Transcript for SONIC SIDEBAR: Orhan Pamuk on The Arabian Nights

Orhan Pamuk: I am Orhan Pamuk. I first read "Arabian Nights" when I was seven, because my aunt gave me a popularized children's version of it. Even at the age of eight, I was scared by it, because there were all these Arabs, harems. A lot of betrayal, a lot of jinns getting out of the lamps. I also remember distinctly reading "Ali Baba and the Shadowy Cave." And also in my childhood, when I first read "Arabian Nights," I was upset by it; finding it too Orientalist, too sugary. And being a Turkish secular, I didn't like it. Cut, then, 40 years later. I'm an intellectual, Borgesian, Calvino, post-modern literature. I said to myself, "Why don't I have a new look at Arabian Nights?" And then there were also ambitious publishers asking for introductions from me, and doing a new translation of the whole text. And I wrote an introduction, and this time I found it very literary. Box in a box in a box, in suggestiveness of a Borgesian text. But this time, I found it a strange text about woman. Woman are not good in Arabian. They are always cunning, always making manipulative plots and conspiracies. That upset me in the second reading. Then I also learned that two of the most prominent stories, "Ali Baba," "Aladdin," may not actually be in Arabic, but translators may have added this to the compilation. Remind me of the fact that yes, "Arabian Nights" is an Arabic book, but there is also a lot of French editing and influence in it. If you are asking me if "Arabian Nights" influenced me, I will say, "What is influence?" The greatest influence is it influences your style, the way you look at things. It didn't influence me that way. But it's a text that I borrow things from. That influenced me in that way, such as doubles what the Germans call "doppelganger effect," that we may have someone like us. Or, the theme of the Sultan is walking around at night, in disguise. This is a very medieval, not necessarily Islamic thing, because there was no photography and the rulers were not recognized. So they're checking on themselves, their country. This is a theme which plays a lot in "Arabian Nights," and which has a lot of space in my novels, too. As sometimes, obviously, I will say I am borrowing it from "Arabian Nights." But is that an influence, or more borrowing? In fact, tongue-in-cheek borrowing, is sort of inventing a tradition, and saying to my Turkish readers, or international readers, "This was done by Arabian Nights, but this is my take on the subject."

Comments for this interview