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Reviewed by:
  • Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature by Gloria Fisk
  • Audrey J. Golden
Fisk, Gloria. 2018. Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature. Literature Now. New York: Columbia University Press. $60.00 hc. xiii + 265 pp.

Gloria Fisk's Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature is a provocative and necessary contribution to the field of contemporary world literature developed by Western critics like David Damrosch, Emily Apter, Pascale Casanova, Eric Hayot, Gayatri Spivak, and Franco Moretti. When the study of world literature is one almost wholly shaped by Western thinkers, can it ever do any "good," Fisk asks, or is such a question necessarily a product of the hegemonic thinking that presupposes the power and privilege of the reader doing the asking? This inquiry underlies Fisk's work and opens up new opportunities for reconsidering the very definitions of "world literature" and the "global novel" in the twenty-first century. Although Fisk's title might suggest otherwise, this is not a monograph on a single author's work but instead is an interrogation of the state of the field that relies on Orhan Pamuk—both his fiction and the global persona of the author—as a case study "in the uneven processes of translation, circulation, and judgment that carry a non-Western writer to his publics in the West" (2). Fisk questions the historicized definition of world literature and its problematic origins in the Western university system while, at the same time, indicting the reading practices of those shaped by this system. Fisk's methodology requires more than engagement with Pamuk's texts and their readings by literary critics; it necessitates analysis of the performative literary celebrity [End Page 873] of Pamuk in order to conceive of world literature as a system that needs reimagining.

Fisk argues that world literature is a Western construct designed to make Western readers feel good about themselves and their worldliness: "Pamuk demonstrates to his Western publics the good world literature can do at the turn of the twenty-first century, when a novel gains its value from the view it gives its readers on worlds they would find hard to see without a local and literary guide" (3). Accordingly, Western readers who approach writers like Pamuk "come to him to learn the truth about distant people and places, notwithstanding the obvious fact that he traffics in fiction" (17). Such reading practices perpetuate the flawed notion that a reader can develop empathy with the Other through a fictional encounter while, at the same time, acquiring knowledge of that Other's culture and national history. There is an assumption that Pamuk's fiction has the "ability to teach his readers what is really happening in the minds of people whose faces are visible only from afar" (33). Fisk demonstrates through nuanced readings of the novels Snow and The Museum of Innocence how Pamuk becomes complicit in producing such assumptions for his privileged, Western audience. By merging fact and fiction in both novels, Pamuk tempts his Western reader to accept the fictional elements as "historical knowledge" while he also provides that reader with objective artifacts from Turkey's past (73). In Snow, "{a} reader who lacks familiarity with Turks and Turkey will be tempted to take Orhan's narration as fact, and the novel nurtures that temptation by piling up evidence in documentary forms—quoting from a fictional newspaper that is represented as a clipping on the page, for example—but it also compiles volumes of realistic details over more than four hundred pages" (51). Similarly, The Museum of Innocence depicts actual and invented museum objects, or what Fisk describes as "totems of a lost culture" placed seamlessly alongside "fabricated artifacts of the characters' fictional lives" (73). Through this interweaving of fictional and historical pasts, Pamuk both "asserts and denies the novel's historiographical utility" (73).

Pamuk's public persona plays a key role in advancing Fisk's argument. She observes how the novelist's performance of his literary celebrity intertwines with the postmodern formal qualities of his fiction to eradicate the line between truth and fiction, further muddying the waters for the Western reader who turns to these novels for...


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