Author Kazuo Ishiguro has never shied away from the weird, or the raw. But there’s a trend in the publishing world to not offend, no matter what, and he’s concerned. Here’s an article on the BBC with his thoughts.
I’m concerned, too, but I’m not nearly so famous!
Cancel culture runs rampant, with the goal of drowning out unpopular voices. Note that I said “unpopular,” not “wrong” or “right.” Throughout history, artists have held wildly differing views from their fans … it must be that way, because an artist is only one person, and fans are legion. Even if one artist can only count two fans, those two will have differences. I, myself, am a gushy fangirl over a few authors whose personal views differ wildly from my own. I don’t let that deter me from loving the work, even if I can’t agree with the creator.
Part of the magic of a story is its ability to morph, depending on who is reading it. Stephen King used a mundane description when explaining this phenomenon in “On Writing.” (Please forgive the clumsy paraphrasing ahead.) He said if an author writes a table, every reader sees a different table. One sees a square side table, with a crocheted doily on it. Another sees an antique table with scrollwork. Each reader supplies the details, see? It’s true with emotions, or philosophical questions, or any other aspect of a story. A good writer puts the idea in there, a good reader figures out what to think about it.
So, what happens when a writer dares to put herself out there with a gender/culture/experience that is inherently not hers? Or with an idea that doesn’t agree with a pop culture view of the gender/culture/experience in focus? Lately, it means that writer is shouted down and shamed. Canceled.
Here’s a long quote from Ishiguro himself:
“I think there are very valid parts of this argument about appropriation of voice,” he added, saying he believes “we do have the obligation to teach ourselves and to do research and to treat people with respect if we’re going to have them feature in our work”.
He said there must be “decency towards people outside of one’s own immediate experience”.
But he said: “If I shrink back from something it’s because I would doubt my ability to be able to learn enough about it, to write fairly about it. But, you know, I tend to be quite arrogant about my ability to learn about things, if I put my mind to it.”
I love that phrase, “I tend to be quite arrogant about my ability to learn about things, if I put my mind to it.” Writing is just as much a personal exploration as it is telling a story. Writing something different from oneself is an act of bravery, and it’s a chance to start a dialogue. Which leads to growth, and learning.