Orhan Pamuk's Messy Closet: Thoughts on Other Colors

Note: this review was written in a huff. Pamuk’s book is actually quite wonderful when taken in the right frame of mind. I’m leaving up this post though (as I do all the garbage here) because it serves as a good reminder not to take myself so seriously.

To read more about what causes this condition, check out the next day’s post: Putting it out there. I’m especially embarrassed by my comments about the need for play in the mind of a novelist. Play is absolutely essential. [2008-02-15]

Novelists who publish their personal archives (the shit no one is supposed to see) should be beaten. Invariably, they are revealed to be nervous lumps of self-doubt and self-pity. This blog is frankly a ray of fucking sunshine compared to the flogging I give myself in private. It’s just awful really to think of all the dark and depressing crap that goes on in a novelist’s journals.

Orhan Pamuk, undaunted by the promise of ropes and razors and solipsism, has gone to the trouble of translating his own self-hatred from Turkish to English so that we may all enjoy his self-abuse. The book is called Other Colors, which aside from being a lame-ass title is actually a misnomer. There are no other colors in this book, just shades of gray. Lots and lots of particularly depressing shades of gray.

In the introduction, Pamuk refers to these bits as pieces of stories that have yet to make their way into his novels. I rather like that idea, but then why publish them at all? It’s a bit like Gabriel Garcia Marquez putting out his notebook of story ideas he never intends to get to or someone finding Hemingway’s stolen suitcase of crap stories and publishing an anthology. Is there really a point to this?

Anyway, here is a sample that I had the presence of mind to copy down while feeling sorry for myself:

Novels are held together by little pieces of daydreams that help us, from the moment we enter them, forget the tedious world we long to escape.

When I scribbled that down, it felt like something beautiful and right. Now it just looks like puffery.

Isabella of Magnificent Octopus has a nice roundup of some comments and criticisms of Other Colors, as well as a solid reader’s opinion of the work:

The book is depressing, but in my own defense as a reader I can recognize that while I don’t like the way the book made me feel, and though it made me roll my eyes more than once, it also made me consider some aspects I hadn’t before regarding what goes into the construction of Pamuk’s novels (I do have to wonder if Berlinski has read any) — what makes Pamuk a writer.

Suffice it to say: I far prefer Pamuk the novelist to Pamuk the essayist, but Other Colors is not to be dismissed out of hand.

Novelists are not like Cakes

Novels are not held together by daydreams and novelists are not like cakes. Novels are held together by blood. Novels are the works of men and women who struggle to filter the unbidden worlds and characters who come to mind and taunt us until there is no choice but to etch their stories into stone. It might feel good to talk about them in such flowing and glowing terms but that takes out so much of the bullshit that goes into creating them in the first place.

The Conditions are Never Right

For Pamuk, writing a novel is not possible without this child-like sense of innocence and freedom. He’s goes on to describe his recent legal and political problems and how they pressured him into being a “serious” person, something he is not. This depressed him greatly and kept him from getting into the work he so desperately wanted to do.

An imaginative novelist’s greatest virtue is his ability to forget the world in the way a child does, to be irresponsible and delight in it, to play around with the rules of the known world – but at the same time to see past his freewheeling flights of fancy to the deep responsibility of later allowing readers to lose themselves in the story.

Again, I wrote this quote down because I was feeling sad about my own state of novelistic affairs. I’d just written a long bit of pity and gloom (see my last post) and even though it was sunny outside I was feeling rather like the four horsemen were waiting to escort me to dinner. So here comes Orhan looking all shimmery and sweet.

Novelist’s have virtues! Well, no, not really.

The novelist’s ability to shirk the responsibility of the world is hardly their greatest virtue. It’s what keeps them from doing their work. It is the perfect excuse, a bottomless well of procrastination from which buckets of shame and stupidity are drawn each day by would-be writers from all over the world – including Nobel Laureates.

The conditions for writing a novel are never right, so get over it. You have to toss out all of that crap and just get on with it.

Believing that there is some beautiful world over the horizon will only lead you to a greater fall when/if you finally arrive in the Elysian Fields of Publication. Just ask a Nobel Laureate. Have you ever heard of one who was fucking happy that they’d won? They either refuse to show up for the ceremony, delivering their acceptance speech by video, or crab about the future of their work.

So in the end what do we have? Lost loves, lonely days and nights, an essay about how great/sad his dad was, more writing about not writing. Dude! Get thee back to your novel post-haste!

Really, what bullshit.

Mirror, Mirror

Some writers might take a book like Other Colors and use it as justification for their endless moping about:

“See, look at Orhan Pamuk, sweetie! He won the Nobel Prize and a miserable bastard too!”

I’ll admit it. I’m guilty of this sin. Multiple offenses too. And yet, this time I see something very different.

I see a reflection of myself and I don’t like what I see. I don’t like the idea of putting down hundreds of thousands of words in pursuit of my own self-immolation. I love writing. I love the ideas and joy of creating new characters. I love the entire process front to back.

I’ll be damned if I’ll allow anyone to get between me and my work again, especially if I am the one putting up the roadblocks.

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