In February, Japanese fiction luminary Haruki Murakami traveled to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Murakami had doubts about accepting the award, which honors the freedom of the individual in society, for good reasons. Israel had recently launched its overpowered offensive on the Gaza strip; he rightly felt ambivalent about the implications of being the new literary son of Israel. Before he decided to travel to Israel, he received the kind of advice that many artists hear when their work is suddenly brought into the political by their readership: don’t go, your work will be boycott, you will be choosing sides. Indeed, his attendance did spark all of these, including protests in Japan. However, Murakami’s speech found, in the turmoil of nations and ideas, an opportunity to put war-making nations in their place.
As he addressed the crowd in Jerusalem, he asserted that “the purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep the light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them,” pitting himself against the system which had just bestowed upon him a $10,000 award. However, Murakami’s speech not only defended his decision to accept the controversial prize (for $10,000 can only help him do his job better) but also crafted an eloquent criticism of Israel:
“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 do it. But 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 wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.
Israel had chosen Murakami as the author who best illustrates the individual’s struggle against the society and here the man was, doing just that. He is indeed right that works standing with the wall have little value; they forfeit to the power of the system and create nothing themselves.
Murakami seems aware of how thin the ice is he walks, yet he cannot resist poking a few holes. In his conclusion, he declares that “[t]he System did not make us: we made the System.” Yet, the next step would have been to acknowledge that power to unmake the system; however, that may be a step farther than the author means to take. The wall and the System are not universally given; they are not permanent. People built them and people can tear them down. What is most important is that he uses the power given to the artist by his audience to offer up a vision of the world to those who do not share it. In the end, it is not the artist who is the revolutionary, but the audience.
Read the full text of his speech here: http://www.47news.jp/47topics/e/93880.php