Unreliability of history within the novel "My Name is Red" by Pamuk

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

9 Pages, Grade: 90



In this paper the novel My Name Is Red by the Turkish writer Pamuk was analyzed all the while clarifying the implementation of historiography (the usage of historical events under the influence of a certain narrator) which stemmed from the postmodernist trend followed in the novel, touching on its effect on major themes developed in the novel. The paper exposed how in the novel the concept of historiography is brilliantly used depending on an intricately woven web of characters that directly expose their inner thoughts to the reader. Each one of the different narrators in the novel contributed to the formation of the historical events depicted in it, exposing wishes on the mind of the author to be at peace with those distinguishing differences forming each civilization; as those characters gave a personalized view point, they also represented an exploring effort intended by Pamuk to shed light on differences between east and west, with the art of miniature painting as the differentiator.

In his novel Pamuk (2002) permits multiple narrators to tell their version of the story from which the reader understands the conflicting viewpoints that developed as the miniaturists and their society came into increasing contact with other cultures, thereby interpreting their artistic works and incorporating certain ideas and elements from them into their own work. The miniature artists were not allowed in the Ottoman Empire to draw what is real (made in the picture created by God), this was viewed as against Islam. Therefore; the artists in Istanbul (the setting of the novel) drew on the basis of what they learned from old schools of art (like the Persian Master Bihzad).Each one of the narrators had his/her opinions about the cultural and religious restrictions effecting the art of miniature drawings, explaining their ideas and feelings about what the artists were going through especially after a crime of murder happened in their midst, each one started to explore their doubts about all of the others. Through all of this the reader comes to contact with the element of the postmodern trend in the novel which stems from the aspect of doubting each narrator, as well as representing innovations in the treatment of history as Nunning (1997) explained in his research about blurring genres, postmodernist historical fiction and metahistorical novels :

Metahistorical novels represent significant innovations in the treatment of history as a literary theme because what they highlight is the process of historical reconstruction and the protagonists’ consciousness of the past rather than a represented historical world as such. Instead of portraying a historical world on the diegetic level of the characters, metahistorical novels are generally set in the present but concerned with the appropriation, revision and transmission of history (p. 224).

leading the reader to the assumption that there is not only a one truth that should be the right narrative to follow, there is not one correct story, nor is there a reliable story teller who does not have his or her own hidden agenda which stands behind their narrative as the opinionated and personalized history they tried to portray in the novel. However, one cannot help but think that it would be difficult to fully grasp where the novel aims to lead the mind of the reader. What does My Name is Red with its historical significance, its portrayal of past miniature painting; and their roles in the representation of culture across time tell the reader?

The novel to any reader would at first appear to be about a topic that had little significance to the present art world although upon closer analysis, many of the themes and ideas presented are incredibly important and overarching. The narrative can be incredibly challenging to follow without some prior knowledge or understanding. Even the supportive material, such as the chronology and the map that are provided in the novel, do little to enhance the reading experience and comprehension of the reader who has little or no knowledge about miniature painting.

For the reader who does possess such knowledge, however, the novel effectively breathes life into history and helps the reader to understand some of the dilemmas and influences that gave rise to two distinct periods in miniature painting. The characters are thoughtful and articulate, and they convey their ideas and beliefs powerfully, often doing so by addressing the reader directly. One of the first characters introduced was the character of Elegant Effendi. Even though he is dead throughout the novel, Elegant is clearly trying to make sense out of what has happened to him, this is a sentiment echoed by other characters, including a tree, a dog, a coin, and a horse all tell their story from the view point of what interests them. Similarly, all the characters in My Name is Red seem to function more as literary devices than as flesh-and-blood individuals. Although the cast of artists, assassins beautiful widows and wise old men are complex individuals drawn in attentive detail, they seem somehow flat and even elusive - lacking the accustomed realism of contemporary fiction, and this, according to Jameson(1999) is a feature of postmodernism in the novel:

Features of the postmodern: a new depthlessness, which finds its prolongation both in contemporary “theory” and in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum; a consistent weakening of historicity, both in our private temporality, whose “schizophrenic” structure (following Lacan) will determine new types of syntax …..(chap1, p. 8)

Like miniaturist art itself, which attempts to reveal character and emotion not through individual traits or expression but through the overall tone in the painting itself, in the novel there is a pulse of passion that seems to transcend the often inconsistent thoughts and actions of its characters. Although the different narrators often describe and judge the other characters and even themselves, the reader is clearly not meant to trust these biased voices, which contradict each other and themselves this is clarified in Nunning’s words again on historiography where he describes the effect of multy narration commenting on two novels by Nigel Williams called starturn and witchcraft:

Time and again the narrators in starturn and witchcraft reflect upon the inevitable distortions that result from the unreliability of an inconsistent memory and from the subjectivity of any interpretation. Moreover, both through their complex structural layering of historical reconstruction and their metahistoriographic self- consciousness, William’s novels show that what is commonly regarded as a historical fact inevitably depends on the selective bias of the individual historian. (p.229).

Thus, the reader fails to grow attached to any of the mercurial, mutable individuals in the story, and thus the unveiling of the murderer's identity holds no real significance or emotional punch. The event seems almost an afterthought, as even the murderer himself who turns out to be Olive (one of the miniaturists) admits: "You'd forgotten about me, hadn't you? Why should I conceal my presence from you any longer?" (Pamuk, 383).

Seemingly, the center topic of the novel is the threatened Westernization of Ottoman art, protected by Sultan Murat III (r. 1574-95), of the Persian tradition of miniature painting. To honor the thousandth anniversary (measured in lunar years) of the Hegira, which occurred in 622 A.D., an illustrated book is being prepared for the Sultan in the "Frankish," or "Venetian," style of receding perspective and recognizable individual portraiture. In the first chapter of My Name Is Red, a miniaturist named Elegant, a specialist in gilding, objects so strenuously to the blasphemy of this stylistic change that another miniaturist, unidentified, kills him and drops his body down a well. Later, the same assailant kills Enishte ("Uncle"), the organizer of this dangerous book. One of three miniaturists involved—who are named, in picturesque Ottoman style, Butterfly, Olive, and Stork—must be the murderer. The detective is Enishte's nephew, Black, who has returned to Istanbul after twelve years spent in Persia, "carrying letters and collecting taxes" and "working as a secretary in the service of pashas." In his youth, he studied with the miniaturist apprentices but did not last the course; he exiled himself after Enishte rejected his suit for the hand of Enishte's daughter, Shekure. Black has been summoned back by his uncle to help him organize the book for the Sultan. When Enishte is slain, Shekure, whose first husband disappeared in battle four years earlier, hastily weds Black but will not let the marriage be consummated until he brings the murderer to justice. Thus the novel can be viewed as a murder story, a love story or a retelling of the Ottoman miniaturist history.


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Unreliability of history within the novel "My Name is Red" by Pamuk
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Ghada Abu-Enein (Author), 2016, Unreliability of history within the novel "My Name is Red" by Pamuk, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/488846


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