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“My Name Is Red” is a famous Turkish novel authored by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk in 1998 that has won several awards. It is a historical novel set in a Turkish city of Istanbul back in the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat the third and through the reign of Sultan Ahmet the first. The novel is a magnificent dip into cultural Islam. It has several main characters who are miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire. Each chapter has different narrators and there exist chronological and thematic connections between chapters. The novel is presented from many perspectives and in many voices. The short chapters in the novel are narrated by many characters, most of whom are human, also there is a tree, a coin, a dog and satan.
During this period in Turkey, miniaturists in a well sated manner depicted epic poems, battles and coronations, royal circumcision ceremonies, love fables and feats of conquest. They were not representational and things like faces and trees were treated equally as ornamentation and design rather than facsimile. The novel therefore takes place at the height of miniature painting’s end. There is an introduction of Renaissance and the infidel art whose influence is depicted in the novel. This novel is considered a philosophical thriller that was constructed around the clash between the two views of artistic meaning of the miniaturist and Renaissance. The novel is set in the Istanbul background before the 1000th anniversary of Hegira. The Ottoman is facing a decline period and inflation is draining the Sultan’s reserves. The Sultan is set to commemorate the Hegira by a series of paintings and this depicts the corruption in the governing authority. The paintings secretly commissioned from a set of miniaturists are to portray the Sultan as it looks to the individual eye.
In this novel, the author uses multiple narrators to tell their versions of the story and this exclusively brings out the conflicting viewpoints which develop as the miniaturists and their society come into contact with other cultures hence interpreting their artistic works and incorporation of different elements and ideas in their own works. The novel begins in a strange manner, the first voice is of Enishte Effendi, a dead person just murdered. Effendi is murdered by a recurring character who narrates the story anonymously until the end when he is identified as the killer. Enishte Effendi believes that every picture serves to tell a story and the miniaturists portray the most important scenes that serve to beautify the manuscripts we read. He believes that miniature paintings should depict the Sultan’s entire world, joys, fears, inner riches and other material objects. This character explains that illustration comes to our aid when our imagination and our intellect are at pains to understand the meaning of a story.
The novel mainly focuses on art and reality. It is mainly about the purpose of art and its dangers as well. The author discusses painting and art and what makes the real art. The contest between old and new, tradition and change whose representatives are the East and the West is also a key theme discussed in the novel. The use of perspective deemed as a new western method of painting is also depicted. The author uses imagery in his descriptions and evocations where he puts into practice different complementary details for different effects. He also repeatedly uses similar scenes and motifs to bring out different effects desired.
Each chapter in the novel offers varying first person truths experienced by different characters bringing out the idea that the author constructed the novel around individualizing perspectives. The author uses narrative alchemy to achieve empathetic understanding of both the emergent and the dying world. Imagery is seen as the death being a subject in its own chapter stalks the streets of Istanbul. An illustrator in the novel is charged with discovering the murderer. The murderer being faithful to the old artistic creed killed one of the disloyal new miniaturists. Imagery is also depicted by the author in chapter ten where a tree expresses its desire not to be a tree but to be its meaning The author personifies the tree as the narrator in this chapter thereby enhancing and reinforcing the two different philosophies and approaches of miniaturist paintings that have already been shown by different characters in the novel. The tree in the novel is drawn as a figure separated from the general text which he was meant to illuminate. Other people see and handle it without meaning and it cannot exist without the text. It is nothing without the text. However, the tree champions for a different interpretation of the same where it can be the meaning with or without the text. The tree asserts that he is not simply a wall decoration and does not want to be just a mere ornament. It passionately desires to be meaningful. The tree says that without meaning it feels the deep loneliness because it does not even know where it belongs.
From the above discussion the two methods of visual representation, the miniature and Renaissance, are evident. All the above are illustrations to show how the author has used image and text to bring out the theme he intended in the novel.