Reading Note:
Red
4 September 2018

¶ I’m in the middle of re-reading My Name Is Red, perhaps still Orhan Pamuk’s best-known novel. When I read it the first time, almost twenty years ago, I was so dazed by its exotic setting and its barrage of unfamiliar details that I understood very little of the story. I had never been to Istanbul, and I was accordingly ignorant of Turkey and its history. My understanding of Ottoman culture was fairly limited to Mozart’s Seraglio. I actually came away thinking that I never did find out whose name was Red. 

So, although I remember a few things — the early scene in which Black, on horseback, sees Shekure at her window, his view somewhat obstructed by a pomegranate tree, engraved itself on my memory as a miniature in its own right — I’m effectively reading it for the first time, capable of appreciating the ongoing discussions of matters such as style and originality, not to mention the nature of representational art. The principal male characters are all engaged in the production of “book arts,” a term that tips off the modern reader to the fact that, in the Sultanate of the late sixteenth-century, there was no comfortable place for stand-alone painting. Some of these artists are struggling with the very different conception of art to be seen in Venice, which one of them has visited, astonished by the distinctiveness of the many portraits on its palazzos’ walls. 

The first chapter is narrated by a corpse, a victim of the crisis of modernity that crackles all the way through the novel, and that is crackling still..

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