Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Here's a book from which I recently derived GREAT pleasure: The Innocence of Objects, by Turkish author/Nobel Prize recipient Orhan Pamuk.

From the jacket flap:

"Orham Pamuk's Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, a strikingly original cultural project that took its creator decades to complete, seeks to capture the city of Pamuk's youth through everyday objects: the ephemera, bric-a-brac, and clutter that adheres to every life. These particular objects are intimately tied to The Museum of Innocence, Pamuk's novel of lost love, which lends its narrative structure to their arrangement in the museum. Beautifully designed vitrines, or boxes, containing carefully arranged collections of objects, carry the visitor along the arc of the story, on a journey through time and space as well as into the mind of the collector himself, ambiguously identified with both Pamuk and his novel's lovelorn narrator."

From the text:

"I kept seeking out more small museums in my travels. What I found most enthralling was the way in which objects removed from the kitchens, bedrooms, and dinner tables where they had once been utilized would come together to form a new texture, an unintentionally striking web of relationships. I realized that when arranged with love and care, objects in the museum--an odd photograph, a bottle opener, a picture of a boat, a coffee cup, a postcard--could attain much greater significance than they had before. I had to put these strange photographs and used objects on my desk and reimagine them as pieces belonging to the lives of real people.

The more I looked at the objects on my desk next to my notebook--rusty keys, candy boxes, pliers, and lighters--the more I felt as if they were communicating with one another. Their ending up in this place after being uprooted from the places they used to belong to and separated from the people whose lives they were once part of--their loneliness, in a word--aroused in me the shamanic belief that objects too have spirits."

An excerpt from a passage entitled "Istanbul's Ships":

"The new generation of collectors that came to the fore in Istanbul in the early 1980s--by which time a valuable trove of papers, calligraphy, and photographs that represented traditional Ottoman culture and Istanbul's minorities had been destroyed--were very interested in photographs of ships passing through the city. "The boat" was, in fact, one of the criteria that junk sellers and booksellers in Kadikoy [sp.], Beyoglu, and the environs of Galatasary relied on to determine the selling price of the photographs they acquired...

There are two types of collectors of photographs of ships passing through Istanbul:

1. The systematic kind. They have made it their mission to possess each and every photograph of a series of ships--concentrating on all of the City Line ferries or the car ferries or the ships of the Ottoman Seyr-i-Sefain Administration, for instance...

2. The romantics. This world may not describe these collectors accurately, but I feel a particular kinship with them. They are interested in any ship that passes through the Bosphorus--local or foreign, passenger or freight. What matters to them is not when and where a ship was built, the flag it flies, the line it belongs to, or what it carries; their main concern is the feeling evoked by the photograph. I cannot adequately describe what this feeling is; but I set up the Museum of Innocence to explore and express this mysterious feeling".

Pamuk has issued "A Modest Manfesto for Museums" which reads in part:

"Monumental state treasure-houses such as the Louvre or the Met ignore the stories of the individual. Exhibitions should become ever more intimate and local...

I love museums and I am not alone in finding that they make me happier with each passing day. I take museums very seriously, and that sometimes leads me to angry, forceful thoughts. But I do not have it in me to speak about museums with anger.

In my childhood, there were very few museums in Istanbul. Most of them were simply preserved historical monuments or – quite rare outside the western world – they were places with an air of the government office about them.

Later, the small museums in the back streets of European cities led me to realise that museums – just like novels – can also speak for individuals.

That is not to understate the importance of the Louvre, Metropolitan Museum, Topkapı Palace, British Museum, Prado, and Pinacoteca – all of which are veritable treasures of humankind. But I am against these precious monumental institutions being used as blueprints for future museums.

Museums should explore and uncover the universe and humanity of the new and modern man emerging especially from increasingly wealthy non-western nations.

The aim of big, state-sponsored museums, on the other hand, is to represent the state. This is neither a good nor an innocent objective...

The resources that are channeled into monumental, symbolic museums should be diverted to smaller museums should be diverted to smaller museums that tell the stories of individuals. These resources should also be used to encourage and support people in turning their own small homes and stories into "exhibition" spaces...

The future of museums is inside our own homes"....

Needless to say, I am with the romantics described above, and with respect to home museums, I must say with all modesty that I am ahead of the curve...




  1. Thanks for posting. I recommend Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul Memories and the City. And a slight segue, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Both conjure the FEEL of a place. Start with Fermor's A Time of Gifts and his Between the Woods and the Water. They are the story of his walk across Europe in 1933 as a young man.

    And on another note, I LOVE your posts! :-)

  2. Dear Heather,

    honest now, before I read the post, the first thing I thought of when I saw the title was, "Cool, that would make a great book title."

  3. I have only read one of his books- not this and found it difficult to get through. Might try this or another.

    Isn't is amazing how we are waiting to see who the new pope will be? I hope the man is younger and able to tackle a great deal of the responsibilities.

    Inspite of dire warnings by some - Catholic church will survive. And become stronger.

  4. I've never read Pamuk. I will definitely interlibrary loan this. I've felt the same way about the Eucharist in the monstrance, the deliberate presentation of an object elevating its meaning...the idea that it helps us to communicate with others is fascinating.


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