angle bra                                                                                                                                           angle bra
5 kurus

Hüzün in the ruins of defeat: Istanbul Reading Orhan Pamuk

Went to Istanbul this past weekend. On the plane i read Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City. What follows are some passages from the book that inspired me & some random textual & visual impressions of Istanbul.

4-slit hotel

INT. hotel view (woken up before sunrise by the call to prayer)

I'd never read Orhan Pamuk before so not only was this an introduction to Istanbul for me but a first impression of the nobel laureate (& now i'm intrigued to read more)(thanks J & L for lending me the book). It's a rather philosophical & personal (perhaps overly so) account of Istanbul, with an emphasis on the hüzün«We might call this confused, hazy state melancholy, or perhaps we should call it by its Turkish name, hüzün, which denotes a melancholy that is communal, rather than private.»

basilica cistern

underground cistern

Pamuk keeps coming back to hüzün as the prevailing mood that binds Istanbullus, melancholia as a spiritual state, a glue, for Istanbullus living now in the seat of a ruined crossroads, struggling to be modern, yet to still retain the dignity of their past.

orhan pamuk istanbul

photo from Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul

Pamuk's vision of Istanbul is informed not just from relentless flâneuring in his city, but from reading—from digging deep in newspaper archives to reading foreign poet's & artists impressions upon visiting Istanbul.

marbled mold

moldy marbled walls of cistern

«I feel compelled to add 'or so I've been told.' In Turkish we have a special tense that allows us to distinguish hearsay from what we've seen with our own eyes; when we are relating dreams, fairy tales or past events we could not have witnessed, we use this tense.»

tile resolution

non-slip texture applied to marble tiles

«Once imprinted in our minds, other people's reports of what we've done end up mattering more than what we ourselves remember.»

tram window

view though tram window going over Galata bridge

«It is the failure to experience hüzün that leads him to feel it, he suffers because he has not suffered enough, and it is by following this logic to conclusion that Islamic culture has come to hold hüzün in high esteem.»


harem room

The hüzün of which Pamuk speaks is a bit different than the 'tristes tropiques' that Lévi-Strauss speaks of in that hüzün is a lifestyle choice, not an imposition of poverty. It is the mood of devotion that hangs like a curtain over Istanbul. It is somewhat rooted in resigned defeat & coming from Rome it is interesting to note the similarities—how centuries of resignation & defeat have shaped both cultures & how foreigners find this air of defeat to be exotic & enchanting.


basilica cistern

«The people of Istanbul simply carry on with their lives amidst the ruins. Many western writers and travelers find this charming. But for the city's more sensitive and attuned residents, these ruins are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to it's former heights of wealth, power and culture.»

fogged window

all in a fog

But the Italians response to repeated defeat has been markedly different. Whereas Turks have opened up, embraced western culture & allow themselves to see themselves through the eyes of foreigners, the Italians have responded with frivolous introspection. Per Luigi Barzini [grandfather to the next Calamari Press publication]—«Under the surface, the Italians invented ways to defeat oppressive regimentation. As they could not protect their national liberty in the field of battle, they fought strenuously to defend the liberty of the individual and his family, the only liberty they understood anyway. [...] But the Italian nation never managed to solve it's elementary problems and the Italian armed forces rarely succeeded in defeating their enemies. Italy has never been as good as the sum of her people. The people not only defeated their rulers but also managed to invent splendid and melodramatic ways of making each humble or ignoble hour as bearable and satisfying as possible. This is the reason why their manners, food, houses, cities, love-life are so delightful. This also why their art, or most of it, is principally designed to give the public oblivion and bliss. They have naturally been accused of being frivolous and never going beneath the brilliant surface of things. The reproach is justified, of course. But they are frivolous because they cannot be anything else. Many great artists left private documents showing they were deeply tormented by the tragedy of their life

hagia sofia

INT. Hagia Sophia

Italians also share this sadness, though their sadness manifests in different ways. «There is a sadness, a subtle sadness that's not to be mistaken for the more ordinary kind that is the result of remorse, disillusionment, or suffering: there is an infinite sadness which comes to chosen souls simply from their consciousness of man's fate... This sort of sadness has always prevailed among intelligent Italians, but most of them, to evade suicide or madness, have taken to every known means of escape: they feign exaggerated gaiety, awkwardness, a passion for women, for food, for their country, and, above all, for fine-resounding words: they become, as chance may have it, policemen, monks, terrorists, war heroes. I think that there has never been a race of men so fundamentally desolate and desperate as these gay Italians.»—Ignazio Silone [The Abruzzo Trilogy: Fontamara, Bread and Wine, The Seed Beneath the Snow]


decagramic detail

But whereas Italians mask their failures & sorrow, the Turks tackle sorrow head on: «Imbued still with the honor accorded it in Sufi literature, hüzün gives their resignation an air of dignity, but it also explains their choice to embrace failure, indecision, defeat and poverty so philosophically and with such pride, suggesting that hüzün is not the outcome of life's worries and great losses but their principle cause.» [—Orhan Pamuk]

hagaia arch


«Hüzün does not just paralyze the inhabitants of Istanbul, it also gives them poetic license to be paralyzed.»


looking up at hanging light & ceiling

After reading half the book, we landed in Istanbul. It was raining & cold. We checked into our hotel (the Nomade, which coincidentally is in the publishing house district) then took the tram across the Galata bridge & some sort of subway thing up the mountain to Beyoğlu. Scampered around some alleys, but couldn't really explore around too much on account of the freezing rain (not that it stopped the Turks, they enjoyed themselves smoking & drinking in open-air bars as if it was summer). Ended up eating at Refik—all sorts of meze (like Spanish tapas) washed down with raki (made cloudy with water), in the boisterous company of Turks from all walks of life.

agya chandelier

INT. Hagia Sophia

Was woken up the next morning by the call to prayer & ships horns echoing off the Bosphorus. Went to the Sultan's palace—fairly spectacular, but honestly I was more blown away by the Alhambra in Granada. Walked around down by the water amidst snow flurries. Had some lentil soup & a kebap that hit the spot at some dive i forget the name of. Hopped on a boat that went up & around the Bosphorus. Then went to the spice market & flâneured our way home.

hotel stairwell


That night (x-mas eve & our 15th anniversary) we ate at some swanky place called 360 that had incredible views of pretty much all of Istanbul. It was also up in the Beyoğlu district, which i guess is the hip part of town.


Medusa in the cistern

Next day we went straight to the Hagia Sophia, which was mind-blowing, even if you are expecting it. Beyond words or even photos. Then we went to the Blue Mosque which i was not so impressed with.



Had some tasty goulash & lentil soup at Khorasani. Then we went & took Turkish baths—quite an exhilarating & relaxing experience. You leave all your clothes in a room (with men outside playing dice) then wrap a little cloth around your waste & shuffle into the baths wearing awkward wooden clogs. I opted for the economic self-serve so lathered myself, but most had others soaping them up, which i think would be strange. Lounged around on marbled slabs in the steamy environments, relaxing, mesmerized by the sound of all the men's banter echoing off the domed roof.

fogged trolley

INT. trolley

But mostly j & i were on our never-ending quest for the beauty in the breakdown (or the «beauty OF the breakdown» that Luca Arnaudo attributed to us, in his excellent essay on Syracuse in Artribune.)

birds on the water

birds feeding on a baitball on the bosphorus

«Rushkin suggests that because it is accidental, the picturesque can never be preserved. After all, what makes the scene beautiful is not the architect's intention but it's ruin.»[—Pamuk]

Turkish noah's ark

Arabic script

Beauty in the breakdown is always more exotic to the outsider. Poverty & ruin are never interesting to those living in it. Not that Istanbul has poverty—to the contrary it seems better off than Rome. & far more functional & efficient & hip.

turkish script

Synodicon [archaeological museum]

As Pamuk describes it, a certain self-consciousness has seeped into their culture, in embracing western culture. «Whatever we call it—false consciousness, fantasy, or old-style ideology—there is in each of our heads a half-legible, half-secret text that makes sense of what we've done in life. And for each of us in Istanbul, a large section of this text is given over to what western observers have said about us

genie lamp

palace detail

Then we gravitated down to the waterfront. Had a beer on the Galata bridge, with all the fishing lines hanging down over us, occasionally pulling up a fish.

fishing off galata bridge

fishing off Galata bridge

Istanbul's psyche, the facets of pride, like Ethiopia, perhaps also hinge on the fact that it was never colonized, so there is less resentment with regard to how it's perceived by westerners. Pamuk embraces the westerner's p.o.v., learns from it, rather than be guarded like how many other cultures are—for better or worse.

crow bar

crow-barred minaret

One night i couldn't sleep (because some guys were doing illegal construction after midnight, drilling holes & hammering into the wall a floor down from our window) so i did some drawings in the dark (doctored some after the fact).

sketch instabul

sketch from my journal (made left-handed in complete darkness)

Pamuk also talks quite a lot about art & painting (i guess his first love before he became a writer). And the book was filled with excellent photos of Istanbul by Ara Güler. These not-so excellent photos are mine (yes, i guess my moratorium against photo-taking is over, especially considering the thousands of starling photos i took for the posts before this).

seagulls mosque

seagull & mosque

On this note, i've run out of words. Except to say, you should see Istanbul for yourself & read Orhan Pamuk for yourself. The rest leave to your imagination.



turkey tree

rhizomatic bifurcation


cistern ripples

black-body wave patterns (cistern)


roof of blue mosque

INT. Blue Mosque


blue mosque ext

EXT. Blue Mosque. night


ayasofya night

EXT. Hagia Sophia. night



along the bosphorus at sunset


is tan bull

polarized corner


call to prayer (montage)


arabic arch

arch & text


arabic signage



horizon trees

rhizome #8


rhizome stanbul

rhizome #4

Oh, we also did some shopping in the grand bazaar. There's this old book bazaar where we bought a few more paintings done on old Arabic manuscript pages like the ones we bought earlier this year in Delhi. Also got an old mathematics book in Arabic so i can make my own. And got a frame that was worth more than the image it was framing. And a rug of course.

noah's ark

Noah's Ark


xmas tree

x-mas Turkish style

& one of my favorite things is that there's dogs & cats all over Istanbul. They are well-fed & well-loved. Every block we met a cat or dog we made friends with. There's also loads of birds, mostly seagulls & crows, at times swarming on the surface on the Bosphorus, or catching drafts over the city.

checkered cat

checkered cat #14


cat turkey

cat #27


sophia cat

cat #89 (queen Sophia)



detail somewhere i forget


righted medussa

medusa in cistern (righted)





Beyoğlu trolley

Beyoğlu trolley




sophia cat



5 kurus
bra down                                                      ©om.Posted 2011 Derek White                                                       bra quet