I just picked up a copy of The Paris Review yesterday. The interview with Haruki Murakami alone is well worth the 16 bucks Canadian. I was particularly interested in his response to a question about why he doesn’t do reviews or critiques. He said:
I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.
I prefer translating to criticism, because you are hardly required to judge anything when you translate. Line by line, I just let my favorite work pass through my body and my mind. We need critiques in this world, for sure, but it’s just not my job.
I was struck by this because I tend to think that writing fiction is deeply incompatible with writing reviews and criticism — not for political reasons ( i.e. the idea that writers might choose not to review their colleagues’ work because they feel they can’t be completely honest or, if they are, that they’ll set themselves up for some kind of high-profile retaliation) but for creative ones. Writing fiction requires a kind of opening-up and a letting-go, at least it does to a certain extent, and it seems to me that writing criticism requires a kind of closing-down and boxing-in. There’s an inherent prescriptiveness to criticism, one that often seems deadening to creativity. I know Maud has a very different view on this, though.
I was also struck by Murakami’s writing routine:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.