Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist who in 2006 won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the author of novels including The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, My Name Is Red, Snow, The Museum of Innocence, and A Strangeness in My Mind.
He is the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches writing and comparative literature. Pamuk holds honorary doctorates from the Free University of Berlin, Tilburg University, Boğaziçi University, and Georgetown, and his books have been translated into more than fifty languages.
Question: What insights into love does “The Museum of Innocence” draw upon?
Orhan Pamuk: See the visible that I -- and make people identify with the lovers' point of view. That my aim in this novel was not to put love on a pedestal and say, what a sweet thing it is; what a great thing it is. On the other hand, I look at it as almost a bad thing -- or not bad thing -- something that happens to us, to all of us. Then let's try to analyze it, see through it, and see how human mind and hearts -- if you make a distinction between them -- reacts to life. My -- I can also simplify my point of view is that lots of things are operating in our minds, in our spirit, in our blood, so to speak, when we are in love. And one thing that is important is that one part of our mind is seeing things clearly, knows that we are in love, that what we are doing in fact will not serve our love, but it will be in fact not good for getting or impressing the beloved. But we do those things. And when we are in love -- and this is the essential point about my novel too -- that we do things; one part of our minds observes with a bit of sadness and melancholy, thinking that this will not make us happy. This is one thing. The second thing that I focus on in the novel is to see analytically all the things that lovers do; that is, waiting for the phone to ring, resentment and anger, jealousy, finding yourself stupid or over-anxiety, angers, expectations, and a lot of illusions, delusions, and how we cheat or how we misguide ourselves when we are in love. My character Kamal in “Museum of Innocence” thinks that actually he is going to win over his beloved in two weeks, at most in two months, while he spends eight years running after her.
Question: How is love connected to the objects of everyday life?
Orhan Pamuk: The book -- at one point in the book, when my character is infatuated by love and feels what we popularly call love pain, he realizes that objects, things that are associated with his beloved -- objects that they shared together in their happy times -- have the power of consoling him, perhaps because they bring back the memories, the joyful memories they shared together. This we all know, more or less, from Proust's Madeleine. Or I'll give you an example of a movie ticket. Let's imagine that we have found a movie ticket in an old jacket pocket. We have already forgotten that we've been to that movie; we don't even remember we've been seeing that. But as soon as we have the ticket, we begin thinking, well, not only that we've seen the movie, but we remember scenes from the movie, because we have an object associated with those sensations and memories. All objects have that power, and when my character is badly in love and is not happy with his unrequited love, he begins to collect, or gather around, the objects that he had shared with his beloved. Later, after some time, he makes a museum of these objects. And my novel is in a way an annotated museum catalog. If you put the objects together and tell the story of each object, we have a novel. That was more or less the idea, how I composed this book. Then I'm also doing that; I'm also doing the museum. Maybe I should talk about it later more when I -- my museum is also about objects that these lover share, but also it's a city museum because they share the culture of Istanbul between 1975 until the end of the 20th century. It has also qualities of a city museum.