An excerpt from a speech given by Orhan Pamuk in Frankfurt last week when he accepted the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade is available in Saturday’s Guardian. The central question that Pamuk addresses is the role of the novel in society–how it lets readers experience the lives of other individuals with whom they may or may not have much in common.
I am using this story as a way into the subject that I am coming to understand more clearly with each new day, and which is, in my view, central to the art of the novel: the question of the “other”, the “stranger”, the “enemy” that resides inside each of our heads, or rather, the question of how to transform it. What drew me to the streets of Frankfurt and Kars was the chance to write of others’ lives as if they were my own. It is by doing this sort of research that novelists can begin to test the lines that mark off that “other” and in so doing alter the boundaries of our own identities. Others become “us” and we become “others”. Certainly a novel can achieve both feats simultaneously. Even as it relates our own lives as if they were the lives of others, it offers us the chance to describe other people’s lives as if they were our own.
Pamuk ties this to reactions to the novel (pride, shame, anger, etc.) and then to general feelings about the culture, and to the question of what happens when cultures come in contact (specifically, Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.) A very worthwhile and engrossing read.