The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist Hardcover – Oct 4 2010
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Taking his title and inspiration from Schiller's On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, Nobel Prize–winning Turkish novelist Pamuk dissects what happens when we read a novel. Making a distinction between naïve novelists, "unaware" of the novel's artificiality, and "sentimental" novelists (and readers) at the opposite end, who are "reflective," Pamuk is most interested in the "secret center" of literary novels, which is the wisdom they impart. Pamuk brings to the table firsthand knowledge regarding the centrality of character in the novel and how the novelist actually becomes the hero in the very act of writing. Readers, in their own symbiotic act of imagination, also inhabit the hero's character. And through that sense of identification with the hero's decisions and choices, Pamuk says, we learn that we can influence events...[The book] is a passionate amalgam of wonder and analysis. (Publishers Weekly 2010-10-04)
Pamuk offers a striking interpretation of what goes on in the novelist's mind...In Pamuk's theory, the writing and reading of novels is one of humanity's great acts of optimism. This is what is meant by novelists and readers identifying with characters. To an extent that few other novelists can match, Pamuk is both a naive and sentimental novelist--and he desires readers who are the same way.
--Anis Shivani (Austin American-Statesman 2010-10-30)
Anyone who has read Pamuk's exquisite fiction will be interested in these essays on reading and the art of the novel.
--William Kist (Cleveland Plain Dealer 2010-12-11)
The power of Pamuk's short book lies less in his theorizing about the novel than in his professions of faith in it...Pamuk still believes that creating worlds is the novelist's real task and exploring them the best reason for reading fiction...To read in this way--almost desperately, in search of the wisdom and aid we need to navigate our own lives--often seems like a dying discipline. Pamuk's book is a reminder that, without this almost metaphysical faith, great fiction can't be truly appreciated or written.
--Adam Kirsch (Bookforum 2010-12-01)
A slender, strikingly handsome volume...Pamuk's nonfiction voice matches the narrating voice of his novels--grave, thoughtful, wry...His painstaking love for literature prevails.
--Joan Frank (San Francisco Chronicle 2010-12-12)
Pamuk's lectures are perhaps best read as a string of brilliant aperçus rather than a systematic text on the art of writing (or reading) the novel. Though respectful of past masters, Pamuk takes exception with many of their conclusions, particularly Aspects of the Novel in which E.M. Forster posits the centrality of character. Instead, argues Pamuk, it is the world in which the protagonist moves that propels the novel: this interaction draws in the reader, who finds the novel emotively true even while knowing it is fiction. Pamuk draws on his own experience as a non-Western reader of Western novels and as a writer. Pamuk does not disappoint.
--David Keymer (Library Journal 2010-12-01)
Supple and brilliant...One of the more formidable attempts by a practitioner to articulate a theory of the novel since E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel...This is an eccentric, sometimes almost solipsistic book about the novel, but it has such a dynamic sense of the life of fiction, and the way the novel makes us see the world, that it will be treasured by readers and writers.
--Peter Craven (Australian Literary Review 2011-03-01)
Engaging, brilliant...Pamuk's The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist is charming, self-regarding, [and] dreamy.
--Janet Todd (The Guardian 2011-03-12)
Pamuk goes to the heart of what a novel is, how he and others write them, and how readers read them. Anyone interested in the humanities should read this book.
--W. L. Hanaway (Choice 2011-05-01)
[This] recent collection of essays are the work of a writer at the height of his career.
--Thomas Patrick Wisniewski (World Literature Today 2011-05-01)
About the Author
Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, is author of Snow, My Name Is Red, Istanbul, The Museum of Innocence, and other works. He was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. More information on the author can be found at www.orhanpamuk.net.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves novels, and especially to anyone who writes fiction, or hopes to write fiction. If more academic discourse about literature were grounded in this kind of thinking about how the art work works, the discipline called "English" would get back in touch with what made us love this stuff in the first place.
The title is unfortunate and a little misleading. It is drawn from a famous essay by Friedrich Schiller, "Uber naive and sentimentalische Dichtung", conventionally translated as "On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry" - even though the principal connotation of "sentimentalisch" in German is different than "sentimental" in English. Schiller posited two types of poets and, following his example, Pamuk refers to two models of novelist and reader - which I will reformulate as the "uncritical" and the "critical". I found most of Pamuk's discussion of the "naïve" and the "sentimental" (or "reflective") not very useful, and I believe he should have abandoned that vehicle and that title. (But then these were lectures at HARVARD.)
What the book really consists of are Pamuk's meditations on the art of the novel, comprising "all the most important things I know and have learned about the novel." Pamuk sets as his main goal "to explore the effects that novels have on their readers, how novelists work, and how novels are written." Pamuk certainly is well qualified to speak on that subject (in addition to having won the Nobel, he teaches comparative literature and writing at Columbia). Further, his perspective is rather unusual, being a self-taught novelist from a Turkish culture with a fairly weak tradition of writing and reading books.
Although the presentation is relatively informal and conversational, the book retains a whiff of the dry and academic Harvard lecture hall. Still, for those interested in the novel as a form of art and communication, the book contains much of note. I did not agree with everything nor did I understand everything. It might be more rewarding to those who are familiar with Pamuk's own novels, which he discusses from time to time. Among the classic Western novels that Pamuk discusses briefly are - omitting the quotation marks around the titles -- Anna Karenina ("the greatest novel of all time"), War and Peace, The Red and the Black, Robinson Crusoe, In Search of Lost Time, The Devils, Moby-Dick, Ulysses, and The Wild Palms.
If you approach THE NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL NOVELIST looking for a coherent theory of the novel, you are apt to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you read it for Pamuk's miscellaneous observations, you likely will find enough that is noteworthy. I will close with several related comments that were noteworthy to me.
"Literary novels persuade us to take life seriously by showing that we in fact have the power to influence events and that our personal decisions shape our lives. In closed or semi-closed societies, where individual choice is restricted, the art of the novel remains undeveloped. * * *
"Compared to writers in other countries, novelists in the United States write nearly effortlessly when it comes to social and political constraints. They take for granted the wealth and education of an established literary audience, feel little conflict over whom and what to portray, and--often a damning side-effect of this state of affairs--experience no anxiety about whom they write for, to what end, and why. * * *
"In contrast, throughout the poorer, non-Western parts of the world (including my homeland, Turkey), the issue of whom and what to represent can be a nightmare for literature and for novelists."
In the first chapter, Pamuk explores what occurs in the mind of a reader as they consume a novel. He proposes nine mental activities that one engages in over the course of reading a novel. These activities range from the essence of reading, such as observing scene and narrative arc, to less essential acts such as self-congratulatory narcissism. A central theme is the novel as a visual medium in that the mind converts words into images and those images are what are experienced in reading. The final action is search for the novel’s “secret center,” an important element of Pamuk’s theory and the topic of the book’s final chapter.
The title subjects are also introduced in the first chapter, i.e. naïve and sentimental novelists. Pamuk borrows this concept from Schiller, who used it to describe poets. The naïve novelist writes spontaneously and with confidence that he or she is capturing reality in the work. The sentimental novelist is much more uneasy about the degree that his work will convey something true. While an oversimplification, this idea corresponds somewhat to the much more commonly known division of writers into outliners and non-outliners, i.e. some writers can’t get started until they’ve done extensive research and outlining, but others begin with—at most—a vague outline in their heads and let the words stream from deep within.
The second chapter discusses the reader’s inability to accept that the novel is complete fiction—and, conversely, what truths a novelist reveals in the process of writing a purely fictitious work. (It should be noted that while Pamuk refers throughout to the “novel,” he’s really referring to the “literary novel.” Much of what he has to say isn’t relevant for either commercial or genre fiction.) Pamuk points out that it’s not just gullible yokels who believe that what he’s writing is autobiographical. Sophisticated readers who work in the publishing industry have been known to think he is living the life of one of his characters. On the other hand, when an avid reader suggested that they knew Pamuk so well because they had read all his books, he found himself being embarrassed. This embarrassment wasn’t because he felt they had learned any details of his life, but that they had developed a psychological insight.
The next chapter is on character, plot, and time. As one would expect, character is the most important and substantially addressed topic. I say that not because it’s listed first, but because we are talking about literary fiction—a medium in which character is of the utmost importance and ploting is loose to optional. However, the portion of the chapter that I found most interesting was the question of time in novel. Time stretches, compresses, and can bounce non-linearly in a novel. The protagonist’s time is on display in the novel, and that can be done artfully or not.
The fourth chapter is the one that most deeply delves into the topic of novel as a visual media, one which is more closely related to painting that to the media to which the novel is more frequently compared. Here he divides novelists not into the naïve and the sentimental, but into visual versus verbal writers. Pamuk suggests that the novel is a series of frozen moments as opposed to a continuous running of time—and thus its connection to paintings. Of course, Pamuk was a painter before being a novelist, and thus may be more prone to see that connection than most
The penultimate chapter is a comparison of novels to museums. No two things might seem farther apart at first blush, but a museum is a themed collection of artifacts that hopefully serve to tell a story—story here being used not as fiction but as a narrative that could contain fact, fiction, or mythology. This discussion really continues on the theme of the visual aspect of the novel. It suggests that those artifacts that are seen or manipulated in a novel convey a great deal of what the author wants to get across and help to create a more real fictional world. Pamuk elaborates on the connection by using three points to connect museums and novels that are all related by pride.
The final chapter elucidates the “center” of the novel. This is a concept that Pamuk has written around since the beginning of the book without providing a clear conceptualization. The first line of the last chapter defines the center as: “…a profound opinion or insight about life, a deeply embedded point of mystery, whether real or imagined.” The idea of a center, we are told, separates literary fiction from genre / commercial fiction. Readers and authors of genre fiction may find themselves becoming miffed with Pamuk for saying that such works either don’t have a center or have one that’s painfully easily found. He does make explicit exceptions for works by Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, and one would expect that works of speculative fiction by the likes of Vonnegut, Murakami, and LeGuin would meet his approval as well. However, the presence of a tight story arc—one of the factors that makes work salable—is part of the reason genre fiction tends to have a readily discovered center. For Pamuk, the name of the game is writing a work that has a center that isn’t easily discovered, but neither is so deeply hidden as to remain forever beyond the grasp of most readers. He suggests the novel should be a puzzle, which is solved to reveal the center.
The epilogue includes some autobiographical insight and elaboration on what Pamuk was attempting to convey in this work.
I’d recommend this book for writers as well as serious readers of novels. Obviously, it’s well-written, but beyond that it offers insights that make the reader do some of the work—just what Pamuk proposes a novelist should do.
serene dialogue on the dynamics which make the novel the predominant
literary form, and how Pamuk interprets these in his own work to
achieve his personal literary objectives. Not surprisingly, Pamuk is
an avid novel reader, and he makes extensive use of this expreience,
commenting on the novel from the reader's perspective as much as from
the writer's. In fact, the main distinction he picks to discover the
novel's tensions, the sentimental vs. the naive, is projected upon the
reader as much as on the writer. The naive reader/writer is the one
who goes with the natural flow of the narrative, whereas the
sentimental one is more "brainy", and thinks about the tricks
available/already used. Pamuk argues that a novelist, despite falling
somewhere along the axis, has to practice both propensities while
writing a novel, because a purely naive novel is simply telling what
one experiences, and the purely sentimental one is an endless game of
hide and seek.
Despite bringing different expectations to the novel, both the naive
and the sentimental reader, if they want to understand and enjoy a
novel, have to engage with it by mentally reconstructing the world
that the novel builds through language. This, according to Pamuk, is
the central dynamic of the novel, and leads to a number of
distinctions that make it so successful, and at the same time,
variable. Novels that would be considered 'literary' have what Pamuk
calls "a hidden center"; this is an idea, a central image, or a
certain understanding of the world that the novel keeps in flux, but
also tries to impart to the reader. In criminal novels and simple love
stories, this center is the final solution or closure; literary novels
don't have this closure, and the fact that the reader, as she mentally
constructs the novel's world, also works on fixating this hidden
center, instead of solely following the arc of the story, makes the
novel a three dimensional art form. While reading a novel, the reader
has to pay attention to every detail, because it might signal a fact
about the "general scene", as Pamuk calls it; thus, there is a
constant balancing of the general narrative and the small details,
another factor in the three-dimensionality of the novel.
Another tension Pamuk talks about, and which I found very interesting,
is the fact that the novel is a linear text that tries to evoke a
visual scenery. The temporal has to lead to the spatial, and this can
be done only by the reader, by imagining the second from the first. To
make this possible, the novelist has to populate his work with objects
and physical surroundings that carry a certain emotional load, that
will cause the reader to actually place not only the object where it
belongs, but do this in relation to the characters, so that their
mental state is in accord with this placement. The tension here is in
the fact that the novel achieved its current popularity in the 19th
century, when Western societies achieved a standard of living that
filled their homes with objects, but left them looking for a hidden,
further meaning in their lives. The novel, which is to carry such a
meaning with its "hidden center", can achieve this only thorugh a
certain relationship with those objects.
If you like Pamuk's novels, this little book will read like having a
chat with him on how he writes, and why he writes.