Tuesday, July 17th, 2007
I like Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me. But, it is seeming like it doesn't really hold anything new for me. So I've put it on the shelf for some time in the future when I feel like a comforting bit of psychedeliana.
In its stead I have picked up Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which Dr. Snarkout was recommending to me. I read the first 40 pages or so a while back in the library; picking it up this morning my eyes leapt to the second page, and the lines (which I don't have the book to hand now to quote, but to the effect of): "He was tired and did not look up to see the snow coming down. If he had, and had noticed that he was heading into a blizzard, he might have turned back. But the thought did not even cross his mind." I'll look up the precise wording, which is more elegant than mine, later on.
Wednesday, July 18th, 2007
Those lines I was looking for yesterday, from the first two pages:
If he hadn't been so tired, if he'd paid a bit more attention to the snowflakes swirling out of the sky like feathers, he might have realized that he was traveling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen at the start that he was setting out on a journey that would change his life forever and chosen to turn back.Some more good stuff from the first chapter: "I'm an old friend of Ka's, and I begin this story knowing everything that will happen to him during his time in Kars." (Aside: I wonder what's up with the assonance between "Ka" and "Kars" -- it threatens to be distractingly cutesy. Does the pronunciation of "Kars" rhyme with "Mars" or with "parse", or something different?) "After a lifetime in which every experience of love was touched by shame and suffering, the prospect of falling in love filled Ka with an intense, almost instinctive dread."
But the thought didn't even cross his mind.
Chapter 3 opens with a description of what has led Ka to make this journey, which makes it sound sort of like a search for "the real Turkey" -- I was extrapolating to my own experience to think, it sounds a little like if I, beset by mid-life depression, made a trip to (say) Kentucky looking for the real America, which America is completely alien to me. More extrapolation: Ka's fear of fundamentalist Islam is like my fear of fundamentalist Christianity and what it's doing to America. But, I don't want to commit to this reading yet, I don't know that it's going to be at all useful in understanding the book.
Ka's blurted confession in Chapter 4 has me loving him. It is the first point where he is fully human.
Snarkout tells me, "The Ka/Kars thing will not get less irritating,although it's a pun in Turkish; Kars is a real city in northeast Turkey, 'kar' is 'snow', so snow is what lies between Ka and Kars."
Ka's tendency to narrate his subjunctive conversations with other characters is a bit disconcerting. I recognize my own behavior in it; but I also find that it dehumanizes the characters Ka is interacting with and makes him appear narcissistic -- so I am reading it as a criticism of me. And I guess also as a self-criticism on Pamuk's part.
Friday, July 20th, 2007
I am getting more attached to seeing Ka as a narcissist. Chapter 11, "Ka with Sheikh Efendi", portrays a mental space I am closely familiar with, viz. talking happily and effusively with a group of people while simultaneously feeling secretly scornful of them and fearing that they are not taking me seriously. But the words of Ka's conversation with the Sheikh have an otherworldly, unbelievable quality to them. So I am adding together the realistic portrayal of Ka himself and the unreality of his relations with others, and coming up with narcissism.
I am feeling a little disappointed that I don't get to see the surpassing beauty of the poetry Ka is transcribing during his ecstasies. But that is likely part of the point being made here.
Hm... Now I just read chapter 13, in which Kadife comes across with a distinct fullness of character. Maybe the thing that makes Ka retreat from interacting with others into the privacy of his head, is religion, and Kadife's explicit refusal to discuss her beliefs allows him to treat her as an equal. The places I have noticed a particularly stilted quality in the dialog have all been conversations between Ka and Islamists -- Efendi, Nicep, Blue, Muhtar. (His conversation with İpek was pretty surreal too, but in a different way, and that's pretty easy to explain as a product of his infatuation.)
Saturday, July 21st, 2007
Chapter 15 is where this story is really beginning to come together for me. I had been liking a lot of disconnected stuff, and feeling fairly befuddled by the whole thing -- now all of a sudden I am grinning in agreement, underlining every other sentence, absolutely wincing when I see some bad news about a character I have come to love.
The moment of transition might have been at the end of chapter 14, when İpek used Ka's phrase "the silence of snow" in a totally natural-seeming way. At this point I realize I am no longer condemning Ka for his narcissism (and myself for sympathizing with him) -- his narcissism seems like the most natural thing in the world to me. Another important cusp:
"I think you're right," said Ka. "As it happens, I've already decided to answer the call that's been coming from deep within me my whole long life and open my heart to God."Up until now, I have been taking Ka's dialogue as generally pretty earnest. I think going forward, reading it with more irony assumed will make things easier to understand. -- Although that was not the case in reading Ka's conversation with Necip later in the chapter -- straight and ironic are both plausible interpretations, and both equally hard to decipher. I am really dreading Necip's fate.
They caught his sarcastic tone -- for what it was worth. Knowing he was very drunk, they all suspected that this witticism might well have been prepared in advance.
I'm really intrigued by Ka's drunkenness -- I am dying to figure out what Pamuk means here. More to say about this but I haven't figured out what, yet.
Sunday, July 22nd, 2007
The events in chapter 17 of Snow have totally knocked me for a loop. The confident grasp of the book's plot and structure that I was feeling in 15 and 16 is out the window. I sort of had an idea what was going to happen based on the spoileriffic back cover blurb; that idea was completely wrong.
Monday, July 23rd, 2007
...And as of chapter 22, I'm back to despising Ka for his narcissism, and myself for sympathizing with it. The lack of awareness he demonstrates for the violence around him (and/or his maintaining ironic distance from it) is really troubling, and is seeming to have real-world repercussions for people not as privileged as he is, for instance the people in the tea house after curfew when he stops in with his police escort, or the Georgian migrant workers whom they pursue.
The violence seemed to me like a farce at first reading, only gradually sinking in how serious were the events being described, and I sort of think this was Ka's reaction as well -- he is so caught up in his constructed reality that he is experiencing the world around him as scripted. And maybe he is in shock? That is the only way I can explain his demeanor at the veterinary college in a way that allows me to remain sympathetic to him.
Saturday, July 28th, 2007
Chapter 23 of Snow contains the most detailed and almost-sympathetic presentation yet of a (bloodthirsty) Turkish nationalist viewpoint. I am not sure what to make of how familiar it sounds to me: it reads almost exactly like thousands of American conservative/hawkish opinion pieces -- ok, more eloquent than 99% of those pieces, but not different in kind.
But where do I go with this? Some possibities:
- The Turkish context is a huge factor which I am missing totally because I am not Turkish. Pamuk is writing for a Turkish audience.
- Pamuk is writing for a western audience and is eliding over distinctions that exist between our nationalists and their nationalists.
- They really are exactly the same.
What else?... Ka's ironic distance is making sense here as the only way to keep himself clear of Sunay's nationalism. If I'm understanding correctly his cosmopolitanism means the presumption is that his sympathies are with the nationalist in a dispute with fundamentalists -- my own sympathies would certainly default that way.
Friday, August third, 2007
Chapters 27, 28, 29 of Snow: The story is changing in important ways here. A lot that has only been hinted at is coming out into the open, along with an affirmation (in 27, "Only much later would he realize that -- apart from Necip -- everyone he met in Kars spoke the same code") that what is in the open is not necessarily the whole story. The narrator, who has been gradually insinuating himself into the story since Chapter 1, now has an identity and a history. And unmasks himself, saying near the end of 29, "Here, perhaps, we have arrived at the heart of our story." The story is about Pamuk the novelist trying to understand the "difficult and painful life" of his character Ka.
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