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by Ralph Jemmott
I stumbled across a BBC- World discussion on, and interview with the Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro. After a while I found myself totally caught up with the content of the discourse on his writing. What emerged was that he was the screen-writer for one of my favourite films based on perhaps the best known of his novels, ‘The Remains of the Day.’ Regrettably I have not read the novel, but a few weeks ago I watched the movie for the third time.
Set in the 1930’s between the two World Wars, it is an excellent movie not least for the acting performances. Mr. Stevens, the butler at Darlington Hall is played by the incomparable Anthony Hopkins and Miss Kenton, the head Housekeeper by Emma Thomson of ‘Last Chance Harvey’ with Dustin Hoffman.
When I first saw the film I wondered how a film so English in content could be based on a novel written by a Japanese. In his address accepting the Nobel Prize, Ishiguro admitted that ‘The Remains of the Day’ is a book that seemed ‘English in the extreme.’
The truth is that Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan. He with his parents came to England when he was five and he attended two British universities, the University of Kent and later East Anglia.
As I watched the BBC production I thought that given the scope and extent of his writing he must be up for a Nobel Prize, not realising that he had already won both the Booker award and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.
Kazuo Ishiguro novels reveals the author’s rather bleak, pessimistic sense of human existence, what he termed ‘an overwhelming sadness.’
Literary critic Ms. Alex Clark, one of the narrators in the BBC production noted that the contemporary world in which we live ‘has taken on more than a shade of dystopia,’ a sense of ‘a world a bit off of its axis.’
Depending on one’s level of consciousness, there is a lot in today’s world that could keep one awake at night. There is, for example, the persistence of the COVID pandemic in many parts of the world, most noticeably in the United States, Canada, Brazil and India.
Then there is the brutality of the military in Myanmar and the continuing death of unarmed black men at the hands of white police in America, what novelist Ishiguro calls, ‘the racism stirring beneath our seemingly civilised streets.’
Also there is the continued sluggishness in the global and local economies affecting people’s lives, their jobs, their mortgages, the ostensible stalling of public schooling, the increasing eviction and homelessness of mothers often with their children and frighteningly foolish young dragged before the courts.
The stress piles up like volcanic ash. In Barbadian terms, it’s all getting on our collective nerve or in Kazuo Ishiguro’s discourse, shades of dystopia.
As I was writing this article, a distressed female caller was talking to Mr. Ellis about the disorganised way patients at Polyclinics seeking assistance were being treated.
There appears to be too many services relating to inefficiency in the civil service which are seemingly deteriorating. As David Ellis said to the caller on Brass Tacks of Monday 25, April, 2021 ‘this is very troubling given all that people are going through. The system is not working for the benefit of the people…. I am really sad to hear it.’
On the individual level, one feels that more and more people are exhibiting signs of personal stress. Kazuo Ishiguro has observed that ‘we all have a clicking clock, a sense of our own mortality, a sense of resignation to the fact of death.’
For those in what Carl Moore calls, the autumn of life, (sometimes it seems more like mid-winter Carl), there are lingering thoughts of failing health and the dread of prolonged morbidity.
Recently communist Harry Russell writing about the passing of Emmerson Whittington, noted the number of Harrison College sportsmen of his generation who have now ‘gone on.’
At times like this, the tendency is to retreat into religion and the Church, perhaps into the charismatic embrace of the nearest Apostle, Priest or Pastor, Bishop or newly minted Reverend Doctor. However it does seem that religion in terms of a deeper spirituality is becoming a hangover from a more superstitious, less scientific and less secular age.
But in a darkening time, at the stage of ‘old-aged redemptiveness,’no one wants to be like, ‘those who are without hope.’ Religion, more specifically the Christian faith, has always served two seemingly contradictory purposes in the lives of Black diasporic peoples.
On the one hand it has been ‘a mighty fortress’ in the face of slavery and oppression. What would the American Negro have done without his Negro spirituals? On the other hand to use the Marxist terminology, it has been something of an opiate for many black people indoctrinated to believe in a beautiful life hereafter while enduring the sadness of black existence in the here and now.
According to Kazuo Ishiguro himself, his writings are about individuals living in times of upheaval. They evoke ‘quiet sparks of revelation’ in dealing with relationships, insightful with ‘emotional resonance.’
The final parting scene between Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton twenty years after the death of Lord Darlington, is hauntingly sad. In his address to the Swedish Academy Ishiguro described Stevens as a man who lived his life by the wrong values, failing to love or be loved by Miss Kenton.
What if James Steven had allowed himself to love Miss Kenton? What if?
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.