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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.4 (2003) 124-137

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Difference, Visual Narration, and "Point of View" in My Name is Red

Feride Çiçekoglu

This paper focuses on the difference between Eastern and Western ways of visual narration, taking as its frame of reference the novel My Name is Red, by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, announced on May 19, 2003 at Dublin Castle. 1

This book is particularly important in terms of visual narration because it highlights the critical concept of "point of view" (POV). In his now internationally renowned novel, Pamuk's anachronistically created characters confront each other on ways of seeing and visual narration in the context of sixteenth-century Istanbul, when it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The visual narratives of miniature painting are elaborated in comparison with the contemporary Renaissance art, unfolding the differences in the depiction of faces, in particular. Style in visual narration is treated in the novel as a reflection of seeing and imaging the faces in their uniqueness and iscontrasted with the tradition of Islamic book illumination where all faces appear to be the same. Western concerns with individuality and the uniqueness of the POV as revealed in one-point-perspective, suggests it is an indispensable aspect of style. In that sense, My Name is Red highlights portraiture in the visual arts as a reflection of character in visual narration; reflecting both the subject and the artist whose individuality is represented in the style of painting. Pamuk's novel, constructed as a symphony of many different voices, is well-suited in its form to its subject matter since it elaborates the concept of POV in fictional narrative structure. Through his characters, Pamuk's readers enter a world where Renaissance perspectivism — a dominance of vision — confronts the ultimate vision of blindness, presented in the novel as the self-imposed fate of the miniaturists at the peak of their careers. The worry about point of view is thus contrasted with its opposite — the absence of vision as supreme achievement within the Islamic-Turkic tradition. [End Page 124]

This essay discusses issues of portraiture and character, movement and time, and story and space with reference to the narrative structure in fiction film. It aims to contribute to the discussion on POV in visual narration, dealing with the narrative structure of film as a continuation and interaction of different traditions in East and West.

"Point of View" Revisited

As a key concept in the narrative structure of both film and literary fiction, POV has been controversial. As a technical term in film practice, however, it is defined rather clearly: POV is a camera concept which describes what is seen by the camera. Where one puts the camera and what the camera sees defines the frame and the image. When one wants to tell a story with a sequence of images, one has to consider how one will use the camera, both for the whole sequence and for each image. From whose point of view, or from which different points of view will the story be told? Will it originate with a omniscient point of view or with the point of view of one of the characters, diving into the story from the inside? Will the camera be placed at the top of the room, on a crane, or under the table from where a child can see only the legs of the grown-ups? One has to make a series of technical and artisticdecisions relevant to the policy of points of view from which to narrate. This is similar to a comic strip, except that in visual narration with a camera, the frames follow one another in time rather than in space, creating the illusion that the images are moving when projected.

We take this premise so much for granted in an age flooded withimages — seeing almost as a camera ourselves — that we tend to overlook the fact that once there were other ways of seeing and narrating. Narratives...


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