Trusting the master

Art appreciation is a course of learning; the curve is initially very steep and it is best if through its first phases one can have a trusted guide. I have had several; the most important was of course J. S. Bach, whose works, to a beginner can sometimes feel dense and inscrutable. But each time I came up against a difficult work of his -- (for some reason I had great trouble with the Motets; and with the Art of the Fugue) -- I simply persisted in listening, trusting that the great man would not lie. In this trust, I was never disappointed. (And how could I be? Just look at him). The truth is that nothing the great Bach ever wrote was ever less than perfect.

Reading reviews of Pamuk's New Life I can see that all reviewers struggle with it; a few call a spade a spade and rate it one star, or worse; but most triangulate: their reviews tell how difficult the book is, how they didn't understand it in the first place (and if they say that they understood it in the end, they transparently lie, their understanding being something they probably picked up listening to the cultural programming on the BBC), but they rate it five stars anyway. This is because they trust Pamuk to deliver the way I have always trusted Bach. If they don't like it, it must surely be that they just don't get it and eventually will. (or shall we blame it on translation?)

The truth is that Pamuk is not Bach, and his work is uneven: My Name Is Red, for instance, is really two books (written in two different time periods): the first ten chapters, ending with I am A Tree, is absolute Nobel-grade dynamite, but the rest is, but for a few nuggets (e.g. the imagined miniature of the hero crossing the Bosphorus to secure his lover's divorce), a somewhat less successful Le Carre. The New Life has its moments, but is for the most part a rehash of old ideas; it has places of poetic beauty, but they are haphazardly mixed up and curiously empty; it offers no insight which his Snow had not already offered. It is, in short, a recycled book. Except for the fact that he likes to sit at his desk writing, he didn't need to write it. Nothing wrong writing it, of course, but, as far as I know, Pamuk does not have a large family to support: there was really no need to publish.

Bach, of course, also recycled; yet, he recycled so well, one wants to thank him for recycling. It isn't the case with The New Life.


And speaking of the Art of the Fugue, find this.


Anonymous said...

Strongly disagree about My Name is Red. The dialogues with the different suspects were quite interesting as a variation on the Magic Mountain/Man Without Qualities-sque novel of ideas. And by the way- it was written and published before Snow was.

Sir G said...

good, yes, great -- no. the first 10 chapters are perfection itself, the rest haws brilliant moments and tons of ho-hum.

"by the way- it was written and published before Snow was."

never said otherwise but believe the writing of the two may have overlapped

3 x cheers

Post a Comment