Culture Magazine

As I Prepare to Transform My Thoughts into Words

By Jaac
It is interesting that, according to his lectures published in The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, the visual is so important to Orhan Pamuk, not only in the writing of his own novels but of the form, as he sees it, in general:
Here is one of my strongest opinions: novels are essentially visual literary fictions. A novel exerts its influence on us mostly by addressing our visual intelligence -- our ability to see things in our mind's eye and to turn words into mental pictures. (p. 92) 
Certainly his own process of composition, as he describes it, would seem to bear this out:
When I write a chapter, a scene, or a small tableau (you see that the vocabulary of painting comes naturally to me!), I first see it in detail in my mind's eye. For me, writing is the process of visualizing that particular scene, that picture. I gaze out of the window as much as I look down at the page I am writing on with a fountain pen. As I prepare to transform my thoughts into words, I strive to visualize each scene like a film sequence, and each sentence like a painting. ( p. 93 - 94) 
Many of his novels -- at least those that have been translated into English -- do have a strong visual character. Here I am thinking of My Name is Red and The White Castle -- especially of its final, elliptical scene -- moments in Snow and, similarly, moments in The New Life -- where certain very visual images (particularly of objects) resonate throughout the writing -- as is also the case in his most recent novel, The Museum of Innocence, which might have been constructed, or at least yearned to have been constructed, out of the objects or images of these objects alone.What is most fascinating about his stated opinion in these lectures is that Orhan Pamuk sees the visual primarily in terms of landscape painting. 'Most novelists,' he declares in his first lecture, 'sense that reading the opening  pages of a novel is akin to entering a landscape painting.' And, in the fourth: 'looking at a landscape painting is much like reading a novel.' From both these lectures and his memoir, Istanbul: Memories of a City, we learn that, in his youth, before turning to writing, Pamuk had wanted to be an artist: in fact, a landscape artist. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that he should see what he is doing in these terms. Snow, which he has described elsewhere as his first and only political novel, begins with a visual description of the landscape passed in a journey through a blizzard between Erzurum and Kars. After all, as Pamuk writes on the opening page, 'our traveller [had] glued his eyes to the window next to him.'In all his novels, however, the voice of the narrator and/or the protagonist soon presses further forwards of any suggested landscape: the narrative moving quickly into the nebulous no-place and often distorting obsessions of the mind. The narrator interrupts Ka's journey in Snow with his reflections as soon as the eyes at the window have fallen asleep. On the first page of The Black Book, after a brief evocation of the streets of Istanbul, the narrator writes that Galip 'wanted to explore in full sunlight the willows, the acacias, the climbing rose in the enclosed garden of Rüya's tranquil sleep' and thus begins a labyrinthine journey through the obsessions of Galip and everyone he meets during his search for his wife in the landscape of Istanbul which he both sees and fails to see for itself. Even in My Name is Red -- which is the novel significant, as Pamuk claims in his Epilogue, for being the one during which he 'developed [his] ideas on the visual aspects of narration', the opening chapter 'I am a corpse' enlarges more upon the obsessions whirling around and through the rotting head of the corpse than the well or the landscape around it where, we have been told, the corpse has been thrown. Significantly, the one novel of his, at least in English, that Pamuk doesn't get round to mentioning in the course of these lectures is the novel which promoted him to bestseller status in Turkey, although not yet in the West: The New Life: a novel whose intense, forward moving narrative blurs the division between scenes and suggests less a sequence of tableaux -- and much less a film in any conventional sense -- than the somnambulant obsessions and gothic distortions of dreams. For the record, it is also interesting to remember that this book, as we learn in Pamuk's Other Colours: Essays and a Story, was conceived and written, as if to provide some respite, during the two year hiatus it created in the writing of his more consciously visual novel -- at least in its intentions: My Name is Red.

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