Kenzaburo Oe Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Art and Healing: Conversation with Kenzaburo Oe, 1994 Nobel Laureate in Literature; 4/16/99 by Harry Kreisler.
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Being a Writer

You have called yourself a writer of the periphery. In part, you are referring to your origins but you also mean more than that. Explain what you mean when you say "I am a writer from the periphery."

I was born on a small island, and Japan [itself] is on the periphery of Asia. That is very important. Our very eminent colleagues believe Japan is the center of Asia. They think secretly that Japan is the center of the world. I always say that I am a writer of the periphery -- periphery district, periphery Japan of Asia, and periphery country of this planet. With pride I say this.

Literature must be written from the periphery toward the center, and we can criticize the center. Our credo, our theme, or our imagination is that of the peripheral human being. The man who is in the center does not have anything to write. From the periphery, we can write the story of the human being and this story can express the humanity of the center, so when I say the word periphery, this is a most important creed of mine.

Oe In A Healing Family, you quote Flannery O'Connor when she speaks of the novelist's habit, the accumulated practice. What is that?

At first, the word habit is not a good word for an artist. So I must use the word habit precisely according to the meaning of Flannery O'Connor. She got that word from her tutor, Jacques Maritain, I believe. Jacques Maritain was in Princeton at that time. Flannery O'Connor was born in 1935, I believe, and shortly after the war she was having conversations through letters with her tutor, and he was talking of the notion of Thomas Aquinas, who was an important figure for Jacques Maritain.

The habit is this: when as a writer I continue to write every day for ten or thirty years then gradually the habit of a writer is molded in myself. I cannot be conscious about it. Or I cannot be unconscious. But anyway, I have a habit to be reborn as a writer. So if I find myself in a crisis that I have never experienced, I can be born, or I can write something, by the power of the habit. Even a soldier or a farmer or a fisherman can be reborn by the power of the habit when he meets the greatest crisis of his life. We human beings are born and reborn and [if] we create our habits as human beings, then I think we can face [a crisis] even though we have not experienced it before. That must be the notion of Flannery O'Connor, and I am a student of Flannery O'Connor.

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