Orhan Pamuk — Turkish novelist, soon-to-be visiting Columbia professor — won the Nobel Prize in literature this morning. As with last year's crowning of vehemently anti-Bush Harold Pinter, the Swedes seem to be making a sidelong political point: Pamuk was put on trial last year for — of all things — "insulting Turkishness" after giving an interview in which he mentioned the Armenian genocide and discussed the plight of Turkey's Kurds.
Actually, the award is a bit of a boon for Turkey, which in January dropped the charges against Pamuk as a show of the "social progress" needed for membership in the European Union. But it's an even bigger boon for Columbia, where Pamuk has been working and studying, and where he'll start teaching classes next year.
"Two years ago, we had a conference on urban cultures in non-Western world, and I invited Pamuk," says Andreas Huyssen, chair of Columbia's German department. "He came in and did a wonderful talk on Istanbul. After the campaign against him began back home, he asked me to find him a place at Columbia — somewhere he could work quietly and be incognito, as it were." Huyssen installed him at the Deutsches Haus, a residence and study center, where he worked for two months.
It's safe to say that Pamuk won't be able to work incognito anymore. Even before the Nobel business, he was a major hit with students as a guest lecturer in a literature seminar. "He was extremely erudite and warm," recalls Joyce Hau, an undergraduate. "He seemed genuinely interested in hearing even students' rather basic questions about the craft of writing. When I asked him to sign my book, I recall him being a little shy."
So does Columbia have a curriculum all planned out for its latest star professor? "We don't really know yet," confesses Huyssen. "It would be nice if we could teach a class together."