Museum of Innocence, Turkey

The Museum of Innocence (Turkish: Masumiyet Müzesi) is a novel by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel-laureate Turkish novelist published on August 29, 2008. The book, set in Istanbul between 1975 and 1984, is an account of the love story between the wealthy businessman Kemal and a poorer distant relative of his, Füsun.

Set between 1974 and the early 2000s, the novel The Museum of Innocence tells the story of Istanbul life from 1950 to 2000, through memories and flashbacks concerning the lives of two families, one wealthy, the other middle class.Kemal, who is from a wealthy Nişantaşı family, is due to marry Sibel, a girl from his own social class, when he falls in love with his distant relative Füsun, who works as a sales assistant in a shop. They begin to meet in dusty rooms filled with old furniture and memories.After Füsun marries someone else, Kemal spends eight years visiting her in this building, now transformed into a museum. After every visit, he takes away with him an object, which reminds him of Füsun. These objects form the collection of the Museum of Innocence.

Aristotelian ideas about time as a line that connects indivisible moments. Objects, like atoms, are carried through to the clocks exhibited in the central stairwell that comprise Box 54, “Time.” Each object in the museum, whether a saltshaker or a cigarette butt, helps us remember the moments, converting time into space.

In the writing of this book, Pamuk was influenced by the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan, Italy, as he noted in the museum’s guestbook on June 27, 2007: “It is the third time that I have visited this extraordinary museum. I love this house, the idea and the imagination that hide behind these walls. They influenced me a lot for the novel I am writing, The Museum of Innocence. I am happy to be here for the third time.”Pamuk said he used YouTube to research Turkish music and film while preparing the novel.

The Museum of Innocence is both a novel by Orhan Pamuk and a museum he has set up. From the very beginnings of the project, since the 1990s, Pamuk has conceived of novel and museum together. The novel, which is about love, is set between 1974 and the early ’00s, and describes life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 through memories and flashbacks centered around two families – one wealthy, the other lower middle class. The museum presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets. It is not essential to have read the book in order to enjoy the museum, just as it is not necessary to have visited the museum in order to fully enjoy the book. But those who have read the novel will better grasp the many connotations of the museum, and those who have visited the museum will discover many nuances they had missed when reading the book. The novel was published in 2008, the museum opened in Spring 2012.

Clash between East & West:
Pamuk’s work often deals with clash of culture between East and West, which was cited as part of the reason for him being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. This novel continuously references the influence of the West (Europe and America) on Istanbul’s culture, through both the idea of museums and the film industry, which becomes a large part of the novel.

Museums and Collections:
The book, along with its accompanying museum, continuously refers to museums and collections. The idea of hoarding and collecting as a shameful act that becomes public and appreciated in the form of a museum is addressed particularly in the last chapters.

There are exhibits on four of the museum building’s five floors. Each of these four floors contains display cabinets corresponding to chapters from the novel, and carrying the same number and title as the relevant chapter. The boxes are displayed in the same order as the chapters, except for box number 68, entitled ‘4213 Cigarette Stubs’, which is the biggest piece in the museum and is thus displayed at the entrance.The top floor, where Kemal Basmaci lived from 2000 to 2007 while the museum was being built, contains pages from Orhan Pamuk’s manuscript of the novel, as well as his preliminary sketches for the boxes he created for each chapter.

The Museum of Innocence is based on the assumption that objects used for different purposes and evocative of the most disparate memories can, when placed side by side, bring forth unprecedented thoughts and emotions.

27. Don’t Lean Back That Way, You Might Fall
We settled down for a picnic on a meadow looking out at the view painted in this Antoine Ignace Melling (1763-1831) landscape. I exhibit the thermos filled with tea, stuffed grape leaves, boiled eggs and some Meltem bottles to evoke our Sunday excursion that may offer the visitor some relief from the oppressive succession of interior settings, as well as my own agony. But neither the reader nor the visitor should on any account think that I could forget my pain even for an instant.

47. My Father’s Death
Every man’s death begins with the death of his father. My father’s death had turned all the familiar props of my childhood into objects of immeasurable value, each one the vessel of a lost past.

15. A Few Unpalatable Anthropological Truths
In those days, even in Istanbul’s most affluent Westernized circles, a young girl who ‘gave herself’ to a man before marriage could still expect to be judged harshly and face serious consequences: If a man tried to avoid marrying the girl, and the girl in question was under eighteen years of age, an angry father might take the philanderer to court to force him to marry her. It was the custom for newspapers to run photographs with black bands over the “violated” girls’ eyes. Because the press used the same device in photographs of adulteresses, rape victims, and prostitutes, the photographs of women with black bands over their eyes were so numerous that reading a Turkish newspaper in those days was like wandering through a masquerade.

51. Happiness Means Being Close to the One You Love, That’s All
The mementos preserve the colors, textures, and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.

40. The Consolations of Life in a Yalı
Yalıs are the most distinctive manifestations of what the melancholic, nostalgic writer Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar termed ‘Bosphorus civilization’; this portrait of my recollections from yalı life – the boathouses and rowing trips, the high ceilings, the enormous ships sailing so close by that it seemed as if they were passing through the living room, fishing on the shore, the food and fried mackerel on the table – is inspired by memories of 16th- 17th century Dutch still-life painting.

29. By Now There Was Hardly a Moment When I Wasn’t Thinking About Her
It has always been an aspect of human condition to unwittingly make connections, knowing full well that none exists, between a thought that suddenly crosses our minds, or an undefined turbulence in our soul, and something that we might notice happening around us at that very moment. Aristotle outlines his thoughts on this topic, later shared by Al-Farabi, in book 12 of the Metaphysics, where he discusses his famous theory of active intellect. For example, if we were traversed with an angry, hateful thought and saw, at that very moment, a bolt of lighting hitting a faraway sea, we would imagine our fury and the lighting bolt to be somehow connected. If we’re staring at the ceiling in a dark room during a power cut, lost in our thoughts, and the lamps suddenly come back on, our mind, or perhaps our imagination, will connect the light with whatever we are thinking of at that moment – like the memory of a childhood vaccination, for instance. The famous columnist Celal Salik, when writing about seeing double features at the cinema, said that whenever he felt any sort of disquiet, the film reel would snap at the same time. Ahmet Işıkçı, whom we know through his metaphysical drawings, says that Kemal’s thoughts and the intensity of his heartache have set fire to this tree.

25. The Agony Of Waiting
In poetically well built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects we love, but losing all sense of Time. Real museums are places where time is transformed into Space.

Female Identity & Turkish Culture:
One of the key themes throughout the novel is the role of the female in Turkish culture. The novel describes the ostracism of women who have lost their virginity before marriage, despite the fact that many claim to have a “more western” attitude toward this in 1970s Istanbul. Pamuk describes this as the taboo of virginity that is part of an old system in Turkey.

In an interview Pamuk blended all of these themes as he commented on how the role of the museum is also one of ownership, as Kemal looks to own Füsun as a trinket in his own museum, rather than allow her autonomy of her own life.

Pamuk has established an actual “Museum of Innocence”, based on the museum described in the book. It is housed in a building in the Çukurcuma neighbourhood of Beyoğlu, Istanbul, and displays a collection evocative of everyday life and culture of Istanbul during the period in which the novel is set. Originally, the museum was scheduled to be exhibited at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle in October 2008, during the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, but the exhibition was cancelled. In 2010, Pamuk still hoped that the museum would be opened in 2011. After much delay, the museum was finally inaugurated in April 2012. Although created later, the museum and the novel were conceived of in tandem, displaying the obsessive romance between two Istanbul families, as well as eternalizing a perspective on upper-class Istanbul in the 1970s. The project was supported by Istanbul 2010 – European Capital of Culture. According to the book, the museum allows free entry to those who bring a copy of the book. A ticket placed in the 83rd chapter of the book will be stamped before ushering the reader in.

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