Love + Hate: Hanif Kureishi 

Love + Hate: Hanif Kureishi 

Event: Hanif Kureishi in conversation with Steven Gale

Location: Kew Gardens

Report by Anealla Safdar

As part of Kew Garden’s first literary festival last month, ‘Write on Kew’, Hanif Kureishi was in conversation with Steven Gale.

As sunshine warmed tourists meandering from plant-lined paths to conservatories, the hourlong event promoted the author’s latest collection of stories and essays, Love + Hate, in a lecture theatre on the outskirts of the botanical gardens.

Kureishi was engaging, speaking honestly about racism, trust, his ongoing desire for writing, and the creative process.

Steven Gale: Are love and hate are two sides of the same coin?

Hanif Kureishi: There is a close connection between the two things because in a sense, the people that you love are the people that you need the most. And the people that you need the most are the people who can deprive you of what you need. They can give it to you and they can take it away. Obviously, we’ve all had mothers who turn up an then they go off and do other things and they drive you crazy. So you realise that dependence is what you need to survive and dependence can really make you furious with other people. So I guess my writing (in Love + Hate), and all of my writing, has been concerned with what it’s like to depend other people and to have other people depend on you, and what goes on between men and women and men and men and so on. That’s what I’ve tried to think about.

SG: In the essay To Sir With Love you say, ‘People love to hate’. What do you mean by that?

HK: Yes, there’s real enjoyment in it. There’s real sadism in it. One of the things that’s odd to me that I’ve always written about, that’s fascinated me about the human condition, is how much people hate themselves. And how self harming people are. On the whole animals don’t do that, you don’t find animals slitting their own wrists or harming themselves deliberately in that sense. There’s something odd about the human animal – that most of the damage that actually we suffer is mostly done to ourselves.

SG: Have negative attitudes and fears about the ‘other’ eased?

HK: It’s really whether it’s politicised. It’s whether it’s politicised and I can see that there are more parties arriving in Europe, in particular in France, Hungary and as we know in Greece. UKIP, really pathetic actually – I mean when it comes to fascism, they’re really disappointing actually. I mean if you really want a fascist and you get Nigel Farage, it’s really disappointing. He’s just, you know, hopeless. And that’s the sort of fascism that’s rather pathetic, and actually a reason to be proud of England. The fascist leaders of England are not like Mussolini.

But when it becomes politicised and then you see a war growing and a fence around Europe and people scrabbling at the fence and all that, and you realise that, we were saying earlier that, you know, that you and I and the rest of us here will be living in a gated community. And it’s terrible for us that are in, and terrible for us that are outside as well. The whole situation is awful. So we’re really confronted with difficult political decisions.

Hanif Kureishi

‘You make a future through words.’ Kureishi

SG: When did you decide to be a writer?

HK: I remember sitting, I can see myself now, looking out the window. I was 14 and I thought, I am so fucked, at school, and I thought, I’ll become a writer. And that really cheered me up. And I could see that there was a way out, that at that moment there was a future. Because it was the sixties, there was the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and the Kinks, lower middle class men, some women were getting out and being artists. And I thought, I’ll do that, but as a writer. And then I suddenly felt less depressed. And I’ve felt less depressed ever since, I have to say. Because you make a future through words. Or the idea of writing a story excited you about the future. I was 14 or 15 and really in a bad way, and that saved me I think.

Audience member: Do you write by hand or on a computer?

HK: I write by hand, I always write by hand. I’m a real pen queen. I love all that stuff. Always fiddling around with my ink, I love all that. And lots of writers are quite queeny about all that. There’s something very beautiful there. Writing is like drawing for me…Something very cold about computers. It doesn’t look nice on the page particularly, and there’s nothing you can do it about it because it looks like everybody else’s…Also it’s slower, writing by hand, and you need it to be slow so you can see the words and you can cross them out and so on. That’s how it develops for me.…It’s a visual experience for me as well as just an intellectual one.

Audience member: Is there a dichotomy between being an artist and having a day job to earn a livelihood?

HK: Not at all, no. I don’t see why. TS Eliot worked at Faber and Faber, he was a publisher. Kafka worked for an insurance company. Absolutely not at all, you can be an artist and, you know, a world political figure as well I guess…I think being an artist is about where you speak for yourself, you might say. When you’re at work, you are in some sense pleasing other people, you’re pleasing the boss, you have to go along with the system. I can see that. When you’re an artist you go along with yourself. You’re following your own desire exactly as you wish, and it’s a terrific freedom in being an artist…I can say what I like to myself and to the world and I can make something, where there was nothing. And there is something profoundly beautiful in being able to do that. So I can’t see there would be any reason why you shouldn’t be, you know, an artist and an accountant or indeed a dominatrix.

Audience member: Did your early experiences with racism motivate you to be a writer? [Earlier in the session Kureishi recounted one incident that saw a girlfriend’s father ban him from entering their home, saying ‘We wouldn’t have Pakis in the house’]

HK: Did that [racism] make me into a writer? Probably, probably, probably in the sense that I thought, at quite a young age, there must be other people in my situation, I am different to other people but there must be other people in my situation. And I can make them understand about this by writing a story. Like throwing a letter in a bottle out to the sea because I was so isolated. So it came out of a very strong desire to talk about how awful it was, for somebody to understand that.

A longer transcription of the event is available HERE.

By Anealla Safdar


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