ABSTRACT

Orhan Pamuk has long been the focus of various media polemics in Turkey. He occupies the paradoxical position of being both an icon of serious literature as well as a spectacle of popular culture. He is a best-selling author whose works are debated at the highest academic levels. Yet he is also the focus of tabloid sensationalism that at times veers into the realm of conspiracy. The media often discusses what Pamuk is perceived to represent as a “Turk” and his authenticity as a writer, which revolves around his relationship to orthodoxies of Turkish secularism and national identity. Extreme commentaries accuse Pamuk, a secular Turk, of being a Jewish convert, or dönme, of being an enemy of Turks or a self-hating Turk, of opposing Kemalism, of being entrepreneurial, apolitical, a comprador, a bourgeois elitist, a commodifier of literature, of being in the service of foreign lobbies or conspiratorial networks, and of selling out his country for personal gain. As a corollary, his writing is often dismissed out of hand. He is accused of writing for non-Turkish (Euro-American) audiences, of writing in dense prose that his readers can’t fathom or finish, of writing ungrammatically, of orientalism, and even of plagiarism. These polemics alone could be the topic of an academic study, but they would tell us little about the author’s novels, their

insights and complexities, their literary innovations and transformative functions for the Turkish and world novel. If we read the situation in its reverse, however, approaching popular reactions to the author with the understanding that what is being revealed has less to do with the author and his work per se than with the tectonics of cultural and political power in Turkey today, we’d be better served. Such an approach would help survey the cultural logic Pamuk has had to negotiate to write novels which question that same logic. Much of the media hype amounts to the defamation of an author who

has successfully negotiated conflicting sites of power and an ideological minefield from socialism to nationalism to Islamism, and who has, in the process, garnered an international audience exponentially larger than his Turkish readership. As an author with a global profile, Pamuk has been put in the unwitting position of representing the Republic of Turkey, something he has never sought, aspired to, or desired. One of Pamuk’s repeated complaints is that he is pigeonholed as a “Turkish” author rather than as a novelist per se. It is this “Turkishness” that preoccupies, frustrates, and restricts him. It is more than ironic, then, that this is one of the main subjects of his fiction. The clash of politics and representation in the figure of Pamuk is a symp-

tom of larger changes in Turkey. Over two short decades since the end of the Cold War in 1991, processes of globalization have transformed Turkey from an inward-looking third world nation-state to a resurgent economic and political leader in the region. Its economy is the sixteenth largest in the world, it is involved in high-level diplomacy and foreign policy, and it is considered to be one of the most viable geopolitical models for the union of democracy and Islam in the Middle East.3 Turkey’s growing pains, which have severely questioned the secular state model that dominated until the end of the Cold War, have found a convenient outlet in the cosmopolitan intellectual Pamuk. He is, as headlines reveal, the author Turks love to hate. Many of these reactionary attacks emerge from a perceived threat to discourses of modernity, secularism, national self-determination, “Turkishness,” and the Kemalist cultural revolution. In other words, Pamuk, an author of culturally and politically challenging novels, is considered to be a threat because he transgresses epistemological boundaries established by the state. Consequently, he is a lightning rod for the frustrations of socialists, secular Kemalists, and nationalists. We could summarize by saying that the tabloid debates revolve around a collective anxiety: Does Pamuk represent the end of the social and national project of progress, development, and modernity that has defined the Republic of Turkey since its establishment in 1923? In other words, does Pamuk spell the end of homo secularis, the human subject produced by ideologies of secular modernity, Kemalism, and Turkism?