words. music. pictures. scheherazade.
Here is the last installment of the Murakami interview, which was originally published in Yomiuri Shimbun in 2009. If you read Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview, you’d already know that if something out of Murakami’s mouth sounds weird, it’s my translation, not Murakami -
Yomiuri: In your acceptance speech for the Jerusalem Prize, you said that you write novels in order to raise up the dignity of the soul of each individual, to illuminate its place.
Murakami: I believe that the role of a writer is to create stories which would oppose positions of fundamentalism and certain kinds of mythification processes which adversely affect mankind. A “story” lasts. A good story lasts if it finds a suitable resting space within someone’s heart. A story told orally, no matter how moving it may be, will eventually lose its strength and expire. But a written story can wholly stay within one’s heart. It may not be as immediately effective as an oral story, but the written story can withstand time, as well as grow along with time. Especially since we live in an internet era in which there is an overflow of “opinions,” it is more important than ever that a “story” should harness a greater power and potency.
A novelist contains and holds down, with his language, the surface of things in this life that resist facile expression, and delivers the result to the reader. If this reader discovers the truth which is packed beneath the language of the novelist, there is no other happiness better than this for a novelist. The important thing is not the volume of a book’s sales. It’s the way you hand a story to a reader.
Y: In 1Q84, the twin stories of Aomame, a single woman who works in a health club, and Tengo, an aspiring novelist, alternate in the first two volumes, each comprised of 24 chapters. The presentation of their stories seems as innovative as Janacek’s Sinfonietta.
M: I decided to take after the structure of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and decided to alternate Aomame and Tengo’s stories, in alternating keys, in major and minor. Prior to that, I had needed a name for the characters, and for some inexplicable reason, I thought that the name of Aomame seemed great. I thought of it when I saw a menu item from a bar one night, “blue pea tofu” [note: in kanji, “aomame” means blue pea]. The name of Tengo also occurred to me simultaneously, and I thought to myself: “Wow, the novel is virtually all written already.” In the course of two years of writing it, my conviction in the completion of this long novel never wavered.
I wanted to write a story about a man and a woman in their 30s, who had met when they were 10 years old, but had become separated and deeply long for each other. At that point, when I started to work on the novel in Hawaii, in autumn of 2006, that was all that was in my head about 1Q84. In my case, if I have a plot already thought up in my head, I can’t really write well. So, in the beginning, I might have a tiny idea or an image, a suspicion that perhaps certain event or another might happen, but the rest, I leave to the organic flow of the story. I have no desire to write a story which already has a pre-determined plot for two years.
Y: The characters in 1Q84 are easily hurt and emotionally scarred; they are beautiful. Although you used the third-person narration for the first time in a novel, I nevertheless felt close to the characters, as this third-person perspective felt akin to the first-person perspective in feel.
M: Usually, as a writer ages, he often writes about his age group. Readers also age along with the writer. But I have more interest in the present-day youth, who are progressing and growing. It’s not like I have any friendship with anyone in his or her 20s, nor do I watch animation or read “cellphone literature.” I don’t think writing about one’s own age group or not has any bearing on being able to write vivid stories, however.
When I was around 30 years old, I could only write about stories that I found pertinent to my age. But eventually, I found that I could write about a 15 year old boy in Kafka On the Shore, and about a 19 year old girl in After Dark, as if they were none other than myself. With 1Q84, I wanted to start the story from the psyche of Aomame when she was 10 years old. Especially with 1Q84, I wanted to really dig into the emotional and cognitive processes of women, and try to write via their perspective.
As I write everyday, for a prolonged period of time, it becomes as though I have been living with a fictional character, and through this process, I eventually get to realize, “Ah, XXX was this kind of a person.” Through such realizations, I rewrite and correct numerous times, and thus shape the novel in progress. Often, it is nothing more than a single descriptive statement or a line of idiom which formulates a character, in my case.
Y: The two women who captivate Tengo - Fukaeri and Aomame - are sexually bold and frank. The elements of sexual child abuse which appear in 1Q84 is also a problem with our society.
M: Even though I didn’t deal with the issues in early works like Hear the Wind Sing or Pinball, 1973, “sex and violence” have always been important problems to deal with in my work. These two problems penetrate deeply into the human soul, and as such, can be seen as something like an “important gateway.” In 1Q84, there isn’t a description of skinning human flesh (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) or gruesomely killing a cat (Kafka On the Shore), but there are quite a few scenes of sexual nature in it. There may be readers who do not like such scenes, but for the story of 1Q84, they are necessary.
Y: One cannot sustain a 1000-page novel without strong prose. You once praised Raymond Chandler’s prose for its precise construction and detail; reading 1Q84's prose brought to my mind Chandler's prose.
M: Seven years ago, after I wrote Kafka On the Shore, I took on some translation work. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, The Catcher In the Rye by Salinger, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Great Gatsby… All these classic works, every single one, are written in tremendous prose. I jumped into these works, thinking that it was possible for me to bear the responsibility of translating them faithfully into Japanese. At any rate, I’ve translated these classic works. But as a result, I found myself distanced from the current of American novels from my own era. So, rather than learn something new from outside, I thought it might be best to think on my own and go forward on my own terms.
I once found the idea of writing a realist novel very challenging, and I met this challenge by writing Norwegian Wood. Through that experience, I gained a peace of mind that I could write such a thing. I also wrote Underground to learn to write about someone else, in my prose, and writing 30-40 pages daily while watching the Olympics for Sidney also became a good lesson for me. Because of these experiences, I think the number of things I want to write about which I am not technically equipped to write has diminished over the years.
Y: In this present age, in which visual media have become the dominant form, isn’t it much more difficult to innovate through the written form, compared to times in the past?
M: I always try to create and work with a new language system for each work. The reason why I used the third-person narrative in 1Q84 for the first time in my career is that I wanted to try and test a new mode of expression. I was happy because, as a result, it felt as though the world itself had become wider.
According to Wittgenstein, there are two kinds of languages: objective language, which is logically and easily communicable by anyone who reads it, and private language, which is difficult to explain via language. Earlier in my career, I thought that a novelist is someone who had both his feet in the realm of private language, that he would just withdraw messages from private language/thought to create his stories. But since when, I don’t know, I realized that the language in a novel gains a special strength if I skillfully mix and alternate private language with objective language; the story itself becomes more dimensional through this process, as well.
Y: It must be said, though, that even from the perspective of a reader, it seems difficult to cultivate such capacities of language in this day and age. I believe that the unnatural, closed world that the programmer from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World became trapped by was a precursor to the one that we are actually living in today.
M: The progress of the computers and technology has created a newly classified society. In such a society, there’s a need for a vast class of intellectual laborers who are programmers. Through creation of this kind of specialization, I have a worry that a great deal of our creativity will become trapped within ourselves, within our worlds, indeed turning our world into the one drawn up by Orwell in 1984.
It’s now become almost impossible to live without depending on the internet and without using some level of English as an official language. I believe there is a need for a system which would allow many different countries to exhibit their unique cultures to counter this trend of homogenization. In any era, there is perhaps about 5% of the population who do centrally important intellectual work, and so, no matter how pervasively reproducible and easily plagiarized things become in our world, I believe the fundamental interest in the arts or “original style” of certain artists will never diminish.