As his Museum of Innocence comes to Britain, the Nobel prizewinner takes his fellow author Elif Shafak on a tour of his cabinet of curiosities. They talk about what Istanbul means to them – and the collective amnesia of a country where writers can be jailed for a tweet.
Elif Shafak in The Guardian:
Istanbul is the name of a city and the name of an illusion. In reality, there is no such thing as Istanbul. There are only Istanbuls – competing, clashing and somehow coexisting within the same congested space. That is one of the themes I want to talk about with Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature. The loss of plurality and nuance. The increasing dominance of an ideology of sameness throughout our motherland.
Turkey is a country of easy forgettings. Everything is written in water, except the works of the great architects, such as Sinan, which are written in stone; and the lines of the great poets, such as Nazim Hikmet, which are learnt by heart. Istanbul is a city of collective amnesia. As you walk the streets of London, you come across countless plaques commemorating the people – composers, novelists, politicians – who lived in those buildings. Memory is kept alive, through statues, signs and books, too.
Not so in Istanbul. And where there is such lamentably poor memory, it is easier for the state’s selective memory to survive unquestioned. A subjective way of reading the past, introduced from above, means the majority view triumphs over individuality and diversity. Hence all the jingoistic rhetoric in Turkey about “our noble Ottoman ancestors”. These imperial dreams have encouraged a disastrous neo-Ottoman foreign policy in the Middle East, a dangerous fusion of nationalism and Islamism.
We meet at Somerset House in London, where Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is making an appearance.