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The Writer And His Art

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Orhan Pamuk was invited by Homi Bhabha to deliver the annual Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry Lectures at Harvard University in 2010. Distinguished creative figures and scholars in the arts, including painting, architecture, and music customarily deliver six lectures. In the past, T.S. Eliot, C.M. Bowra, Charles Rosen, Nadine Gordimer, and Daniel Barenboim have been invited.

The Naïve And Sentimental Novelist is a compilation of Pamuk's lectures, on his theory of literature, especially from the point of view of a novelist. He acknowledges the influence of Schiller's essay "On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry; 1795-1796", Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, Wordsworth's Prelude, Walter Benjamin's essays, E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel, and George Lukacs's The Theory of the Novel.. The basic premise for all these critics has been the tussle between the subjective versus the objective relationship that a reader forges with the text. But, Pamuk makes a very valid point that "when Forster and Lukacs spoke about the art of the novel, they did not emphasize the fact that their views were early twentieth-century Eurocentric views, … Nowadays, the genre of the novel is used all over the globe. .. Over the past one hundred and fifty years, the novel has marginalized traditional literary forms in every country where it has appeared, becoming the dominant form…" Obviously Pamuk has been thinking about the theories of reading and writing a novel. In a Paris Review interview (2005) he says that "there is the problem of what Harold Bloom called ‘the anxiety of influence'. …But it ultimately occurred to me that although I may have been derivative in my techniques, the fact that I was operating in this part of the world, so far away from Europe—or at least it seemed so at the time—and trying to attract such a different audience in such a different cultural and historical climate, it would grant me originality, even if it was cheaply earned. But it is also a tough job, since such techniques do not translate or travel so easily."

Pamuk offers a new aspect to this debate—of trying to locate the novel's "secret centre". The crux of his lectures are "how real and how imaginary this centre is". He firmly believes that in well-constructed novels, everything is connected to everything else, and this entire web of relations both forms the atmosphere of the book and points towards its secret centre." He feels that it is centre which holds the key to the reader finding meaning and pleasure in the landscape that the novelist is creating. Pamuk says that "often the center emerges as the novel is written…the writer's notion of the secret center begins to change, just as the reader's idea of it changes in the course of reading…the power of the novel's center ultimately resides not in what it is, but in our search for it as readers, …Both the center and the meaning of the novel change from one reader to the next."

To attain this level of sensibility towards the novel, the reader has to go through certain stages in the process of reading. To briefly encapsulate these eight stages:



  • We observe the general scene and follow the narrative

  • We rely on our imagination for the story to slowly emerge out of many objects, descriptions, sounds, conversations, fantasies, memories, bits of information, thoughts, events, scenes, and moments. ...we picture in our imagination what the words are telling us (what they want to tell us)

  • We wonder how much of this story is the writer's real experience and how much is imagination—a logical paradox

  • Still we wonder: Is reality like this?

  • Problems and pleasures of style are not at the heart of the novel, but they are somewhere very close to it

  • When we read a novel, morality should be a part of the landscape, not something that emanates from within us and targets the characters

  • The sweet illusion created wherein we always enter into complicity with the novelist to a certain extent. As we read a novel, one part of our mind is busy concealing, conniving, shaping, and constructing positive attributes that foster this complicity. In order to believe the narrative, we choose not to believe the narrator as much as he wants us to—because we want to continue faithfully reading the narrative, despite finding fault with some of the writer's opinions, propensities, and obsessions.

  • Finally, revelation of the novel's secret centre


For Pamuk, devouring a novel as a youngster, he felt a "breathtaking sense of freedom and self-confidence". But he rues the fact that this great joy of writing and reading novels is obstructed or bypassed by two kinds of readers—completely naïve readers, who always read a text as an autobiography and the completely sentimental-reflective readers, who think that all texts are constructs and fictions anyway, no matter how many times you warn them that they are reading your most candid autobiography.

Pamuk wanted to be a painter, but at twenty-two, he chose to become a novelist. So it is not surprising that he feels that "novels are essentially visual literary fictions or ‘painting with words'".The Naïve And Sentimental Novelist is worth reading.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant and critic