Why Haruki Murakami lies. Why he writes

murakami12STOLEN off a slightly-aged Salon, an anti-war speech wrapped up in an interesting perspective on writing. From Haruki Murakami, speaking in Israel, accepting the Jerusalem Literary Prize 2009.

The anti-war bit was perhaps expected, given the occasion and the hullabaloo in his own country about accepting Israeli hospitality at a time of battle in Gaza. Murakami projects war as the product of the System, which victimises its very creators, us, fragile-as-egg individuals. Here’s a clip:

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called the System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong — and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow the System to exploit us. We must not allow the System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made the System. That is all I have to say to you.

In all this, a writer’s job? To lay out the truth on a bed of magnificent lies – so it is visible to the world. To sound an alarm, thus, to the System. Quote:

I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies.

Of course, novelists are not the only ones who tell lies. Politicians do it, too, as we all know. Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion, as do used car salesmen, butchers and builders. The lies of novelists differ from others, however, in that no one criticizes the novelist as immoral for telling lies. Indeed, the bigger and better his lies and the more ingeniously he creates them, the more he is likely to be praised by the public and the critics.

And why should that be? Murakami’s answer:

…by telling skillful lies — which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true — the novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.


I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist’s job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories — stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

Read the complete speech here.


1 Comment

  1. Jim Pope · September 30, 2009

    Very interesting, but I think Murakami doesn’t properly articulate the nature of his craft: writing fiction is not the same as lying. Fiction is not truth or falsity. A lie is a lie because of an intention to pass the statement made as truth – a lie must involve an act of deception or. But no novelist pretends his fictional world is THE world, thus it can’t be a lie. Novelists don’t lie unless they claim that their stories are true.(journalists might lie though…). A fictional world is, by definition, invented: it conforms to its own rules, has its own special characteristics and parameters, even perhaps its own physical laws. Every fictional world is an alternative to this one. No one reading a novel thinks they are reading a documentary account of THE world, only an account of A world. I agree with Murakami’s final paragraph, regarding his reason for writing. But in order to fulfil that aim he doesn’t tell lies, he constructs alternative worlds in order to probe the one we live in.

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