From the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, an inspired, thoughtful, and deeply personal book about reading and writing novels.
In this fascinating set of essays, based on the talks he delivered at Harvard University as part of the distinguished Norton Lecture series, Pamuk presents a comprehensive and provocative theory of the novel and the experience of reading. Drawing on Friedrich Schiller's famous distinction between "na�ve" writers--those who write spontaneously--and "sentimental" writers--those who are reflective and aware--Pamuk reveals two unique ways of processing and composing the written word. He takes us through his own literary journey and the beloved novels of his youth to describe the singular experience of reading. Unique, nuanced, and passionate, this book will be beloved by readers and writers alike. q
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November 01, 2011
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Excerpt from The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk
Novels are second lives. Like the dreams that the French poet G�rard de Nerval speaks of, novels reveal the colors and complexities of our lives and are full of people, faces, and objects we feel we recognize. Just as in dreams, when we read novels we are sometimes so powerfully struck by the extraordinary nature of the things we encounter that we forget where we are and envision ourselves in the midst of the imaginary events and people we are witnessing. At such times, we feel that the fictional world we encounter and enjoy is more real than the real world itself. That these second lives can appear more real to us than reality often means that we substitute novels for reality, or at least that we confuse them with real life. But we never complain of this illusion, this na�vet�. On the contrary, just as in some dreams, we want the novel we are reading to continue and hope that this second life will keep evoking in us a consistent sense of reality and authenticity. In spite of what we know about fiction, we are annoyed and bothered if a novel fails to sustain the illusion that it is actually real life.
We dream assuming dreams to be real; such is the definition of dreams. And so we read novels assuming them to be real--but somewhere in our mind we also know very well that our assumption is false. This paradox stems from the nature of the novel. Let us begin by emphasizing that the art of the novel relies on our ability to believe simultaneously in contradictory states.
I have been reading novels for forty years. I know there are many stances we can adopt toward the novel, many ways in which we commit our soul and mind to it, treating it lightly or seriously. And in just the same manner, I have learned by experience that there are many ways to read a novel. We read sometimes logically, sometimes with our eyes, sometimes with our imagination, sometimes with a small part of our mind, sometimes the way we want to, sometimes the way the book wants us to, and sometimes with every fiber of our being. There was a time in my youth when I completely dedicated myself to novels, reading them intently-- even ecstatically. During those years, from the age of eighteen to the age of thirty (1970 to 1982), I wanted to describe what went on in my head and in my soul the way a painter depicts with precision and clarity a vivid, complicated, animated landscape filled with mountains, plains, rocks, woods, and rivers.
What takes place in our mind, in our soul, when we read a novel? How do such interior sensations differ from what we feel when we watch a film, look at a painting, or listen to a poem, even an epic poem? A novel can, from time to time, provide the same pleasures that a biography, a film, a poem, a painting, or a fairy tale provides. Yet the true, unique effect of this art is fundamentally different from that of other literary genres, film, and painting. And I can perhaps begin to show this difference by telling you about the things I used to do and the complex images awakened within me while I was passionately reading novels in my youth.
Just like the museum visitor who first and foremost wants the painting he's gazing at to entertain his sense of sight, I used to prefer action, conflict, and richness in landscape. I enjoyed the feeling of both secretly observing an individual's private life and exploring the dark corners of the general vista. But I don't wish to give you the impression that the picture I held within me was always a turbulent one.When I read novels in my youth, sometimes a broad, deep, peaceful landscape would appear within me. And sometimes the lights would go out, black and white would sharpen and then separate, and the shadows would stir. Sometimes I would marvel at the feeling that the whole world was made of a quite different light. And sometimes twilight would pervade and cover everything, the whole universe would become a single emotion and a single style, and I would understand that I enjoyed this and would sense that I was reading the book for this particular atmosphere. As I was slowly drawn into the world within the novel, I would realize that the shadows of the actions I had performed before opening the pages of the novel, sitting in my family's house in Be�ikta� in Istanbul--the glass of water I had drunk, the conversation I'd had with my mother, the thoughts which had passed through my mind, the small resentments I had harbored-- were slowly fading away.
I would feel that the orange armchair I was sitting in, the stinking ashtray beside me, the carpeted room, the children playing soccer in the street yelling at each other, and the ferry whistles from afar were receding from my mind; and that a new world was revealing itself, word by word, sentence by sentence, in front of me. As I read page after page, this new world would crystallize and become clearer, just like those secret drawings which slowly appear when a reagent is poured on them; and lines, shadows, events, and protagonists would come into focus. During these opening moments, everything that delayed my entry into the world of the novel and that impeded my remembering and envisioning the characters, events, and objects would distress and annoy me. A distant relative whose degree of kinship to the real protagonist I had forgotten, the uncertain location of a drawer containing a gun, or a conversation which I understood to have a double meaning but whose second meaning I could not make out--these sorts of things would disturb me enormously. And while my eyes eagerly scanned the words, I wished, with a blend of impatience and pleasure, that everything would fall promptly into place. At such moments, all the doors of my perception would open as wide as possible, like the senses of a timid animal released into a completely alien environment, and my mind would begin to function much faster, almost in a state of panic. As I focused my full attention on the details of the novel I held in my hands, so as to attune myself to the world I was entering, I would struggle to visualize the words in my imagination and to envision everything described in the book.
A little later, the intense and tiring effort would yield results and the broad landscape I wanted to see would open up before me, like a huge continent appearing in all its vividness after the fog lifts. Then I could see the things recounted in the novel, like someone gazing easily and comfortably out a window and watching the view. Reading Tolstoy's description of how Pierre watches the Battle of Borodino from a hilltop, in War and Peace, is for me like a model for reading a novel. Many details that we sense the novel is delicately weaving together and preparing for us, and that we feel the need to have available in our memory while we read, seem to appear in this scene as if in a painting. The reader gets the impression he is not among the words of a novel but standing before a landscape painting. Here, the writer's attention to visual detail, and the reader's ability to transform words into a large landscape painting through visualization, are decisive.We also read novels that do not take place in broad landscapes, on battlefields, or in nature but that are set in rooms, in suffocating interior atmospheres--Kafka's Metamorphosis is a good example. And we read such stories just as if we were observing a landscape and, by transforming it in our mind's eye into a painting, accustoming ourselves to the atmosphere of the scene, letting ourselves be influenced by it, and in fact constantly searching for it.