One was acquired because of the unmistakeable image of my favorite city that bewitched me as I browsed through NYRB’s contemporary collection; and the other because there are only two Turkish modern classics in the Penguin collection and I’ve already read and loved the other one!
What is a classic? In Amit Chaudhuri’s rephrasing of J.M. Coetzee, it is that which speaks to you when you are ready to hear it. I was not too sure about being ready, but if Pamuk thinks Tanpinar is the most remarkable author in modern Turkish literature, you trust him… even if it means limping through four hundred pages of winding narrative for an entire week.
But as reading fate would have it, Mendelsohn’s book turned out to be the crutch that got me through my inadequacies as a reader and the compass that prevented me from losing my way through Tanpinar’s meandering tale.
Aside from being so much more, Three Rings sheds light on ring composition in masterpieces by Homer, Proust, Sebald, and other literary forebears. Because of this, it made me recognize this exact literary form in The Time Regulation Institute and taught me to luxuriate in the beauty of narrative digression instead of getting lost.
As if harmonizing intentionally, Tanpinar evokes the eastern concept of time as a non-linear progression as Mendelsohn intimates this non-linearity in literature and life.
Time Regulation Institute is primarily a satire on the young Turkish Republic during Atatürk’s cultural revolution, which included enforcing Western time and imposing a fine on those who continued to observe Islamic time. While Atatürk is lauded in the West as a hero for modernizing a dying and retrogressive Ottoman Empire, Tanpinar artfully warns readers about how new freedoms are accompanied by new tyrannies — a seldom heeded but always relevant, and necessary, warning.
“The political pursuit of freedom can lead to its eradication on a grand scale — or rather it opens the door to countless curtailments… never have I known a concept so inextricable from its antithesis, and indeed entirely crushed under its weight… I must confess I’ve always found freedom an elusive concept… if we truly felt passionately about it, then wouldn’t we have…never let it out of our sight?”