work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Duygu reviews Pamuk

09.16.2010 · Posted in Uncategorized

… and finds his last book “The Museum of Innocence” disappointing. Of particular concern is the (apparently) weak attempt at auto-ethnography:

I think Pamuk wants to tap into a trend that previously brought him popularity, and what better way than to establish a museum. Museums are a well-known example of institutionalised cultural translation, and issues of representation have widely been problematised. However, Pamuk doesn’t seem at all to be in a representation crisis. On the contrary, the book is overtly auto-ethnographical, and Kemal, the protagonist, proudly assumes the role of the amateur anthropologist: “Eventually, I thought about how I might describe what Füsun meant to me to someone who knew nothing about Istanbul, Nişantaşı or Çukurcuma. I was coming to see myself as someone who had travelled to distant countries and remained there for many years: say, an anthropologist who had fallen in love with a native girl while living among indigenous folk of New Zealand, to study and catalog their habits and rituals, how they worked and relaxed, and had fun (and chatted away even while watching television, I must hasten to add). My observations and the love I had lived had become intertwined (p. 496).”

In itself, I would say, auto-ethnography – the application of a gaze to ourselves that we previously had reserved for the colonial other – isn’t that bad an idea. But I’m amazed how this attitude here reflects the anthropology of  space scout Adam Reith…  In Pamuks case, it’s counter-conquest all over again and the West seems to remain the superior civilisational model against which even the most Westernised of Turks are found lacking:

The West is always a point of comparison: “In Europe the rich are refined enough to act as if they’re not wealthy. That is how civilized people behave (p. 219)”

This is very reminiscent of what Tuba Üstüner and Douglas Holt (2010) found in there study of gated communities in Ankara with their culture wars between established Westernising elites and newly emerging wealthy, but slightly “alaturka” middle classes…

So, if you’re not academically interested, apparently this is not a good read. But don’t despair – Duygu’s Bookcase holds loads of good books to read instead

Üstüner, Tuba/Holt, Douglas (2010): ‘Toward a Theory of Status Consumption in Less Industrialized Countries’, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol.37, pp.37-56

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