Haruki Murakami's Selective Defiance and the Nobel Prize

The Asahi Shimbun is speculating on the possibility of Haruki Murakami's wining the Nobel Prize in Literature in today's article. It fails to provide any solid sign that he might, but perhaps it's not too unlikely in the future, if not this year, given his international popularity.

Earlier this year, the Japanese author won the Jerusalem Prize. When it became public that he was to receive the literary award in January, when people in Gaza were being killed by the Israel Defense Forces, some people in Japan urged him to boycott it. For example, Bii Kamimura wrote an open letter to Haruki (which I translated into English and can be found here), detailing the current situation in Gaza, summarizing the history of the conflict, and calling on him not to be complicit with the State of Israel. There was another similar letter from an anti-war organization.

Despite those calls, Haruki chose to visit Jerusalem to accept the Prize. At the ceremony then, he gave a speech entitled "Of Walls and Eggs" in front of an audience including such political figures as Simon Peres. The author made it clear that he was fully aware of the calls for a boycott, and his decision was made "after careful consideration." One reason for accepting the Prize, he said, was that "all too many people advised [him] not to do" so. He then went on to state:

Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me-- and especially if they are warning me-- “Don’t go there,” “Don’t do that,” I tend to want to “go there” and “do that”. It’s in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

And that is why I am here. 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.

If this is to be taken seriously, then Haruki Murakami did not decide to accept the award despite the calls for a boycott; he did so because of them.

I remember showing this kind of attitude as a small child, but the problem is that pro-Palestinian activists were not the only ones speaking. Indeed, they represent a tiny minority in this country. On the other hand, he was selected as the winner by a panel appointed by the mayor of Jerusalem, and was invited to attend the ceremony. Also, Haruki is a citizen of Japan, a country which never deviates from the American policy on foreign affairs, which is to support Israel. So why not defy them? Why did he not "do the exact opposite" of what they asked him to do and refuse the Prize? By doing "the exact opposite" of what he was told (not) to do by a small number of activists, he did exactly what he was told by the powerful.

Herein resides the selective nature of his defiance. It may seem as if the burden of choice is transferred: he went to Jerusalem not so much out of his own will as in reaction to what he was told. This is a clear case of bad faith, however. There were all sorts of different opinions; he took one and did its "exact opposite." Even though his decision seems reactive, it was Haruki himself who chose the object of his reaction. In this sense, he should bear full responsibility for taking a side in a conflict.

All this poses an interesting question in a future scenario. What if he was actually to win the Nobel? I think we should encourage him to accept the Prize. We should write letters urging him to ignore all the political issues with the Prize and embrace it. It would be interesting to see his reaction. Would he do "the exact opposite," and if so, the opposite of what?