Orhan Pamuk: Rot ist mein Name.
Fischer Tb., 2003, 556 Seiten, €9,90, ISBN-3596156602, http://www.fischerverlage.de
The novel My Name is Red, by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, to my mind focuses on two ways of seeing as its frame of reference. Beyond its qualities as a detective or love story, unfolding during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III in nine snowy winter days of 1591 – which I personally find rather moderate – it highlights issues of representation in a comparative context. Pamuk’s characters confront each other on ways of seeing in sixteenth-century Istanbul, by then the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The visual narratives of Ottoman miniature painting are elaborated in comparison with the contemporary Renaissance art, unfolding the differences in the depiction of faces in particular.
My Name is Red, instead of being very captivating for the identity of a murderer, it is ways more fascinating for the reason of murder, which is none other than the multidimensional confrontation between icon and image, tradition and innovation, idealism and realism in fine arts. In this sense, the story is also a contemporary tale, dealing with the concepts of representation and resemblance, iconoclasm and fundamentalism in the context of ‘East and West’.
Venice serves the pivot of the compass defining the scope of this presentation, joining Netherlandish painting and Ottoman miniature tradition at a common juncture. Both ways of seeing will be traced through the sixteenth century, from Hieronymus Bosch to Pieter Bruegel on the one hand and from Bihzad (the master of Persian miniature) to Nakkas Osman (the chief miniaturist of the Ottoman Palace during the second half of the second century) on the other.
Style in visual narration is treated in this novel as a reflection of seeing and imaging everything in its uniqueness and is contrasted with the tradition of Islamic book illumination where all objects appear to be cast into rigidly ruled iconografic molds, rendering the object possibly as in Allah’s own view (e.g. femaile beauty rendered invariably with chinese facial traits). Western concerns with individuality and the uniqueness of the point of view as revealed in one-point-perspective, suggests it is an indispensable aspect of style. In that sense, My Name is Red highlights portraiture in the visual arts as a reflection of character in visual narration; reflecting both the subject and the artist whose individuality is represented in the style of painting. For this, Pamuk’s novel, constructed as a symphony of many different voices, is well-suited in its form.