Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Istanbul, memories and the city— Representations of the Identity crisis within

- Vipin A.K (MA Sociology, II Year)

Istanbul, Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk is a biography which parallels the story of the city with the story of the author’s life. A lot of Pamuk’s accounts of the city are embedded deep within the author’s own psychologisms, and the reverse is also seen where the psyche of the author itself is embedded deep within the constructions and representations of the city. This interplay of city-author duality plays a central theme within the book till the very end. In fact, at times, the author’s accounts of the city are so intertwined with the author’s life that the two come to be seen as one (or so Pamuk would like us to believe). The memoir looks at the author’s life and the various incidents in his life that come to play themselves out against the backdrop of a drastically changing Istanbul. In fact, a lot of Pamuk’s interface with the city deals with the representations of the city rather than its contemporaneity. The author’s explanations for such an exploration of his identity within the city (and the city’s identity within him) is explained by the identity crisis that both face periodically, and simultaneously the melancholy (which he calls hüzün) which ties the whole social fabric as well as the city together.

In retrospect, Istanbul is a mightily interesting read. Through the mixing of the personal with the public he creates a fabric, a story that both entertains, disheartens and questions. His sordid explanations of his parents' fights, his antagonistic yet extremely endearing relationship towards his brother, his confusing relationship with his grandmother and his behavior towards his extended family, teachers and peers offer the readers a delightful trip into an alternate world, yet the delight is short-lived with frequent and jarring encounters with reality. The personal autobiography juxtaposed onto the portrait of the city provides for an interesting yet complex project that looks to expose many deep-seated insecurities and simultaneously showcase many of the beautiful elements of both. It is possibly the first work I have read that has shown me how much of a place, of a city, is internal to a person and to an identity, and how much of a person is internal to the city. It is possibly the most interesting bildunsgroman I may have come across – a coming of age of both the city and of Pamuk.

To read Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture, click here. (Editors)

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