Kazuo Ishiguro and his forty pages book

Well… Since the academy postponed the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature we’re a little bit upset. However, we can still look at the  Nobel lecture of Kazuo Ishiguro who was awarded in 2017. His lecture is published as a book. A thin forty-something pages book. But it teaches you more than most of the books you’ve read, believe me.

In his Nobel lecture, Kazuo Ishiguro addresses his turning points in his career. They are as he defines “often small, scruffy moments”

For instance, we learn once again that great writers aren’t born that way, they become great over time. Ishiguro also started his writing career late. He explains:

“At that point in my life I’d written little else of note in the way of prose fiction, having earned my place on the course with a radio play rejected by the BBC. In fact, having previously made firm plans to become a rock star by the time I was twenty, my literary ambitions had only recently made themselves known to me.”

Doesn’t it make you feel good about knowing this?

He then questions about his duties as a writer. After visiting concentration camps and the remains of gas chambers he thinks more about memories and his duty to pass them on to future generations.

“Should perspex domes be built to cover them over, to preserve them for the eyes of succeeding generations? Or should they be allowed, slowly and naturally, to rot away to nothing? It seemed to me a powerful metaphor for a larger dilemma. How were such memories to be preserved? Would the glass domes transform these relics of evil and suffering into tame museum exhibits? What should we choose to remember? When is it better to forget and move on.”

What should he do as a writer?

“But now it occurred to me that before too long, many who had witnessed those huge events at first hand would not be alive. And what then? Did the burden of remembering fall to my own generation? We hadn’t experienced the war years, but we’d at least been brought up by parents whose lives had been indelibly shaped by them. Did I, now, as a public teller of stories, have a duty I’d hitherto been unaware of?”

From this turning point, we go to another turning point which is also “quiet, private sparks of revelation”.  After he watched “Twentieth Century” he shares his secret:

…”all I can say is that it was an idea that came to me surprisingly late in my writing life, and I see it now as a turning point, comparable with the others I’ve been describing to you today. From then on, I began to build my stories in a different way. When writing my novel Never Let Me Go, for instance, I set off from the start by thinking about its central relationships triangle, and then the other relationships that fanned out from it.”

The other spark of revelation should be:

“That I’d failed to notice the frustration and anxieties of many people around me. I realised that my world – a civilised, stimulating place filled with ironic, liberal-minded people – was in fact much smaller than I’d ever imagined.”

How about today? He regards himself an optimist. According to him, his generation strived to transform Europe from a place of totalitarian regimes to a much-envied region of liberal democracies living in near-borderless friendship. So he says:

“I’m part of a generation inclined to optimism, and why not?”

“Do I have something left that might help to provide perspective, to bring emotional layers to the arguments, fights and wars that will come as societies struggle to adjust to huge changes? I’ll have to carry on and do the best I can.”

He’s hopeful about the new generation:

“But I’ll be looking to the writers from the younger generations to inspire and lead us. This is their era, and they will have the knowledge and instinct about it that I will lack. In the worlds of books, cinema, TV and theatre I see today adventurous, exciting talents: women and men in their forties, thirties and twenties. So I am optimistic. Why shouldn’t I be?”

And he has two suggestions for the Nobel Prize as he defines “our own small corner of it, this corner of ‘literature’”

“Firstly, we must widen our common literary world to include many more voices from beyond our comfort zones of the elite first world cultures. Second: we must take great care not to set too narrowly or conservatively our definitions of what constitutes good literature.”

Long live.

The original lecture:



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