Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

It wasn't the poverty or the helplessness that disturbed him; it was the thing he would see again and again during the days to come -in the empty windows of photography shops, in the frozen windows of the crowded teahouses where the city's unemployed passed the time playing cards, and in the city's empty snow-covered squares. These sights spoke of a strange and powerful loneliness. It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten, as if it were snowing at the end of the world.

He read something else into the look his friend gave him, and it would stay with him for many years: Muhtar thought he deserved the beating he was about to get. Even with the certainty of his winning the election in four days' time, there was something so unsettling about his composure as to make him seem contrite for what had not yet happened; it was almost as if he were thinking, I deserve this beating not just for having insisted in settling in this godforsaken city but for having succumbed once again to the desire for power; I won't let them break my spirit, but I still hate myself for knowing all this and so I don't feel inferior to you. Please, when you look me straight in the eye, don't throw my shame back at me.

Watching the Kars Border Television archive videotape of the evening's performance, I was struck by the silence in the hall; it was as if the audience had left behind the struggles that defined them - the tussle of fathers and sons, the skirmishes between the guilty and the powerful - to sink into a collective terror; and I was not immune to the power of that shimmering fiction that any citizen of any oppressive and aggressively nationalistic country will understand only too well: the magical unity conjured by the word we

He sees a city that seems to have fallen into some sort of a black hole - forgotten by the rest of the world and even given up on by the people who live there themselves. Was it the fact that he was returning to his native city after all these years that made him feels so? He sees the look on Muhtar's face as one who has aspired for power to escape the drudgery of the city. As if the power would enable someone to rise to a higher level as most often feel. May be it the petty struggles between people that enable them to define themselves in a city as oppressive as this. But would there need to be a terror for the people forget their petty struggles and identify for once with their land? Or does terror cause people to realize how small they are and seek the shelter of a larger entity?

The thing that grieved and distressed him the most was not his terrible unhappiness; it was knowing that, had he acted a bit more intelligently, his entire life might have been much happier. The worst thing was knowing that no one even noticed his fear, his misery, his loneliness.

People who seek only happiness never find it.

He'd been far more relaxed that morning as he sat in his cell awaiting execution. Now he'd managed to save himself, he was already looking ahead in anger, aggrieved to know he'd never manage to do anything in life but generate more wrath.

No happiness lasts very long. But I have no desire to do something heroic that will get me killed just because I know how likely it is that I'll be unhappy again at some point in the future.

The book examines happiness, hope, suffering and despair almost throughout. How many times do you think back about decisions that may have changed the course of your life completely? How ridiculously simple the right decision appears when we think back. So do we make the same mistakes over and over again? The man who doesn't learn from history is condemned to repeat it. But does anyone have the courage to examine their own history? You could lie to others, but you could never lie to yourself. And then again you think sometimes, what difference would it make? I would have sooner or later messed everything up anyway. So what would you see yourself as then? An anarchist who could only take pleasure in destruction, in hoping that he would be remembered only for his crimes. So what of the little happiness that does come his way? Enjoy it while it lasts, before it is business as usual?

For the first time in years, he felt part of a family; in spite of the trials and responsibilities of what was called family, he saw now that it was grounded in the joys of unyielding togetherness, a feeling he was sorry to have known so little in his life.

But now as they welcomed this man to a carefully laid meal, with white cheese soon, he was sure, to be accompanied by raki, it was clear to Ka that such urges had no place at the table of revolutionary leaders, who sat down with an easy confidence known only to those for whom it has become second nature to decide other people's fates.

Contrary to popular opinion, a man can shut out love if he wants to. But to do, he must free himself not only from the woman who has bewitched him but also from the third person in the story, the ghost who has put temptation in his way.

Love and being loved. Possessing and being possessed. A family with a clear hierarchy - would you want the burden of being at the lowest rung even if that means you get spoiled once in a while, or would you want the authority of being at the summit even with all the responsibility that comes with it? Or would you just want to be free, knowing that neither would you ever burden anyone nor would you be the one to decide another's fate? Would that be cowardice - to escape? Or would it be noble to refuse? Maybe the suppressed would only find someone else to suppress them and the suppressors find someone else to suppress. What difference would it make by your escape? So what would it need to escape? Was it really that easy to break a bond? Is it really just the bond that needs to be broken or would you need to deal with larger forces that enable that bond - the third person who has put temptation in your way? and what if those larger forces were too strong to be reckoned with?

Shocked at the beauty of his own words, Ka could not help but ask himself, What does it all mean? It seemed to be a poem someone else had written - this he thought was why he was able to see its beauty. But also, finding it beautiful was a shock considering its contents, considering his own life. How to understand the beauty in this poem?

As Ka had so often suggested to me, I simply did not understand poetry well enough, nor the great sadness from which it issues, and so there had been a wall between us, a wall that now divided me not just from the melancholy city described in his notes but from the impoverished place I was now seeing with my own eyes.

You could see that the world was one, but you thought that if you close your eyes to this vision, you could be more unhappy and also more intelligent. And you were right. Only people who are very intelligent and very unhappy can write good poems. So you heroically undertook to endure the pains of faithlessness, just to be able to write good poems. But you didn't realize then that when you lost that vice inside you, you'd end up alone in an empty universe.

One of its important ideas was the poet's ability to shut off part of his mind even while the world is in turmoil. If this meant that a poet had no more connection to the present than a ghost did, such was the price a poet had to pay for his art!

A good actor is a man who represents the sediment, the unexplored and unexplained powers that have drifted down through the centuries; he takes the lessons he has gleaned and hides them deep inside him; his self-mastery is awesome; never does he bare his heart; no one may know how powerful he is until he strides onto the stage. All his life, he travels down unfamiliar roads to perform at the most out-of-the-way theaters in the most godforsaken towns, and everywhere he goes he searches for a voice that will grant him genuine freedom. If he is so fortunate as to find that voice, he must embrace it fearlessly and follow the path to the end.

Here I searched the checkout slips on the inside back covers for my friend's name; whenever I opened a copy of Auden, Browning, or Coleridge to find his signature, I shed tears for him and for the years he's wasted away in this library.

True to some extent. You need to isolate yourself for that flame of creativity to ignite. But that flame will burn out eventually. No one can sustain the flame forever. After a extended period of isolation would you be able to step back outside and face the world. The world could have changed so much, you would not even want to be a part of it. And what if after all the dedication, you were to and as a nobody? Or worse still someone remembers you after you were dead. I remember picking up a book of linear algebra in the library. Just browsing through, I saw a handwritten note inside the cover page - "Fantastic". The book did turn out to be fantastic and brought out a love for linear algebra. When out of curiosity I searched for the author, I found that he had passed away a few years back. What were my first thoughts? Sadness? Actually, rather stupidly, I felt hope. A hope that someday, someone, anyone would read something that I written and want to search for me online!

Mankind's greatest error, the biggest deception of the past thousand years is this: to confuse poverty with stupidity. Throughout history, religious leaders and other honorable men of conscience have always warned against this shaming confusion. They remind us that the poor have hearts, minds, humanity, and wisdom just like everyone else. When Hans Hansen sees a poor man he feels sorry for him. He would not necessarily assume that the man's a fool who has blown his chances or a drunk who has lost his will.

Here, perhaps, we have arrived at the heart of our story. How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another's heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known? Even if the world's rich and powerful were to put themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand the wretched millions suffering around them? So it is when Orhan the novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend's difficult and painful life: How much can he really see?

The book examines Turkey's place and especially rural Turkey's place in Europe several times. Many times in the book it appears as if an appeal is made to the rest of Europe for acceptance. But is it because of Europe's affluence versus the poverty of a remote village like Kars? It throws up an interesting debate between the perception the rich and the poor have of each other.

The idea of a solitary westernized individual whose faith in God is private is very threatening to you. An atheist who belongs to a community is far easier for you to trust than a solitary man who believes in God. For you, a solitary man is far more wretched an sinful than a nonbeliever.

You're deceiving yourself! Even if you did believe in God, it would make no sense to believe alone. You'd have to believe in him the way the poor do; you'd have to become one of them. It's only by eating what they eat, living where they live, laughing at the same jokes, and getting angry whenever they do that you can believe in their God. If you're leading an utterly different life, you can't be worshiping the same God they are. God is fair enough to know it's not a question of reason or logic but how you live your life.

Another interesting debate is the relationship between religion and society. Could a man hold his own private belief in God? Or would God exist only when he prays and repents among others? So would God then be a concept that binds a society together or is God a concept that provides each one an inner strength. If God does bind a society together, would God not be the one to expel an individual who insists on his solitude and peace? If God is a concept that strengthens an individual, would God not then weaken the need for society? So eventually, is there a middle ground? Where both God and the individual can coexist?

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