Page 1

ORHAN PAMUK AND THE GOOD OF WORLD LITERATURE GLORIA FISK


INTRODUCTION Slippery Words: Orhan Pamuk, Good, and World Literature

The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk engages a public that is as rich in cultural capital as it is far-flung. His most notable novels—The Black Book (1994; Kara Kitap, 1990), for example, and Snow (2004; Kar, 2002)—circulate widely around the world, traveling through the small fractions of people who buy the equally small fractions of books that are marketed and sold as literature. This transnational reading class1 coheres through the same technologies as the business culture that subtends it, with global English as its lingua franca and global capital as the engine that makes it go.2 Orhan Pamuk is a producer as well as a product of this literary globality, where he reaches a foreign audience that dwarfs its Turkish corollary by orders of magnitude. He has acknowledged that disproportion as a fact of literary life in “the age of global media,” when novelists like Paul Auster, J. M. Coetzee, and Gabriel García Márquez write “less for their own national majorities (who do not read them) than for the small minority of literary readers in the world who do.”3 Locating himself in that company, too, Pamuk says that he writes by necessity for the people who want to read the kinds of novels he writes, so he writes for readers who live thinly spread all over the world.4 Orhan Pamuk circulates broadly and to great acclaim through that transnational literary sphere, which makes him legible to me as a functional answer to the question: what does a non-Western writer have to do


2 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

to be read as an author of world literature at the turn of the twenty-first century? It is tautological to say that he or she has to meet the standard for literary value that prevails at this time and place, but it is also true, so I read Pamuk as a case study in the uneven processes of translation, circulation, and judgment that carry a non-Western writer to his publics in the West. Orhan Pamuk wins the highest honors “the world republic of letters” has to give in this historical moment, when the cultural and educative institutions that have housed literary culture in the metropolitan centers of the United States and Europe advance the good intentions they state to expand their reading in the traditions to their south and east.5 He becomes widely available to this transnational literary establishment that convenes through the same technologies that globalize the economies that subtend it, fostering conversation among literary critics about the best ways to resist the neoliberalism that suffuses the air we breathe.6 The critical discourses surrounding world literature are inscribed with that paradoxical relation to hegemonic power, locally and globally, and the rhetoric of Pamuk’s canonization reads like a Rorschach test in that context, revealing the great expectations Western readers bring to the writers who travel to them from farthest away. Orhan Pamuk’s canonization rests on his ability to render Turkish people and places eminently legible to readers who lack the facility to read his words without a translator or to locate his characters and settings with ease on a map. He excels under those conditions for canonization as world literature by transmitting the granular details that have historically been the novel’s stock in trade to readers who come poorly equipped to receive them. Demonstrating literary talents that are well suited to the demands of his moment, he is praised for recuperating the genre that Franco Moretti called “the symbolic form of the modern nation-state” to make it work on a global scale.7 And he gains currency from the strategic value of his geographic location, which prompts his readers to gesture toward their anxieties about Islamic terrorism and the wars against it when they describe the greatness of Orhan Pamuk in terms of his goodness as a citizen of the world. Pamuk is praised warmly for the infrastructural work he performs between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic East, providing a bridge where one is needed, a diplomat between warring parties, and a window from one side of the world to another. The Swedish Academy invoked all those metaphors by turns in 2006 when they announced that Pamuk had


3 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

won his nation’s first Nobel Prize for peering “into the melancholic soul of his native city” to discover “new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”8 Loose echoes of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” resonate here, as they do throughout Pamuk’s reception in the West. When John Updike reviewed the English translation of Snow in the New Yorker, he prescribed it as a “tonic in its scope, candor, and humor,” for nurturing the “empathy [that] knits a society together.”9 Duly grateful for that medicine and protesting a bit too much against its necessity, the British critic Tom Holland contended that “we in the West can only feel gratitude that such a novelist as Pamuk exists to act as a bridge between our culture and that of a heritage quite as rich as our own.”10 His capacity to represent human experience that is otherwise hard to see makes him legible as an author of world literature and, not incidentally, a more global peace. That criterion for literary merit fuses the aesthetic with the political in ways that are historically specific to Western institutions that increasingly speak English with an American accent. David Damrosch narrates how world literature emerged as an artifact of this moment in the most succinct answer he gives to his titular question: what is world literature? Historicizing the term that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe coined, Damrosch begins with the moment when “world literature” referred to nothing other than Greco-Roman classics, and everything less foundational than Aeschylus was deemed parochial. That ended in nineteenth-century Europe, when the “masterpiece” arose as a category to describe modern works of aesthetic sophistication that engaged with the classical traditions that preceded them. It was only in the twentieth century that “world literature” became synonymous with a canon of texts that provide what Damrosch calls “windows into foreign worlds” without necessarily demonstrating the craft and grace of a masterpiece—I, Rigoberta Menchú, for example.11 This aesthetic value that is contingent on political utility indexes the varieties of multiculturalism that ascended in the United States in the wake of the canon wars of the 1980s, and they are globalized in the reception of writers like Orhan Pamuk. Representing a species of diversity that cuts across the categories of citizenship and national belonging, Pamuk demonstrates to his Western publics the good world literature can do at the turn of the twenty-first century, when a novel gains its value from the view it gives its readers on worlds they would find hard to see without a local and literary guide. The novelist’s greatness becomes evident in this cultural and


4 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

political good he provides with the information he conveys, rendering his literary quality inseparable from—if not wholly dependent on—the kinds and degrees of solidarity he creates among strangers. Literature has not always been read so instrumentally, nor is that lens applied to all writers equally. Neither Karl Ove Knausgaard nor Jonathan Franzen is tasked with this job of using his literary craft for political good, as that good is understood by a very contemporary and Western definition. The American pragmatist Richard Rorty articulated it clearly when he explained why he left philosophy for literary theory in the 1990s, under the twinned assumptions that “solidarity” is the key to every functional society, and literature is uniquely qualified to create it. “This process of coming to see other human beings as ‘one of us’ rather than ‘them’ is a matter of detailed description of what unfamiliar people are like and a redescription of what we ourselves are like,” he observes, a feat of “imagination” rather than “inquiry.” Consequently, “this is a task not for theory but for genres such as ethnography, the journalist’s report, the comic book, the docudrama, and, especially, the novel.”12 And if it is unsurprising that literature becomes valuable to a pragmatist philosopher chiefly to the degree that it advances pragmatic thought, Rorty’s argument is recapitulated whenever Western critics praise Orhan Pamuk as a bridge between East and West, which is to say, quite often. “WHO DO YOU WRITE FOR?”

The sheer facticity of his global reach seems apparent to Orhan Pamuk, so it is with some chagrin that he has reflected on the frequency with which he is expected to deny it. In an essay titled “Who Do You Write For?,” Pamuk attributes high stakes to this question he is asked more often than any other: “You write in Turkish, so do you write just for Turks or do you now have in mind the wider audience you reach through your translations?” The question is leading, and its answer is a statement of fact: Orhan Pamuk sells many more of his novels in translation than in his native Turkish, thanks to the multinational publishing corporations that market his work as globally as any other consumer good.13 But that is not the answer Pamuk’s interlocutors want to hear, as he understands it, because the question is always posed with “that same suspicious, supercilious smile,” which indicates to him “that if I wish my works to be accepted as true and authen-


5 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

tic, I must answer, ‘I write only for Turks.’  ”14 This expectation has broad implications that trouble Pamuk, and they trouble me, too. Pamuk contends that his domestic and foreign readers collude in the fantasy of his blindness to the reality of his place in the world, but their investments in it are quite different. On one hand, as Pamuk argues, “the opinion makers and cultural institutions of nonwestern nations” protect that fiction from the facts that would dispel it because they want to “avoid discussing current national crises or the black marks in their history in international arenas.” The most culturally endowed of his compatriots shrink at the thought of his access to microphones that work beyond the limits of his state’s control, because they are invested in the status quo that gives them the time, education, and money required to read literature like his. And Pamuk sees a corollary logic at work on the opposite side of the Bosphorus, where his Western readers also put their hegemonic status at stake in their fantasies about his authorship. As Pamuk understand them, his Western readers come to him with the desire “to open a book and enter a foreign country that is cut off from the world,” so they can “watch that country’s internal wrangling, much as one might witness a family argument next door. If a writer is addressing an audience that includes readers in other cultures speaking other languages, then this fantasy dies too.”15 This is the fantasy that the cultural knowledge Pamuk imparts to his Western readers is an exclusive property, accessible only to the most intrepid explorer of textual worlds that are meant for other people entirely. By reading Pamuk’s novels with this fantasy in mind, literary readers fashion themselves as globalists in a neighborhood of nationalists who know less. Orhan Pamuk alternately fuels and resists these fantasies. He describes himself as a “global novelist” to historicize the term, contrasting his transnational readership with the more boundaried publics that embraced Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lev Tolstoy, when “the art of the novel was in every sense a national art.” The meaningful coincidence that binds the novel and the nation-state witnesses the rise of a middle class of readers who could recognize “every city, street, house, room, and chair” that their “national authors” represented. And the first novelists invented literary devices that anticipated and used that recognition semiotically, representing the granular details of everyday life as indices of meaning beyond themselves so they could intervene in “a national discussion on matters of national importance” without ever leaving the realm of fiction.


6 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

They invented realism, in other words, to render ordinary objects and incidents meaningful as referents in a discourse that became the lingua franca of their nation.16 But Pamuk sells most of his books far away from the places and people he depicts, and he knows it. That knowledge prompts his reasonable inference that his readers buy his novels without hoping to discover mimetic representations of the world they see around them; instead, they hope to feel more intimate with parts of the world that would otherwise seem to them excessively remote. His wry tone suggests some skepticism about the possibility of using literature for such cross-cultural enlightenment, but he does not dismiss the effort entirely—and how could he? His non-Turkish readers buy his novels to glean nonfictional information that is geopolitically specific, and all of us who make our livings in world literature—including Orhan Pamuk—would be lost without them.17 He gestures toward that dependence with an argument that is only gently skeptical and ultimately more descriptive than prescriptive. As he contends, the fictional representation of historical fact has become the stock in trade of the novels and novelists that he calls “global.” That adjective demands further modification, though, to distinguish the category of novelists that Pamuk names from others who might be deemed “global” in a different context. Pamuk does not include in this category the novelists who gain sizable audiences in their national cultures but lack broad circulation globally, nor does he refer to novelists who circulate broadly but without the critical acclaim that attends works of “world literature”: Maeve Binchy, for example, Stieg Larsson, George R. Martin, or J. K. Rowling. By definition, the novelists he calls “global” have admirers who are as prestigious as they are broadly dispersed. These novelists “no longer speak first and only to the middle classes of their own countries”; they “speak, and speak immediately, to readers of ‘literary novels’ all over the world.”18 The audiences for these novels that are too demanding to routinely become bestsellers comprise a minority in every nation, but they aggregate in a transnational audience of significant size and cultural heft, and that heftiness prompts Pamuk to his most salient point. “So there we have it,” he declares. “The needling questions, and the suspicions about these writers’ true intentions, reflect an uneasiness about this new cultural order that has come into being over the past thirty years.”19 Pamuk leaves the subject at that, but there is much more to say. As he de-


7 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

scribes it, this scene of imagined rapport between the author and reader of world literature is coerced by the rhetoric in which it is written, which consolidates power and privilege where it currently resides by obscuring the violent stratifications that hold the contemporary world together and apart. It is my argument here that Pamuk is right to observe the high stakes that attend this encounter between “the global novelist” and his publics, and he is right, too, to suspect that his readers come to him with the desire that he will soothe the “unease” they feel about “this new cultural order” that works as globally as the economy that subtends it. In fact, this suspicion obtains further than he applies it. Orhan Pamuk is the apotheosis of a literary globality that vents anxieties historically particular to the authors of his canonization in global English: literary critics who write with a broad consensus against neoliberalism and global capitalism in research that secures their employment in cultural and educative institutions that operate by precisely those logics. Written from this compromised position, the critical discourses that work explicitly against the inequities that have structured the literary world also enable their authors’ very local interests, and that secondary purpose works in tension if not diametric opposition to the first. Orhan Pamuk’s case is illustrative, and it indexes a problem that extends far beyond him. The Chinese American novelist Ha Jin points toward that problem, too, when he raises a corollary of Pamuk’s titular question, asking: “For whom does the writer speak?” Jin contends that “there is no argument that the writer must take a moral stand and speak against oppression, prejudice, and injustice, but such a gesture must be secondary, and he must be aware of the limits of his art as social struggle. His real battlefield is nowhere but on the page. His work will be of little value if not realized as art.”20 This passage is rife with the paradoxes that drive Pamuk’s story as well, but Jin resolves them with a clearer hierarchy of concerns. The writer “must take a moral stand” on behalf of a community that exceeds himself, but he must also put his highest priority “on the page.” He must act in the real world while he also declares his primary allegiance to fiction. In this well-defined order of aesthetics over politics in his work, harmony is assumed. But it is exactly that harmony that eludes Pamuk and so many other writers from the outer edges of a “world republics of letters” housed in the West. They find it hard to write about political realities in strictly literary terms because they become legible to their Western publics primarily, if not


8 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

exclusively, by the journalistic content they convey beyond the limits of their national cultures, which incline to hold them accountable in ways that Western democracies do not. Pascale Casanova describes their straitened condition by quoting the Brazilian critic Antonio Candido, who identifies the structural inevitability of this inequity that conforms to the shapes of global capital: nations with high illiteracy rates have inversely small “publics disposed to literature,” and that creates “the impossibility, for writers, of specializing in their literary jobs.”21 Writers in less culturally endowed nations become obligated to do extra-literary work for their states and their people, underlining the historical contingency of that definition: what is the writer’s “literary job,” exactly, and to whom does he or she report? As that question is inflected by the relative power of nations and states, it is inflected also by the differences among languages. Pamuk enters Western canons at a historical moment when any writer who harbors the ambition to reach a global public becomes functionally obligated to travel through the English language to get there, employing the help of a translator if necessary,22 because the sheer size of Anglophone markets combines with the ascendance of global English to make literary canonization increasingly synonymous with publication in English.23 To show how Pamuk travels through a literary world that speaks the dominant language of global capital, I read his work and his public personae in their English translations, focusing particularly on the period after the terrorist attacks of 2001 drew Western readers’ attention to the literary traditions of the Islamic East.24 Like Aamir Mufti, I work from the premise that, “the ‘rise’ of English to worldwide pre-eminence is one of the most pronounced cultural and social developments in the modern era, with profound implications for, among other things, languages and cultures of writing on a world scale.”25 I study the conditions for Pamuk’s arrival in this increasingly Anglophonic literary sphere to read world literature as a rhetorical arena where U.S.-based critics negotiate our complicated relationship to hegemonic power, locally and globally. Enjoying the relative degrees of privilege that accrue to people in the professional strata of the U.S. economy, humanists evaluate world literature by its utility against the corporate logics we dislike for good ethical and political reasons, including but not limited to their devaluation of humanistic work. The critical discourses that greet Orhan Pamuk on his translation into global English vent the anxieties that spring from literary critics’ marginalized position in a capitalist’s world, and our


9 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

structurally complicit relation to processes we broadly oppose. Those anxieties find expression in two assumptions that are as widely held as they are prescriptive: literature should work oppositionally to neoliberalism and global capital, and the interpretive challenges of translation should be recognized far beyond the level of the word or the sentence. Pamuk’s novels give their critics a good opportunity to put those prescriptions into practice. They represent a contribution to “the literature of the future,” as Rebecca Walkowitz describes it when she imagines a corpus “written for translation, calculating its presence in many languages, and from translation, incorporating the trace, the influence, and the needs of other readers[;] future reading may have to be different reading, both technically and philosophically.”26 That future is Orhan Pamuk’s present, and his work lends itself readily to the critical discourses that are honed for this task. I study them to trace their limiting effects, teasing out the narrative of enlightenment that Western cultures tell about their engagements with world literature by some definition. To show how those definitions are culturally and politically freighted, I historicize a scholarly conversation that unfolds in universities in the United States, among critics who theorize how and why Western readers expect the literature we read to suture opposites, cross distances, and bridge gaps. Timothy Aubry refers to the “therapeutic paradigm”;27 Rachel Greenwald Smith uses the “affective hypothesis” to explain how “compromise aesthetics” serve a neoliberal agenda;28 Jodi Melamed describes how “neoliberal-multicultural discourse” advances U.S. hegemony around the world;29 Sianne Ngai and Patrick Jagoda write separately about “network aesthetics”;30 and Rachel Walkowitz theorizes a more global literature that seems as if it is “born translated” into English.31 Taken together, these theoretical vocabularies aggregate as an argument for valuing literary texts for their representation of the world as a loose connection of institutions and structures operating transnationally, from powerful states to the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.32 Literary readers seek authors who can help them orient themselves in this global reality by functioning as “network-extenders,” to borrow the vocabulary of Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello. “The new spirit of capitalism,” as Boltanski and Chiapello describe it, demands a bridge at any location that is “bereft of links” because “the attainment of better conditions” matters only when it works for “the whole


10 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

city, and [is] thus a common good.”33 Political progress hinges on the totality of its reach in the historical moment Boltanski and Chiapello describe, which is, uncoincidentally, the moment of Orhan Pamuk’s canonization as world literature. He is honored in the metropolitan centers of the United States and the European Union for the benefits he brings to a city that expands to include the whole world, diminishing not only the distance his readers imagine between themselves and his fictional characters but the distance they imagine between themselves and those characters’ referents— that is, Turkish people. He fosters sensations of proximity that ease geopolitical concerns, and he also guarantees the seamless relation of the novel to the world. Erasing temporarily the mimetic gap that has troubled literature’s relation to the political since Plato ejected the poets from the polis, Pamuk gives his readers a transparent “window” onto people and places that have strategic value but are hard to see, even with Google. He advances the species of enlightenment that literary readers deem requisite for a more global peace, testifying to the value of the literary in an economy where its value is not self-evident. The parties who have a vested interest in that value include literary critics like me, who live on what we get paid by universities in the United States. Discourses of globality serve us well in that institutional setting, where they assert the value of the humanities as a source of information about the nonfictional world.34 That assertion proves useful in the increasingly stratified landscape of the neoliberal university,35 which assesses the quality and quantity of labor in terms that lend themselves poorly to work in the humanities. Those of us who make our way into the dwindling number of positions on the tenure track struggle to list the deliverables and outcomes that ensure our continued access to the kinds and degrees of privilege that are categorically denied to the swelling ranks of contingent laborers who populate our departments, bearing instructional workloads that all but preclude active participation in our critical debates. The existence of that contingent workforce shapes the conditions in which scholarly debates get written by tenure-track faculty, who are distanced from the adjunct’s precarity by the promise of a paycheck that arrives regularly in perpetuity, with levels of job security that are surely in the top 1 percent. As literary critics become structurally bound in a dependent if not complicit relation to the institutional logics of neoliberalism, the theoretical discourses associated with neoliberalism gain new utility as a rhetorical


11 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

straw man. The media theorist Terry Flew has made a related point with empirical evidence that documents the ascendance of “neoliberalism” in humanists’ research from the early 1990s to 2014.36 Charting a period that coincides roughly with the ascendance of “world literature” among literary critics, too, Flew’s analysis obtains in both cases. He argues that “neoliberalism” is as “oft invoked” in the humanities of this era as it is “ill defined,” with referents that differ so widely that they are sometimes mutually exclusive. Using digital technologies to cull a huge amount of research across the humanities, Flew shows how neoliberalism functions as a “rhetorical trope” to suggest: “(1) an all-purpose denunciatory category; (2) ‘the way things are’; (3) an institutional framework characterizing particular forms of national capitalism, most notably the Anglo-American ones; (4) a dominant ideology of global capitalism; (5) a form of governmentality and hegemony; and (6) a variant within the broad framework of liberalism as both theory and policy discourse.” It is precisely because of this semantic looseness that “neoliberalism”—and, I argue, “world literature”—proves so useful to contemporary humanists.37 With these abstract nouns as bogeymen, literary critics create a rhetorical place to stand outside of the institutional logics by which grants are funded, promotions are approved, time for research is allowed, and paychecks are sent. Orhan Pamuk helps literary critics rationalize our compliance with the corporate logics that structure intellectual life in the U.S.-based university. Those rationalizations suffuse the debate over world literature, which is legible as a debate over the best way to negotiate the institutional worth of literary critics in an era that witnesses a marked contraction in funding for the humanities on many levels. As critics like David Damrosch and Gayatri Spivak hone the tools we have at our disposal to read Orhan Pamuk, they also test the arguments that could work against the adversary we share in the corporatization of higher education, known to its theorists as “academic capitalism.”38 The terms of Orhan Pamuk’s canonization cohere as an implicit argument for institutional spending on the humanities, which are framed as the means to the wide array of good ends that follow from cross-cultural understanding: progress toward a more global peace, most notably, and success in a creative economy.39 That argument for the instrumentality of literary education is written in tones that incline toward the defensive, assuming an implied reader who looks skeptically at a field of study that promises to be less lucrative than


12 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

business, perhaps, economics, or neuroscience. Against that presumed skepticism, the marketability of literary study is emphasized on the website for the School of Arts and Humanities at Harvard University, where the Gurney Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature James Engell lists “practical” reasons to study literature “in today’s fast evolving world”: “Leaders across the spectrum of vocations and professions need a broad imaginative and critical capacity, not a prematurely narrow point of view. In terms of the actual world, a solid liberal arts and sciences education will generally prove the most practical preparation for many demanding, high-level careers, or for the several careers that an increasing number of adults will eventually pursue.” 40 A degree in English is posited as a good credential for gainful employment by a logic that recurs throughout Orhan Pamuk’s canonization: literature is valuable to the degree that it enables the “broad imaginative and critical capacity” a creative economy demands. It prepares a worker to be as flexible as she must be to market herself successfully in a world that needs better bridges, translators, and network extenders. U.S.-based critics use this market-driven rhetoric because it works well when we need to speak beyond the internecine conversations scholarly humanists have among ourselves, with a generally oppositional relation to the cultural logics that bolster neoliberalism, global capital, the creative economy, and the gross domestic product of the United States. This is a contradiction that literary critics can hardly avoid, but we could acknowledge it and use our work on literature to confront it rather than deny it: the employees of U.S.-based universities work in systemic complicity with these moneymaking imperatives whether we like them or not, so any critique we mount against neoliberalism and global capitalism is necessarily a critique from within. The critical rhetoric surrounding world literature suggests implicitly that the person who takes the right stance in this debate becomes more able than her opponents or, indeed, than workers in other sectors of the global economy to extricate herself from the compromises that global capital demands.41 Literary critics cultivate that pleasing fantasy only through a sustained use of “the empathic fallacy’ that the critical race theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic posit as a constitutive feature of contemporary debates over free speech on college campuses. Coining a term that builds on John


13 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

Ruskin’s account of the way poets attribute human emotions to nature, Delgado and Stefancic note that “the poet, feeling sad, implores the world to weep with him or her.” In this “correlate” to the pathetic fallacy, the advocates of untrammeled free speech believe erroneously “that we can enlarge our sympathies through linguistic means alone. By exposing ourselves to ennobling narratives, we broaden our experience, deepen our empathy, and achieve new levels of sensitivity and fellow-feeling. We can, in short, think, talk, read, and write our way out of bigotry and narrow-mindedness, out of our limitations of experience and perspective.” 42 Using the same bad logic toward a different purpose, literary critics manage the discomfort that follows from that necessary contradiction between our theory and our praxis: our ethical and political opposition to the tenets of neoliberalism and our structural compliance with them. The ill feelings that attend that compromised condition of humanistic work in the contemporary United States are sublimated through the reception of writers like Orhan Pamuk. Testifying to the openness of Anglophone canons to the writers they have historically excluded, they obscure with their presence the controlling interest that Americans gain in global literary markets. It is not incidental that so many of the foundational texts in the critical debates over world literature were written at Harvard, Columbia, and other universities built on the American model.43 A product and a producer of the institutional culture of higher education in the United States, this archive is structured by an abiding Americanness that is duly noted but not fully addressed. Spivak identifies that quality when she inveighs against the Americentrism that is built into Damrosch’s translation of weltliteratur,44 and Damrosch concedes the point, acknowledging that the world literature he describes is not the only world literature there is; one among many, it should be understood as an artifact of its historical location rather than a vision of the literary world in its entirety. As he observes, “The relative invisibility of our American standpoint is itself a characteristically American trait,” which is reproduced in the scholarly culture of the United States, where Spivak received most of her training, and where she has done her seminal work in postcolonial theory over the course of decades. Including her work, too, in the object of her critique, Damrosch traces the Americentrism she describes to the institutional culture they share45 and suggests the need to make its cultural logics visible.


14 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

That is part of my project in this book, where I take up the challenge that Damrosch describes when he contends that “American-based comparatists . . . have become increasingly attuned to the limitations of the traditional Eurocentrism of Comparative Literature, [but we] have yet to think through the impact of our cultural and institutional location, both as a limiting factor and as an arena of possibility.” 46 Taking those limits and possibilities as my subject here, I show how they are inscribed throughout the critical discourse of Pamuk’s reception, which uses the arrival of the Turkish novelist as an occasion to air the hopes and fears that are most pervasive at the institutional location U.S.-based humanists inhabit, domestically and globally. Suggesting in his work and his person an Islamic East with which the West can live in peace, he is received as a harbinger of greater reconciliation of the global North and South; secularity and religion; wealth and poverty; hegemony and its opposites. He shows his U.S. readers that Islamic populations have their blue states, too, and he soothes the anxieties of Western humanists about the compromised position we inhabit in our universities and in our national cultures at large. He is prescribed as the living solution to all manner of problems that are more North American than global and only marginally related to the literary at all. “WE’RE NOT STUPID! WE’RE JUST POOR!”

Pamuk acknowledges the complexity of his relationship to his various readerships in an allegory that he buries deep in the middle of his novel Snow (2004; Kar, 2002). The protagonist is a Westernized Turk who extends his stay in the snowbound city of Kars, in Turkey’s remote Southeast. Claiming to be a journalist, the cosmopolitan expat returns to his native country, using that pose as a pretext to inquire further than politeness would dictate about all manner of local conflicts. He exploits that opportunity when he invites the townspeople to formulate a collective statement for an editor at a German newspaper who possesses a “deep-seated interest in Turkey’s problems,” so he wants to publish an account of the world as it appears through Turkish eyes that have never seen European streets. The townspeople stand in figuratively in this scene for their author, who is also read as a reliable spokesperson for his nation; he is praised for his ability to synthesize Turkish views of the world into a text that translates well. The fictional meeting at the Hotel Asia narrates what gets lost in that trans-


15 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

lation, which reduces divergent views into a consensus that is fictional. The characters disagree profoundly about what message to send to the fictional Hans Hansen for publication in Frankfurt, and some bristle at the thought of the European audience that condescends to attend to them so briefly, so they protest the purpose of the meeting altogether. Seeing their hesitation, a Kurdish youth accuses them of disingenuousness, insisting that his desire for a distant audience is as broadly felt as it is urgent to him: “I’ve always dreamed of the day when I’d have a chance to share my ideas with the world,” he says, “and so has everybody else in this room. . . . What I would say is very simple. ‘We’re not stupid! We’re just poor! And we have a right to insist on this distinction.” Questions arise about the veracity and appropriateness of the Kurdish youth’s statement, but also about the limits of his constituency. “What do you mean, my son, when you say ‘we’? Do you mean the Turks? The Kurds? The Circassians? The people of Kars? To whom are you referring?” The youth proceeds without answering, contending that “people might feel sorry for a man who has fallen on hard times, but when an entire nation is poor, the rest of the world assumes at once that all the people of that nation must be brainless, lazy, dirty, clumsy fools. Instead of pity, the people provoke laughter. It’s all a joke—their culture, their customs, their practices.” 47 In his imagination, “the rest of the world” takes the shape of a reader who is too thoroughly cossetted in the wealth that global capital distributes unevenly to find the inclination or ability to learn about the cultures that grow in national economies that are more developing than developed. But the critique that this dialogue directs toward the Western reader it represents is not directed toward Pamuk’s readers, exactly. The fictional townspeople of Kars anticipate German readers who are too blinkered by Eurocentricism and complacency to read a 450-page novel by a Turkish writer like Orhan Pamuk.48 By virtue of her arrival at chapter 31 in this novel that is dense with granular details about its Turkish characters and settings, any reader of this passage has differentiated herself from the Western readers it describes, and she has demonstrated her will to expand the literary canons she inherits. So, as the Kurdish youth’s complaints dovetail with more widespread laments from his fellow citizens, they suggest implicitly that, while Western cultures are bad to the degree that they ignore Turkey and its literary traditions, Orhan Pamuk’s readers, by contrast, are relatively good.


16 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

But this moment of congratulations is short-lived by design. With the same deftness that Pamuk constructs it, he limits its duration sharply. The unnamed teenager proceeds farther into his imagination of Hans Hansen’s audiences by speculating about the ways these German readers rationalize the exploitation of the poor to enrich themselves, deeming it inevitable that “some of the rest of the world begins to feel ashamed for having thought this way”—that is, for assuming the superiority of European culture over its others. And he predicts, moreover, that this shame will prompt their fear, which will enhance their desire to learn a bit more about the cultures from which their janitors and housecleaners come: “When they look around and see immigrants from that poor country mopping their floors and doing all the other low-paying jobs, naturally they worry about what might happen if these workers one day rose up against them. So, to keep things sweet, they start taking an interest in the immigrants’ culture, and sometimes even pretend to think of them as equals.” 49 By this description, the canonization of writers like Pamuk yields a paltry compensation for the sufferings that are structurally induced for people who lack the relative privilege—that is, the time and the education—that girds the readership for books like his. Snow thematizes the economic processes that enable its Western readers to benefit from the labor of low-wage workers in places like Kars—and, drawing the analogy, it thematizes the cultural processes that circulate literature globally, too. Through the Kurdish youth, Pamuk reminds his reader that the processes of globalization that enable his circulation in the West also deepen the divisions that separate people who spend their days reading and writing novels from their people who spend their days mopping floors.50 He maps those divisions within and across national lines by acknowledging that nobody who has the time and education to read a novel written by Orhan Pamuk—much less to write one, or to write a book about it—can claim an easy exemption from the accusation that the Kurdish youth makes. Like Hans Hansen’s diegetic readers, Pamuk’s Western readers benefit materially from the hegemonic status our nations enjoy in the world. And we cultivate that status partly if inadvertently through the interest we take in the literatures we receive from “immigrant cultures” like Turkey’s. That phrase—“immigrant cultures”—works shrewdly in this context, capturing the ways that the townspeople of Kars are bound to their German readers in an economic system that depends on their inequality. By


17 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

placing Hans Hansen in Germany, Pamuk invokes the gästarbeiter legislation that stabilizes the Turkish workforce for jobs concentrated in low-wage sectors of the German economy.51 And by making Hans Hansen an editor, he renders that stratification that global capital demands available as a metaphor for the stratifications that are built into a literary globality, too. The attention that Hans Hansen pays to Turkish cultures becomes possible only in the context of the globalization of media along with every other sector of the economy, and that is the context, too, for Pamuk’s relation to the implied reader he addresses. As Western publics take growing interest in the cultures that produce the low-wage labor that makes globalization go, they develop a taste for literature that conveys valuable information about the non-Western world. In Snow and throughout his oeuvre, Pamuk enables that narrative of cross-cultural enlightenment while he also pushes back against it, noting that learning about other cultures is not necessarily the opposite of bringing them under employ. Pascale Casanova makes a similarly nuanced point when she demonstrates how Western institutions maintain their centrality in a “world republic of letters” that extends its authority on a global scale. Taking the Swedish Academy as an illustrative case, Casanova maintains that Western cultures demonstrate on the one hand” a real commitment to “the progressive enlargement of literary space that accompanies the spread of national independence in the various parts of the world.” On the other hand, it also uses that “enlargement” in the postcolonial world to achieve colonization by another name. By anointing more writers like Orhan Pamuk, the Swedish Academy expands its jurisdiction over nations that lack significant “cultural endowment,” and it robs those writers who are plucked from relative obscurity of their “autonomy, which is to say literary emancipation in the face of political (and national) claims to authority. The original dependence of literature on the nation is at the heart of the inequality that structures the literary world.”52 Thus a writer like Orhan Pamuk works as a spokesperson for his nation on a global stage, whether he seeks that duty or not, and his Western readers come to him to learn the truth about distant people and places, notwithstanding the obvious fact that he traffics in fiction. And as Western literary cultures hold non-Western writers responsible for representing their fellow citizens to the rest of the world, they also hold those writers responsible for the corollary and roughly opposite duty to


18 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

subvert the grand narratives and rhetorical taboos that define their national citizenship as such. The Turkish novelist’s canonization as an author of world literature becomes contingent on his ability and willingness to speak in ways that are foreign, if not offensive, to his domestic public, demonstrating a species of literary greatness that is tethered to good citizenship by the definition that obtains in a participatory democracy,53 which is to say, in the West. That standard for entry to world literature undercuts the globality it explicitly announces, taking for granted a model of authorship that is neither universally accepted nor legally protected all over the planet. Western hegemony is consolidated on a planetary scale by the novelist who serves as an outpost of secular humanism where it is unwelcome and a peacemaker between the hemispheres where they need one. His successful performance in those extraliterary jobs reassures his Western public of the universality of Western values, which enables much a bigger reassurance: it suggests the utility of the novel to the contemporary world and the good of the literary as such. “THE ARMENIAN ISSUE”

Orhan Pamuk’s polarizing effects in his national culture have a logic and lasting importance that are hard to see from afar and are impossible to explain without reference to one sentence that he uttered to a Swiss journal in 2005: “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me wants to talk about it.”54 That sentence has been parsed more carefully in Turkey than all of Pamuk’s novels combined, and the animosities it elicits are as complex as they are deeply felt. They hinge on the meaning of Pamuk’s defiance of the historical narrative that every Turkish student learns in school, where the massacre of ethnic minorities in the formative years of the Turkish Republic is described as an effect of civil war, and people who say otherwise are reviled in the strongest terms.55 With this sentence, Pamuk remade himself as a public figure, inhabiting very different but equally recognizable roles at home and abroad. His Western readers needed neither any acquaintance with his work nor any knowledge of the history he cited to receive him as a gadfly writer who shakes his fist at the repressive machinery of his state. And his national media portrayed him as a traitor to the Turkish Republic and its people,


19 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

motivated by some combination of opportunism and bad politics to ally himself with the West. The Turkish government criminalized his statement after he made it, entering article 301 into the Turkish penal code to codify the arguments against him and render the nationalist narrative legally binding. Any gesture of speech or action that constitutes an “insult to Turkishness” became a legal offense, so any Turkish person who maligns the Turkish Republic became a criminal under its law. Pamuk was charged retroactively because his acknowledgment of the broad outlines of the Armenian genocide—although he never used that word—was understood as an insult to foundations of the secular state.56 His trial became a national spectacle, and his name circulated in the public sphere with allegations of his traitorousness, although his acquittal was widely predicted. Even his prosecutors conceded after the fact that the case against him was weak because the key terms of the charge that was filed against him—“insult” and “Turkishness”—prove unwieldy in court.57 Article 301 functions more effectively as a pillory than as a legal instrument,58 and it generates more chilling effects than prison sentences. It formalized the narrative of Turkish nationalism that cast Orhan Pamuk as a traitorous Turk, and it circulated that charge widely among his fellow citizens, even among those who will never read a line that he writes. Editorialists likened him to the dragomans who twisted the reports that they translated between the Ottoman sultans and their European counterparts,59 and many Turks across the political spectrum—including some who would acknowledge the slaughter of Armenians, too—saw disingenuousness among Pamuk’s motivations. The quickness with which his Nobel Prize followed his statement on “the Armenian issue” confirmed to many Turkish people the solipsism with which the West rewards its own, wherever they claim their citizenship, and the depth of Western desires for the recuperation of old prejudices against the Terrible Turk.60 To cynics, it all seemed too well timed. Just months after Pamuk was tried and acquitted for breaking a national taboo, he won the Nobel Prize; his prize was announced simultaneously with a French law that criminalizes any denial of the Armenian genocide.61 During the same interval, Turkey’s negotiations for accession to the European Union crumbled and fell apart, which meant that the gates of Europe swung open for him and closed swiftly behind him. His entry to the highest pantheon of a culture that belongs at once to the West and to the world coincided with the exclusion of


20 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

his fellow citizens from Europe, and he gained a reputation for portraying himself as a truth-teller from a nation of liars. Threats were made on his life, and they seemed particularly credible in the wake of the assassination of the Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. A hero for progressive Turks, Dink was a writer and a publisher of the Armenian Turkish newspaper Agos, and he was also a friend and colleague of Pamuk’s. Dink was charged with violating article 301 by reflecting critically on the oath of national identity with which Turkish students begin their school days: “I am a Turk, I am honest, I am hard-working.” As a child, Dink remembered, he embraced part of that sentence wholeheartedly, but his sincerity plummeted when he had to speak it in its entirety. “I said that I was a Turkish citizen, but an Armenian, and that even though I was honest and hard-working, I was not a Turk, I was an Armenian.” 62 That resistance to the racialized discourse of Turkish nationalism prompted Dink’s prosecutors to action: if he was not trying to identify some deficiency inherent in Turkishness, the prosecutors contended, why would he need to qualify his identity as a Turk? That argument did not withstand legal scrutiny, but it was widely publicized, and it lingered and metastasized outside of the law. A young ­nationalist shot Dink on a busy Istanbul street, and a conspiracy was discovered. One of the men who was arrested in connection with his murder used his perp walk as a podium from which to terrorize the Nobel Laureate in absentia, yelling, “Orhan Pamuk, be smart! Be smart!” Few Turks took these as idle or isolated threats, particularly after the police chief of Istanbul was arrested on charges related to Dink’s case. Even the minister of justice expressed his doubts that the assassins worked alone,63 and mainstream newspapers reported the involvement of the “deep state” (derin devlet)—a shadowy configuration of military, business, and political elites plus elements of the mafia who are believed to control most of what happens in Turkey.64 Pamuk was deemed an open target for both the criminals and the police. He secured a bodyguard for travel in his native city, and he left the country soon after Dink’s murder. Like so many other exiles, he made a new if perhaps temporary home in New York City, but unlike most of them, he came bearing a Nobel Prize. He accepted a fellowship at Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought, solidifying his identity as an expat if not an exile just as he lost the ability to live safely at home. A citizen of the


21 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

world by necessity as much as by choice, he lived out a narrative of cosmopolitanism that many of us experience much more metaphorically: “Becoming a global citizen,” as Martha Nussbaum observes, “is often a lonely business.” 65 That loneliness operates in Nussbaum’s argument as the name for a price that a good critic will willingly pay for the insights that come with it.66 But if the construction of a global literary canon brings benefits that are worth the cost to Western critics, it demands more from the non-Western writers who enter it only by sacrificing their return trip home. The quick succession of Pamuk’s enshrinement in English after his Turkish tribulations suggests some causal relation between them, and that narrative is more representative than unique in contemporary literary history. Other non-Western Nobel Laureates have similarly met their warm reception abroad just as animosities built against them closer to home: J. M. Coetzee, Imre Kertesz, Gao Xingjian, and before them, Naguib Mafouz. Sometimes hunted, they have gone into exile because their states and fellow citizens have threatened them with varieties of violence that range from the symbolic to the very real. The farther these authors of world literature travel from their origins in Africa, China, and the Middle East, the more difficulties they encounter—and it is notable that those difficulties are not exclusively governmental. By thinking historically about the Turkish people’s reluctance to celebrate their nation’s first Nobel Prize, Western critics can also think about the variety of ways world literature is expected to yield cultural and political good, noting that Pamuk is read as a representative of people who would not likely elect him to that post. Discounting the reasons for his fellow citizens’ ambivalence toward him to lionize him for his defiance of his state, the critical discourse of Pamuk’s reception in English shifts the costs of constructing a more global literary community in the West onto its newest entrants—that is, onto Orhan Pamuk, and other writers who follow his path to reach their publics throughout the United States and the European Union. Their canonization is linked discursively to the problems of intellectuals with full-time employment in the cultural and educative institutions of nations that are well endowed in “the world republic of letters,” not to mention rich by more literal measures: we secure our status at their expense. This is consistent with Edward Said’s observation that the tendency to reproduce hegemony is universal, but the manner of its reproduction is endlessly diverse; he did not exempt academics.67 The debate over world literature that is centered


22 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

in U.S.-based universities becomes legible in this context as a debate about the way to reproduce the specific kinds of hegemony that enable scholarly work in a national culture that guarantees freedom of speech but is not overly willing to spend money on the humanities. The rhetoric of Orhan Pamuk’s reception enables the displacement of anxieties that are historically specific to humanists in North American institutions: about the status of the intellectual work that we do, and the degrees of marginalization, security, and privilege that this work affords in a national culture driven by the logic of a neoliberal economy. This displacement is as unfair to the writers who are canonized as world literature as it is unhealthy for the more global literary culture that becomes imaginable through them, and it is also unlikely to succeed—to the degree that success is synonymous with a literary culture that is more engaged with political realities, or more able to protect the humanities from the threats that the critical discourse of world literature confronts. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS BOOK

Not a monograph on a single author, this book takes Orhan Pamuk as a case study in the conditions by which Western literary cultures expand to their east. It is divided into three sections. First it traces the varieties of good that are attributed to the global novel, and it proceeds to consider that genre’s author; then it moves to the cultural and educational institutions where world literature is constructed. In the first section, I refer to Maureen Freely’s English translations of The Black Book, The Museum of Innocence, and Snow, showing how Pamuk constructs his authority to convey nonfictional truth about Turkish people and their history to the West. In the second section, I study Orhan Pamuk’s public personae in a comparative frame, working from the premise that a non-Western novelist’s canonization hinges on the terms of his literary celebrity and his political profile, which renders him recognizable in markets that have historically been resistant to works in translation.68 In the final section, I study the theoretical framework and institutional practice of world literature as it is taught at universities in the United States and in Turkey. Throughout, I show how Orhan Pamuk negotiates the narrow path he travels from his domestic publics to a global audience and back home again.


23 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

There are many books yet to be written about Orhan Pamuk, and this one does not to exhaust its subject. To read Pamuk as a case study that is relevant to other writers who also write world literature from the global South and East, I read his works as they translate and circulate in a transnational literary market, with the imprimatur of Western universities and cultural institutions. That is to say, I read him as he circulates in English rather than Turkish, focusing on the parts of his oeuvre that secure his ­canonization as an author of world literature. I do not trace his lineage in Turkish literature, nor do I narrate his rise to prominence in his native country. I do, however, think about the ways that his Turkish reception interacts with his international reception, particularly in chapter 3, where I write about the representation of his statements on “the Armenian Issue.” In that chapter and throughout this book, I mark my indebtedness to the scholars who study Pamuk in his native language and national culture— like Ayșe Gül Altınay, Sibel Erol, Kaya Genç, Sibel Irzık—and I refer to them as colleagues in that field that is related but distinct. My debt is owed even more directly to the critics who work comparatively in Turkish and world literature, particularly, Erdaĝ Göknar, Jale Parla, Azade Seyhan, and Sevinç Türkkan. I cite all of them and rely on them heavily, using their analyses of Pamuk’s Turkish texts in the context of Turkish literary traditions to read his English translations as contributions to a world literary system. I undertake that project that departs from the work of the “prominent critics and reviewers” to which Göknar alludes, “who reinforce the assumption that it is unnecessary to know the Turkish literary context to comprehend Pamuk’s work and that comparison with writers of world literature is sufficient.” I work alongside Göknar from the premise that “this assumption gives rise to persistent misreadings of the author’s work,”69 so I trace those misreadings at their sources in the cultural and educative institutions in the West. In that sense, I see my project as a complement to writing that places Pamuk in Turkish traditions, recognizing that contemporary readers who strive to imagine a literary globality do so necessarily beyond the limits of the languages and literatures we know well. To do that responsibly, we need methodologies that are appropriate to the task, and we do not yet have them. Taking that as my goal, I draw also on translation theorists from Walter Benjamin to Lawrence Venuti, and theorists of global English’s role in the literary marketplace,


24 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

particularly Sarah Brouillette, Pascale Casanova, Aamir Mufti, and the Warwick Research Collective (WRC). In the final chapters, I frame these analyses of Western institutions comparatively, next to my experience of teaching Pamuk’s novels in the United States and as a founding member of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Koç University in Istanbul. I focus on the novels Pamuk published in English after 2001, when Western publics turned their attention to the cultural and political conflicts that he thematizes in Snow. The last novel that he published before he won the Nobel Prize, Snow was written before 2001 but published in English afterward,70 and it is his most overtly political novel to date; it is also the only novel that Pamuk has set in his contemporary moment. Narrating its protagonist’s progress eastward from Germany to Istanbul to Kars in the remote Southeast, Snow chronicles his characters’ competing commitments to secularism, the Turkish state, and religious fundamentalism. The characters weigh the possibility of an integral relation between Islam and terrorism and the malleability of gender rights across religious and cultural differences, posing with some persistence the same question that the anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod raises in the title of her widely circulated article “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?”71 Snow puts a microphone in the hands of its Turkish characters to represent a range of answers to that question and others, as Nergis Ertürk observes convincingly, and foregrounds the mediation that filters their speech to the rest of the world.72 Those processes of mediation are my primary subject, and I focus particularly on the ways they operate in the United States, through cultural and educative institutions where world literature is constructed in English. In chapter 1 I analyze the literary identifications that Snow constructs between its Turkish characters and its Anglophone readers—implied and actual. To analyze the formal innovations Pamuk devises to create a readerly experience of proximity across distance, I draw on contemporary theories of character and identification, most notably by Suzanne Keen but also by Elaine Scarry and Blakey Vermeule. I reframe the question of identification more historically in chapter 2, where I study the strange use that Pamuk makes of an episode in recent Turkish history in Snow. It thematizes a nonfictional epidemic of suicides among young women in the Turkish city of Batman, but it alters the story in ways that change its political import, too. That difference between fiction and fact is lost on most of


25 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

Pamuk’s non-Turkish readers, since the rash of suicides in Batman failed to register as international news. I show how that inaccurate representation of recent Turkish history undercuts the novel’s mimetic potential and suggests the complexity of Pamuk’s relation to his readers’ desire for a novelist to convey the realities of a faraway world. To support this thesis, I read Snow in the context of The Black Book, and as the precursor to The Museum of Innocence and the nonfictional museum in Istanbul with the same name, contending that they demonstrate how consciously—also how ingeniously—Pamuk toys with his readers’ expectations for mimetic representation of Turkish history in his work. From this literary analysis of Pamuk’s fiction, I study Orhan Pamuk as a celebrity and political actor on a transnational stage. My aim in the second section is to show how world literature and its writers suffer as a consequence of the great expectations Pamuk’s domestic and foreign publics bring to him. In chapter 3 I argue that the complexity of his domestic position has been poorly appreciated in the West, and I make this case by tracing the controversies that surround his statement on the “Armenian issue.” Presenting textual evidence from Turkish and foreign media, I show how he becomes functionally obligated to represent freedom of speech as unfailingly as if he had it already, and to speak on behalf of cosmopolitanism in a discursive location that binds him to speak like a nationalist. I show that Pamuk has taken positions on human rights in Turkey that are more equivocal than his reputation in the West would suggest. At the same time, I argue against the cultural logics that would read those equivocations as evidence of Pamuk’s failure to deliver the good of world literature. My thesis is that this definition of world literature is flawed from the start because it cultivates Western hegemony in the globality it constructs, and it limits the ethical and political potential of the literary as such. Asserting the universality of modes of thought and action that are peculiarly Western, this “world republic of letters” that Pamuk enters has historically worked from the assumption that the writer who stands up to his state is always more pure than the one who complies, which is simply untrue. Some writers live under states that suppress their opposition by putting them in jail, and all writers live under states that suppress their opposition in one way or another. By ignoring that variation, contemporary literary critics manage their complicity with their states and the global markets that subtend them, and they task non-Western writers with cultural and po-


26 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

litical work that few Western writers undertake. They predicate world literature on the sacrifice of its writers’ relationships to their native countries. I further this argument with respect to Pamuk’s authorial personae in chapter 4, where I show how he is read in the tradition of “exilic” writing that became central to comparative literary studies over the course of the twentieth century. By reading Pamuk’s story in comparison to Erich Auerbach’s, I contend that U.S.-based critics limit our ways of thinking about the literary world by judging the value of non-Western literatures through an aesthetic model of “homelessness” that is captured metonymically in the founding father of comparative literature. As I consider how Pamuk’s flight from Turkey shapes his reception in Western institutions, I also show how he is circumscribed by a narrative of Western enlightenment that predicates non-Western writers’ canonicity on their sacrifice of their relation to their domestic culture. I engage throughout the chapter with the recent work of Kader Konuk, and I contest the narration of Auerbach’s history that is most critically accepted in the wake of a seminal essay by Emily Apter. I continue that analysis of the ways literary celebrity works transnationally in the next chapter, where I show how the Nobel Prize functions as an institutional lever to expand Western canons eastward, and I critique the logic by which that expansion works. To make this case, I draw on recent scholarship about literary prizes73 to compare the controversies surrounding Pamuk’s Nobel Prize in 2006 and Mo Yan’s in 2012. In both cases but in different ways, I argue, the canonization of these two writers gives form to Western desires for a new rapport with the East via writers who speak freely even when that freedom is not granted by the state. I show how Pamuk meets these expectations while he also suggests—implicitly and explicitly, in his interviews and in his work—that world literature asks too much of writers like him. I also frame this as a problem of cultural translation, foreshadowing the argument I make in the next chapter. In the concluding section, I historicize world literature as a field of study at universities in the contemporary United States and Turkey. Chapter 6 is a critical study of the scholarly discourses that pit world literature against postcolonial studies in the United States, and its thesis is this: contemporary debates over world literature vent domestic concerns about the relevance


27 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

of the humanities by testing competing claims for the value of literary work in a global economy that makes it both marginal and privileged. The debates over world literature become legible then as debates about the good that literary critics might do with our work—by launching a defense of the humanities, perhaps, or protesting against the inequities that global capital creates. I use Orhan Pamuk as a case in point to show how this instrumental use of world literature limits the range of its writers and the canons they create. My focus in this chapter is the scholarly strain of that debate, as represented most visibly by Emily Apter, David Damrosch, and Gayatri Spivak; I refer also to recent work by Peter Hitchcock, Gerard Holden, Mariano Suskind, and the editors of the literary magazine n+1. Finally comes the coda: “Now, What?” I use this space at the end of the book to write polemically about the philosophical implications of the argument I’ve made, gesturing toward the pedagogical, too, to take up the question: how should we read world literature, then, and how should we teach it? In answer, I refer to Alexis Shotwell’s philosophical argument “against purity,” and I argue for its utility in the literary sphere. If literary critics could work from the premise that we are wholly imbricated in the exploitative structures we write against—chiefly, neoliberalism and global capitalism—we might stop performing the rhetorical gestures we’ve honed to critique the purity of one way of reading against another; in their place, we might devise the tools we need to have a more meaningful conversation about the ways world literature is shaped to fit the institutions that house it at universities in the United States. Letting go of the fantasy that becoming a better reader of world literature works necessarily to equalize anybody’s relation to anybody else, we might learn to read and to live more responsibly with the complicity we bear uneasily. In the coda and throughout the book, I have in mind the way Edward Said begins his magisterial study of Orientalism, by conceding what it does not do: Perhaps the most important task of all would be to undertake studies in contemporary alternatives to Orientalism, to ask how one can study other cultures and peoples from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective. But then one would have to rethink the whole complex problem of knowledge and power. Those are all tasks left embarrassingly incomplete in this study.74


28 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

That “whole complex problem” is my subject here, and I come to it, following Said, as an epistemological problem that is deeply entrenched in material realities. It is only by a feat of magical thinking that North American critics elevate the stakes of literary work to entrust it with easing physical violence between East and West, or shrinking the more structural violence that grows with the globalization of capital. And this logical error has material consequence, too, for Orhan Pamuk, and for the next generation of writers who will follow his path to reach their readers in the West. Literary critics can neither make peace among warring states nor extricate ourselves from global capital. As we strive to become better readers of the literature that pushes the limits of what we know, we can be more honest about how and why that project is worth the trouble—and the money. My years as a student and teacher of world literature in “the neoliberal university” shape all the arguments I make in this book, with relevance beyond the obvious. Fred Moten and Stefano Harney establish the order of things correctly when they observe that “before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals, there is the experience of being taught and of teaching.”75 Likewise, before there is Orhan Pamuk, and before there is world literature, there is my experience of learning in school what kind of literature matters most, in what ways, and of teaching. I taught at three different universities during the years I was writing this book—first at Koç University in Istanbul, then at Princeton University, and now at Queens College of the City University of New York. And as my students have varied within and among those institutions, so have the cultures that taught them how and what to read. I take that variation as a pedagogical challenge and opportunity in the coda, where I show how the literary analyses I develop throughout the book correlate to a classroom practice for undergraduate students of world literature. At Queens, I teach my multilingual students learn how to read it as a translation, even though they lack the linguistic facility to read it in Turkish. In Istanbul, I taught my Turkish students to read Snow in its English translation, following the university policy to teach every text and every class in the language of global capital.76 That experience of teaching at a Turkish university that had not had a department for literary study for long shapes the ways I understand Pamuk’s relationship to his various publics; it also shapes my relationship to the institutional culture where I work in the United States. I argue throughout this book that the work that U.S.-based literary scholars do in


29 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

every field to think more comparatively across languages, media, and literary traditions would benefit from a corollary effort to think more comparatively about our institutions, too. And this point is underscored for me as I finish this book, when I witness a rapid ascendance of authoritarian leadership in the United States as well as in Turkey. This is the kind of leadership that makes a novelist’s observations describable—and therefore legally actionable—as a threat to the state, and Western cultures have relatively little experience with it. The power that our states exert globally works in very different ways, and the literary world subtends the grand narratives that write that difference as evidence of the superiority of the cultures that grow out of the European Enlightenment. It is one of my primary aims in this book to work against that inscription that runs deeply throughout the Anglophone literary world. . I began this book in the waning days of George W. Bush’s war on terror, and I am finishing it in the months after the election of Donald Trump, who has asserted his desire to create a registry of Muslim citizens, wage war against the press, and lock his political opponents in jail. The limits of his willingness and ability to erode the human and civil rights of U.S. citizens remain to be seen, but the Turkish state has provided a model to show how the expansion of authoritarianism could work. Since the coup d’état of 2016, the state has “carried out mass arrests of journalists,” according to Human Rights Watch, “closed multiple media outlets, and jailed elected opposition politicians. It dismissed or detained without due process over 100,000 civil servants including teachers, judges and prosecutors, suspended hundreds of nongovernmental groups, and consolidated government control over the courts.”77 Academics who signed petitions against state violence in the Southeast were identified as a threat to national security, and 4,811 lost faculty jobs without the possibility of future public service.78 A national extremist announced his desire to “shower in their blood”; and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced them as puppets of “colonizers” who had created a “fifth column” to undermine the Turkish Republic.79 Those pressures put Turkish academics in 2017 in a position akin to Orhan Pamuk’s in 2006. Like him, they inflame the animosities of Turkish nationalists by defying the state narrative of a unified Turkey, which renders any declaration of allegiance to a minority identity an existential threat. And as these academics are persecuted by the state, they are persecuted, too, by the segment of their fellow citizens who voice a vigilante’s


30 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

willingness to take the protection of the Republic into their hands. To that degree, academics find their ability to do their jobs imperiled, even when their security is not. As Western observers rightly denounce such authoritarianism, we should also recognize the context in which such denunciations will be heard: as the praise of the colonizer for the puppets who do our bidding, and as unsolicited advice from citizens in a state that is ill qualified to give it. In a world where the United States wields hegemonic power and is led by a president whose Islamophobia is overtly expressed, Turkish phobias about Western designs on the East find ready support in the daily news. And the MLA’s statement of solidarity with Turkish academics is easy to read from afar as a press release from the White House expressing thanks for destabilizing a rival.80 Literary critics have no more autonomy from that geopolitical morass than from the mechanisms of global capital; we are of this world, too. And, being of it, we reiterate in our darkest moments the question that our worst enemies put to us: what good can literature do? That question was put to me in nonrhetorical ways when I taught in Turkey because I was hired with one other junior faculty member to create a new department of English and comparative literature at an institution that had never had hired anybody for literary study of any sort. Prestigious and privately funded, Koç University was founded in the name of one of Turkey’s wealthiest families to launch Turkish youth toward success in a global economy.81 That mission dictated a curriculum that was strong in business and the STEM fields, and also in the specific areas of the humanities and social sciences—archeology, art history, and Ottoman history— that enable the appreciation and monetization of Turkey’s cultural heritage. It also dictated that the language of instruction should be English, since that is the lingua franca for commerce in goods of all kinds across national lines. Little investment was made in disciplines with less apparent profit-making potential for Turkish people. When I came to give a job talk, I was told that a handful of literature courses were offered at Koç offered every semester under the auspices of the English Language Center (ELC), which prepares the Turkish student body to do all their coursework in the language of global business. My students had previously had neither the opportunity nor the requirement to study literature; their education had taught them to memorize the names of their nation’s most prominent authors and liter-


31 I ntroduction : S lipper y W ords

ary movements but not to read them, and not to look beyond the national literature at all.82 Only those who had the same exceptional interest in literary study that motivates students in the United States to major in English or comparative literature had ever read a novel on their own time. The rest wanted real answers when they asked: “Why do we have to read these books about people and problems that don’t even exist? What good does it do?” So Orhan Pamuk was just one of many writers they had not read. But most of them had strong opinions about their nation’s most notable novelist because they knew him as a public figure, and they expressed those opinions with a vehemence that surprised me at first.83 This was in contrast to their general inclination toward a geniality so great that it verged on apathy; they were the children of the secular elite, destined for good jobs in a burgeoning economy; they were charmed, sheltered, and young, like the students I had taught at Princeton. But they had been taught to understand literature solely as an instrument, and they could see from their daily news how Orhan Pamuk used it. I watched them fly into genuine rages at the Nobel Laureate who was not in the room—rages replete with fist-clenching, table-pounding, and explosive exits with doors that slam. These are things I’ve never witnessed in any classroom in the United States. Certainly not on the subject of a novelist. In a small measure, it was exciting to see: in Turkey, literature matters. And yet to a larger degree it was terrifying to see, and literature didn’t seem to matter at all.

Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature, by Gloria Fisk  

Read "Slippery Words: Orhan Pamuk, Good, and World Literature," the introduction to *Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature,* by Glori...

Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature, by Gloria Fisk  

Read "Slippery Words: Orhan Pamuk, Good, and World Literature," the introduction to *Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature,* by Glori...