Last winter I gave a paper on The Museum of Innocence project by Oran Pamuk. Since one of the main locations in my own project is a museum, it was useful to look at the unusual symbiotic relationship between a museum and a novel. The paper explored contemporary debates in the context of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. The work is a novel and yet, also a museum simultaneously. Pamuk equates large national museum to an epic then opposes it to small museum dedicated to individual stories – and in this case a fictional story or a novel.
On the left is the concluding part of A Modest Manifesto For Museums displayed in the Museum.
Reading wider on museum curatorial practices, led me to the concept of cultural biography of things introduced by Kopytoff (1986, p.90). In his history of museums outlined in The Museum Affect essay, Alberti highlights the civilising role of a museum (2007). The museum as we know it today appeared at the early 19c. The audience was required to develop self-regulation and to keep respectful distance from the displayed objects. The audience was trained to be restrained with their reactions and to be quiet in the museum space. With this control of the affect, it is teaching the public reverence for the display. This reverence for a museum display contributes towards achieving “the museum effect” – increasing the value of the displayed artefacts/ versions of history solely because they are displayed in a museum. (Casey 2003). It is also positioning the past as static, something that has taken place in “epic time” and is beyond questioning.
Pamuk is Turkish, and The Museum of Innocence deals with two Turkish families in Istanbul in the 70s. Turkey is seen as the epitome for the Orient in the major museums and literature of the western world. Quick search for Orientalism brings back images of idealised Ottoman scenes such as harems, for example. An attempt to break away from and evaluate the effect of these images imposed from outside onto the Turkish identity is something that Pamuk explores in his other works such as his autobiographical Istanbul the memories and the city.
The objects Pamuk incorporates are a mix of old objects found in antiquarian shops from all over the world, commissioned new objects, images old and new, artefacts from real places, that are in the story, such as restaurants. These objects with various histories are overlaid with his fictional history, changing their original meaning dramatically. In a way Pamuk seems to be making this claim: The story is always constructed; this can be done with genuine or fabricated objects. Here is a fictional story convincingly constructed as a museum with a mixture of genuine and non-genuine objects.
This queries the reliability and authority of any museum display that claims to be historically objective. The notion that the same objects can carry very different meanings depending on the way they are displayed is supported by contemporary studies into museum practices and curation such as Reflections on the Museum by Gottfried Korff (1999) and other essays by him, Dorian and others and even some artistic practices such as Mining the Museum by Fred Wilson.
Between August -December 2020, I was a member of the organising committee of Solent’s international conference Poetic Translations: Conversations across the plurality of Arts disciplines in Visual Arts Exhibitions. My paper, ‘Museum and Novel in dialogue: Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence’ was presented at the conference.
ALBERTI J. M. M SAMUEL, 2005. Objects and the Museum. Isis, 96(4), 559-571
ALBERTI J. M. M SAMUEL, 2007. The Museum Affect. In: FYFE AILEEN and LIGHTMAN BERNARD, eds. Science in the Marketplace: Nineteen Century Sites and Experiences. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press, pp.371-405
CASEY VALERIE, 09/01/03. The museum effect: gazing from object to performance in the contemporary cultural-history museum. ICHIM 03 – New medias, new scenographies / Nouveaux médias, nouvelles scénographies. Paris: Ichim03: Cultural Institutions and Digital Technology l’École du Louvre, Paris, France,
DORRIAN, M., 2014. Museum atmospheres: notes on aura, distance and affect. 19(2), 187-201
Innocence of Memories – Orhan Pamuk’s Museum and Istanbul, 2016 Directed by Gee Grant.
KOPYTOFF IGOR, 1986. The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In: APPADUARI ARJUN, ed. The social life of things Commodities in cultural perspective. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, pp.64-91
KORFF GOTTFRIED, 1999. Reflections on the Museum. Journal of Folklore Research, 36(2/3, Special Double Issue: Cultural Brokerage: Forms of Intellectual Practice in Society), 267-270
KORFF, G., 2002. Fremde (the Foreign, Strange, Other) and the Museum. Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, 2(2), 29-34
Orhan Pamuk Interview: Do Not Hope for Continuity, 2017 Directed by Wagner Marc-Christoph. Denmark: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana Channel. May
PAMUK O.2009 The Museum of Innocence UK:Faber and Faber
PAMUK O.2012 Innocence of Objects US:Abrams
SIMMONS E.JOHN, 2016. Museums: a history. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
WILSON, A., & GRAHAM, M. (2007). An Interview with Artist Fred Wilson. The Journal of Museum Education, 32(3), 211-219. Retrieved May 27, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40479612
XING YIN, 2013. The Novel as Museum: Curating Memory in Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 2(54), 198-210