Nobel Laureate Pushes Diversity in Art

Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

KOBE — The friction that results from the collision of old and new social forces in Japan can provide fruitful breeding grounds for future artists, Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize winner in literature, said Wednesday.

“I think Japan is a fascinating country now for any artist (working) between the ritualistic and the change that is happening,” said Walcott, adding that works of art can be that much more dynamic “because of the tension.”

His comments came during a question-and-answer session that capped an hourlong speech by the 1992 Nobel laureate, during a forum entitled “Literature and My Life” at Konan Women’s University in Higashi-nada Ward, Kobe.

During his appearance, Walcott also blasted as “asinine” and “stupid” the notion that the outward, expressive-type of theater in Latin American and other cultures is any less valid than the disciplined, introspective kind found in Japan.

“Self-restraint in the theater can be extremely boring — just as much as exuberance can be boring,” he said, stressing that the best of such artistic expression lies in “a mixture of both.”

Walcott, 64, considered by many to be the greatest English-language poet alive, hails from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The first Caribbean writer to achieve the Nobel literature prize, he now divides his time between the United States, where he serves as a professor of literature at Boston University, and the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

His often-autobiographical poetry and plays celebrate the fusing of ethnic communities and religions in West Indian culture — including his own African-European heritage — as much as they remind humanity of its bloodstained history of colonization and oppression.

“The experience of the Caribbean is one of amnesia, of forced forgetting,” he said. “Exile is a kind of compulsory forgetting: You have to eventually give up the longing for home.”

Walcott also read excerpts of some of the poems for which he has become respected over the years: “Another Life,” “The Schooner Flight,” “Midsummer,” “The Sea is History,” and the pièce de résistance that reportedly clinched the Nobel Prize, his 1990 epic “Omeros”.

He cited as his favorite Afro-American writer the late James Baldwin, “an extremely clear and beautiful writer, and very courageous.” Walcott also characterized the status of the Afro-American community in America in 1994 as that of “a colony within an empire.”