Tuesday, May 17, 2016


I have for long been allergic to books where the author tries to manipulate my emotions. Even the slightest danger of kitsch has made me angry.

When I was 20 years old I had my first anti-kitsch period. I admired, in a naive way, Hemingway's early novels, where the iceberg theory was still vivid - you only got to know the surface and the rest you had to imagine - and at the same time I was building, in a clumsy way, my masculine identity by thinking about Hemingway's protagonists as something admirable.

Lately Duras, Céline, Schultz and Gombrovitz have been meaningful. In Duras's and Céline's case you can talk about intellectual braveness. (In Céline's case he sadly forgot to think where his ideas could lead him.) The others are just alienated. But the most important thing for me was that I did not feel that I am sitting in a Hollywood movie while I read them. I felt uncomfortable with readymade emotions and experiences.

I can't remember what helped me out from the totalitarianism of the iceberg theory when I was in my 20s, but now it is at least very clear what made me come back to writing where 10-30% can be kitsch, even if the book provides artistic pleasure. I visited Istanbul for the first time in May 2015 and I started to read Orhan Pamuk. The idea was to get a sense of local culture, but the way the reader was led, like in a waltz, in a poetical, sometimes even a pathetic, tragical fashion through the story felt meaningful. Did I forgive the book first because I thought that even if it was Western literature it was at the same time something else, which I should be careful to not judge without understanding? I know that sentimentality has a different kind of role in many literary cultures where I am not at home.

Who knows. But Snow (2002) is a beautiful book. It is a story about two writers, the life of the first - he dies during the book - through the narrative of the second one, who in a way becomes a mirror image the of the first one. It is a story about Turkey, the clash between - the now politically visible - Westernized, modern Turks and the religious conservatives. Packaged like this it sounds like Nobel trash and it is really sad that Pamuk got the prize. It easily kitschifies readings of his books. Hemingway got it at the phase of his career where everything he wrote was just a criminally pathetic male fantasy. But Pamuk is really serious about writing (Hemingway was when he was young).

In Snow the Westernized protagonist Ka arives to the town of Kars after years of living in Germany. Kars is far away of the lifestyle of Istanbul, and even further away from Frankfurt. Ka intends to write an article of young muslim girls who have been committing suicides, but drifts into nostalgy, desperate love and an identity crisis. The stage is ready for a clash on many levels. In the end Ka gets shot when he returns back to Germany, as some radicalists see him as a traitor of the values of his country of origin. Ka's friend travels to Ka to tell the story, but ends up pretty much in the same maelstrom of love and identity crisis. The theme comes close to what Antonio Tabucchi does in his Notturno Indiano (1984), where a man travels to India to search for his friend who has changed his name, but ends up finding himself, in a personal crisis, which at same time is resolved.

Well, for me the narrative was not that important, although I learned a lot about how Westernized Turks can experience the religiously and culturally schizophrenic nature of their country. It is just fantastic when someone really can take you on an emotional trip and explain to you a cultural constellation you don't really know much about. The book operates in many ways between two worlds, but keeps the reader all the time on a well controlled track. I am happy that Pamuk took me for a waltz. And it is hard to be a tourist if the story gets forcefully under your skin.

Anyway, now I read emotional books again.

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