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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.3 (2003) 1-20



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A Pedagogy of Two Ways of Seeing:
A Confrontation of "Word and Image" in My Name is Red 1

Feride Çiçekoglu


The novel of Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red, recently the center of controversy, not only in its homeland Turkey but in all the countries where it was translated, focuses on the debates around image-making in late sixteenth-century Istanbul, then the Ottoman capital. It is also a contemporary tale. Its focus is not only the tradition of miniature painting during the Ottoman period in particular, but also the tradition of Western painting. Above all, My Name is Red is a detective and love story, starting with a murder and resolving the mystery at the end, like many other novels in this genre. What is unique is the role that the confrontation of different traditions of painting, Western and Islamic, and that between "word and image" play in the resolution of the love story and the solving of the mystery. The tradition of miniature painting, the illumination and illustration of narrative texts, which legitimized itself as the art of the book, may be interpreted as a way of dealing with the iconoclastic tradition of Islam. In this context, images are not seen as things-in-themselves but they are treated as "footnotes" even when the image seems to dominate the written word on the page. Image-making becomes an extension of the text, rather than an independent art. It serves the purposes of the words for a better understanding of the meaning, for a description of the aura of the narration, for the depiction of the images the reader of the story will paint in the mind's eye. Images, it has been said, do not represent real life; they are an externalization of the inner life. Thus, contrary to meaning and interpretation in Western art, the meaning in Islamic illumination is "inwards, converging on a private truth" rather than disclosing itself with an "outwards movement" 3

Such a way of seeing is a totally different story than the discipline of art history traditionally allows: [End Page 1]

the history of art, everywhere interlaced with the problems of representationalism, is in large part a commentary of the Western tradition upon itself, even if examples may be chosen from beyond its borders. Representationalism and its attendant problems are integral to the history of Western art, but not to the history of all art. 4

Pamuk's novel provides a rich frame of reference for wandering in both traditions of image-making, Western and non-Western, which have seldom — if ever — been presented in the same framework. My Name is Red reconstructs two different ways of seeing in retrospect within the fictional atmosphere of late sixteenth-century Istanbul, weaving a rich panorama of the now lost tradition of Islamic illumination, faced by the "troubled notions of representation, naturalism, realism, and mimesis" due to the impact of Venetian painting. 5

It is incidental that in the novel, the contradiction of traditions fails to liberate the imagery of the Ottoman miniatures from the pages of the books and from the yoke of the narrative text. Pamuk himself certainly does not wish to be seen or evaluated as writing from the viewpoint of "positivistrationality" from a teleological standpoint of "enlightenment." In his words, "I do not see it as: The miniaturists were going to be westernized if they were not prohibited by Islamic tradition." 6

Pamuk is well aware of the fact that "Westernization of the West" isbased on the idea of the Renaissance as a "myth." 7 He finds it ironic that "this nineteenth-century myth of the Renaissance is still taken seriously by many people"; even more so in non-Western cultures, since "the West" itself is in a process of "de-Westernization" by demystifying the myth. 8 He cites Svetlana Alpers's The Art of Describing in this context, as a work which impressed and inspired him for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7809
Print ISSN
0021-8510
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2003-08-21
Open Access
No
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