- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“Good writing and good reading will break down barriers.”

 

Happy birthday, Kazuo Ishiguro! 65, today! Here are some quotes from interviews with the writer and from some of his books.

 

“I suppose you could say there is an element of the laboratory about all fiction writing…To some extent they’re thought experiments. And yes, you can road-test certain experiences without really having them. There is that slightly chilly aspect to writing fiction—you do have to be slightly detached to say: how would human beings respond in this situation?”

 

“I’ve always liked the texture of memory. I like it that a scene pulled from the narrator’s memory is blurred at the edges, layered with all sorts of emotions, and open to manipulation. You’re not just telling the reader: ‘this-and-this happened.’ You’re also raising questions like: why has she remembered this event just at this point? How does she feel about it? And when she says she can’t remember very precisely what happened, but she’ll tell us anyway, well, how much do we trust her? And so on. I love all these subtle things you can do when you tell a story through someone’s memories.”

 

“More fundamentally, I’m interested in memory because it’s a filter through which we see our lives, and because it’s foggy and obscure, the opportunities for self-deception are there. In the end, as a writer, I’m more interested in what people tell themselves happened rather than what actually happened.”

 

“I have a sense of having just left without saying goodbye, and of this whole other world just kind of fading away.…I have the feeling of this completely alternative person I should have become. There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.”

 

“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.”

 

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available…an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

 

“What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”

 

“One is not struck by the truth until prompted quite accidentally by some external event.”

 

“The rest of my life stretches out as an emptiness before me.”

 

“Sometimes I get so immersed in my own company, if I unexpectedly run into someone I know, it’s a bit of a shock and takes me a while to adjust.”

 

“Why write a novel if it was going to offer more or less the same experience someone could get by turning on a television? How could written fiction hope to survive against the might of cinema and television if it didn’t offer something unique, something the other forms couldn’t do?”

 

“If I could go from one passage to the next according to the narrator’s thought associations and drifting memories, I could compose in something like the way an abstract painter might choose to place shapes and colours around a canvas. I could place a scene from two days ago right beside one from twenty years earlier, and ask the reader to ponder the relationship between the two. In such a way, I began to think, I might suggest the many layers of self-deception and denial that shrouded any person’s view of their own self and of their past.”

 

“I should say here that I have, on a number of other occasions, learned crucial lessons from the voices of singers. I refer here less to the lyrics being sung, and more to the actual singing. As we know, a human voice in song is capable of expressing an unfathomably complex blend of feelings. Over the years, specific aspects of my writing have been influenced by, among others, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch and my friend and collaborator Stacey Kent. Catching something in their voices, I’ve said to myself: ‘Ah yes, that’s it. That’s what I need to capture in that scene. Something very close to that.’ Often it’s an emotion I can’t quite put into words, but there it is, in the singer’s voice, and now I’ve been given something to aim for.”

 

“[I]s it dynamic? Does it have emotional resonance? Does it evolve? Does it surprise convincingly? Is it three-dimensional?”

 

“[A]ll good stories, never mind how radical or traditional their mode of telling, had to contain relationships that are important to us; that move us, amuse us, anger us, surprise us.”

 

“Stories can entertain, sometimes teach or argue a point. But for me the essential thing is that they communicate feelings. That they appeal to what we share as human beings across our borders and divides. There are large glamorous industries around stories; the book industry, the movie industry, the television industry, the theatre industry. But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel this way to you?”

 

“If we are to play an important role in this uncertain future, if we are to get the best from the writers of today and tomorrow, I believe we must become more diverse. I mean this in two particular senses:

Firstly, we must widen our common literary world to include many more voices from beyond our comfort zones of the elite first world cultures. We must search more energetically to discover the gems from what remain today unknown literary cultures, whether the writers live in far away countries or within our own communities. Second: we must take great care not to set too narrowly or conservatively our definitions of what constitutes good literature. The next generation will come with all sorts of new, sometimes bewildering ways to tell important and wonderful stories. We must keep our minds open to them, especially regarding genre and form, so that we can nurture and celebrate the best of them. In a time of dangerously increasing division, we must listen. Good writing and good reading will break down barriers. We may even find a new idea, a great humane vision, around which to rally.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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