My Name Is Red Essay - Critical Essays

Orhan Pamuk

Critical Evaluation

Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red is a historical murder mystery, and much of the plot is focused on figuring out why court miniaturist Elegant Effendi was murdered, and by whom. The novel also is an exploration of the proper relationship between human and divine creativity and the quite possibly unbridgeable difference between post-Enlightenment European society and the traditional Muslim society of Ottoman Istanbul.

The sultan’s secretly commissioned illuminated book, and responses to its rumored existence, divide the main characters into two mutually exclusive camps. On the one side are the traditionalists, those who believe that any illustration an artist constructs will be, by definition, flawed. Human art is merely an attempt to mimic the perfect creation of Allah. Such attempts not only are doomed to failure but also are insults to the magnificent creativity of Allah; they border on apostasy against Islam. The best that an artist or illustrator can hope to achieve is blindness brought on by years of painstaking reproduction of forms and illustrations produced by master miniaturists in previous centuries. As long as an artist has his own ego, his own sight and insight, and his own creativity, he will always be distanced from seeing and illustrating the world as Allah sees it. Only in the darkness of blindness can the artist’s mental image, untainted by the physical representation of objects, approach the vision of Allah. The most traditional illustrators would deliberately blind themselves in order not to be distracted by the impurity of physical sight.

In contrast to the traditional school are those who see value in an artist’s individual style as a mark of the importance of human creativity. These innovators wish to illustrate in the Western (Frankish) style in which artists include clues about not only their...

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