Kazuo Ishiguro is an author fascinated with intimacy, connection, and more recently, technology, so it was somewhat fitting that he appeared in front of the Sydney Writers’ Festival audience last week via video chat.
On top of the buzz that always accompanies an audience at an event such as this, there was a kind of nervous energy that hung about the City Recital Hall during the session. The theme of the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year was ‘Within Reach’, and it was the first time Ishiguro had been in front of an audience, answering questions, for quite some time.
It seemed to me that some people were just as excited to be out of the house as they were to hear a Nobel prize winner speak.
Ishiguro’s latest novel Klara and the Sun features an Artificial Intelligence as the protagonist, though not the kind you may expect. Ishiguro is less concerned about dystopian robot uprisings than he is with ‘real world’ problems of economic collapse, viruses, and threats to liberal democracy’. These conversations all seem a little too intense for a children’s bedtime story, as the novel was originally intended to take form, but they are the reason that I love hearing creators speak about their work.
Ishiguro was quick to point out that technology plays a major role in keeping us comfortable and connected when we are isolated—as we’ve seen over the past year or so. In fact, some people might always prefer to seek this kind of ‘at home’ connection.
At the Sydney Writers’ Festival, some appeared wary, apprehensive of the large crowd, a side-effect of the pandemic that may linger for the foreseeable future. After all, we were gathering together to ‘see’ someone who wasn’t technically going to be in the room with us.
Although it hadn’t been possible for so many of us to gather to see an author deliver a talk for quite some time—and for others it may never have been practical in the first place—existing and emerging technologies have allowed people access to the creative process in different formats.
Podcasts like So You Want To Be a Writer and Dear Hank and John (the collaborative project of young adult author John Green and his brother Hank), as well as TV programs such as ABC’s The Mix offer unique insight into the process of both Australian and international authors in an increasingly accessible way. The internet has also birthed a multitude of web-based book clubs and discussion boards, where readers can talk literature with a global community, and even hear authors weigh in on the discussion.
Before the session, part of me was disappointed he wasn’t going to be ‘life size’, on the stage in front of me, and I wondered whether it would feel as though he were ‘real’.
But, then he appeared on a screen, larger than life, from the other side of the world.
As a student, there is no greater insight into a prescribed HSC text than to hear it presented by the author himself. Teachers are a font of knowledge when it comes to discussing texts of significance, but nothing compares to the understanding you walk away with after hearing any author explain why they made certain choices while writing a novel, or where the idea came from, or even how they went about putting pen to paper.
Despite some technical difficulties getting the event off to a shaky start, Ishiguro was well and truly within reach, delivering an interview that was perceptive, philosophical and surprisingly funny.
Kazuo Ishiguro and the festival itself is a testament to just how much knowledge we have within our reach, now more than ever.
Joe Visser is a year 12 student from Nowra, NSW, studying ‘An Artist Of The Floating World’ by Kazuo Ishiguro for his HSC. He has been blogging about books and music at bookboy.com.au since he was 12, as well as for other publications, and was a member of the #LoveOzYA committee in 2018.