Monday, February 23, 2009

"The Novelist in Wartime"

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, recently received the Jerusalem prize, Israel's highest literary prize for a foreign author.

In "The Novelist in Wartime," Murakami's reflection on the experience, the author wrestles with his decision to accept an award from a country so mired in controversial military tactics. He states that he does not support any war, and yet, he does not believe that disengaging from communication is the answer: "I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing."

However, Murakami goes on to give a passionate plea for the downtrodden and oppressed. For the egg thrown against a wall:
Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others -- coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories -- stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called the System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong -- and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

I find it hard to believe that the metaphor of a wall, in a country that has surrounded itself with concrete and barbed wire, is just coincidence.

1 comment:

I.M. Small said...


Lord, as I crumple in defeat
Upon the waning battlefield,
Amongst such wastrel souls to meet
Demise without a fruitful yield--

Yet here and there, so I observe
Moments of triumph, few and fleeting
As there are some who hold their nerve
Despite the odds which us are beating.

So it was in Jerusalem
Haruki Murakami came,
To meet civilians, and to them
Art´s fictions true so to proclaim.

Thus Caryl Churchill too released
In honest words without a fee
Her breath of truth, and so appeased
The angels of humanity.

Before my little light expires,
Yet in defeat, I witness this:
There are some acts my soul admires
As I slide closer toward abyss.