Re-Imagining and Re-Placing New York and Istanbul

Exploring the Heterotopic and Third Spaces in Paul Auster's and Orhan Pamuk’s City Novels

by Hatice Bay (Author)
©2020 Thesis 174 Pages


The author re-examines the urban novels of Auster and Pamuk in the light of Foucault's heterotopia and Bhabha's the Third Space, respectively. Furthermore, for the discussions of the nature of the relationship between the self and the other, this present study deploys Emmanuel Levinas's ethics. This book argues that examining the urban spaces and characters of Auster and Pamuk through the prisms of Foucault, Bhabha and Levinas establishes a new critical framework that gives a constructive and ethical angle to the negative late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century discourses on the city and its inhabitants. The reader of this book will discover urban subjects who actively transform their respective cities into either heterotopic or Third Spaces and thereby become response-able for and attentive to their immediate surroundings, to their national or personal histories and, most importantly, to other people. At the same time, by bringing these two different cities, cultures and authors that are poles apart together, this book aims to problematize commonly held beliefs about Americanness and Turkishness and thus pave the way for looking at discourses such as «clash of civilizations», «margin» (Istanbul) and «center» (New York), the belated and the advanced from a critical point of view suggesting that there is a common discursive affinity with similar outlooks on life, personal, historical and physical spaces on both sides, rather than a «clash of civilizations». The arguments presented here will be of interest to students and scholars of city literature, comparative literature and history of ideas as well as to readers who have an interest in theory and close reading.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Urban and Identity Crises in the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • PART I
  • 1 Theorizing Heterotopia
  • 1.1 Heterotopia as Differential Textual Sites
  • 1.2 Heterotopia as Absolutely Other Real Spaces
  • 1.3 Heterotopia after Foucault
  • 1.4 Heterotopology I: The Entangled Interplay of Spaces of Power and Resistance
  • 1.5 Heterotopology II: Spatialized Historiography
  • 1.6 Theorizing Levinas’s Ethics
  • 1.7 Levinas: Towards an Understanding of the Ethical Embodied Subject
  • 1.8 Who is Levinas’s Other?
  • 1.9 The Passivity of the Subject
  • 1.10 The Traumatization of the Self
  • 1.11 Ethical Communication
  • 2 The Construction of Heterotopias of Deviation and the Ethical Self in City of Glass
  • 3 Gaze-to-Gaze, Flesh-to-Flesh: Glimpses of Alterity and Altericidal Relations in Ghosts
  • 4 The Construction of the Listening Eye/I in The Locked Room
  • 5 In the Country of Last Things: A Journey into a Thousand of Heterotopias of Resistance
  • 6 Heterotopical Investigations into History/Time and Geography/Space in Moon Palace
  • 1 Theorizing the Third Space within the Turkish Context
  • 1.1 Transition from the Islamic Ottoman Past to the Secular Modern Present: The Socio-cultural Context of Turkey
  • 1.2 Theorizing the Third Space
  • 1.3 The Third Space as a Politically and Ethically Enunciative Site
  • 1.4 The Stereotype
  • 1.5 Mimicry and Mockery
  • 1.6 The Uncanny
  • 1.7 Third Space as Hybridity and Cultural Translation
  • 1.8 The Third Space as an “Extra”-National Performative Space
  • 2 Unhomely Ethics and Radical Fellowship in The White Castle
  • 3 The Inscription of Belatedness as Extra-Modernity in The Black Book
  • 4 Identity and Memory Wars, and Glimpses of Hybridity in the Third Space of My Name is Red
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

1 Introduction

This study mainly examines Paul Auster’s New York and Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul novels in the way the urban protagonists experience their respective cities and re-construct their own identities around them. As far as the theoretical framework is concerned, Foucault’s concept of “heterotopia” and the idea of “The Third Space” theorized by Homi Bhabha are used for Auster’s and Pamuk’s novels, respectively. Furthermore, for Auster and Pamuk make the other person and the spaces of the other person central to reimagining subjectivity, Levinas’s ethics will also be employed as an interpretive strategy. While the present study will be breaking new ground in the application of the theories of Foucault to New York City, Bhabha to Istanbul and Levinas to both of them, it is at the same time the first study to bring Auster’s and Pamuk’s works together and establish a dialogue between these two very different textual universes and cultures that are poles apart. Moreover, Auster and Pamuk are chosen for this study in order to challenge the contemporary theories on the crises of the urban spaces and urban dwellers. Bringing Auster’s and Pamuk’s works together illuminates the need for a reevaluation of the contemporary negative outlook on the city and its inhabitants. That is, this study will expand the reader’s awareness and understanding of how spaces and their inhabitants can be viewed from a positive angle. Thus, it is the aim of this comparative approach to present the reader with more nuanced, complex and diversified sets of examples about how urban individuals, from two very different cities, might transform themselves and approach their own cities creatively, constructively and ethically. In a wider context, by bringing Auster and Pamuk together, I aim to challenge spatial and cultural stereotyping and dismantle commonly held beliefs about Americanness and Turkishness and thus pave the way for looking at discourses such as “clash of civilizations,” “margin” (Istanbul) and “center” (New York), the belated and the advanced from a critical point of view. It is hoped that putting into dialogue such different cities and writers together, this study disrupts discriminatory discourses, otherings, negative stereotypes which every city, region and nation constructs about one another. Therefore, a comparative point of view is believed to effect reconciliation of opposed geographic, cultural, and political locations and spaces.

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1.1 Urban and Identity Crises in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The following part extensively focuses on the current debates and literary imaginings about the crises of the city and its dwellers that emerged towards the end of the twentieth century in social sciences and urban literature. In addition, I will point out how urban spaces and subjects in the works of Auster and Pamuk have also so far been underestimated by many critics. Thus, this study gives an insight into the dominant but incomplete discourses about contemporary cities and their dwellers and provides one of the reasons behind my re-analyzing and bringing Auster’s and Pamuk’s city novels together.

For decades, in literary imagination, the pre-modern and modern city has had a dynamic unity and cultural distinctiveness. Although it has often been portrayed as a realm of sin, corruption, and downfall, it could still be read as a text. As Zeynep Harputlu in “Mapping Poverty in Late-Victorian Fiction” points out, the urban poor of George Gissing’s and Arthur Morrison’s city novels, for instance, are “explicitly identified and narrated through mapping poverty with a naturalistic representation of smaller spatial units within the borders of impoverished districts”(41). As Harputlu further argues, both authors presented a “detailed account of social-class stratification among the lower classes and rehumanised them in their environment with their everyday life struggles and concerns” (54). In a similar vein, Caroline Rosenthal in her article “North American Urban Fiction” states that “[w];hile the city was often portrayed as being destructive and erosive, its overwhelming energy was nonetheless celebrated by transferring it into a readable urban text” (243). As can be seen, pre-modern and modern city authors offered richly textured, varied and true pictures of the city. I believe what Orhan Pamuk says in an interview for BBC World Service in 2003 is an excellent example of what the modern city probably evokes in one’s mind:

If you have a vision of a city as a main hero, characters, in a way, are also instruments for you to see the city rather than their inner depths. And the inner depths of the characters are also deduced from the city, as in Dostoevsky. You have all these perspectives moving around in the city and to imagine them in our mind’s eye gives a correct and precise image of the city. Then it’s impossible to distinguish the character from the city, the city from the character. There’s another thing, and that is the sounds—things that you hear in each city that are different. In western cities the sound of the subway or metro is very particular and it stays in your spirit and whenever you hear it in a film, suddenly all the memories of the city wake up in you. In Istanbul it’s the “vvvvoooooot”—sirens of the boats, the “chck” from the chimney, waves of the Bosphorus hitting the quays along with the seagulls and old-fashioned little boats— “putu putu putu” kind of ←14 | 15→thing. These are the things that immediately, if I close my eyes and you give it to me in another corner of the world, make Istanbul suddenly appear in my mind’s eye. (“Sense of the City”)

As this passage indicates, modern cities were distinguished; moreover, the rhythms of the modern city could, in their most intimate and intense aspects, be experienced, felt, sensed and retold. However, cities from the 1980s onwards have undergone drastic changes. They have been challenged by the forces of globalization, new technologies of communication, immigration and mass culture. For instance, in his book S, M, L, XL, Rem Koolhaas defines the contemporary metropolis as “generic”: This is a city without characteristics, a city without center, without identity and without history (1250). In an interview with John Armitage, Paul Virilio expresses a similar view by pointing out that contemporary cities are technologized: They are “based on a sort of atmospheric politics related to the immediacy, ubiquity and instantaneity of information and communications technologies. Unlike geopolitical cites, the cities of the beyond are not anchored in urban concentration, in agglomeration, or even in accumulation but, rather, in the acceleration of the electromagnetic waves of information and communications technologies” (2). As a result, he says, “this indefinable ‘place’ usurps all our previous understandings of the reality and materiality of geopolitical cities, of, if you like, particular real places and specific material cities” (2–3). Various sociologists are of similar opinion. Thomas Bender, for instance, defines the contemporary city as “a theme park for tourists than a civic center where values and experiences are shared” (“City Lite”). Likewise, Sharon Zukin finds it as the “space of consumption,” Klaus Scherpe as “nowhere city,” Fredric Jameson as the “message-saturated space,” Marc Augé as “non-place” and Manuel Castells as the “space of flows.”

Apart from that, it is argued that in contemporary cityscapes which are marked by high-rises, commercial plazas, mass media and shopping streets, the urban dwellers have become disoriented, de-centered and bewildered. David Livingstone notes that human geographers are concerned about “the disappearance of the human agent as a thinking, feeling subject from the geographical conversation” (339). Likewise, Fredric Jameson in Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism asserts that the new experience of the metropolis is marked by the loss of human dominance over his surroundings. He maintains that although the latter is produced by the humans, it turns into a field of overwhelming force and transcends “the capacities of the individual human body…to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively to ←15 | 16→map its position in a mappable external world” (44).1 Jonathan Rutherford also articulates the very essence of this condition with the following words:

In this postmodern, ‘wide-open’ world our bodies are bereft of those spatial and temporal co-ordinates essential for historicity, for a consciousness of our own collective and personal past, ‘Not belonging’, a sense of unreality, isolation and being fundamentally ‘out of touch’ with the world become endemic in such a culture. (24)

As can be seen, urban critics generally point out the overwhelming nature of the city and how it has rendered the individual isolated, spatially and temporally disoriented. Thus, as Günther H. Lenz in “Mapping Postmodern New York City: Reconfiguring Urban Space, Metropolitan Culture, and Urban Fiction. An Introduction” argues, it has become difficult “to ‘read’ the city as a ‘text’, to narrate the city or city life, as the concepts of ‘the city’ and of ‘subjects’ living in the city were seen as having become ‘derealized’ ” (15).

This dominant negative outlook on the city and its dwellers is not limited to urban planners, architects and sociologists, but it is also observable in contemporary US American and non-Western urban fictions as well. A recent example is John Updike’s Terrorist (2006) in which the destructive dimension of New York City is narrated in the following way:

All around them [Ahmad and Mr. Levy] up Eighth Avenue to Broadway, the great city crawls with people, some smartly dressed, many of them shabby, a few beautiful but most not, all reduced by the towering structures around them to the size of insects, but scuttling, hurrying, intent in the milky morning sun upon some plan or scheme or hope they are hugging to themselves, their reason for living another day, each one of them impaled live upon the pin of consciousness, fixed upon self-advancement and self-preservation. That, and only that. (310)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Comparative literature Heterotopia Third Space Ethics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 174 pp.

Biographical notes

Hatice Bay (Author)

Hatice Bay studied English Literature at METU (Turkey) and graduated with a PhD in American Literature. Her research interests include city literature, literature of immigration and diaspora.


Title: Re-Imagining and Re-Placing New York and Istanbul