Books Paying Attention to the Auras
posted by October 17 at 9:31 AMon
I know it’s a day late, but I wanted to mention Orhan Pamuk’s talk Monday night at the opening evening of the 2007-08 Seattle Arts and Lectures season.
Pamuk is Turkey’s best-selling novelist and the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. He writes dense, yet surprisingly accessible books that concern themselves with art, politics (in a non-political way), and what he calls “the irony of the minor detail in the major scene.”
His talk last night was full of humor and the passion of an artist serious about his craft.
A few highlights:
He called Anna Karenina the greatest novel ever written, but said he got the most pleasure from Proust. “He gave me consolation that I’m normal,” Pamuk said. “He pays such graceful attention to all the minor things that we push under the carpet, and that attention helps us accept our humanity.”
I love that phrase. “Graceful attention.” It seems an appropriate description of what Pamuk does so well in his writing. He also called himself a very visual writer. “When I write a scene, I don’t just write it for the drama or to tell a story. I pay attention to the auras.”
Pamuk on the responsibilities of writing: “The obligation of the author is to write beautiful books. Novels are about identifying with people who are not like us and this is a very generous human capability.”
Early on he talked about the Western conception of melancholy being a very solitary emotion, but that the Turkish word, huzun had a much more communal meaning, being, he claimed, the national feeling of Istanbul and indeed all of Turkey.
But the best moment of the evening was the conclusion when he read the final section of this Nobel acceptance speech - the answer to the question he is most often asked.
The question we writers are asked most often, the favorite question, is: Why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I canít do normal work as other people do. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can partake of real life only by changing it. I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all lifeís beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go butóas in a dreamócanít quite get to. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.
And then we all filed out of Benaroya Hall into the rain, filled with a delicious huzun. It felt just right.
Seattle Arts & Lectures’ 20th season continues on November 19 with Diane Ackerman. The rest of the season’s stellar lineup is Colson Whitehead, Mary Oliver, Richard Powers, and John Banville.