11 January 2007
Orhan Pamuk on why he writes
Orhan Pamuk tells us why he writes in his Nobel acceptance lecture, reprinted in the Christmas double issue.
"I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I can’t do normal work as other people do. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion."
The piece pivots on Pamuk's opening a suitcase of old letters of his father's. It's a bit like a Sedaris short story where an ordinary object—a boil, say—is freighted with slightly too much metaphoric import.
Kelly Spitzer and other members of her Seattle-area writers' group are inspired, though. They try their hand at Pamukian declarations:
"I write because I believe in the power of fiction, of stories and ideas, to heal the world."
"I write because it makes me feel alive, it makes me feel grand and full of the world, full of language, story, the human experience."
"I write because I want people to see the world the way I see it. I write so I can understand the emotional undertones of living. I write because I enjoy seeing my insides come to life."
Oh, rescue us from the purple passages, the world-healing, the cozy self-regard of writers, George Orwell! Why do you write?
1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.
3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
4. Political purpose—using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.
By the way, have you ever tried to make your surname an adjective? Pamukian is a mouthful of shards. I don't much like mine, either—Bucherian. Camusian? Nope.
And what the hell do you call a citizen of Dubai?