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Thu, Jun 25, 2009
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network
Haruki Murakami: Sex, violence 'doors into the human soul'

In this second and final part of an interview with author Haruki Murakami, he talks about his new novel "1Q84" (ichi-kew-hachi-yon), a long work he wrote on 1,984 sheets of 400-character paper, according to Shinchosha Publishing Co.

Murakami also discusses how he--and society in general--has changed since he won the Gunzo Prize for New Writers in 1979 for his novel "Hear the Wind Sing." The interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Mariko Ozaki.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: The two protagonists--Aomame (Green Bean), a single woman who works for a gym, and Tengo, a prep school instructor who aspires to be a novelist--appear in alternate chapters, 24 each, throughout Book 1 and 2. The storyline, meanwhile, has an extremely creative feel like composer Leos Janacek's "Sinfonietta."

Haruki Murakami: I decided to write the stories about Aomame and Tengo alternately, or like major and minor keys following the format of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier." But before doing so, I needed to come up with names [for the characters]. At some point I suddenly thought Aomame would be a good name.

I hit upon the idea through association with an aomame tofu dish I saw on the menu of an izakaya restaurant. At the same time, the name Tengo sprung to mind. At that point, I knew the novel was almost done. During the two years I spent writing the work, my conviction that I would eventually complete it never wavered.

When I started writing it during a stay in Hawaii in autumn 2006, I only had two things in mind: That the story would be about a man and woman, both 30 years old, who search for each other after meeting and parting at the age of 10; and that I'd make this simple story as long and complicated as possible.

In my case, if I start out by thinking about the plot, things don't go well. Small points, such as my impression of what is likely to occur, do come to mind, but I let the rest of the story take its own course. I don't want to spend as long as two years writing a story whose plot I already know.

Q: For the first time in one of your full-length novels, the narrative is given in the third-person. However, an intimacy close to that of a first-person narrative is maintained, and the young people in it are beautifully depicted. This made me realize once again that, even though you have been writing novels for the past 30 years, your work is still literature about early adulthood.

A: As they age, authors usually write well about the generation they're in. I'm more interested in young people who are living in the present day and continuing to mature. I don't mingle with people in their 20s and I know little about mobile phone novels or anime works. But I think these factors have little to do with the art of creating an "actual" story.

When I was 30 years old, I could only write well about my 30-year-old self. But I managed to write about a 15-year-old boy in "Kafka on the Shore" and a 19-year-old girl in "After Dark" as if writing about myself. In this work, I wanted to start the story by describing the feelings of 10-year-old Aomame. In particular, I wanted to delve deeper into how women feel or think in this work.

Since I was writing this story day after day over a long period of time, I came to feel like I was living together with the characters in the story and came to understand more clearly what kind of people they were. I would revise my writing over and over again to fine-tune it. Changing one descriptive word or a line of sentence can sometimes bring a certain character to life.

Q: In the novel, Fukaeri, a girl who has escaped from a cult, starts to increasingly fascinate Tengo. Both Aomame and Fukaeri are sexually adventurous, but at the same time, the episodes about a raped little girl and domestic violence relate to problems of today.

A: Violence and sex, which didn't appear at all in "Hear the Wind Sing" and "Pinball, 1973," have become more important issues for me as I've produced more works. These two elements can be described as important doors for entering deep inside the human soul.

Peeling away human skin, chopping off a cat's head... This latest novel doesn't have such cruel descriptions in it, but there is a considerable number of sex-related scenes. This may be a real turnoff for some people, but it's necessary in this story.

Q: Book 2 ends in September [after covering a three-month period like Book 1] and many people have expressed a desire to see a sequel.

A: I don't know about that. I'd like to give myself time for a long, slow think about what I want to do next.

Q: A full-length novel running to as many as 1,000 pages can hardly be created without a superbly robust style of writing. In this respect, you once referred to the style of Raymond Chandler as a "scrupulous accumulation of exquisite hypotheses and details." Your latest work "1Q84," has, I suppose, been built on such method of writing.

A: After writing "Kafka on the Shore," I spent seven years rendering one American classic after another into Japanese. Among them were Chandler's "The Long Goodbye," "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Every one of the sentences in these books represents really splendid English.

I started the translation task only after I felt confident of my ability to do it responsibly as a translator and I was pleased to subsequently be able to see it through to the end. After that, however, I found myself somewhat distanced from novels by contemporary American writers.

So, the thought occurred to me that it was time to work out what I should do by myself, instead of trying to learn something new from others.

I felt fairly comfortable about addressing the task of writing a novel focused on realism--"Norwegian Wood." The experience of writing "Underground," a work I produced by listening intently to what others had to say, and also the serialized essays on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, which I wrote day after day during the Games, 30 to 40 pages of 400-character manuscript paper apiece, also helped me train myself in writing.

Subsequently, I've seldom found myself short of the skills needed to write what I want to express.

Q: Given that expression through visual means has grown increasingly dominant in recent years, do you think it has become more difficult than ever to carve out new ways of expressing ideas based solely on the strength of language?

A: Every time I've released my work, I have, in my own way, developed a language system with a new dimension. I wrote my latest book, "1Q84," in the third person, with a view to putting a new form of expression to the test in this long story. It pleases me greatly that this novel has opened up the world to me more.

As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, language can be defined as consisting of two major components: the objective part, which is logical and can be communicated to any reader, and "private language," which one feels can never be explained to others with words.

I once thought the prime task for a novelist was to soak both feet in the stream of private language and retrieve from it messages that could be built into a story.

But I later became aware that by making efforts to allow private language to interact adequately with objective language, the words in a novel can become more powerful and the story can become more dimensionally structured. Just like pro baseball interleague games [laughs].

Q: These days, many readers find it a struggle to improve their language ability. I refer to the "Calcutec," or calculator, in your 1985 novel "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World." That closed, tightly constrained world the Calcutec lived in was an anticipation of today's highly computerized society, wasn't it?

A: I believe that advances in computer technologies are threatening to give rise to a new kind of hierarchy. Computerized society, though convenient and efficient, requires a huge army of highly skilled knowledge workers to be engaged in programming jobs.

Because of this specialization, the creativity of individuals is in danger of being eroded and forced into conformity with the world depicted in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

With the Internet now so widespread, one can hardly get along without a knowledge of English as a universal language. But at the same time, various nations may still require a system that lets them send out messages peculiar to their own cultural milieu.

I nevertheless believe that 5 percent or so of the population of any society, in any age, do the intellectual jobs at its core, and however rampant such practices as copying and pasting may become, interest in the arts and originality will never cease.

Q: Since the onset of the global economic depression, the cultural prestige of the United States has been on the wane.

A: Although I held U.S. newspapers and magazines in high esteem, that country's media outlets have been rapidly enervated since the Iraq war as their arguments have vacillated and grown erratic. Publishing houses, too, are languid in the United States.

From now on, I think the gap between the United States, Europe and East Asia is sure to narrow, and cultural exchanges between these regions will be further accelerated and become equally important to all sides.

Director Tran Anh Hung is scheduled to turn "Norwegian Wood" into a film. He is ideal for the job because of his background: He hails from Vietnam and is a French citizen. I hope the planned film successfully conveys a message from Asia to the world.

Q: Your novels have a large global readership. But how do you feel about Japan and the Japanese?

A: Rather than referring to one group, the Japanese, I think it best to consider how people who live here, this place called Japan, should get along. I don't really like to take a position that focuses exclusively on the characteristics peculiar to Japanese or something like that.

Say, for instance, there seems to be a lot of potential in the Japanese language for unexpected serendipity. Instead of taking an approach that results in just one possible outcome, I'd like to pursue a wealth of freedom.

I'm agreeable to giving interviews to media overseas, mainly because I'm convinced there must be messages that I, having been brought up in Japan and spoken Japanese all my life, can send to places that are beyond the particularities of all things Japanese. I believe that this perspective allows for a new bud of creative possibility to spring up.

This article was first published in The Yomiuri Shimbun.

 
 
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