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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

ROSSOUW, Johann. Unfulfillable longing between tradition and modernity: Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.1, pp.34-49. ISSN 2224-7912.  http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2017/v57n1a4.

This article analyzes The Museum of Innocence, a novel by the Turkish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, Orhan Pamuk. The starting thesis of this article is that the wilful, centralist and thus typically modernist way in which Turkey's greatest modern statesman, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) modernized Turkey at breakneck speed led to a lasting in-between condition of Turkey between tradition and modernity. It is argued that Turkey has yet to find a satisfactory mediation between tradition and modernity, and that Orhan Pamuk is the peerless literary archivist of this in-between condition between tradition and modernity. The effective destruction ofthe traditional moorings of Turkish society under Atatürk came after the already destructive effects on Turkish tradition of the long, slow decline of the Ottoman empire, which was finally brought to an end by Western powers in the First World War between 1914 and 1918. The characters in the novel have been the primary (urban) beneficiaries of Atatürk's modernization efforts, both economically and otherwise. However, it turns out that these benefits are ambiguous. While the principal character, Kemal, and his peers experience the trappings of unprecedented wealth, they also find themselves unmoored from Turkish tradition. They try to compensate for this state of disorientation by mimicking what they take to be the model of Western modernity. As Pamuk brilliantly shows, these mimetic efforts of Kemal and the other characters in the novel lead to very mixed and ultimately tragic results, as the tragic outcome of the love triangle between Kemal, hisfiancee Sibel and his lover, Füsun proves. The unfolding of the tragic events at the heart of The Museum of Innocence is analyzed in finer detail with reference to two themes - mimetic desire between tradition and modernity, and loss and objects of remembrance. The theme of mimetic desire between tradition and modernity is discussed by building on the work of Hans Achterhuis and René Girard. Actherhuis's work Het rijk van de schaarste (1988, The Empire of Scarcity) and his argument against Hobbes's state of nature that social desires are never natural but always culturally mediated is used to show to what extent Kemal and the other characters also find themselves in the vacuum left by a disrupted tradition in the grip of the irresistible attraction of Western modernity and its economy of desire. Girard's Deceit, Desire and the Novel (English translation 1978) is used to show how the characters in this novel find themselves trapped in two dynamics of desire. First, they are dependent on their peers for recognition, similar to that of the characters in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Second, this recognition in turn depends on the extent to which the characters are judged by their non-Western peers in the thrall ofthe West to succeed in mimicking Western modernity. Particular attention is paid to Western films as a mimetic medium for the characters, given that Füsun dreams of becoming a famous film actress, inspired as she is by the American actress who became a European princess, Grace Kelly. The second theme in the novel, that of loss and objects of remembrance, is analyzed with reference to the differences between Proust's and Pamuk's treatment of the object of remembrance. It is argued that where Proust in his famous discussion of the madeleine biscuit treats the object of remembrance as involuntarily bringing forth private memories, Pamuk through the character ofKemal develops a concept of the object ofremembrance bringing about memories not only involuntarily, but also voluntarily; not only private but also communal memories. Against this background the various phases of Kemal's development of the Museum of Innocence are discussed, beginning from the initial unconscious, Proustian phase in Kemal's mother 's Merhamet apartment, up to his eventual conscious establishment of the Museum of Innocence in Füsun's parental home, which becomes his private museum home. Finally it is argued that since Kemal is ultimately unable to opt for a tradition-based mediation of modernity as achieved by the main character in Pamuk's subsequent novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, Kemal ends up a living dead man taking leave of the present and the future for a reified past, leaving him with the option ofstoically bearing his pain withdrawn from the world following the example of Montaigne.

Keywords : tradition; modernity; desire; mimetic desire; loss; objects of remembrance; Pamuk; Girard; Proust.

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