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One Day in the City: In conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro

Sophie EPleterski4 July 2014

An unmissable event – UCL’s One Day in the City and Harper’s Bazaar came together to host John Mullan, head of UCL English Language & Literature and former Man Booker judge, in conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro in the packed Darwin Lecture Theatre.

kazuoishiguro1

Writer Kazuo Ishiguro

The Booker Prize winning author was on form. In a day devoted to London in fiction, Ishiguro, or Ish, as he was called by John, announced “I came to explain why I don’t set my novels in London… I’m a bit anti-London.” Excellent start.

The conversation ranged extensively from settings in fiction to Ishiguro’s literary method, writers in London and the peccancy of political naivety in an author.

Ish established from the start the distinction between a novel’s setting and its world: “every novel should have a strong sense of its own world, whether it be severe, bizarre, dark or noire-ish… and the psychological and physical laws that operate in that world.”

The setting, meanwhile, has more to do with the public preconception of a place such as London, Paris in the 20s or New York in the 80s. He cautioned against the use of a setting without acknowledging its reverberations – what kind of noise it creates – adding wryly that “a writer who uses a setting like Nazi Germany without taking into account the Nazis is at best naïve.”

Ishiguro’s antagonistic relationship with settings began with his early novels A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986). Westerners, knowing little about Japan, tended to take his novels too literally within the context of their Japanese setting. They assumed that he was trying to teach the reader about the Japanese mindset of the time.

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Is it something I said? Scurrilous or taboo language

Jack H CDean25 June 2014

The penultimate event of UCL’s One Day in the City saw John Sutherland (Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL) chair a debate on scurrilous or taboo language with Will Self, Tim Clare and Melanie Abrahams, who stood in for the absent Sunday Times writer, India Knight.

one day in the city

Sutherland began by introducing Will Self as “a novelist and presenter”, to which Self replied: “Presenter? What the fuck are you talking about?”

Sutherland continued, suggesting that we are “rediscovering linguistic taboo” and that Freud had written that all language begins with it: “It is uncanny and unclean”.

He explained that during his lifetime – Sutherland was born in 1938 – the diachronic alteration of language had been dramatic, but that it was also vital to look at language synchronically. Diachronic change being linguistic alteration over time and synchronic, meaning the study of language at one point in history.

The end of the 1930s, for example, saw the publication of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers a title that was synchronically acceptable. By the 1970s, this had changed to And then there were none…, which alluded to a nursery rhyme in the novel. This was a notable diachronic change.

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