Culture Magazine

Mr. Pamuk, Are You a Naive Novelist Or a Sentimental One?

By Jaac
The title of Orhan Pamuk's 2009 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, comes, as he explains in his first lecture, from Friedrich Schiller's essay, "Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung" (On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, 1795-1796). The word 'sentimental' here is a false friend, as Pamuk explains. In Schiller's essay it is intended 'to describe the state of mind which has strayed from nature's simplicity and power and has become too caught up in its own emotions and thoughts.' Pamuk writes about how Schiller had envied what he saw as Goethe's effortless brilliance -- his naivety -- which he saw in contrast to his own more complex tendency to think too much. Pamuk then goes on to reflect:
While reading "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry" thirty years ago, I too -- just like Schiller raging at Goethe  -- complained of the naive, childlike nature of Turkish novelists of the previous generation. They wrote their novels so easily, and never worried about problems of style and technique. And I applied the word "naive" (which I increasingly used in a negative sense) not only to them but to writers all over the world who regarded the nineteenth-century Balzacian novel as a natural entity and accepted it without question. (p.18)

Surprisingly, then, in his Epilogue to the lectures, Pamuk writes:

When I was in my twenties and first read the essay by Schiller that informs this book, I wanted to become a naive writer. Back then, in the 1970s, the most popular and influential Turkish novelists wrote semi-political, semi-poetic novels that took place in rural settings and small villages. In those days, becoming a naive writer whose stories were set in the city, in Istanbul, seemed a difficult goal to achieve. Since I delivered these lectures at Harvard, I have been repeatedly asked, "Mr. Pamuk, are you a naive novelist or a sentimental one?" I would like to emphasize that, for me, the ideal state is one in which the novelist is naive and sentimental at the same time. (p. 189)

Which Pamuk do we believe, the one who speaks first or the one that writes afterwards? Or perhaps there is only the classic Pamuk predicament: that while he thought he despised these naive, childlike writers, all along he just wanted to become one of them -- that he wanted to become somebody else.

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