This morning, I read a beautiful excerpt from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by the always wonderful Haruki Murakami, over at Slate.
It includes a meditation on art and talent I just have to share:
“Talent can be a nice thing to have sometimes. You look good, attract attention, and if you’re lucky, you make some money. Women flock to you. In that sense, having talent’s preferable to having none. But talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus. All it takes is one screw in your brain to come loose and fall off, or some connection in your body to break down, and your concentration vanishes, like the dew at dawn. A simple toothache, or stiff shoulders, and you can’t play the piano well. It’s true. I’ve actually experienced it. A single cavity, one aching shoulder, and the beautiful vision and sound I hoped to convey goes out the window. The human body’s that fragile. It’s a complex system that can be damaged by something very trivial, and in most cases once it’s damaged, it can’t easily be restored. A cavity or stiff shoulder you can get over, but there are a lot of things you can’t get past. If talent’s the foundation you rely on, and yet it’s so unreliable that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it the next minute, what meaning does it have?”
“Talent might be ephemeral,” Haida replied, “and there aren’t many people who can sustain it their whole lives. But talent makes a huge spiritual leap possible. It’s an almost universal, independent phenomenon that transcends the individual.”
Fuck. Let me break that down really quickly.
1. Talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus.
2. That kind of focus is all but impossible (on a continuous basis), given the fragility of the human body.
3. The question that cuts to the core of everything artists do: if talent is your foundation, and yet it’s so unreliable, so unpredictable, what meaning does it have?
It kind of calls into question the intellect of the individual who chooses to base their foundation in talent, in art, no? What sane person would choose the wind as the base of their identity? It’ll come, or it won’t, and when it does, it might be a breeze to cool your sweating brow, or a hurricane to blow doors down, or ice-edged, or warm as a summer song. It is ever-changing. It is whim. It is who I am, however, and Murakami brings it home here: it may not always be there in the guise you wish it, but when it rushes through you, it can be a transcendent experience, a spiritual leap.
Needless to say, I cannot wait for this book. Murakami’s elegant storytelling is always a pleasure, folkloric in its simplicity, its subtle depth, and always, always weird and different and beautiful. Head on over to Slate and read the whole thing!