As soon as I had decided that I was indeed going to take the plunge and hop on trains and coaches over the Summer from London to Istanbul and back, I thought it’d be a good idea to pick up a book I may otherwise not have thought of reading. I’ve never read a book by a Turkish author, and I thought it was high time I do so.
There were a few things about Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” I thought were quite intriguing. One was the story itself, which is said to be a true account of a love connection gone wrong in the midst of a country in the middle of vast political change. The other was that there is indeed a Museum of Innocence in the Çukurcuma neighbourhood of Beyoglu, Istanbul. The ticket to this museum is in the actual book. Now there’s something a little different!
I’ll give you a very brief summary before we go into the nitty gritty of the venue itself. The protagonist: Kemal is just about to get engaged to Sibel when he falls head over heals for a very young, very distant relative of his: Füsun. The “innocence” of this affair is what is highlighted throughout the book. Although, truth be told, it is far from innocent. It becomes very obsessive right through his engagement and breakup as well as through Füsun’s marriage. Kemal becomes what I would define as an “open stalker” and a collector of objects who forms a very unhealthy attachment to Füsun. One that, I think, was in desperate need of some sort of psychological attention. Instead, Kemal’s obsessive collection of anything and everything that remotely reminded him of his lover was stashed. Hence; the creation of “The Museum of Innocence”.
I have to say the book was far from easy to get through. There were many points in the story where all I wanted to do was put it down! However, knowing its connection to the museum made me push right through. Having said that though, I still feel a certain aversion to the story. It was very peculiar and left me feeling quite… I think the word I’m looking for is “unsettled”.
The museum is located in what used to be Füsun’s flat after she had married another man and lived with her parents. So, the location itself is very significant, as much of the story takes place within the confines of said walls.
The farther I delved into the museum the more I developed mixed feelings about the whole encounter. On the one hand, I was quite drawn to this compulsive collection of very personal objects that not only documented obsessive pain but has also become a window into the average lifestyle of middle to upper class society in Istanbul between 1975 and 1984. However, on the other hand, it was quite unsettling baring witness to the very idea of the ability of a man who had become so obsessed with a love to the extent that he had ruined his life following a girl he consciously decided not to propose to due to her “societal class” who then satisfied his need for her by collecting and stealing all these objects from hair combs to cigarette butts (yes you read that right!).
The way in which the objects in the museum are displayed is reminiscent of a Cabinet of Curiosities (also known as: Cabinets of Wonder or “Wunderkammer”) rather than a museum as we now know it. I found that particular aspect quite interesting, as I have only ever read about such collections that predate what we have now come to know as museums. The precursor to museums, if you will. A haphazard collection of objects that may or may not be authentic, that may or may not be categorized and labeled, and that have been put together to open a window into a world which we may otherwise not have access to. Francesaco Fiorani once said, “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” Is that not what “The Museum of Innocence” is essentially about? A collection put together in order to gain a sense of control over an external world in which no control can be imposed if it weren’t for the collection of these object?
Take another look at the pictures I’ve shared. How much of this do you really think is real? Is it all true to the original collection? Is the collection itself fact or fiction? I can honestly tell you: I’m still not sure!
A few links: