Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My name is Red

Est es también otro ensayo que tuve que hacer, está basado en My name is Red de Orhan Pamuk y también me gustó leer, escribir e investigar sobre él.

Before analyzing a book, any book, we need to understand the author and his ideology; in this case, we have to understand Orhan Pamuk. He was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in the district of Nisantasi, one of the wealthiest districts of this city. He grew up in a large family, and from his childhood until the age of 22 he was very much interested in painting and in becoming an artist. He graduated from the American Robert College and afterwards studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University but failed because he gave up on his dream of becoming an artist. He did, however, graduated in journalism, but never worked as one. At age 23 he decided he wanted to become a novelist, and therefore started writing and hasn’t stopped since then.
Among the awards he has received are The Peace Prize, the Le Priz Médicis étranger, the Richarda Huck Prize, and many others. It is worth mentioning that different countries like France, Germany and the United States have given many of these awards. He is also an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the Chiese Academy for Social Sciences. Most importantly, in 2006 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest person to receive the award in its history .
My name is Red was published in 1998, and translated to English in 2001. It is established in Istanbul, Pamuk’s hometown, in 1591, and he considers it his “most colourful and optimistic novel” . It is considered a contemporary novel because of its uses of modernist and postmodernist techniques.
The story, in My name is Red, develops in nine days and it tells the story of the proficient miniaturists, whom under the commands of the Ottoman Sultan draw illustrations that try to copy the western style of painting. “Several Ottoman sultans were bibliophiles; it was a tradition for members of the elite to have libraries, and respect for knowledge found expressions in luxuriously appointed manuscripts with fine bindings” . In Pamuk’s website, My name is Red is described as “The novel in which everyone speaks with their own voice, even dead people and furniture start to talk, is about death, art, love, marriage and happiness as well as a requiem for the forgotten beauties of pictorial art.”
Why does it mention that it is “the novel in which everyone speaks with their own voice”? That is because, as it implies, this is a novel with multiple narrators. Each character is given the space to make his or her, or even it, position known and their ideology. This multiple narrators often change their narrative voices from a 1st person to a 2nd person.
“My death conceals an appalling conspiracy against our religion, our traditions and the way we see the world. Open your eyes, discover why the enemies of the life in which you believe, of the life you're living, and of Islam, have destroyed me. Learn why one day they might do the same to you."
When the characters change to a 2nd person narrative voice they address the reader directly, and therefore they convey their ideas and ideologies more effectively. But they keep being equiscient narrators, who possess the same information that the characters possess. We, readers, get to know what is happening in an immediate way: as if it were occurring instantly. The readers have to be the ones to connect all the dots and find out the truth. The stream of consciousness the narrators use, as their representation of discourse, is the free flow of the characters thoughts. They ask themselves questions, they make their own conclusions and we can tell what they are thinking and doing. We can also see free indirect speech, because we can see a characters speech or thought by combining direct discourse with narratorial commentary.
“What was the narrative that this representation was meant to embellish and complete? As I regarded the work, I slowly sensed that the underlying tale was the picture itself. The painting wasn’t the extension of the story at all, it was something in its own right.”
In Orhan Pamuk’s website review it even mentions, “dead people and furniture start to talk”, which means there’s an embodiment of objects. Dogs, paintings, and many others, are embodied with human qualities, such as speech and thinking, and it enhances the narration and the plot.
“I’m a dog, and because you humans are less rational beasts than I, you’re telling yourselves, ‘Dogs don’t talk.’ Nevertheless, you seem to believe a story in which corpses speak and characters use words they couldn’t possible know. Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”
Each object has a symbolic significance that will help the reader deepen his understanding of the narratives by the human characters. The presence of multiple narrators allow us to have, as readers, a pluralism of points of view, which as mentioned before, will help the reader to construct the meaning.
In the novel, Islamic history, their culture and their tales were very important, but most important of all were their arts, not only painters but also “scribes, illuminators, gilders, tent-makers, designers, bookbinders, leatherworkers, and sculptors; some were proficient at several crafts. Moreover, their status had risen to the extent that some were boon companions of the prince himself” . So, why is art so important? According to Robert Hillenbrand, “Persian painting had now (15th century) found itself and henceforth generations of artists strove to achieve perfection in this style” , which we can very much see in the novel in the existent competition among the four master miniaturists. But there were no individuals in the eastern way of illustrating; the identity was one of a group not of individual artists. In Islamic Art and Architecture it is mentioned, “… these painters, like their predecessors, customarily favoured the general at the expense of the particular…Figures are sharply differentiated, but the sense of a living, unique personality is generally absent”. There was no individual identity, only that of a group, of the Herat. In the novel it is discussed if an image can survive independent of the text it is intended to illustrate:
“I thank Allah that I, the humble tree before you, have not been drawn with such intent. And not because I fear that if I’d been thus depicted all the dogs in Istanbul would assume I was a real tree and piss on me: I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.”
With this quote we can see it is so, but we, once again, encounter the topic of identity and alterity, which is the reflection I see of myself in you. The tree is conscious it is only the representation of a tree, which coincides with what we will think of it. Because of this, we as readers will experience catharsis, the limits between identity and alterity have been trespassed.
We can see issues of power, gender, secrecy, society, and cultural diversity. This very last one is the most important because it is the one that creates the whole conflict in the first place. The eastern miniaturists wanted to copy the style of the westerners. “It seems that a democratic spirit was in the air, a quietly subversive set of values that exalted the common man and his daily tasks and made him a mirror for the selfishness of his ‘betters’” . The miniaturists illustrations “weren’t trying to represent the real world; on the contrary, it was about symbolic representations, in which conception and distribution of scenery, architectonic monuments and characters only worked according to pictorial grace and the drawing’s harmony” . This conflict created a clash of civilizations, where the miniaturists ended up feeling confusion and pain. According to history:
“The earnestly literal bent of Ottoman painters was fundamentally at odds with the conventions within which they were operating. Constantly refined to keep real world at a distance, and to transform nature into art. Thus Persian painters appealed to imagination to decode their images. Most of these images were transferred wholesale into Ottoman painting, but in the process they lost much of the inner relationship between figures, or between figure and landscape or buildings, which had given the original its depth and nuance.”
Imagination and fantasy became very important for the miniaturists, as we see in My name is Red, when, being new in the Venetian techniques they had to recur to imagination. But not only bad things come out of this clash of civilizations, history shows that: “Yet at its best, Ottoman painting – profiting, it seems, from the example of Italian Renaissance artists – produced a series of excellent portraits which owe virtually nothing to the Persian tradition. Here are a mastery of line and a series of happy inspirations in pose and colour evoke both the public and the private faces of royalty” .
And just like it mentioned, in this novel, we can see the private and public spaces within the multitude of characters. In the public space we can see how everyone appears to be, that is around town, in the café, in the workshops, but this are only portraits of what it is really beneath the flesh of the characters. As for the private space, we can see the feminine, the secrets, intrigue, death and mystery of every action the characters do, especially with Shekure, who is elusive, changeable, enigmatic and beguiling, in order to get everything she wants.
“Shekure had already begun to read Black’s letter. I looked into her face intently and angrily. This woman was probably such a fox that she could control how her passions were reflected in her face.”
And since we have already mentioned Shekure, we can talk about gender equality in this novel, which is pretty much inexistent. Women are supposed to stay at home and be subjected to the will of men. Only cunning woman can be free of this, like Esther and Shekure, even when she doesn’t know what she wants and uses people for her own gain.
In My name is Red we can see modern and post-modern narrative techniques, which are part of contemporary novels. In post-modernism the “meaning is imposed on the world by us, rather than existing in the world independently of us. There are many ways to structure the world, and those are meanings or perceptions for any event or concept.” In the novel the readers have to “find out” who commited the murder, the reader is intelligent and it is the one who gives meaning to the reading. Another modern narrative tecniques that Pamuk uses are: break in temporality, we usually learn about things with flashbacks or flashforwards, not in a tradition way of narrating, multiple narrators, stream of consciousness, and many others which have been previously analyzed.
Orhan Pamuk’s novel gives us insight into a world we don’t know much about, the eastern world, and we can compare it with the world we live in, the western world. It is a novel of romance, mistery, secrecy, but above all, art.

• "Biography." Orhan Pamuk. Iletisim Publishing, 06 may 2010. Web. 6 May 2010. .
• "My name is Red." Orhan Pamuk. Iletisim Publishing, 06 may 2010. Web. 6 May 2010. .
• Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. 1st ed. 1 vol. New York: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1999. Print.
• Pamuk, Orhan. My name is Red. 1st ed. London, England: Faber and Faber Limited, 2001. Print.
• Simpson, Marianna. El arte islámico. 1st ed. Barcelona, España: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 1983. 46. Print.
• "Moon Palace - post-modern narrative techniques." Mega Essays. Mega Essays, 07 may 2010. Web. 7 May 2010. .


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