Red: West bleeds into East

Through both form and content, Pamuk’s My Name is Red explores the subtle and non-linear ways in which Western ideas infiltrated Eastern art in the sixteenth century. The title emphasizes a western takeover in multiple ways. The very phrase “my name is” becomes a claim to subjectivity, an explicit assertion of agency. For this one one color to speak, while the others are not given voices in the novel, speaks to Pamuk’s wish to draw attention to the particular power of red.

The chapter on red begins with a sweeping paragraph that explains the enduring presence of the color. It bears witness to all of the core events of the world, subtler at first.  Still, the chapter closes with an authoritative statement. It states: “Thereby, as I bring my color to the page, it’s as if I command the world to ‘Be!’ Yes, those who cannot see would deny it, but the truth is I can be found everywhere” (188). Red addresses its own power to take over a page, and to capture the eye. The color acts like the West in the face of the world, inevitably dominating any image (i.e. any space/country) in which it appears. There is an oppressive, suffocating edge to this idea that recalls the violence and heedlessness of the West’s imposition upon the East. Furthermore, red is implicitly linked to pain and violence because it is the color of blood, and in turn, it is linked to fear.

The entire book circles around the Western concepts of individual style, originality and and agency that clash with Eastern cultural and religious values. As red bleeds, increasingly, yet somewhat imperceptibly, into eastern manuscript pages, the people resist its power and its connotations. Similarly, as Western artistic tendencies seep into Eastern communities, artists, like the miniaturists in the novel, actively resist. This color lends force to the artwork, and establishes a precarious artistic authority that eastern artists were largely uncomfortable with. Red eclipses, overshadows, ruins illustrations. It flies in the face of rigid tenants of faith that shaped Persian society, threatening to bring down structures upon which it seemed their entire world was built.  Red is the West.

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