The Nobel Prize in Literature laureate visits Duke on Thursday

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Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author and Nobel laureate who has spent a long literary career making politics personal, brings his insights to Duke Thursday for a reading of his latest novel.

Pamuk will discuss Nights of Plague with Erdağ Göknar, Associate Professor of Turkish in Duke’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The event will take place from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Thursday at White Lecture Hall on East Campus. Registration is mandatory.

Göknar has translated Pamuk’s 2001 novel My Name Is Red into English and teaches a course on his work.

“Pamuk is one of the foremost practitioners of global novel-writing today, and as such his visit is significant to Duke’s vision for international education,” Göknar said. “As an author-intellectual, he is able to provide important comparative information about our present moment; for example, how an epidemic can transform our political reality.

In this Q&A, Göknar discusses the work of Pamuk, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, and his upcoming visit to Duke.

What makes Pamuk such an important figure?

Pamuk’s significance as a writer is that he makes topical issues such as a military coup or an epidemic the basis of the literary form. He is one of the few writers capable of commenting on issues of historical and political importance through characters who experience what could be called an intimate geopolitics that transforms them and enlightens the reader on their daily lives. Her novels provide readers with comparative contexts to understand characters in crisis – and themselves.

What was the importance of his writing in your work?

Pamuk’s work is a focus of my research and scholarship. I first met him when I was in college and we’ve been friends for twenty years. I translated one of his well-known novels, my name is red, and have written a book on the cultural politics of his fiction. At Duke, I teach a seminar on his novels, which are insightful windows into Turkey, its culture, history, and politics.

What would you recommend as an entry point into his work?

Pamuk is a multi-faceted writer who likes to mix genres, so there are some great first reads depending on interest. For example, for readers interested in travelogues and memoirs, Istanbul is a good introduction to late Ottoman and Turkish modernity, and the writer’s place in that history. Art history buffs would like my name is red, which deals with Islamic miniatures and book arts. Readers interested in Middle Eastern politics will enjoy Snow, a novel that exposes coups and conspiracies – even shedding light on what we’ve been through recently in this country (the term “Deep State”, a favorite of President Trump, first appeared in Turkish politics).

What can you tell us about Pamuk’s new book?

plague nights develops a number of Pamuk themes like modernity, revolution and state power in Middle Eastern contexts. It is a story about the end of the Ottoman Empire and national self-determination told through the allegory of a plague epidemic. While it partly relies on contagion as a political allegory, it also dramatizes the experience of identity formation in the Middle East in an ironic mode. In this regard, it is a classic Pamuk novel at the intersection of Islamism, secularism and state power.

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