Wednesday, September 18, 2013

repetition is a form of mesmerism. Haruki Murakami's interview (extracts)

I’m not intelligent. I’m not arrogant. I’m just like the people who read my books. I used to have a jazz club, and I made the cocktails and I made the sandwiches. I didn’t want to become a writer—it just happened. It’s a kind of gift, you know, from the heavens. So I think I should be very humble.

I started writing at the kitchen table after midnight. It took ten months to finish that first book; I sent it to a publisher and I got some kind of prize, so it was like a dream—I was surprised to find it happening. But after a moment, I thought, Yes, it’s happened and I’m a writer; why not? It’s that simple.

I didn’t read many Japanese writers when I was a child or even in my teens. I wanted to escape from this culture; I felt it was boring. Too sticky.

I’m a loner. I don’t like groups, schools, literary circles. At Princeton, there was a luncheonette, or something like that, and I was invited to eat there. Joyce Carol Oates was there and Toni Morrison was there and I was so afraid, I couldn’t eat anything at all! Mary Morris was there and she’s a very nice person, almost the same age as I am, and we became friends, I would say. But in Japan I don’t have any writer friends, because I just want to have . . . distance.

I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.

I prefer translating to criticism, because you are hardly required to judge anything when you translate. Line by line, I just let my favorite work pass through my body and my mind. We need critiques in this world, for sure, but it’s just not my job.

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

[...] INTERVIEWER: My sympathies always seem to tend toward the girl with the sense of humor. It’s easier to allow the reader into a relationship in which humor is the primary currency; it’s harder to charm the reader with an earnest description of a love affair. In Norwegian Wood I was rooting for Midori all the way.
MURAKAMI: I think most readers would say the same. Most would choose Midori. And the protagonist, of course, chooses her in the end. But some part of him is always in the other world and he cannot abandon it. It’s a part of him, an essential part. All human beings have a sickness in their minds. That space is a part of them. We have a sane part of our minds and an insane part. We negotiate between those two parts; that is my belief. I can see the insane part of my mind especially well when I’m writing—insane is not the right word. Unordinary, unreal. I have to go back to the real world, of course, and pick up the sane part. But if didn’t have the insane part, the sick part, I wouldn’t be here. In other words, the protagonist is supported by two women; without either of them, he could not go on. In that sense, Norwegian Wood is a very straightforward example of what I’m doing.

INTERVIEWER: The character of Reiko in Norwegian Wood is interesting in that light. I wouldn’t quite know where to put her; she seems to have a foot in both worlds.
MURAKAMI: She has a half-sane, half-insane mind. It’s a Greek mask: if you see her from this side, she’s a tragic character; if you see her from the other side, she’s comic. In that sense, she’s very symbolic. I like that character very much. I was happy when I wrote her, Reiko-San.

INTERVIEWER: Do you yourself feel more affection for your comic characters—for your Midori's and May Kasahara's—than you do for your Naoko's?
MURAKAMI: I like to write comic dialogue; it’s fun. But if my characters were all comic it would be boring. Those comic characters are a kind of stabilizer to my mind; a sense of humor is a very stable thing. You have to be cool to be humorous. When you’re serious, you could be unstable; that’s the problem with seriousness. But when you’re humorous, you’re stable. But you can’t fight the war smiling.

INTERVIEWER: How did you come to choose your translators?
MURAKAMI: I have three—Alfred Birnbaum, Philip Gabriel, Jay Rubin—and the rule is “first come, first get.” We’re friends, so they are very honest. They read my books and one of them thinks, That’s great! I’d like to do that. So he takes it. As a translator myself, I know that to be enthusiastic is the main part of a good translation. If someone is a good translator but doesn’t like a book so much, that’s the end of the story. Translation is very hard work, and it takes time.

[...] They ask me many things when they are translating, and when the first draft is completed, I read it. Sometimes I’ll give them some suggestions. The English version of my books is very important; small countries, such as Croatia or Slovenia, translate from the English, not the Japanese. So it must be very precise. But in most countries, they translate from the original Japanese text.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say that your novels portray contemporary urban Japanese life accurately?
MURAKAMI: The way people act, the way people talk, the way people react, the way people think, is very Japanese. No Japanese readers—almost no Japanese readers—complain that my stories are different from our life. I’m trying to write about the Japanese. I want to write about what we are, where we are going, why we are here. That’s my theme, I guess.

...When I was a child, I was told many Japanese folktales and old stories. Those stories are critical when you are growing up. That Super-Frog figure, for example, might come from that reservoir of stories. You have your reservoir of American folklore, Germans have theirs, Russians have theirs. But there is also a mutual reservoir we can draw from: The Little Prince, McDonald’s, or the Beatles.

I want my readers to laugh sometimes. Many readers in Japan read my books on the train while commuting. The average salaryman spends two hours a day commuting and he spends those hours reading. That’s why my big books are printed in two volumes: They would be too heavy in one. Some people write me letters, complaining that they laugh when they read my books on the train! It’s very embarrassing for them. Those are the letters I like most. I know they are laughing, reading my books; that’s good. I like to make people laugh every ten pages.

I don’t want to persuade the reader that it’s a real thing; I want to show it as it is. In a sense, I’m telling those readers that it’s just a story—it’s fake. But when you experience the fake as real, it can be real. It’s not easy to explain.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers offered the real thing; that was their task. In War and Peace Tolstoy describes the battleground so closely that the readers believe it’s the real thing. But I don’t. I’m not pretending it’s the real thing. We are living in a fake world; we are watching fake evening news. We are fighting a fake war. Our government is fake. But we find reality in this fake world. So our stories are the same; we are walking through fake scenes, but ourselves, as we walk through these scenes, are real. The situation is real, in the sense that it’s a commitment, it’s a true relationship. That’s what I want to write about.

I like details very much. Tolstoy wanted to write the total description; my description is focused on a very small area. When you describe the details of small things, your focus gets closer and closer, and the opposite of Tolstoy happens—it gets more unrealistic. That’s what I want to do.

I’ve been listening to jazz since I was 13 or 14 years old. Music is a very strong influence: the chords, the melodies, the rhythm, the feeling of the blues are helpful when I write. I wanted to be a musician, but I couldn’t play the instruments very well, so I became a writer. Writing a book is just like playing music: first I play the theme, then I improvise, then there is a conclusion, of a kind.
Jazz is a journey for me, a mental journey. No different than writing.

I like classical music as well, particularly baroque music. And in my new book, Kafka on the Shore, the protagonist, the boy, listens to Radiohead and Prince. I was so surprised: some member of Radiohead likes my books!

When I was two we moved to Kobe. So that is where I’m from. Kobe is by the sea and next to the mountains, on a kind of strip. I don’t like Tokyo; it’s so flat, so wide, so vast. I don’t like it here.

source: Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182


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