30 May 2021

The New York Times: “Kazuo Ishiguro sees what the Future is Doing to Us”

Speaking of his comparatively small output, Ishiguro said: I don’t have any regrets about it. In some ways, I suppose, I’m just not that dedicated to my vocation. I expect it’s because writing wasn’t my first choice of profession. It’s almost something I fell back on because I couldn’t make it as a singer-songwriter. It’s not something I’ve wanted to do every minute of my life. It’s what I was permitted to do. So, you know, I do it when I really want to do it, but otherwise I don’t.

When he does want to do it, he is capable of going flat out. He produced a first draft of “The Remains of the Day” in a four-week “crash”, during which he wrote from morning until night, stopping only for meals. The practice served him well at the time — he and MacDougall needed the money a new advance would bring — but Ishiguro’s crashing days are now firmly behind him. He has grown suspicious of the modern office and its imperative to be constantly on call. The way our capitalist society is organized, it accommodates the workplace as a kind of alibi, he said. If you’re trying to avoid difficult areas in your emotional life, you can just say, Sorry, I’ve got too much work on right now. We’re invited to disappear into our professional commitments.

Giles Harvey

I must agree with these reflections on the modern office, but at the same time they come off rather hypocritical and entitled coming from a man who did not have to work in an office for the past 40 years, like the rest of us. As others have come to realize about tech entrepreneurs, a large part of their success is not necessarily based on extraordinary abilities and innovation, but rather on the right set of circumstances. In this interview, after admitting that writing is not even his main interest, that is how Kazuo Ishiguro sounds: a man who has exploited favorable circumstances by putting in a minimal amount of effort. And, in my opinion at least, this lack of interest is well reflected in the declining quality of his work.

Kazuo Ishiguro in Kent, England, in the summer of 1977
Ishiguro in Kent, England, in the summer of 1977. Before turning to writing, he hoped to become a singer-songwriter. From Kazuo Ishiguro

On a philosophical plane, artificial intelligence is also putting pressure on traditional notions of human singularity. As one character in “Klara” phrases it, the idea that there’s something unreachable inside each of us that makes us who we are is an illusion: Human beings are simply the sum total of a series of biochemical processes. One of the assumptions we have in liberal democracies is that human beings are intrinsically of value, that they have a value that is not conditional on what they can contribute to the larger society or to the economy or to some sort of common project, Ishiguro said. If it starts to look like we can be reduced to the point where we’re just a bunch of algorithms, I think that seriously erodes the idea that each person is unique and therefore worthy of respect and care regardless of what they can or can’t contribute to our joint enterprise.

Update: this review of his latest novel mirrors my criticism of Never Let Me Go, and supports my decision to avoid Ishiguro’s recent writing:

This is one of those books that would only be successful if written by a Nobel-prize winner. A typical genre science fiction writer publishing this book would be dismissed out of hand.

Piaw Na

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