Saturday, 8 December 2012

Encyclopaedia of Istanbul

"It was only after he realised that his collection might have no bounds that he hit on the idea of an encyclopedia, and from then he remained aware of the 'thingness' of his collection.  When Professor Semavi Eyice, the historian of Byzantine and Ottoman art, who'd known Kocu since 1944, and who'd written entries for the Encyclopedia since its inception, wrote about Kocu after his death, he described his large library piled high with 'material' he kept in envelopes -- newspaper cuttings, collections of pictures and photographs, dossiers and notes (now lost) compiled from his long years of reading the nineteenth-century newspapers.

When Kocu realised that he would not live to finish the Encyclopedia he told Semavi Eyice that he was going to take his entire collection, a lifetime of scavenging, and burn it in his garden.  Only a true collector would consider such a gesture, which calls to mind the novelist Bruce Chatwin, who for part of his life worked at Sotheby's, and whose hero, Utz, destroys his own porcelain collection in a moment of rage.  Kocu did not, in the end, let his anger get the better of him, but if he had, it would have made little difference;  production of the Istanbul Encyclopedia steadily slowed, stopped altogether in 1973."

Istanbul, Memories of a City  Orhan Pamuk   trans. M . Freely

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