Pamuk’s Nobel Lecture

A couple of weeks ago, Orhan Pamuk delivered his Nobel lecture at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Titled “Babamin bavulu,” which translates as “My Father’s Suitcase,” it’s about Pamuk’s relationship with his father, a man who loved to read, had hoped to be a writer, but in the end preferred to enjoy life rather than devote himself fully to the craft. Pamuk, of course, chose a different path, and his meditation on his and his father’s choices, their fates, and their relationship to one another moved me to tears. The lecture also includes many lovely comments about the art of literature, and its place in the world. Here’s just one taste:

I would like to see myself as belonging to the tradition of writers who–wherever they are in the world, East or West–cut themselves off from society and shut themselves up in their rooms with their books; this is the starting point of true literature.

But once we have shut ourselves away we soon discover that we are not as alone as we thought. We are in the company of the words of those who came before us, of other people’s stories, other people’s books–the thing we call tradition. I believe literature to be the most valuable tool that humanity has found in its quest to understand itself. Societies, tribes, and peoples grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors–and, as we all know, the burning of books and the denigration of writers are both signs that dark and improvident times are upon us. But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature’s eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people’s stories, and to tell other people’s stories as if they were his own, for that is what literature is.

You can find Orhan Pamuk’s lecture in the original Turkish, and in various other translations, at the Nobel site. The English-language version is also reprinted in this week’s New Yorker magazine.)

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