Museum of Innocence (Istanbul,Türkiye)

Samet Çevik (Bandirma Onyedi Eylül Üniversity, Türkiye)

The concept for the novel and the museum originated in 1982 during a family gathering when Orhan Pamuk met Şehzade Ali Vâsıb Efendi, the great-grandson of Ottoman Sultan Murat V. During a conversation centred on Şehzade’s desire to permanently return to Türkiye and find employment, the suggestion emerged that Ali Vâsıb Efendi could potentially work as a museum guide at the Ihlamur Pavilion, where he had spent a significant portion of his childhood. In response to this proposal, everyone at the table began sharing their ideas on how Şehzade could lead visitors through the rooms of his childhood and even recreate those moments for them. During this discussion, Orhan Pamuk, for the first time, expressed the excitement of narrating a life lived, along with all its belongings, in a museum to others in the years to come. This is how the concept of the Museum of Innocence, both as a novel and as an actual museum, was conceived (Pamuk, 2012).

From the mid-1990s onwards, he started acquiring objects from antique dealers and collecting items from the homes of acquaintances that he deemed suitable for the museum. Initially, he envisioned the novel in the form of an illustrated encyclopedia. To commence his writing journey, he embarked on a quest for a suitable museum location in Istanbul, exploring areas such as Cihangir, the vicinity behind Beyoğlu-Istiklal Avenue, Tophane, and the surroundings of the Galata Tower. Concurrently, he visited numerous small museums in Europe. In the early 2000s, he acquired a house in Istanbul’s Çukurcuma neighbourhood, dating back to 1897. In 2002, he initiated the writing process, envisioning a museum catalogue or an illustrated encyclopedia format. However, he soon recognised the limitations of this approach in adequately conveying the narrative and transitioned to writing it in the form of a classical novel (Pamuk, 2012). In 2008, the novel was released, followed by the inauguration of the museum in 2012. The Museum of Innocence received the “European Museum of the Year” award from the European Museum Forum in 2014.

The Museum of Innocence is a novel that takes the reader on a nostalgic journey through the social and cultural details of Istanbul’s past, stretching back to the 1950s, within the framework of a love story that unfolds between 1975 and 1984. The novel narrates the story of Kemal, the son of a wealthy Istanbul family, and Füsun, his distant relative, whose accidental encounters lead to a secret and intense love affair. In the early days, Kemal’s obsession with Füsun begins with the earrings she drops at his home, leading him to compulsively collect objects that belong to her or remind him of her. After Kemal is forced into an engagement, he loses track of Füsun. After a while, following the death of his father, Kemal reaches out to Füsun’s family through a condolence letter they sent. Füsun is now married, and Kemal starts frequent interactions with the family as a producer for a film that Füsun’s husband intends to make. Throughout the seven years and ten months of these visits to their house, Kemal continues to take objects associated with Füsun. After Füsun and her husband divorced, Füsun and Kemal decided to get married. However, during a vacation, they get into a car accident following an argument, resulting in Füsun’s death and Kemal’s severe injuries. To preserve Füsun’s memory, Kemal wants to turn the house where she lived and the collected objects into a museum and purchase it from her family. He also undertakes numerous museum visits abroad for inspiration. Kemal not only desires it to be a museum but also wants his life story to be turned into a novel. He reaches an agreement with an acquaintance to write this novel, and for a long time, they meet in the attic of the future museum to narrate the story. Orhan Pamuk is the acquaintance who listens to this story and will transform it into a novel (Pamuk, 2008).

The novel provides elaborate depictions of physical appearances and settings. The museum serves as an adaptation or translation of the novel, aiming to offer a supplementary experience to readers. Visiting the museum does not require reading the novel beforehand, but it encourages visitors to engage in a parallel exploration of the narrative and quasi-ethnographic aspects (Tekgül, 2016). According to Xing (2013), Pamuk’s presentation goes beyond the hero’s melancholic love story with the girl; it offers a comprehensive portrayal of Istanbul, where memories and associations are intricately intertwined within the objects. Thus, the objects in the Museum of Innocence create a sprawling network of connections, symbolizing the very essence of the city of Istanbul.

The museum is organised in a multi-floor layout, with a ground floor and separate floors dedicated to chapters 1-51, chapters 52-79, and chapters 82-83 of the novel. Each section is designed as a distinct box composition, bringing to life the events, concepts, and emotions that dominate that particular part of the book. These compositions feature a blend of objects, photographs, sounds, pictures, videos, and other artistic elements, ensuring the novel remains vibrant and engaging within the museum’s exhibits (Çevik, 2018). According to a study conducted by Atsız & Temiz (2022) that examined the experiences of literary tourists visiting the Museum of Innocence, the visualization of characters and events emerged as the most significant experiential factor. One of the study's notable findings is that an authentic connection was established between the museum and the book from the perspective of literary tourists. In his autoethnographic study, Çevik (2018) characterized this phenomenon as “narrating the same story of the words and the objects”. Upon ascending the stairs to the museum’s first floor, the author encountered the opening sentence of the novel, “It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it,” which instilled a sense of anticipation for a comparable experience within the museum, and he stated that the ultimate museum experience coincided with the imaginary world he had constructed while reading the novel, thus fulfilling his expectations of authenticity.

The museum collection possesses several qualities that align with the criteria for being displayed as “art”: it encompasses the creativity, artistic vision, and cultural influence of a recognized artist, demonstrates the meticulous effort involved in collecting, arranging, and storytelling, is situated within an institutional context that enhances its atmosphere, and has the ability to evoke emotional reactions from those who explore it (Tekgül, 2016). The 4213 cigarette butts displayed in a large showcase on the ground floor of the museum are the most attention-grabbing exhibition in that sense. These cigarette butts were smoked by Füsun, during Kemal’s visits to her family over a period of seven years and ten months, and Kemal, as a collector, carefully preserved each one of them. This showcase is particularly astonishing for literary tourists who have read the book, the details that directly mirror the novel such as the dates and notes beneath the cigarette butts, lipstick marks or stains from cherry ice cream, amplify this effect (Çevik, 2018).

Drawing upon artistic creativity, the Museum of Innocence has successfully merged reality and fiction through the utilization of technology in certain instances. It has achieved this by incorporating various artefacts, such as employee IDs from the company mentioned in the novel, Meltem soda bottles and advertisements, newspaper articles, postcards, and more. Moreover, it has effectively materialized emotions and concepts portrayed in the novel, such as heartache, happiness, death, and time. Additionally, it has skillfully transformed abstract notions like guilt, loneliness, and kissing mentioned in the novel into metaphorical expressions within its compositions (Çevik, 2018). The combination of these elements results in literary tourists approaching the museum with a feeling of awe and ultimately attaining a genuinely memorable experience (Atsız & Temiz, 2022).

The museum perceives time from an aesthetic standpoint and incorporates it into its assertions of truth. It presents historical references intertwined with personal and cultural memories and nostalgia as elements of artistry (Tekgül, 2016). According to Xing (2013), when objects are envisioned within a narrative framework, they possess the capacity to evoke memories of the past and confer enduring meaning. The readers and the visitors hold the power to shape the destiny and interpretation of these objects. In this context, all objects that reflect the novel within the Museum of Innocence evoke a sense of nostalgia in visitors. However, this sentiment is not confined solely to the narrative of Füsun and Kemal; it is also evoked through compositions that portray the historical backdrop of Istanbul, spanning back to the 1950s and encompassing the sociological and cultural practices, traditions, and societal occurrences of that time (Atsız & Temiz, 2022; Çevik, 2018). The sense of nostalgia significantly impacts visitors who have not yet read the book The Museum of Innocence, enabling them to leave the museum with meaningful experiences.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Çevik, S. (2023). Museum of Innocence (Istanbul, Türkiye). In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

References: