“Culture means a mix of things from other sources”
Transcript of the telephone interview with Orhan Pamuk immediately following the announcement of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, 12 October 2006. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org.
[Orhan Pamuk] – Hello.
[Adam Smith] – Hello, may I speak to Orhan Pamuk please? Hello?
[OP] – Hello.
[AS] – Hello, may I speak to Orhan Pamuk please?
[OP] – Speaking.
[AS] – Oh, my name is Adam Smith and I’m calling from the official website of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.
[OP] – Yes.
[AS] – We have a tradition of recording very short conversations with new Laureates immediately after the announcements.
[OP] – OK.
[AS] – So, first of all, many, many congratulations on being awarded …
[OP] – Oh, thank you very much. It’s such a great honour.
[AS] – I gather you’re in New York. What were you doing when you received the news?
[OP] – Oh, I was sleeping, and thinking that, in a hour, probably they will announce the Nobel Prize, and then someone would maybe tell me who won it. And then I’m thinking, so what am I going to do, what’s today’s work? And I’m a little bit sleepy. And then the phone call, and then I’m “Oh, it’s already half past seven”. You know, this is New York and I don’t know the light, so I don’t feel pretty … And I answered, and they said I won the Nobel Prize.
[AS] – That’s an extraordinary phone call to receive. There was an enormous cheer went up at the press conference when they announced the prize.
[OP] – Really, of that’s great, I’m very happy to hear this. This is great.
[AS] – We’ve recorded it on the website so you can, when finally you get off the phone you can go and relive the moment.
[OP] – And also I saw so many journalists you know, wanted me to have it, so I’m pleased about that. I’m very pleased about all these details. Thank you very much, sir.
[AS] – You’re the first ever Turkish writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. Does that give the award a special significance for you?
[OP] – Well, unfortunately, that makes the thing very precious in Turkey, which is good for Turkey of course, getting this prize, but makes it more extra sensitive and political and it somehow tends to make it as a sort of a burden.
[AS] – Yes, because it’s been quite a public year for you.
[OP] – Yes.
[AS] – So I imagine this will add to that. The citation for the award refers particularly to your “quest for the melancholic soul of (your) native city”, and there’s an extremely long tradition of writing about Istanbul, and in praise of Istanbul. Could you describe briefly what it is about the city that has acted as such a strong draw for people’s imagination over the years?
[OP] – Well, it was at the edge of Europe, but different. So it was the closest ‘other’. And it was really both close and, in a way, other. Mysterious, strange, uncompromising and totally un-European in ways, although in its spirit there was such a great place for Europe [words unclear].
[AS] – And referring to the phrase “melancholic soul”, how would you describe Istanbul to those who’ve never seen it?
[OP] – I would say that it’s one of the early modern cities where modernity decayed earlier than expected. I would say that the ruins of the past gave the city its melancholy, along with its poverty. But then I would also say that it’s now recovering from this melancholy, hopefully.
[AS] – And another facet of your writing that was particularly emphasized in the citation, from the Committee, is the way that you deal with the interactions between different cultures. And of course it’s a cliché to say that Turkey lies at the crossroads between East and West, but it does presumably offer the perfect vantage point from which to view the cross-cultural interface?
[OP] – This meet of East and West and clash of civilizations, this is unfortunately one of the most dangerous and horrific ideas that have been produced in the last twenty years, and is now serving for… This fanciful idea is now unfortunately getting to be real, and this theory is serving the clash of civilizations and the deaths of so many people.
[AS] – Because historically there has really been much more mixing of cultures than is popularly supposed.
[OP] – Culture is mix. Culture means a mix of things from other sources. And my town, Istanbul, was this kind of mix. Istanbul, in fact, and my work, is a testimony to the fact that East and West combine cultural gracefully, or sometimes in an anarchic way, came together, and that is what we should search for. This is getting to be a good interview by the way.
[AS] – Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Many of your characters might be said to embody multiple cultural influences. I mean your writing indicates that they’re far from uniformly either Eastern or Western, it’s a mix.
[OP] – Yes.
[AS] – Do you write solely in Turkish?
[OP] – Yes. I think I wrote some six or seven articles in English, in international magazines, in Times Literary Supplement, in Village Voice.
[AS] – So there are presumably …
[OP] – But of course I’m a Turkish writer, essentially, and live in the language. Language is me, in a way. Really, I feel it.
[AS] – Right, and there are ideas that you can express in Turkish, I assume, that would be very hard to capture in other languages?
[OP] – Exactly. Because thinking is composed of two things; language and images, and then yeah, half of thinking is the language. I agree, yes sir, please ask the question.
[AS] – Well, could you give an example of a concept that …
[OP] – Wow! I can of course, but not on the day that I have received the Nobel Prize.
[AS] – That’s fair enough, you don’t really have to answer any questions on the day you receive the Nobel Prize.
[OP] – Yeah, OK.
[AS] – You can say anything you like.
[OP] – OK, thank you very much sir.
[AS] – So then an easy question. I mean the award will encourage a lot of new readers to dip into your work for the first time. Where would you recommend they start? What would you suggest to people, and also …
[OP] – Oh, depending on the reader of course; the reader who buys books because the writer has received the Nobel Prize should start with My Name is Red. The reader who has already read that book should continue with The Black Book. The reader who is interested in more contemporary issues and politics should go ahead with Snow, so forth and so on.
[AS] – Wonderful, wonderful. And if your readers are lucky enough to be able to read in multiple languages, but can’t manage Turkish, do you have a recommendation for which language most excellently captures the spirit?
[OP] – Of course English is the world’s language now, and that’s the language I’ve been checking my books with, and I’m proud with my translator and I’m also confident. So, basically English translations.
[AS] – OK, thank you very much.
[OP] – Thanks, as you see I’m a dutiful good boy, I did my homework very well now.
[AS] – Very well indeed! No, I’m thrilled with your cooperation. Thank you very much.
[OP] – Bye, bye. I’m have to hang now because my agent is calling and others, so many responsibilities that I have to address.
[AS] – Of course, quite so, thank you for sparing the time. See you soon, bye, bye.
[OP] – OK, bye, bye.
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