An Old Writer Looks at the New World
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Photo by Andy Kelly/Unsplash
Fiction

An Old Writer Looks at the New World

An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro
Sylwia Stano
Reading
time 17 minutes

In Klara and the Sun, his first book since receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro depicts a world to be, where machines will have the same emotions, dreams and need for love as humans do.

Sylwia Stano: What have you done to prevent yourself from being struck by hubris after winning the Nobel Prize?

Kazuo Ishiguro: I hope I might be protected to some extent by the advice I’ve had from other Nobel Prize winners. I haven’t met many writers who have won the Nobel Prize, but I have met a lot of scientists who have. Among the scientific community, people have identified something called the ‘genius syndrome’. There is an acknowledged phenomenon of scientists who think that because they won the Nobel Prize, they are a genius at everything. This becomes embarrassing. It’s very obvious that they don’t know anything about these areas and they make fools out of themselves. It’s more obvious in the science field. But I think possibly people who win the Nobel in Literature are just as vulnerable to that. So I had to protect myself against not so much hubris, but the ‘genius syndrome’. I had to remember that I was given my Nobel Prize for doing something quite small. Just my little bit of work. I should understand that I’m not able to now branch out into all kinds of things. I should be quite humbled, as well as very grateful.

How has winning the Nobel Prize changed your life and the way you write?

I’m not sure about that. It was a wonderful experience. A fantastic honour. I feel quite embarrassed that I was given that prize when there are so many great writers who have not won it. I’m very grateful, but I feel like it happened in a parallel universe to a different version of me. And when I come back to my study, it’s exactly the same. It’s very untidy, there is paper everywhere, my problems as a writer are exactly the same. In fact, they are usually quite large. I don’t seem to have become any more intelligent or any more imaginative. Often the reverse, I think.

As far as this book, Klara and the Sun, is concerned, I was one-third of the way through it when the Nobel Prize struck me. Almost like a lorry or something – hitting me while I was walking in the street. I wasn’t expecting it in any kind of way. But after about six months – during which I had to give my attention fully to the Nobel Prize – I returned to the novel. Because it was already firmly on its tracks and I’d been

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My Three Wishes
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My Three Wishes

Stanisław Lem

A year ago, I was approached by the Munich-based publisher Matthes und Seitz with a request for an answer to the following question, which they had put to various well-known figures, mainly West Germans: how would I react to the news that aliens from outer space had landed on the planet Earth? I didn’t want to take part in their survey, so I wrote back explaining that I don’t believe such an event is at all possible, and I’d rather not make up my own reaction to an impossibility. The publisher included a photocopy of my letter in a book containing the responses to the question, which was very funny, considering that everyone else they had asked had provided an answer, and the only person to have refused was the writer who makes a living out of science fiction. So began my collaboration with this publisher, who in early spring this year came up with another survey. This time they included plenty of people from outside Germany too. We were asked to reveal our three most personal wishes, regardless whether or not they could possibly come true, and so we were in the position of a child with a fairy godmother. My answer was published in a book titled Inseln im Ich: Ein Buch der Wünsche (“Islands in Myself: A Book of Wishes”). It was sincere enough for me to publish it now, translated back into Polish (as I wrote the original version in German). I should add that this gave me my first taste of the problems that usually fall to the lot of my translators, because while they work themselves to death translating my Polish neologisms into foreign languages, this time I had to devise equivalents in Polish for the things I had made up in German.

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