other colours

hearing Orhan Pamuk talking to Robert Harrison (link to audio) – Pamuk, the Nobel Laureate, self-confessedly conservative and superficial – superficial enough that winning the Nobel makes him happy – conservative in wanting to keep the language of Turkey ‘as it is’ – the ‘dictionary of the streets’ – and not turkify or alter it to fulfil any sort of social or political agenda – but to use the language of his mother, his grandmother, which is the same, in fact, as that you hear on the streets – I felt both let down – was it Thoreau who said writers are the worst company because they never have anything to say for themselves? – and you invite them to parties – particularly those writers who are so witty and interesting – to parties where you expect them to entertain and perform for your guests – so as, I expect, you can claim some sort of glory by association – but they sit glumly – or worse start drinking, smoking, taking drugs, behave scandalously, seduce the hostess, and the host, the children – or worse, they sit glumly – as if they’ve forgotten their scripts – as if the only words they know are written ones which they do not in fact speak – as if speech is a foreign language – company a foreign concept – perhaps they only accept your invitation because they are so lonely – or worse to perform like rutting monkeys, like smoking misanthropes, like opiated invertebrates, like inebriate self-advertisers, appetitive inverted anuses, both sucking and blowing – to act up, act out, in short – according to the major clichés and minor vices – would sitting glumly be worse? – I felt both strangely let down listening to Orhan Pamuk and more strangely slightly incensed he could call himself, his Istanbul, provincial – that Robert Harrison should accept this without question – the capital of the Ottoman empire provincial? But I then considered, after, without any consideration, being put in mind of the provincialism particular to the colonies – the torturous ennui and cultural self-deprecation – when it is not wildly self-affirmative, enhanced by social and political agenda – the horrific critical void – of New Zealand – I considered, as Pamuk suggested I should, as he did, Moscow – the capital of the glorious defunct Soviet Socialist Republic. I wondered if there is a provincialism particular to fading glory? a memorial provincialism? However it could not possibly contend – if there could ever be such a contention – with the colonial provincialism of our own green ghetto, which, contraindicatively lies in the suburbs and not in the provinces of memory. The consideration of … Moscow – can it be said of London? – of Rome? – then why especially Istanbul? – proceeded from a lower-level – a baser – resonance with Orhan’s description of the provincial experience: the cultural avidity – a need to know and find out – to extend feelers and find out what is really happening in the rest of the world – that is really happening because it is happening elsewhere: the greed for news. Music, art, magazines, criticism. But Pamuk’s provincialism is not so much a provincialism of geopolitical dimensions but of sentiment, of the dusk, of the black-and-white city, settling into winter, with long winter nights, of ruins, where little Orhan played football, in the Ottoman ruins, the wooden houses that within ten years were burnt and razed. The provincialism is of the city since the city Pamuk loves is not the one which has made his love provincial, provincialising his spirit. And I suspect this is the reason Pamuk applauded the analogy obsequious pill of a host, Harrison, made, when he said that in the piece of Orhan’s writing he liked best, which he of course had to admit, it is as if Istanbul is the writer and Nobel Laureate’s second mother, usurping the voice and role of the first, whose language, as said, Orhan wants to conserve. It is a maternal provincialism. Or perhaps the mother is always like this, a province removed from the centre – of culture, of art, of enlightened politics and social democracy? Orhan’s memorialised city or mother is in the process of rejecting exactly what it is about it, about her, Pamuk loves, of rejecting its black-and-white post-empire despondency and pushing it out to … the provinces, out onto the hem of her skirts, cutting apron-strings. The memory of baking. And he wanted to be a painter, between the years eleven to twenty-two, was it? And now it has come out, his brilliant work, a bricolage of autobiographical fragments and essays – which he had hoped one day would be in a proper work of fiction – called Other Colours. Its title testifies to the provincialism foisted on him of being mere monochrome. It reclaims the technicolour to ironic purpose – it also claims it as property – while I remember the grey Wellington of my youth, which had Models, Crafts and Hobbies and Kirkcaldies’s lights, open late only Friday nights, as puddles of colour in the wind-driven drizzle – now Istanbul and Wellington both put on – performing – like those writers earlier – acting up, acting out, simply – the economic good news in lurid technicolour smiles – the other colours, as Harrison with his practised and efficacious literalism points out, of toothpaste commercials.