- Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature by Gloria Fisk
Gloria Fisk is ideally situated to write a book like Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature. In the course of writing it, she taught Pamuk’s works at three different higher education institutions in Turkey and in the United States: at Koç University in Istanbul, at Princeton, and at Queens College–City University of New York (CUNY) where she is associate professor now. This experience has inevitably informed her sensitivity to the multiple reading cultures, contexts, receptions, and audiences of Pamuk and world literature. The publication of the book coincides with the rise of authoritarian regimes both in Turkey and in the U.S. almost simultaneously. In this context, Fisk urges literary critics to recognize their complicity in the mechanics of global capitalism that ushers a non-Western writer to the world literary stage, and invites her readers to reconsider what good literature can do in dark moments such as ours. The case of Pamuk’s transformation from a national writer to a key figure in “world republic of letters” could not have been a better case study for this purpose.
The book’s focus is three of Pamuk’s novels available in English and published after 9/11 especially because this was when the Western audience turned to him in order to understand the cultural and political problems of the “Islamic East.” Fisk engages closely with the literary aspects of Snow in particular but also with specific chapters from The Black Book and The [End Page 436] Museum of Innocence, and she references sections from Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul. Throughout, Fisk’s primary subject is “processes of mediation” (24) performed by Pamuk in his works, the global itineraries of the Pamuk persona, and the ways in which both his works and public figure have been interpreted and incorporated by the discourses and debates on world literature in U.S. educative institutions. This line of inquiry also informs the three-partite structure of the book, which is framed by an introduction and appended by a polemical chapter, “Coda: Now, What?”
Fisk is interested in how Pamuk’s novels translate and circulate in the transnational literary market, which she claims is directly fed by the universities and cultural institutions of the West. This is precisely why she reads Pamuk’s novels in English translation focusing on parts of his oeuvre, which she suggests has secured his canonization as an author of world literature (23). Still, following Erdağ Göknar’s precautionary position regarding reading Pamuk exclusively in English, Fisk is deeply aware of the misunderstanding and limited perception one could reach without considering Pamuk’s works in Turkish. In fact, she takes the issue of “misunderstanding” (23) a step further and traces problematic readings of Pamuk’s work at their core in the West. Ultimately, she argues that such misunderstandings are symptomatic of the logic of global literariness of Western cultural and educational institutions. In that sense, her analyses can be read as a complement to scholarship that situates Pamuk in the Turkish tradition since “contemporary readers who strive to imagine a literary globality do so necessarily beyond the limits of the language and literatures we know well” (23). That is, Fisk reminds us that works in English translation are the necessary global “afterlife” of the originals and the raw material for anyone involved in the study and critique of world literature. In this regard, Fisk’s book is a unique and necessary addendum to Pamuk studies even as she stresses that this is “[n]ot a monograph on a single author” (22).
In arguably the most original, sophisticated, and thought-provoking chapter of the book, “Orhan Pamuk as Exile,” Fisk reads Pamuk’s literal and metaphorical estrangement from his country side by side with the exile circumstances of Erich Auerbach in Istanbul. Taking as grounds of comparison the location of the city of Istanbul and exile scholarship by Emily Apter and Kader Konuk, Fisk unravels the meaning of...