Thursday, November 6, 2014

Like snow falling on snow, there's not much to see

I get what Pamuk has done regarding the ideas of an unstable, unreliable self, the individual being a locus for external pressures filtered through self image and desire (and vice versa), and how political action is primarily (or perhaps entirely) an expression of self image and desire, and political action will change as self image and desire changes. All of civilization is in fact an expression of shifting, unstable and unreliable self image and desire, unpredictable even to the individual who acts, such an individual unable to see his changing public and private expressions of self. This is demonstrated quite well by Pamuk in his satirical passages and set pieces. I can see what's going on in Snow with those ideas.

What is less clear to me is what Pamuk has done with the sort of nested personalities of Ka and Orhan, especially at the end of the novel, with Orhan walking around in Ka's footsteps in Kars, meeting the people there who Ka met earlier, falling in love with Ipek and being rejected by her, etc. What's all that supposed to mean? What's it got to do with the first 400 pages of the novel? I can't tell you. It seems like an idea that was tacked on at the end of the book rather than something that is worked through the fabric of the whole narrative. These ideas of personalities being interpenetrating or interchangeable are not so much well-crafted and thought-out formal strategies as they are vague gestures in the general direction of formal strategies. It doesn't work, is what I'm saying.

There is much to admire in Snow, and there is alongside that admirable work a great deal of clumsy and juvenile characterization (see yesterday's bitter little post). I think Pamuk has tried in part to write Snow as a Kafka novel, and failed in the same way that most of Kafka's novels fail, artistically in terms of formal organization and in terms of character. I pause here to insist that I'm a big fan of Kafka's stories, though.

Snow is the second Pamuk novel I've read. About a decade ago I read My Name is Red and thought it quite fine, though it also has some of the same failures of characterization (though far fewer) that Snow suffers from. We've got about four or five more Pamuk novels on the shelf at home. I can't decide if I want to read another one. We'll see. Perversely, maybe, I think I'm going to read Kafka's The Castle next, to see if my memories of it are anything like accurate.


  1. You say: "Perversely, maybe, I think I'm going to read Kafka's The Castle next, to see if my memories of it are anything like accurate."

    I say that re-readings are almost always "new" readings because we have changed (sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in large ways), and our changes affect our relationship with the text at each reading. Perhaps, though, I am speaking more of myself as a reader than anyone else. Perhaps that notion of changed readers and changed readings is not as universal as I would like to believe.

    In any case, when you re-read Kafka, I hope you will share your reactions. I look forward to reading those.

  2. We'll see if I read The Castle. I might want something light and fluffy instead, like Tolstoy. I don't know at this point.

    Certainly whenever I come back to a book, I see it in new ways. Hopefully this means that I'm a better reader. Sometimes I think less of a book the second time around, which is always saddening. I don't do a lot of re-reading in general, but the more interested I am in the connections between books, the more often I go poking around in my own literary history. But most of the time I'm looking to see what's out there that I haven't seen yet. Tom's extensive versus intensive readers, that is. I'm on the extensive end of the scale. I can't claim to have gotten to know many books really well. I just try to make each new reading experience as deep as I can. That ain't much, but it's all I can do, right?