Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Pamuk and Ataman on Turkish identity

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In Orhan Pamuk’s 2002 novel, Snow, there is an enigmatic Islamist character named “Blue.” At one point in the story, Blue is attempting to publish a statement in a German newspaper—a statement appealing to the “West” for aid in resisting a small coup in Anatolia.

Ka, the main character, records one of Blue’s pronouncements:

Will the West, which takes democracy, its great invention, more seriously than the word of God, come out against this coup that has brought an end to democracy in Kars? [He stopped here to make a grand gesture.] Or are we to conclude that democracy, freedom, and human rights don’t matter, that all the West wants is for the rest of the world to imitate them like monkeys? Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way resemble them? I have something to say to all the other nations that the West has left behind: Brothers, you are not alone.

Though Blue is primarily attempting to detract from “the West” by pointing out its inconsistencies, he unwittingly reveals his own inconsistencies by denigrating Western values with an appeal to Western values. His pride makes the situation even more ironic.

What Pamuk seems to be saying is that even when rebellious, Turks can find themselves working within Western parameters. Contemporary artist Kutluğ Ataman seems to agree (here):

Ataman said he always longed to return to Turkey, but he was skeptical of the art he sees in Istanbul: “A great majority of the work consists of imitations of Western gestures. Their reference is New York and London.”

Ataman doesn’t think Turkish artists have confronted the real source of their material, the thing they have to offer the world. He referred to an infamous recent incident, when a mob of Turkish men attacked gallery-hoppers who’d spilled onto the streets drinking alcohol in their fashionable clothes. The galleries were gentrifying the neighborhood, and the community, many Turks later told reporters, felt encroached upon and left out. To many other Turks, however, the attackers were religious types angered by the liberal lifestyle they’d been forced to witness: uncovered women, gay men, art, alcohol. In the center of Istanbul, Turkey’s two worlds came face to face, in a microcosmic dance of the confrontation happening all over the world: the West and the East, the rich and the poor, the comfortable and the angry.

Ataman regards such a confrontation as a brush with the “real Turkey.” “When I look at artists’ practice in Europe, I am not inspired,” he said. “If the artists here can engage with Turkey, they will be ahead of the rest of the world. Because the world is this. This desert.”


Written by M. James

May 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

Posted in Culture, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , , , ,

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