. The dialectical nature of memory and love cannot help but draw a reader in, even when all else may push us away. Kemal and the reader each fulfill the role of the outsider, in their own way. Neither may understand the other, but there is shared ground to collapse the distance between them.

    Pamuk writes, “Isn’t the purpose of the novel, or of a museum, for that matter, to relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness all can share?” (337). Whether this is a novel of happiness or of great sorrow can be discussed; however, the spirit of the sentiment is important. Art is, according to this idea, intended to bring the individual and his feelings, experiences, and thoughts closer to the collective. Life for Kemal does not imitate art, but rather feeds into it as a sort of living experimental aesthetic piece. Admittedly, I don’t know how well this fits into Wilde’s artistic aspirations, but I would venture to guess that the attempts of realism within Pamuk’s novel, and the feeling of “truth” that accompanies the narrative, run counter to Wilde’s assertion that the proper aim of art is the telling of “beautiful untrue things.” Having now finished the novel, I don’t feel lied to – but, I wish for an audience of my own to share my experience with me.

  7. The questions posed by Professor Fisk this week are difficult ones, so excuse me if I ramble incoherently. I’m not always the best at articulating myself, especially in an informal format such as this.

    How do we recognize a contemporary classic when we see one? Honestly, I’m not sure I would always be successful in doing so if I didn’t know that I was reading a contemporary classic ahead of time. When I read “White Teeth,” I could feel that I was reading a contemporary classic – but maybe that’s because it was presented to me as such. For a class last semester, I read ”The City and The City” by China Miéville which I thoroughly enjoyed but would not personally consider a contemporary classic. I don’t know why I wouldn’t consider it a classic, exactly. It might be because it’s sort of genre fiction, which isn’t my favorite, but that isn’t really a fair way to decide whether something is a classic. I could be wrong, too. It might be widely considered a contemporary classic and I’m just ignorant of its status. So, how can I recognize a contemporary classic when I see it? At this point, I would be inclined to say I can’t. I don’t think any individual reader can be the arbiter of whether a work has ascended into the canon of contemporary classics; I think such a status must be given by a group of readers. A text is a classic, I think, when it has broad appeal and is nearly universally acclaimed as a darn good book.

    By what criteria should we decide whether Pamuk’s work is valuable or not? Well, I don’t know. How do we define valuable? Different readers are going to value the same text differently and for different reasons. Oscar Wilde might like the first part of Pamuk’s novel – a story of a Turkish playboy having a love affair with two women at once – but hate the desperate sadness of its conclusion. I, on the other hand, have the opposite opinion. Is my opinion lesser? Maybe, I mean, I’m no Oscar Wilde. I’d like to think that as a reader, though, the difference in opinion is what allows for open discourse about literature. Perhaps its ability to spark many different readings and opinions is what gives ”The Museum of Innocence” its value. Well, that and its thematic depth – the powerful depiction of women in Turkish society, of the cultural conflict between Turkey and Europe, and of the almost metafictional nature of representation in both literature and in everyday life. Even with such depth, does the novel have inherent value? Surely there are readers who would find nothing of value in its pages. Would they be wrong? I don’t think that’s possible. I might disagree with them, but again, I’m no Oscar Wilde.

    Is the distance that we’re describing a sign of high or low value? I have no idea, really, but I don’t think the distance has any value in-and-of-itself. I think what Pamuk, or any writer using such a mechanism, does with that distance is what gives it value, so we can’t use writer-reader distance alone as a litmus of literary value.

    I think maybe my thoughts about all of this are in desperate need of refocusing. I’m looking forward to our discussion on Tuesday.

  8. Jude Binda says:

    I’d like to build on what I said last week about the artifacts in museum being incapable of telling the full story. After thinking about it more, I began putting myself in Kamal’s shoes and wondering if I would be able to recount the details of all these events the way he does. I concluded that it would be impossible, so it would be fair to say the same about Kamal. Kamal may recall the things that happened to him in a big-picture kind of way, but I doubt everything he tells us is entirely accurate. Once I realized this, Kamal became somewhat of an unreliable narrator because he recounts parts of his life that are particularly emotional, which means we are reading these things through a romanticized lens.

    Think about a meaningful memory of your own and try to tell me that you remember, with as much specificity as Kamal, the details of it. Even if you could describe the memory to someone, it would be distorted because of the heightened emotions connected to it. Kamal says, “For me, happiness is reliving those unforgettable moments” (Pamuk 289). This makes it even more likely that Kamal’s accounts are not authentic because so much of his time is spent reliving the same memories. After going through these events in his mind over and over again, who knows how far it has morphed from the original to the version we got?

    All this is to say that there seems to be a considerable amount of distance between the way the events may have actually happened and the way they are portrayed in the novel. Everything we know about Kamal and the museum has come from Kamal himself. It’s a fickle issue because we, as readers, must consider the ways in which Kamal himself may not be able to accurately tell his story. Does this create even more distance between the reader and the novel? Does Kamal’s possible modification of the events change the way we should read the book? Does this distance make it more difficult for us to relate to Kamal? Connecting this back to the question of what makes a piece of literature valuable, in what way does the unintentional alteration of the narrative make the novel more or less valuable?

  9. Zara Diaby says:

    “Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as Thought as, and develops purely on its own lines…At other times it entirely anticipates its age and produces in one century work that it takes another century to understand, to appreciate and to enjoy. (Wilde).” Identity is an interesting and polarizing concept, what we consider to be self and ideas unique and inherent to us are concepts and ideals we acquire while navigating our societal space. In Wilde’s essay, The Decay of Lying, he tells the reader his ideas on art through the uses of Socratic dialogue, art is an entity unto itself and it gives birth to its own world with no help from Nature. Vivian discusses her disgust with nature stating, “if Nature had been comfortable, mankind would have never [had] invented architecture, and I prefer houses to the open air.” If reality were a place that was so moving and captivating then we would have no need for stories, we would have no need for the desire to escape, to live inside the universe crafted by an author.
    The Museum of Innocence is a world steeped in realism, while there may be some fantastical elements, the characters imitate the actions taken by us in the Natural world. His work is polarizing in the way he crafts his characters, I am an outside reader-my life rooted in America, whereas a person from Istanbul would readily recognize the names and places and things (some of them) mentioned in the novel, it was crafted with the Turkish reader in mind. The novel is an obvious slice of life with some fantastical elements added to it.
    While reading the novel, The Museum of Innocence, I had a lot of trouble identifying with Kemal, with most of the characters in the novel. While it would be easy to dismiss this distance as a cultural gap, I began to realize it was more on an interpersonal level, the names and the actions and attitudes adopted by the characters of is novel are vastly different from actions that would be taken by myself or people that I know.
    The actions taken by Kemal are answered once it is revealed Fusan has committed suicide and this book is a way for Kemal to alleviate his guilt and fondly reminisce about his past, similarly to a war veteran telling a story of a fallen fellow solider.
    I asked myself while reading this book, would this book be considered an instant classic, what is its appeal to overseas audiences and why did he draft this book? How can I define a book as an instant classic? Honestly, I do not know, I have no criterion in which to place this to help me navigate what denotes a classic or a non-classic. I like to believe that they can be works of art that are so moving in the sense of capturing the ideas and the hearts and minds of the people that they are considered to answers to societal queries. Most classics that I am familiar with are works that are either firsts in their respective fields are works that have changed the way we work and think, books such as Utopia or Lolita or Lord of the Rings or Frankenstein, even Harry Potter. What has Pamuk created to charge the title of classic within this book? One can argue that it captures the sense of nostalgia and regret, something most people are familiar with and on the other hand the characters are alienating and foreign to overseas readers, most classics even when they stand the test of history have a thread of familiarity, an ability to allow yourself to step in and take place and not feel lost. Classics to me are what Wilde wrote, the opening line I used for this blog post, classics are, “an independent life” that “expresses nothing but itself.”
    While reading Wilde’s essay there was a line that struck me as curious and I wanted to understand what he meant, “It follows, as corollary from this, that external Nature also imitates Art. The only effects that she can show us are effects that we have already seen through poetry, or in paintings. This is the secret of Nature’s charm, as well as the explanation of Natures weakness.”

  10. Like Maggie, I also think that The Decay of Lying would be a fascinating piece to delve deeper into. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of this work was how it mirrors the readings from Plato’s Republic from a few weeks back. The form is nearly identical, as are the characters; Vivian echoing Plato and Cyril echoing Glaucon. Interestingly though, the roles have swapped. Cyril asks Vivi-Plato the questions, and they deliver the responses. And both The Republic and The Decay of Lying are dealing with similar things – what is and isn’t good literature and how society might benefit from it or not. And to get really meta about both works – the argument can be made that Wilde’s work is one of the imitations Plato describes through the conversation taking place in his text. Wilde is using Plato’s form to talk about how literary reproductions of pure-realism are bad for art as a whole, much like how The Republic considers text three times removed from what is virtuous. How does the role reversal operate here in Wilde’s work? And what does it add to the commentary being made about the state of literature by both in the content of the work and the call back to Plato? I don’t know yet, but this is the exact way I go about formulating thesis or motives in my essays. Find some kind of weirdness – whether structural, formal, or in the content of the piece itself, and look to find out why it’s weird. Finding a point of tension between two texts like this is exactly the kind of interesting question we can ask readers that would compel them to see what we have to say.

    As an aside, I think that Vivian might be my spirit animal. Or at least my spirit-reader. Either way, I found myself nodding along (like one of Socrates’ good pupils) as she tore into the common praises of “realistic” literature. While I don’t agree with every one of her concerns (and certainly not her views of teachers) I found myself agreeing with more of what she said than I thought I would. Maybe it’s the fiction lover within me, but in a lot of ways what she said echoed my sentiments in my post for last week – that because of what the literary public perceives as “central” literature, certain fields are pushed out and not given the praise, study, and recognition they deserve on a global scale. Vivian says “No doubt there will always be critics who, like a certain writer in the Saturday Review, will gravely censure the teller of fairy tales for his defective knowledge of natural history, who will measure imaginative work by their own lack of any imaginative faculty, and will hold up their ink-stained hands in horror if some honest gentleman, who has never been farther than the yew-trees of his own garden, pens a fascinating book of travels…” (Wilde), and I couldn’t agree more with her sentiment. As someone who looks to new media as a valuable alternative to standard literature, I am constantly told that video games, movies, television, etc. is somehow not worth my time and that I’d be much better off pouring through Moby Dick. Not that there isn’t value there, but there is just as much value and literary “good” to be found not in the bindings of a book.

  11. From Wilde’s text, “The Decay of Lying” I understood that the way something is presented to us, is not necessarily what it actually is. From Cyril and Vivian’s conversation we understand that in terms of art, art can do things to us, like feeling emotions, and that we don’t really understand why that piece of art might trigger that to happen. One example that is given in the text is when Vivian talks about the Japanese art compared to the Japanese people. In “The Decay of Lying” by Oscar Wilde, the text states, “Now, do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence?…The Japanese people are the deliberate self-conscious creation of certain individual artists. If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, besides a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them.” This quote allows us to understand that the way something, like a piece of art, or a piece of literature, is portrayed may not necessarily be the reality of what the situation is.

    In “The Decay of Dying” by Oscar Wilde, the example of Japanese art compared to Japanese people makes us realize that things are not always what they appear to be. Instead, it is the way something is presented that creates a certain vision in your mind about what that reality could potentially be. But there’s this realization, that the presented work and the reality of the work are two separate things altogether. Wilde’s text, makes us realize that there is a distance between works of art or literature, and the real life experiences and moments in which these works are based off of. This brings us back to the idea of distance and its role in Pamuk’s novel, The Museum of Innocence.

    In The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, the author creates a clear divide between Kemal’s personal experiences and what the audience actually understands. The author chooses to do this choosing his wording carefully, and also by focusing on Kemal and his perspective. However, by doing this Pamuk limits the audience, but this also allows Pamuk, as an author, to edit out details which he may not want to reveal. This is what Wilde meant when he described the Japanese. That distance does exist, when creating these worlds in art and literature, there will always be a distance, and The Museum of Innocence proves this. It proves that what is presented and what exists in reality is different, possibly completely separate, but that distance is a distinction between the two. The way in which Pamuk chooses to portray the Turkish people may not be anything like what people from Turkey are actually like, this could just be Pamuk’s portrayal of that. But does the fact that Pamuk focuses on Turkish people also create a distance? Would it create distance, since European works are more commonly known and read? Once again, this would limit and distance his audience, as to who actually reads his work. Or could it be creating distance in a different way? Instead, if this is a misrepresentation of the Turkish people, would he then distance himself from them? Creating a limitation and distance between his work and the reality of the situation.

  12. Stacey McDonald says:

    In relation to the Lukacs reading required for this week, I really want to use this blog post to revisit my last post, as Jude did.
    Before delving into what may become a blog post with a mind of it’s own, I do want to say that I would absolutely categorize The Museum of Innocence as an epic.
    Last week, I said that Pamuk seems to hide the most intimate details about Kemal’s relationship with Fusun in plain sight, both in the book as well as within the walls of his museum. Well, after reading The Epic and The Novel, I began to wonder to what extent this was intentional. Lukacs states that “Every inhabitant of that home in the beyond has come from this world, each is bound to it by the indissoluble force of destiny, but each recognises it, sees it in its fragility and heaviness, only when he has travelled to the end of his path” (60), and I believe that in Pamuk’s case, he feels that the visitors to the museum, as well as the readers of his story, will only fully appreciate what he has presented them with once they have fulfilled their own destinies, be them what they may.
    If “the epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within” (Lukacs 60), then, in my opinion, this is absolutely the case for The Museum of Innocence. Kemal needed to attempt to move outside of his relationship with Fusun in order for him to move forward within it. Due, in part, to all of the unexpected love and loss that he experienced, Pamuk’s own life reached it’s totality, but had any single one of those events failed to occur, things may have wound up very differently for him, and for us, for this heart-wrenching epic may never have come to fruition.

  13. When delving deeper into Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Living”, a moment that particularly grabbed my attention was this notion of a “lost leader” returning to society – “the cultured and fascinated liar” (Wilde 6). This surprised me for a moment, I recalled earlier in the text when lying was viewed as “an art, a science, and a social pleasure” (2) but seeing it held with such regard, left me confused. I guess if one were to truly examine a lie and in that case an efficient liar, I suppose there could be some skill in being able to craft a lie and make people completely believe this fabrication. Nevertheless, taking it so far as to consider a liar as this “messiah” coming to save the day left me perplexed.

    I guess being able to lie is what makes an artist so talented? We don’t view a writer like J.K Rowling as a liar for being able to construct fantasylands like Hogwarts, or blame an actor like Tom Cruise for being able to believably play a secret agent. This connects to Vivian’s comment that “the aim of the liar is simply to charm, to delight, and to give pleasure. He is the very basis of civilized society” (7) believing that without him, even the most lively event would be dull. Without artists, life would be boring. I think that being able to craft any form of art makes someone special because they are able to create/embody something essentially out of thin air.

    As an audience, we merely consume the material and find enjoyment in what we observe. In fact, I think while we are in this state of consumption, we have a tendency put ourselves in the character’s shoes and wish we were them- a spy, a wizard, a celebrity. Or we go outside of the character and aspire to have the same talent these artists have.

    With a Liar, Art thrives. It is finally able to escape “the prison house of realism” (7) and with this freedom, Wilde notes that subsequently Life “poor, probable, uninteresting human life… will follow meekly after him, and try to reproduce, in her own simple and untutored way, some of the marvels of which he talks” (7) as if consequently Life will always find a way become the knockoff version of Art, trying to be what it cannot. I think in some ways this is true. There is a belief that there is nothing ever new in art whether that is fashion, Hollywood, music etc. Once there is a “new” anything there will always be people that attempt to replicate it and pass it off as theirs. I believe it is in these moments that Wilde is right. Art isn’t being represented, it is merely Life trying to reproduce what Art and the Liar have created- an original piece.

  14. If Pamuk’s novels are considered outside of the literary space that Casanova describes, yet they are readily available to us within that space, Pamuk has mastered both content and form (lack of form?). In The Museum of Innocence his mastery manifests his creatiion of a sense of distance, one that in turn draws readers in. Specifically, the novel itself is performative; it prompts readers to not only consider the objects Kemal refers to, but also to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch those objects. As far as the popular topic of distance, that Pamuk creates some type of distance points to a certain type of closeness that I think may be just as relevant.

    Among the most interesting facets of The Museum of Innocence is the combination of genres: life writing, historical, romance, and tragedy), the points of views, and the given descriptions of people, places, and things. The fact that Pamuk created a literal museum based on a fictional novel, is quite unique. Further, Pamuk uses himself in the novel as a fictional character. He blurs the lines of realism past it’s already blurry criterion. To consider what kinds of truth we may expect from a realist novel, I wonder, what kinds of truth we may expect from Kemal? Kemal’s truth—his 500-plus-page reality—manifested into a work of art—the museum, and that is not an everyday realist novel. Anywsy, would we consider the museum a work of art?

    From Lukàcs, I was drawn to these lines: “What is a symbol in tragedy becomes a reality in the epic: the weight of the bonds linking an individual destiny to a totality. World destiny, which in tragedy is merely the number of noughts that have to be added to 1 to trans- form it into a million, is what actually gives the events of the epic their content; the epic hero, as bearer of his destiny, is not lonely, for this destiny connects him by indissoluble threads to the community whose fate is crystallised in his own” (67). The symbols of Kemal’s history—his country, his pains, loves, losses, and happiness—transcend his character and became a part of Pamuk and Istanbul’s reality both inside and outside of a fictional space. Kemal’s life (a lie), then, became a permanent fixture within that place’s history—within it’s fabric—and rightfully so, since the place prescribed what was to become of him.

    My favorite line from Wilde is, “The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear.” Although it may be difficult for many readers to identify with Kemal, surely, readers can see and believe in his world through his eyes, and realize that his emotions—both what he explicitly describes and implicitly indicates—are all quite possible for anyone to experience themselves.

    In consideration of developing a motive or thesis with Wilde or Lukàcs in mind, I would focus on how truth is defined within realism, and explore the evolution of realism—in what ways genre-conformity may limit a text.

  15. Khurram says:

    Would it surprise anyone if they learned Orhan Pamuk read Oscar Wilde’s doctrine of life imitating art far more often than art imitating life before he built his real-world museum?

    Not that I agree with what Wilde wrote, which, if I understand correctly, suggests that life carries in it the instinct of mimicry and the desire for expression, and art isn’t a confirmation of those drives but perhaps an inspiration for them, and certainly a catalyst for realizing those instincts. Art is a collection of lies that life will belatedly adopt and turn into truth, the value of which is freedom from a convention that overvalues dull truths and dismisses “beautiful lies.” I’m not sure I agree with this, but I like how this – and Wilde’s other doctrines – combats the (I would say, to one extreme) concept of realism, where realism is a place on a true/false scale where everything that is true in life finds its footing in an otherwise fictitious (by definition) novel. That is, the quest for realism introduces rules to a genre that’s designed to be free of limits.

    I call this an extreme concept of realism in the parenthetical above because I don’t think it leaves room for the value of blurred lines. Morrison’s Song of Solomon comes to mind: a world that feels it could be lived in for its realism also has bones and ghosts.

    But I think there’s an interesting question here on how a novel, particularly one like Pamuk’s that was based in the real world (albeit a distant one), made a fictitious monument, and then birthed that monument back into the real world, can have value as a creative (that is, like religious or parental creation, not creativity) force. We often think of realism in a novel as this kind of well-researched quality that gives said novel didactic, historical importance but mimics life. And we often think of the “creation” value of a work of art as creating a new style of storytelling, or a new genre.

    But what if realism could be something more literal, like a quality in a well-written novel that creates real things in the real world from its fictional one? And what if its creation isn’t sequestered to literary analysis like prose form or genre categories, but literal architecture? What if a beautiful lie makes floors you can walk on and displays you can peruse? What if a novel could be godlike?

    I think there has to be a catalog of these kinds of instances somewhere, and finding that catalog (or creating it) could be a worthwhile essay question. I think I’d call that essay, “The Nonfiction Museum of Fiction: Pamuk, Writer #2, Writer #3, and the Novel as a Creator.”

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