- Orhan Pamuk and The Good of World Literature by Gloria Fisk
Orhan Pamuk and The Good of World Literature examines the unequal dynamics of literary globality, interrogating how "non-Western" writers reach their readers in the "West." Using Turkish author Orhan Pamuk as a case study, Gloria Fisk analyzes how literary institutions like the Nobel Prize create a canon of global authors, who then become authors of World [End Page 549] Literature. Fisk presents judicious analyses of the Nobel, discussing its history and stated criteria for laureates from different parts of the world. Fisk's multifaceted analysis of what critics expect from authors of World Literature suggests that these expectations change depending on the writer's nationality. However, Fisk argues that not only is it naive to expect World Literature and its authors to challenge neoliberalism and capitalism, but also disingenuous when this demand comes from "U.S. based critics" because these critics and scholars owe their positions to the very systems they demand non-Western authors criticize. The good they demand of World Literature actually contradicts their own positions within a neoliberal and capitalist system. The final section of Fisk's work accordingly discusses the neoliberalism of institutions of higher education in the United States.
Fisk's question regarding the uneven dynamics of literary globality—what bases exist for granting global status to writers from different global contexts—is an important contribution to the contemporary study of world literature, which has largely eschewed the normative and ethical aspects of the subject to instead focus on how globalization and the world market affect the circulation of texts. But in making this intervention Fisk reifies a binary East/West and imagines the "non-Western" world to be foreign and illegible to World Literature's audience.
Western and non-Western appear as essential concepts in Fisk's argument, as if they refer to something natural, though in practice her use of these terms varies. "Western" is sometimes synonymous with an "Anglophone" readership; at other moments the category designates the Americas and Europe, whose borders are not precisely defined. Yet, at two separate moments in the book, Fisk produces a partial list of "non-Western Nobel Laureates" that includes Anglophone South African writer J.M. Coetzee and Hungarian writer Imre Kertész (21, 136). If an Anglophone writer and a European one are considered non-Western, who exactly counts as Western? So much of Fisk's book hinges on the difference between Western and non-Western authors that the absence of a critical discussion of these categories seriously compromises her argument. The descriptive but unexamined use of these categories also goes against one of World Literature's accomplishments: showing the ambiguity and artifice of such broad and essentializing distinctions as "the East" and "the West." An acknowledgement of this ambiguity appears only once, when Fisk mentions that "East and West have always been intertwined, in literature as in everything else" (145).
This lack of critical definitions is especially problematic given the case study in question: Orhan Pamuk. Fisk recognizes that Pamuk has capitalized on Turkey's position as a geographical and cultural in-between, neither fully Eastern nor Western, but writes of Pamuk as unquestionably "non-Western." Pamuk has written about his rather Westernized upbringing: he attended American schools and the genealogy of artistic influences in his memoir Istanbul includes as many European names as Turkish ones. This is not extraordinary given that Turkish culture itself is politically, socially, and [End Page 550] linguistically syncretic. Contemporary Turkish identity has been shaped through a series of Europeanization reforms. Yet, Fisk seems to consider Turkey and Turkish people to be "illegible" to readers in a nebulous West, made legible only through the talent of such writers as Pamuk (in fact, the word "legible" might be one of the most repeated adjectives in the first part of the book).
This interpretation gets dangerously close to tokenism, reinforcing essential differences while overlooking cultural nuance. Fisk's book repeatedly falls into this pitfall. For instance, praising Maureen Freely's translation of Pamuk's The Black Book...