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“The melancholy of ruins”: Hüzün in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul:Memories of a City Krishna Barua Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.

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Presentation on theme: "“The melancholy of ruins”: Hüzün in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul:Memories of a City Krishna Barua Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati."— Presentation transcript:

1 “The melancholy of ruins”: Hüzün in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul:Memories of a City Krishna Barua Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati

2 The geographic turn with its specificity and spatiality, territoriality and locality is being adapted in wide range of literary critical contexts. Geography is one of the explicit conditions shaping the production and reception of texts. The cityscape within the territorial imagination stands as a rediscovery of distance,size and location in representation..

3 Cities are sites of cultural exchange. A city is a body of habits, customs, traditions, and attitudes. It is not merely an artificially constructed physical mechanism but a collective unity. It is a social institution that is defined by a complex web of actions and responses to a particular environment. The wealth of locations, objects, and people that the city provides contributes to a person’s sense of belonging to the world

4 A public space :a context for the development of a character. It provides a context from which a character develops. It is location of human expression, where men internalize the qualities of the city that they inhabit. Thus, a city stands as a site of human expression, where men internalize the qualities of the city that they inhabit - a process that is equally reciprocated by the city.


6 Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City. Published in English in 2005, the text is a translation by Maureen Freely of the Turkish version, Istanbul: Hatıralar Ve Şehir, published in the year 2003. This paper aims to discuss Pamuk’s self/city-memoir in the light of the dialectics of the East and the West that defines the cultural ideology of the city, and read the text as a cross-cultural narrative by locating the melancholy or hüzün of Istanbul (which, for Pamuk, is the definitive feature of the city) as a site of cross-cultural exchange.

7 Turkey rests in the confluence of Europe and Asia, so that Istanbul is a veritable locus of the East and West. Such locational plurality often results in a cultural clash because it shows how central the city has been in history, and how the dynamics of its civilization are constituted by the constant interfaces between the East and the West. The ambivalence of the cultural setting posits a challenge to the formation of one’s identity because this meeting of the East and the West produces, at least for Istanbul, a sense of cultural unease rather than cultural vibrancy.

8 this ambivalent location offers us an insight into a culture that is trying to negotiate a middle path between what it was and what it is now. The teeming, chaotic city of Istanbul, once the seat of the Ottoman Empire of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is now in a state of poverty, down trodenness and defeat. The history of the city is replete with stories of once-upon-a-time glory that has been gradually replaced by narratives of sadness, pain and desolation. It is into this legacy that Pamuk writes his narrative. Istanbul is the (his)story of melancholy — the melancholy that is central to all the Istanbullus and Istanbul itself.

9 Istanbul is located at the complex crossroads of the East and the West.. The ambivalence of the cultural setting posits a challenge to the formation of one’s identity because this meeting of the East and the West produces a sense of cultural unease rather than cultural vibrancy.

10 Part-autobiography and part-memoir, Istanbul tells the story of the city of Istanbul through the memory of a fifty-year old Pamuk who seeks his cultural identity in the ruins of the city. The narrative is more or less chronologically structured. It begins with Pamuk’s carefree childhood and traces his life among his extended middle-class family, his readings, and his strolls in the aged city and finally concludes with his decision to become a writer.

11 The narrative shift is continuous This personal narrative is interspersed with a parallel narrative of the history of the city, its present condition, and the way it has internalized the post-imperial gloom.— in fact it happens almost at every alternate chapter — so that the personal story is situated at the backdrop of everything that happens in the city. This two-track narrative, in fact, allows the reader to understand Pamuk’s own position in the history of the city, his responses to it, and the city’s contribution in the formation of his self.

12 The city figures as centrally as the author The chapters focus on specific events in his personal life but Pamuk also elaborates on the way the city has found expression in the works of several “Western” and Turkish artists in chapters like “Mellling’s Bosphorus,” “On the Ships that Passed through the Bosphorus, Famous Fires, Moving House and Other Disasters,” “The Hüzün of the Ruins: Tanpinar and Yahya Kemal in the City’s Poor Neighbourhoods,” and “Flaubert in Istanbul: East, West and Syphillis.” These give the reader glimpses of the city through the eyes of the narrator as well as through those who have attempted to represent it in their works

13 The “text” and “the city,” become sites of cultural exchange. There is also a sense of revelation in the dilapidated state of the city. Pamuk devotes a whole chapter discussing the melancholy or hüzün of the city that, according to him, lends the city its grandeur. Melancholy is the central theme of the book, and melancholy is the central characteristic of the city. To know the city of Istanbul, it is important to know its ruins and the history behind them. “[..] to discover the city’s soul in its ‘ruins,’ to see those ruins as expressing the city’s ‘essence,’ you must travel down a long, labyrinthine path strewn with historical accidents” (231).

14 The locations are not single,nor are they not static. Not only the Pamuk family moves from apartment to apartment but also the narrator himself traverses through the city so that the reader is familiarized with almost every nook and corner of the city, although the focus is primarily on the old and lost areas.

15 The journey is interesting especially because a gallery of two hundred and six photographs, which include both personal snapshots and Ara Güler’s pictures of the city, accompanies the reader. These photographs, reproductions of paintings, engravings and sketches — all in black and white — complement the narrative in terms of its theme. They capture the overwhelming melancholy of the city so evident in its ruins.

16 “The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy.” Ahmet Rasim

17 The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy. this epigraph function as an entry-point, a door that leads to the text. The epigraph serves as a forewarning, cautioning the reader before he enters the textual maze. Rasim’s epigraph sets the mood of the text and, as we discover later, captures the essence of Istanbul, the city.

18 The book opens with “Another Orhan ” who is perceived by the narrator to be his twin, or his double, who leads a parallel (and perhaps happier, as Pamuk imagines) life in another part of the same city. The kitschy portrait of the child that hangs in his aunt’s house in Cihangir (the Pamuks lived in Pamuk Apartments in Nişantaşı) serves the narrator as a reminder of his other self whom he would meet in his dreams.

19 “Another Orhan”

20 The metaphor of the double self does not merely serve as Pamuk’s escape route into the imaginary but is also suggestive of the idea that within the city of Istanbul resides another Istanbul, which keeps on unfolding as the narrative progresses. It is in the very first chapter itself that the theme of melancholy is introduced

21 signifies that there are two Istanbuls. One is the city of many pasts where every brick and tile is a reminder of the Byzantine and the Ottoman regimes. The other is the city of multiple futures, a globalising hybrid that is re-inventing order to catapult itself into the European Union. the double self

22 Istanbul whose greatness was prophesized by Gustave Flaubert on his visit to the city nearly a century before Pamuk’s birth, is now an almost forgotten city especially after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. For Pamuk, Istanbul has always been “a city of ruins and end-of-empire melancholy” and he has spent his life “either battling with this melancholy, or (like all Istanbullus) making it my own” (6).

23 The black-and-white photographs that sit solemnly on the piano that is never played testify the desire and attempt to preserve certain moments for posterity: […] my grandmother had framed and frozen these memories so that we could weave them into the present […] wanting to go on with life but also longing to capture the moment of perfection savouring the ordinary but still honouring the ideal. (13)

24 so many photographs to illustrate the text! The various trinkets in the house that are never touched and used, let alone removed from their respective places, are silent participants in the facade of modernity that grip the Pamuk household. Especially striking are the museum-like sitting rooms, which are not used for rest or relaxation but are places where the householder displays his Westernized self to the “hypothetical visitor” (10). The sitting room is a sad reflection of the Turkish society that is suspended, like the Pamuk family, between the secular Westernization propagated by Ataturk, and the decay of the Ottoman Empire, so poignantly reflected by the once-stately mansions or yalis of the pashas which line the Bosphorus and which go up in flames with alarming regularity.

25 In the museum-like sitting rooms … Interestingly, it is in this claustrophobically carpeted and dusty apartment building that Pamuk is first confronted with the awareness of the “melancholy of this dying culture” (27), an emotion that is common to all the residents of the city. In the museum-like sitting rooms of the residents of the Istanbul Pamuk recognizes an unacknowledged awareness that they are living in a seat of historical conflicts and of ruined imperial glories. This dichotomy allows Pamuk the possibility of negotiating identities of individuals, nations, cultures, periods, multiplicities, changes, slips, and even literary styles and genres.

26 The formation of the territorial identity : “ an ongoing story in which the plot is directed by social rules, practices, institutions, places, interactions with family, nation, the economy, and lots of other social and political institutions and practices that constitute our social world and that are temporally and spatially specific” (Catherine Brace “Landscape and identity” 122). Landscape is, therefore, a cultural entity that informs the lives and identity of a people.

27 The spirit of Istanbul is captured in the texture that engulfs it. Pamuk sees the city’s soul in a shroud of black-and-white, which defines the melancholy of the city. “To see the city in black and white is to see it through the tarnish of history; the patina of what is old and faded and no longer matters to the rest of the world. […]. To see the city in black and white, to see the haze that sits over it, and breathe in the melancholy its inhabitants have embraced as their common fate “ (38)

28 The once-dazzling Istanbul no longer exists Its imperial mansions, the expansions of woodland, and the marble fountains tell tales of neglect and decay. The pervasive melancholy is evident in the misty an smoky mornings, and on rainy and windy nights. It is evident in the everyday sights of life in the city — in the mud and snow-sloshed roads on winter evenings; in the forgotten mosques; the dusty, dark and aged grocery stores and the dilapidated shops; the unemployed men who throng these shops; the hawkers, the drunks and the packs of dogs who have made the streets their home;. Even the pale, drab and shadowy clothes of the Istanbullus seem to be a deliberate habit worn to mourn the decline of the city.

29 The black-and-white texture This shade seems to signify a sense of fellowship that binds the Istanbullus together. Pamuk goes on to say that the colour of grey — the hue of the twilight — provides the citizens an escape from their dreary reality into a dream world where their legendary past conjures in them a sense of pride and belonging.

30 Melancholy is the characteristic feature of the city. It is in the evening hour, at twilight that the mood of the city is best reflected.

31 “the melancholy of the ruins”

32 Hüzün Turkish word denoting a feeing of deep spiritual loss, but is also a hopeful way of looking at life. It is “a state of mind that is ultimately as life affirming as it is negating.” It signifies a state of spiritual anguish when one is not close enough to God. Hüzün is a sought-after state. It is “the absence, not the presence of hüzün that causes [a person] distress. It is the failure to experience hüzün that leads him to feel it.”

33 Relationship between cultural history & cultural memory “the past does not merely exist as repetitions, social habits or unconscious casual chains, but precisely as history” (Simon During 52). Further, history is not merely a way of conceiving the past; rather it acts as a referent both to “knowledge about the past […] and [...] as it continues to exist for the present”(ibid). History is, therefore, an event. During’s assertions are relevant to understand the hüzün of Istanbul primarily because this emotion maps the history of the city not only in the sense of a past long dead but, more importantly, in the sense of how the past penetrates into the present and touches the lives of humanity.

34 For Pamuk the hüzün of Istanbul is connected with the state of mourning that the city went into after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire Hüzün begins in the past but seeps into the present. The sadness is evoked not only by the poetry and music of the city but also by the city itself. And herein lies its solace.

35 By experiencing hüzün the people of Istanbul are bound by a communal feeling of cultural respect towards their city. Hüzün is, therefore, a collective state of mind that is experienced and which allows the people of the city to “think of defeat and poverty not as a historical endpoint, but as an honorable beginning” (94).

36 Pamuk goes on to explain this state of melancholy as somewhat like what “a child might feel while staring through a steamy window,” (83) but is multiplied and shared by the inhabitants of an entire city, and is so intrinsic to their consciousness that it does not become negative — in the sense of depression — but poetic. It becomes beautiful. In other words, the past does not hamper the present but makes its way into the present to make it beautiful.

37 Hüzün is a mood shared by millions The grey shade that colours in the city and in the habit of the people, which is symbolical of the periphery and of melancholy, defines the people of Istanbul and their response to the city, both in both terms of then and now. By wearing grey they symbolize the conflict that is inherent in them and in the city. They mourn the city’s lost glory, but by doing so they celebrate the glory that was once theirs and is now lost.

38 The paradox of celebration in mourning This mourning does not reveal a nostalgic longing for he past and the grandeur that once belonged to it. Rather, the mourning signals the acknowledgement of loss. To mourn is not to yearn for the lost but it is to bring the loss into the present and make it a part of life. The fact that they mourn the city is indicative of their reverence of the magnificence and the glory that the city had known.

39 This is hüzün. At the same time they continue their lives with the burden of their heritage, indicating that they celebrate the present city despite its ruins. For them the ruins are not shameful reminders of their former glory; rather, these ruins symbolize the need to continue the legacy that has been left behind.

40 This is hüzün In this sense, Pamuk says, the Istanbullus carry the city in their hearts. For them, history ceases to be a story that needs to be told.history continues in the present. (For example, they take the stones from the crumbling city walls and add them to the modern materials to build new buildings.). Hüzün allows an understanding of the presence in absence, and it gives birth to a melancholy that is not sad or longing but is celebratory.

41 The hüzün of the ruins of Istanbul speak of its splendid past and gloomy present. It differs from other historical cities like Delhi or Sao Paulo where the artifacts of imperial glory are preserved in museums. In Istanbul the remains of the glorious past are everywhere amid the degradation. They are everywhere visible, and the people simply carry on with their lives amongst the ruins. Further, the ruins serve as reminders of the poverty and confusion that envelope the city

42 The past is not preserved in museums but is an existing feature in the everyday life of the city.

43 The people respond to the city in terms of then and now, concepts that are not separate but a collective.


45 The Bosphorus This strip of open sea that runs through the middle of the city is also an archive of the magnificent heritage of the past.It is the city’s inbuilt aid to shoulder the weight of history and ancient gloom;the ferries that maneouver on the Bosphorus, and the smoke from their chimneys that blanket the city together with the mist. This parallel is again evident in the mansions or yalis that belonged to the pashas of the imperial regime that line the Bosphorus and stand as mute testimonials of the past. This stretch of water is Pamuk’s comfort zone from his loneliness and his excessive attachment to the city.

46 “if the city speaks of defeat, destruction, deprivation, melancholy, and poverty, the Bosphorus sings of life, pleasure and happiness. Istanbul draws its strength from the Bosphorus” (43)

47 The packs of dogs are a continuous feature of the city. They are members of the past that continue to live in the present too. This is perhaps the city’s point of departure,

48 “Why this fixation with the thoughts of the Western travelers..? ” Pamuk’s imagination of Istanbul is shaped by the works of writers and artists who had earlier tried to capture the essence of the city. He is particularly interested in the paintings of Antoine-Ignace Melling, an eighteenth century German artist “who saw the city like an Istanbullu, buy painted it like a clear-eyed westerner” (67) “Why this fixation with the thoughts of the Western travelers..what they did on visits to the city […]? It’s partly that many a times I have identified with a number of them (Nerval, Flaubert, de Amicis) and — just as I once had to identify myself in order to paint Istanbul — it was by falling under their influence and contesting with them by turns that I forged my identity”(260)

49 The roots of hüzün are European first explored by Gerard de Nerval and Gautier. Nerval’s description of Istanbul at the height of its glory, years before the collapse of the imperial regime, and Theophile Gautier’s exploration of the poorer quarters of the city, the dingy residential districts and the city walls, their dark, filthy streets and the ruins (which to him were equally important as the scenic views) resonates with the melancholy that defines the city. Of these ruins a shocked Gautier writes: It is difficult to believe there is living city behind these dead ramparts! […] I do not believe there exists anywhere on earth more austere and melancholy than this road which runs for more than three miles between ruins on one hand and a cemetery on the other. (209)

50 Despite this, the city refuses to melt under the Western gaze and in this context the image of Istanbul created by the four Turkish writers is important. They weave their stories from the fall of the Ottoman Empire and present the Istanbullus a dream to which they could aspire. Yahya Kemal, Resat Ekrem Kocu,, Abdulhak Sinasi Hisar, and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar who had witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey’s subsequent nationalism and Westernization

51 The four early twentieth century Turkish writers : When they recalled the splendour of the old Istanbul, when their eyes lit on a dead beauty lying on the wayside, when they wrote about the ruins that surrounded them, they gave the past a poetic grandeur. As it happened, this eclectic vision, which I call the ‘melancholy of the ruins’ made them seem nationalist in away that suited the oppressive state... (102) This dream grew out of “the barren, isolated, destitute neighbourhoods beyond the city walls” (228)

52 Early in the narrative Pamuk observes: Conrad, Nabokov, Naipaul — these are writers known for having managed to migrate between languages, cultures, countries, continents, even civilizations. Their imaginations are fed by exile, a nourishment drawn not through the roots but through rootlessness; mine, however, requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbul’s fate is my fate: I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am” (6).

53 The element of intertextuality His idea of Istanbul is also the product of a life lived in the heart of the city as well as of the many accounts that are available of the city in the archives. His only regret seems to be that Istanbullus themselves wrote very little about their city. It is only by looking into the archives of the Western accounts that one is acquainted with the living, breathing city of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. And it is here that Pamuk presents the master-theme of his work, the self-conflict that he discovered during the years he pursued painting, “this was my first intimation of the thing that would nag me in later years, the self–contradiction — a Westerner would call it a paradox — that we only acquire our identity by imitating others” (244).

54 Resat Ekrem Kocu’s Istanbul Ansiklopedisi locates at the history of the city in its everyday oddities. For Pamuk, Kocu’s success lies in his failure to explain Istanbul using the Western scientific methods of classification. The ordered disorder of Istanbul eludes any such attempt. This is Pamuk’s point of departure for this is where he chooses to identify himself with his mentor and, once again, we are reminded of the Derridian concepts of mourning and indebtedness

55 History and territory For Pamuk, history allows a reflection of one’s relationship with the past, to ones teritory, to choose the stories that one wants to narrate about the past, and to explore the effects of these stories. In this way the past enters the present and allows one to negotiate one’s identity in relation to it. Pamuk himself states in a conversation, “I tried to tell my story …[in] two distinctive ways of seeing the world and narrating stories [which] are of course related to our cultures, histories, and what is now popularly called identities” (Knopf). Melancholy, which had defined the city’s landscape as picturesque, also symbolizes the sadness and defeat and poverty that the Empire left behind as a legacy.

56 The Galata Bridge. Then and Now…

57 The city’s identity is informed by its past and its present.

58 Out of the ordinariness of everyday life emerges a culture that reverberates with significations of the past and the present.

59 Istanbul is a complex text where the memories of Pamuk are filtered through a personal temperament as well as two hundred years of representation of the city in art. It can be perhaps concluded that the book is concerned with a bigger issue: of the division between the quotidian and another world, between the past and the present, and especially between the East and the West. There is a sense of striving towards an ideal, an ideal that is essentially located in the past. This prescribes the ceaseless task of honouring the past, the past that can be possessed only through knowledge.

60 The city of Istanbul consoles Pamuk against all these dilemmas. In searching for the elusive soul of the city, Orhan Pamuk actually searches for his own.

61 Works Cited Brace, Catherine. “Landscape and identity.” Studying Cultural Landscapes. Eds. Iain Robertson and Penny Richards. London: Arnold, 2003. During, Simon. Cultural Studies: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2005. Genette, Gerard. Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation. Trans. Jane. E. Lewin. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997. Knopf, Alfred A. “A Conversation with Orhan Pamuk.” The Borzoi Reader Online. Pamuk, Orhan. Istanbul: Memories of a City. Trans. Maureen Freely. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. Williams, R. Border Country. London: Hogarth. 1960 ------The English Novel: From Dickens to Hardy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1966. ----The Country and the City. Oxford: Ox- ford University Press. 1973. ------Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1983.

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