Because I hadn’t read a lot as a child, I needed a firm foundation. Charlotte Brontë of Villette and Jane Eyre; Dostoyevsky of those four big novels; Chekhov’s short stories; Tolstoy of War and Peace. Bleak House. And at least five of the six Jane Austen novels. If you have read those, you have a very solid foundation. And I like Plato.
In most of his Socratic dialogues, what happens is, some guy is walking along the street who thinks he knows it all, and Socrates sits down with him and demolishes him. This might seem destructive, but the idea is that the nature of what is good is elusive. Sometimes people base their whole lives on a sincerely held belief that could be wrong. That’s what my early books are about: people who think they know. But there is no Socrates figure. They are their own Socrates.
There’s a passage in one of Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates says that idealistic people often become misanthropic when they are let down two or three times. Plato suggests it can be like that with the search for the meaning of the good. You shouldn’t get disillusioned when you get knocked back. All you’ve discovered is that the search is difficult, and you still have a duty to keep on searching.
From Kazuo's interview with Susannah Hunnewell at the Paris Review