What are some of the themes of Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk?
Because Orhan Pamuk’s Other Colors is a collection of essays and short stories, there are many themes contained within its pages, but there are two that are most prominent. The first is the conflict between Eastern and Western values. Part of this conflict is personal; Pamuk was born in Istanbul, but to an upper-class family with many Western ties, ideologies, and sympathies. This duality leads him to inner conflict: “As for my place in the world—in life, as in literature, my basic feeling was that I was ‘not in the centre’” (Pamuk, 2007, p. 8). He also speaks of how he often “quarreled with his life” (p. 9). Part of the conflict is cultural, and his father’s library becomes representative of that:
At one end, there were Istanbul’s books—our literature, our local world, in all its beloved detail—and at the other end were the books from this other, Western, world, to which our own bore no resemblance, to which our lack of resemblance gave us both pain and hope. To write, to read, was like leaving one world to find consolation in the other world’s otherness, the strange and the wondrous. (p. 8)
And part of the conflict is ideological and religious, to which he alludes when he writes:
We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world—and I can identify with them easily—succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities. I also know that in the West—a world with which I can identify with the same ease—nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid. (pp. 11-12)
Pamuk describes himself as a ‘cultural Muslim,’ with ideas and appreciations that for him have no connection to God (Nobel Foundation, 2006). He has deep appreciations for Western culture and ideologies as well, and this conflict is a running theme in many of his works. Connected to that theme, but broadened significantly, is the theme of Turkey’s cultural identity, the struggles the country is having in reconciling its Islamic past and present with its desire to be a member of the European Union, an entity that denounces the ‘stupidities’ to which Pamuk alludes earlier.
A second theme that is prevalent in Other Colors, and indeed in many of Pamuk’s other works as well, is writing. It was not only reading that allowed him to escape his own culture, ‘it was by writing, too’ (Pamuk, 2007, p. 8). He also arrives at a point where he see Istanbul as his centre, and he writes because he wants the whole world to see his Istanbul the way he does, to appreciate and love their culture as he does (p. 14). Writing also affords him a sense of purpose and bestows meaning on his life: ‘Except for the hours I spend writing, life to me seems to be flawed, deficient, and senseless’ (Nobel Foundation, 2006). But more than that, writing was/is a way to self-discovery: ‘A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. [. . .] To write is to turn this inward gaze into words’ (Pamuk, 2007, p. 3). In nearly every piece in this collection, Pamuk speaks to the power of writing and to the responsibility of writers to use that skill to explore themselves and to create revelation for the world.
There are many other themes in Pamuk’s Other Colors—self-reflection, cultural evolution, imitation, and others—but it is the themes of writing and the conflict of cultures that are most prevalent.