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L’Europe, une passion turque

L’écrivain turc publie «D’autres couleurs», un recueil d’essais, et parle des rapports intenses et conflictuels entre son pays et l’Europe par Orhan Pamuk prix Nobel de littérature 2006

Le Nouvel Observateur.Vous avez grandi à Istanbul, dans une famille bourgeoise occidentalisée. Pour vous, c’est l’Occident qui a inventé le roman, l’art selon vous le mieux apte à dire le monde. Comment avez-vous concilié votre passion pour le roman occidental et votre héritage turc ?
Orhan Pamuk. – Maintenant que les années ont passé, le moment est venu de revenir sur ma jeunesse, lorsque je formulais des théories sur ma double identité turque et européenne et sur l’enrichissement mutuel qu’étaient censés représenter, aux yeux de nombreux intellectuels turcs, les échanges entre ces deux traditions. Mon enthousiasme d’antan a malheureusement décliné : non seulement mon enthousiasme politique, mais aussi culturel pour cette affirmation spectaculaire d’une double identité. Pourquoi ? Parce que, lorsque j’ai développé ces idées, vers l’âge de 25 ans, avant de les exprimer plus tard dans mes livres, la Turquie était à l’époque un pays très introverti, tout comme moi ! J’ai visité la Suisse quand j’avais 7 ans, mais je ne suis ressorti de Turquie qu’à l’âge de 33 ans. En ce sens, j’étais un Turc typique : provincial, vivant en autarcie et satisfait de mon sort. Mais c’est justement ce provincialisme qui me faisait rêver de l’Europe, comme mon père avant moi, comme Dostoïevski, Tanizaki et tant d’autres dans leur jeunesse. Une Europe imaginaire, idéalisée, que j’essayais de rendre palpable par mes livres et mes réflexions, et qui a nourri après une lente maturation «le Livre noir», «le Château blanc» et par-dessus tout «Mon nom est Rouge». Je réfléchissais sans cesse à ces rapports entre Turquie et Europe, toujours ? en dramatisant leurs différences, ce qui m’a aussi permis de mieux saisir mon identité turque. Mais si j’y rendais hommage à notre tradition culturelle, je célébrais aussi le caractère inévitable de l’occidentalisation. Aujourd’hui, je vois les choses différemment. Tout d’abord, la Turquie n’est plus aussi provinciale : elle est sortie de son placard, elle a fait son coming-out, si j’ose dire. Et elle est sur toutes les lèvres, car elle représente un défi pour l’Europe en l’obligeant à définir sa propre identité, qu’elle finisse ou non par entrer dans l’Union européenne. La Turquie est devenue plus visible, exhibant ses beautés comme ses zones d’ombre, qu’il s’agisse des violations des droits de l’homme, du traitement infligé aux Kurdes (malgré des progrès notables) ou du rapport problématique à son histoire passée. Ce pays naguère fermé connaît une évolution lente mais tangible. Les jeunes générations sont plus perméables à l’Europe, voyagent beaucoup plus à l’étranger. Je n’ai donc plus autant besoin de promouvoir l’Europe comme construction ou réalité culturelle, car elle est bien présente, même si tous les Turcs n’y voient pas un idéal.

N. O.– Dans «D’autres couleurs», vous dites que la schizophrénie culturelle rend intelligent...
O. Pamuk. – J’ai été nourri de Borges, de Calvino, de Kundera, de Naipaul, plus tard de Paul Auster… Mais je lisais aussi les mystiques musulmans du XIIe siècle, «les Mille et Une Nuits», la poésie ottomane… Et dans mon oeuvre j’ai mélangé tout cela de façon éhontée ! Du coup, mes ennemis en Turquie m’ont traité de postmoderne, ce qui pour eux était une insulte. On m’accusait de manquer de respect envers notre tradition. Or ce sont justement mes antinomies qui ont fait mes livres. La créativité, dans l’art et la culture, consiste à associer deux choses différentes et jusque-là séparées, ce qui représente un défi lancé à la tradition, aux pères, à toute autorité, qu’elle soit esthétique, intellectuelle et universitaire, politique ou religieuse. Ce geste dégage toute l’énergie et la tension d’une décharge électrique, et c’est ce que j’ai tenté de faire dans «le Livre noir» ou «Mon nom est Rouge». Cela m’a enrichi, mais m’a aussi donné l’assise nécessaire pour me réapproprier la tradition culturelle islamique, dans une démarche laïque et littéraire, en éludant sa dimension strictement religieuse, donc sans la mettre sur un piédestal comme le font les fondamentalistes. Et cela m’a permis de toucher le lectorat turc, qui tend à négliger cet héritage culturel. Ma démarche a donc des implications politiques. Mais toutes les cultures font de même : il faut sans cesse réinventer la tradition à la lumière de la modernité pour ne pas l’oublier. ()

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Importance of elsewhere
bilde

Some time after James Baldwin arrived in Istanbul he settled in Gumussuyu, a neighbourhood that hangs on the side of one of the city’s many hills, above the Golden Horn, the shores of Asia, and even the Sea of Marmara. Baldwin was a drinker, and one of his favourite neighbourhood spots was the Park Hotel. These days that glamorous meeting place is a terrible hulking carcass of a stunted building project, all grey, barren floors and trash heaps, stray dogs barking at nothing all hours of the day. Both vistas – the fabled view, the hovering skeleton – loom outside the living room windows of the great Turkish actor Engin Cezzar, who was largely responsible for Baldwin’s little-known sojourn in Turkey, where he lived on and off throughout the 1960s.

When I went to visit Cezzar last winter, a collection of letters between Baldwin and Cezzar had just been showcased in an Istanbul bookstore along with Baldwin’s translated works, and I told Cezzar I’d bought them. He scowled: “Don’t read Jimmy Baldwin in Turkish, for Christ’s sake.” Cezzar seemed proud of his book, and his special friendship with “Jimmy,” but he had priorities. He prized Baldwin as one thing above all else: a writer.

Cezzar speaks in an old-school dramatic accent, as if prepared to launch into Shakespeare at any moment. (In fact, in Turkey, he is famous for playing Hamlet for 200 nights straight). His relationship with Baldwin lasted three decades, and he is one of the few people who might understand why one of America’s most iconoclastic thinkers, its most profound preacher-essayist, chose to spend most of the 1960s in a country few Americans ever even think of.

When Baldwin left for Istanbul he was, in some ways, just getting started on his lifelong endeavour to dissect America’s race problem: he was not yet the commercial success – or the prophet of the civil rights movement – that he would become during the tumultuous decade that followed.

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Find God, win a trip to Mecca (or Jerusalem, or Tibet)

t sounds like the beginning of a joke: what do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room?

Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Contestants will ponder whether to believe or not to believe when they pit their godless convictions against the possibilities of a new relationship with the almighty on Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), to be broadcast by the Kanal T station. Four spiritual guides from the different religions will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each programme to their faith.

Those persuaded will be rewarded with a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen creed – Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, and Tibet for Buddhists.

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Grandmosque

Monsieur Flaubert, C’est Moi!

Transcript of the lecture Orhan Pamuk gave at the University of Rouen:

As told in the final section of Voyage en Orient, Gustave Flaubert, accompanied by his friend Maxime du Camp, travelled to Istanbul in October 1850 after his visit to Egypt, the Lebanon and Syria. The two men had earlier travelled together and written about their experiences, an arrangement pleasing to both. Du Camp, the scion of an affluent family and knowledgeable in literature and art, proved to be a trustworthy and reliable friend — though somewhat effete. Six years later, he would serialise Madame Bovary in the Revue de Paris, which he edited. During their travels, as du Camp took the first photographs of the Middle East with his cumbersome camera, Flaubert was preoccupied with himself and his own future. In a word, he was burdened by his own troubles.

Flaubert’s trouble, or rather burning pain, was the syphilis he had contracted in Beirut. He treated his festering wounds with medicines, strove to lessen his pain, wondered whether he had contracted the disease from a “Turk” or Christian and described it all in his letters in a tone of self-mockery.

Having been on the road for more than a year, Flaubert suffered exhaustion and fatigue. His hair had begun to fall out and his teeth to come loose. Furthermore, he pined for home, his mother and his former life in Rouen.

In Istanbul, Flaubert responded to a letter from his mother in which he learned of a friend’s marriage and of her own curiosity about his marriage plans. When I dreamed of becoming a writer in my youth, I’d frequently turn to this letter dated 15 December, 1850, penned from “Constantinople”, and would garner strength and succour from its exceptional words in the face of the hardships of staying on one’s feet and on course as an author in Turkey.

Flaubert wrote: “When is the wedding to be, you ask me, à propos of the news of Ernest Chevalier’s marriage…When? Never, I hope.” The prospective young writer of 29 then reminds his mother of his principles, emphasising that it is far too late to change them now. “I, too, am ‘established’ in that I have found my seat, my centre of gravity. For me, marriage would be an apostasy: the very thought terrifies me.” A few sentences later, he clearly expresses the view on the relationship between art and life that would later be developed by
Nietzsche and Thomas Mann: “You can depict wine, love, women and glory on the condition that you are not a drunkard, a lover, a husband or a private in the ranks. If you participate actively in life, you don’t see it clearly: you suffer from it too much or enjoy it too much.” Flaubert writes to his mother with the profound sense that the artist must be a freak of nature, an oddity outside of ordinary life, a monster of sorts: “So, I am resigned to living as I have lived: alone, with my throng of great men as my only cronies — a bear with just my bear skin as company.” And he addresses his mother with the sentences I whispered to myself before I’d turned 30, sentences in which I tried to believe: “I care nothing for the world, for the future, for what people will say, for any kind of establishment, or even for literary renown, which in the past I used to lie awake so many nights dreaming about.” And after writing these arrogant words, Flaubert adds one final line whose simplicity demonstrates his self-confidence and sincerity: “That is what I am like. Such is my character.”

In Istanbul, at the end of the 1970s, while trying to get my newly completed first novel published, living alone with my mother, I remember trying to locate the Justiniano Hotel in Galata, where Flaubert had spent his days and penned these words in 1850. Just like the “great men” that he had idolised, I tried to take Flaubert as my model.

TURKEY ISTANBUL

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Photo source: European Commission Enlargement