Exploring Istanbul With Orhan Pamuk And Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

Students: Alice Xiang


I started this mapping project with the certainty that Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence / Masumiyet Müzesi (2008) and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s A Mind at Peace / Huzur (1949), two iconic 20th-century Turkish novels set in Istanbul, were rich mines of description regarding the social history and multifaceted layers of the city. Besides this dimension of assuredness, however, nothing else was clear: what, in practice, would it really mean to ‘map’ these novels? And what would this mapping result in? Might it, I feared, lead to a superficial sprinkling of flagged coordinates sitting awkwardly on a map, having lost the coherence and fluidity of their original narrative fabric without having gained anything to give them a new, meaningful form? With this odd mix of assurance and doubt, I started the process of re-reading the novels, selecting and noting down any passages that engaged in detailed or striking description of particular locations in Istanbul. Once a list of decent length (but by no means an exhaustive one) had been formed for both novels, I began the work of annotating the passages, from looking up definitions and explanations that would be helpful to a general reader, to hunting down relevant images from the 30’s-40’s (in Tanpınar’s case) and the 60’s-80’s (in Pamuk’s) that would lend context to the excerpts, spatial markers, etc.


The biggest practical issue at first was finding a suitable platform with which to base the project on. Omeka/Neatline was more tailored to timeline-oriented projects; Story Map, run by Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, was visually engaging but inflexible, with a severely limited number of options regarding color-coding, number of images per spatial marker, etc. I eventually settled on Google’s Tour Builder, a platform, currently still in beta, that works in conjunction with Google Earth (and that in fact was originally created for military personnel to share memories of their time overseas with family and friends!). Though I would appreciate being able to customize image and text size, as well as the option to remove ‘pathlines,’ among several other things, overall, Google Tour Builder has been great to work with and meets most of my project needs very well, due to the following features:

(1) A 3D satellite mapping option, which is particularly effective for more famous buildings or monuments, as it provides the ‘explorer’ with up-to-date, visually impressive imagery of the site. Istanbul Technical University Campus rendered in 3D on the right by Google Earth. The more I became absorbed in this process, and the more photos and passages I gathered in relation to each other, the less I worried about the fact that I was wrenching these passages from the original narratives they had been embedded. I began to be convinced that the passages worked beautifully as stand-alone, expressive texts regarding urban experience and spaces in Istanbul. Arranged together on a map, ‘transported’ beyond the pages of their respective novels, the passages now formed an emerging constellation that revolved around not particular characters, such as Mümtaz’s love or infatuation for Nuran, or Kemal’s obsessions and frustrations with Füsun, for instance, but rather, around Istanbul — Pamuk and Tanpınar’s obsession, love for, frustration, and infatuation with the city. It became clearer to me that it was worth trying to put together such a constellation: a constellation of passages, still full of their original literary expressiveness and sensitivity, and the unique power of creative, fictive language to capture dimensions of urban experience, yet grouped according to a newly spatial and visual organizing principle for an altogether different kind of enjoyment and pursuit than reading the original novels allowed. It is also thus that I became convinced — or at least determined to try and construct it so — that browsing the project would be of interest to even those who had never read a page of either Pamuk or Tanpınar.