Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Be on the side of the egg

If it's good enough for Murakami, it should be good enough for everyone. Seriously, this speech by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, is one of the two most interesting things that I've read in months. He delivered this speech upon receiving a literary award in Jerusalem and the ceremony was held shortly after the most recent Israeli attack in Gaza, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.

... It is left to each writer, however, to decide upon the form in which he or she will convey those judgments to others. I myself prefer to transform them into stories - stories that tend toward the surreal. Which is why I do not intend to stand before you today delivering a direct political message.

Please do, however, allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."


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, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others - coldly, efficiently, systematically.

When I come across something this profound, simple, elegant or simply sublime, I momentarily feel jealousy, frustration and anger that I've not been able to articulate such a brilliant idea. But the flash of negativity is quickly displaced by the far more important instinct to share this amazing thought with others hoping that someone else will be moved.

I owe this post to my good friend and former student MMY, who has become one of my favorite conduits of provocative links.

May there be peace in our times.

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