Turkish Laureate Speaks at Sanders

Novelist Orhan Pamuk discusses his book “Museum of Innocence”

According to Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, writing a novel is a lot like playing a game of chess.

At his lecture in a crowded Sanders Theatre yesterday, the Turkish novelist said that most writers attempt to guess how a reader will respond to their writing, just as a chess player makes his move in anticipation of his opponent’s next move in a chess game.

The hour-and-a-half lecture—Pamuk’s fifth in the Charles Eliot Norton lecture series—was entitled “Museums and Novels.”

“The museum-like quality of novels is about preservation, conservation, and resistance to being forgotten,” said Pamuk, who is the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

Pamuk began the lecture by telling the audience how he had collected items he thought were unique. Not only did Pamuk incorporate these items in his latest book, “Museum of Innocence,” but he also said that he plans to open a museum featuring these items in July 2010.


The lecture mainly focused on the feelings readers experience while reading novels—Pamuk categorized these feelings into two main groups, ”inadequacy” and “vanity.”

“Readers find the sensational experiences that are missing in their lives in a novel,” Pamuk said, describing the former. “The more powerful and persuasive the novel is, the more inadequate the reader feels,”

He added that readers often feel “inadequate” once they realize that the world created by the novel is imaginary.

Pamuk’s second category, “vanity,” referred to the extent to which a reader becomes invested in a novel.

“Vain possessiveness emerges in us because we...feel [the novel] was written for us, and only we understand it,” he said.

Steven Biel—a History and Literature lecturer and the executive director of the Humanities Center—said Pamuk has delivered “compelling” lectures in the series, which is sponsored this year by the Humanities Center.

“I find myself very often agreeing and being provoked—all of the things one wants from a lecture,” Biel said.

Namrata Baral ’12, who said she has read Pamuk’s “My Name is Red,” echoed Biel’s sentiments.

“Reading a novel after this lecture is going to be very different, and will provoke new feelings,” she added.