1Q84 Chapters 13-15

Chapters 13-15

The dowager

  • Something sort of fantastical about her; she seems so wise, what with what she tells Aomame about needing to be paid because she is not an angel or a god, and that pure feelings can be dangerous if they aren’t anchored in something like a monetary transaction (185; there are a few more notes about the philosophical implications of this below). And yet there is something ominous about her. What if she is crossed, even accidentally?

The old friend Tamaki

  • The chapter’s called a born victim, and Aomame seems to think of Tamaki that way, even sympathetically
  • There’s another big hook here; Aomame has planned her revenge on Tamaki’s husband and presumably taken her plan out… but we won’t learn what her plan was or how it played out until later.
  • There’s something sensationalistic about this: you have the victim, the avenger, the bad guy; it’s like a feminist short silent movie. I wonder if there is any tradition in Japan of didactic novels along the lines of Larsson or Dickens.[1]
  • Right after Tamaki died Aomame started to crave men’s bodies. Hmmm.

Our Heroine is Revealed

  • She goes on about the end of the world as a sort of retribution for a man. She even recites a prayer… which just happens to be the prayer that the young Witness recited every day before lunch in Tengo’s classroom. Could she be the young girl who held Tengo’s hand as a young boy?
  • It could explain why Aomame responded to Janacek’s Sinfonietta in the cab—a few years after she held Tengo’s hand in the empty classroom he played the piece as a part of a youth symphony; maybe she saw him there?
  • The whole story of Tengo standing up for her in the classroom is another motif from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: the otherwise unassuming guy who is not successful in the common sense of the word who supports others with some inherent goodness.
  • So instead of having two paths that begin in different spots, we have two characters who have already collided in a way that both remember; the question is whether they will come across each other in the book, if they’ll recognize each other, or if they can complete each other like split platonic souls.
  • There is something strange about the way that Aomame thinks of the boy she loves (who, after all, might not even be Tengo—we must be careful of our assumptions); she wants them to meet by happenstance and nothing else; as though she is willing to let the world take its course in this part of her own life, but is very willing to get involved in the flow of the world for other people—to the extent of killing people.
  • I wonder how psychologically accurate that is—it is as if Aomame compartmentalizes any romantic feelings by tying them to a memory she formed when she was ten; she doesn’t want to track down the man she loves because of vague philosophical reasons, or because she doesn’t want to deal with complicated emotions.

Komatsu

  • His influence is getting more nefarious; Tengo’s impressions are of a self-serving man with dark or partially known motives (he claimed to the professor that Komatsu wanted to serve up something new on a platter… but I wonder).
  • Take his quote from Nichomachean Ethics, for example, that all things tend toward the good. Tengo (rightly) asks what Aristotle would’ve made of the Holocaust; Komatsu brushes him off, saying that A. was talking about art and scholarship and craft (173).[2]

Philosophy

  • Aside from the bit from Aristotle, Tengo also asks him if A. was the one who said that the soul was composed of reason, will, and desire. Komatsu corrects him by saying that that was Plato.
  • I have to think that this plays out somehow in the book; at the very least it feels like Aomame is missing desire and Tengo is missing the will, and that by acquiring whatever trait they are missing they will be made complete.
  • Tengo wonders if the man who raised him really was his biological father; aside from their physical dissimilarity, his father has no curiosity about the world. He just doesn’t have that desire to know that is so much a part of Tengo. (175).
  • That seems like a very facile solution to human problems, especially when Tengo also relates that he likes stories because it is not so simple; that stories translate problems but don’t necessarily fix them. (178)
  • Tengo’s feelings about stories and math are also rather interesting; they seem to offer freedom from a rather humdrum existence with his father; the freedom offered by math makes it harder to return to the real world; in math the solutions are elegant and simple; in stories, there are no clear-cut solutions, and yet there maintains a kind of invaluable freedom.
  • Aomame and Ayumi also talk about free will at the French restaurant on 193. Aomame suggests that free will is an illusion and then says that life may be worth living because you love someone, even if that person doesn’t love you or is not a good person. There is something very peculiar in that. If there is no free will then everything is meaningless. Meaningless things cannot help us deal with the world. Love is a part of the world, and so must be meaningless as it is not based on free will any more than anything else. And yet our response to it makes it seem as if it does help. Is Aomame a softy at heart?
  • This would all seem to connect with Aomame’s feelings on freedom in the next chapter; she grew up dreaming of a world where she could be a normal kid (much as Tengo grew up dreaming of a world where he didn’t have to go along with his father on his Sunday collection rounds), and yet even after she acquires her freedom, she feels guilty, like she is being wasteful; the belongings that had tantalized her as a child only reminded her of her childhood, and she feels that deeply: “Such sights of freedom and opulence would, paradoxically, remind Aomame of her restrictive childhood. What did it mean for a person to be free, she would often ask herself. Even if you managed to escape from one cage, weren’t you just in another, larger one?” (184). This is particularly depressing in light of Tamaki’s last letter to Aomame, in which she says that s “I entered of my own free will, I locked the door, and I threw away the key” (167-68). The motif of the woman who somehow keeps herself prisoner through the influence of another recalls Kumiko of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but here Aomame and Murakami are taking to another level more explicitly; Tengo and Aoamame don’t have psycho-sexual abusers like Tamaki and Kumiko, and yet they feel trapped as well. Can we every be free without losing our identities; are our identities what keep us from being free?
  • Anchoring the killings of the wife-beaters with money; the dowager says that pure feelings are dangerous, and that Aomame should be paid to keep herself in check, so that she doesn’t start thinking that she can do any thing whatsoever as long as her feelings are pure. It is a tricky section. In English pure can mean morally or ethically unpolluted, or it can mean unadulterated (both water and poison can be pure, after all). And morality is at the heart of what the dowager is telling Aomame; that she could slip into a dogmatic, moralistic, and perhaps fascistic worldview if she doesn’t keep herself in check by tingeing her feelings with a little bit of corruption, of “I am getting money for this and so am no better than most other people” to prevent her from thinking “I am morally superior and can do what I want.” There’s a good bit of wisdom in that.

Air Chrysalis

  • Apparently the Little People in Fuka-Eri’s story build an “Air Chrysalis,” after which the girl-protagonist looks into the sky to find two moons. Of course Aomame looks in the sky herself to find two moons in the very next chapter. It is as though the story of Air Chrysalis is bleeding into the real world. That would reverse the gradient on the question of who-is-inventing-whom part of my experience as I read the book. To clarify: I’d previously wondered if Tengo was a figment of Aomame’s imagination, that his whole existence came about as a part of the changes that the world went through when she climbed down from the expressway. But now it seems like her story is following that in Air Chrysalis, and that Tengo is inventing her. You follow?

An instance of bad editing, or extremely clever writing:

  • Tengo got injured in Judo and joined the school band—“all they needed was a human being who could hold two sticks”—and yet the “music teacher had chosen the Sinfonietta because he thought he had two outstanding percussionists” (180), and so was at his wits’ end when he lost them both. It would seem that A) something got past the editors, perhaps in translation (you can’t replace a good musician with just anyone who can hold two sticks—just watch this video for an anecdote related to the idea). Or that B) Like Komatsu, the music teacher was manipulating Tengo into a convenient direction.

Her dinner with Ayumi

  • The whole bit with the wine that the know-it-all politician had rejected seems a little bit forced; another example of a blowhard making it hard on everyone else, and having the chef get his revenge (by inflating the bill) and some savvy young women benefit from the situation.
  • More of Aomame being obsessed with the Apocalypse. “The world’s going to end before we know it anyway” (193)
  • The homoerotic bits remind me of Chasing Amy. Ayumi and Aomame might both claim to be straight… but if they hit it off, why not get together sexually and comfort each other.

 


[1] Come to think of it, there is also something Dickensian in the way that Tengo’s school teacher helps him renegotiate his relationship with his father,

[2] This reminded me of an episode described in Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; his teacher in a university in India has said that all things are illusory; the student, Phaedrus, asks whether or not the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were illusory. The professor smiles, says “yes,” and Phaedrus leaves the school.

 

Chapters 13-15

The dowager

  • Something sort of fantastical about her; she seems so wise, what with what she tells Aomame about needing to be paid because she is not an angel or a god, and that pure feelings can be dangerous if they aren’t anchored in something like a monetary transaction (185; there are a few more notes about the philosophical implications of this below). And yet there is something ominous about her. What if she is crossed, even accidentally?

The old friend Tamaki

  • The chapter’s called a born victim, and Aomame seems to think of Tamaki that way, even sympathetically
  • There’s another big hook here; Aomame has planned her revenge on Tamaki’s husband and presumably taken her plan out… but we won’t learn what her plan was or how it played out until later.
  • There’s something sensationalistic about this: you have the victim, the avenger, the bad guy; it’s like a feminist short silent movie. I wonder if there is any tradition in Japan of didactic novels along the lines of Larsson or Dickens.[1]
  • Right after Tamaki died Aomame started to crave men’s bodies. Hmmm.

The revelation about Aomame

  • She goes on about the end of the world as a sort of retribution for a man. She even recites a prayer… which just happens to be the prayer that the young Witness recited every day before lunch in Tengo’s classroom. Could she be the young girl who held Tengo’s hand as a young boy?
  • It could explain why Aomame responded to Janacek’s Sinfonietta in the cab—a few years after she held Tengo’s hand in the empty classroom he played the piece as a part of a youth symphony; maybe she saw him there?
  • The whole story of Tengo standing up for her in the classroom is another motif from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: the otherwise unassuming guy who is not successful in the common sense of the word who supports others with some inherent goodness.
  • So instead of having two paths that begin in different spots, we have two characters who have already collided in a way that both remember; the question is whether they will come across each other in the book, if they’ll recognize each other, or if they can complete each other like split platonic souls.
  • There is something strange about the way that Aomame thinks of the boy she loves (who, after all, might not even be Tengo—we must be careful of our assumptions); she wants them to meet by happenstance and nothing else; as though she is willing to let the world take its course in this part of her own life, but is very willing to get involved in the flow of the world for other people—to the extent of killing people.
  • I wonder how psychologically accurate that is—it is as if Aomame compartmentalizes any romantic feelings by tying them to a memory she formed when she was ten; she doesn’t want to track down the man she loves because of vague philosophical reasons, or because she doesn’t want to deal with complicated emotions.

Komatsu

  • His influence is getting more nefarious; Tengo’s impressions are of a self-serving man with dark or partially known motives (he claimed to the professor that Komatsu wanted to serve up something new on a platter… but I wonder).
  • Take his quote from Nichomachean Ethics, for example, that all things tend toward the good. Tengo (rightly) asks what Aristotle would’ve made of the Holocaust; Komatsu brushes him off, saying that A. was talking about art and scholarship and craft (173).[2]

Philosophy

  • Aside from the bit from Aristotle, Tengo also asks him if A. was the one who said that the soul was composed of reason, will, and desire. Komatsu corrects him by saying that that was Plato.
  • I have to think that this plays out somehow in the book; at the very least it feels like Aomame is missing desire and Tengo is missing the will, and that by acquiring whatever trait they are missing they will be made complete.
  • Tengo wonders if the man who raised him really was his biological father; aside from their physical dissimilarity, his father has no curiosity about the world. He just doesn’t have that desire to know that is so much a part of Tengo. (175).
  • That seems like a very facile solution to human problems, especially when Tengo also relates that he likes stories because it is not so simple; that stories translate problems but don’t necessarily fix them. (178)
  • Tengo’s feelings about stories and math are also rather interesting; they seem to offer freedom from a rather humdrum existence with his father; the freedom offered by math makes it harder to return to the real world; in math the solutions are elegant and simple; in stories, there are no clear-cut solutions, and yet there maintains a kind of invaluable freedom.
  • Aomame and Ayumi also talk about free will at the French restaurant on 193. Aomame suggests that free will is an illusion and then says that life may be worth living because you love someone, even if that person doesn’t love you or is not a good person. There is something very peculiar in that. If there is no free will then everything is meaningless. Meaningless things cannot help us deal with the world. Love is a part of the world, and so must be meaningless as it is not based on free will any more than anything else. And yet our response to it makes it seem as if it does help. Is Aomame a softy at heart?
  • This would all seem to connect with Aomame’s feelings on freedom in the next chapter; she grew up dreaming of a world where she could be a normal kid (much as Tengo grew up dreaming of a world where he didn’t have to go along with his father on his Sunday collection rounds), and yet even after she acquires her freedom, she feels guilty, like she is being wasteful; the belongings that had tantalized her as a child only reminded her of her childhood, and she feels that deeply: “Such sights of freedom and opulence would, paradoxically, remind Aomame of her restrictive childhood. What did it mean for a person to be free, she would often ask herself. Even if you managed to escape from one cage, weren’t you just in another, larger one?” (184). This is particularly depressing in light of Tamaki’s last letter to Aomame, in which she says that s “I entered of my own free will, I locked the door, and I threw away the key” (167-68). The motif of the woman who somehow keeps herself prisoner through the influence of another recalls Kumiko of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but here Aomame and Murakami are taking to another level more explicitly; Tengo and Aoamame don’t have psycho-sexual abusers like Tamaki and Kumiko, and yet they feel trapped as well. Can we every be free without losing our identities; are our identities what keep us from being free?
  • Anchoring the killings of the wife-beaters with money; the dowager says that pure feelings are dangerous, and that Aomame should be paid to keep herself in check, so that she doesn’t start thinking that she can do any thing whatsoever as long as her feelings are pure. It is a tricky section. In English pure can mean morally or ethically unpolluted, or it can mean unadulterated (the wife beaters’ motivations for beating their wives could be pure in the sense that they didn’t feel at all conflicted at that moment). And morality is at the heart of what the dowager is telling Aomame; that she could slip into a dogmatic, moralistic, and perhaps fascistic worldview if she doesn’t keep herself in check by tingeing her feelings with a little bit of corruption, of “I am getting money for this and so am no better than most other people” to prevent her from thinking “I am morally superior and can do what I want.” There’s a good bit of wisdom in that.

Air Chrysalis

·        Apparently the Little People in Fuka-Eri’s story build an “Air Chrysalis,” after which the girl-protagonist looks into the sky to find two moons. Of course Aomame looks in the sky herself to find two moons in the very next chapter. It is as though the story of Air Chrysalis is bleeding into the real world. That would reverse the gradient on the question of who-is-inventing-whom part of my experience as I read the book. To clarify: I’d previously wondered if Tengo was a figment of Aomame’s imagination, that his whole existence came about as a part of the changes that the world went through when she climbed down from the expressway. But now it seems like her story is following that in Air Chrysalis, and that Tengo is inventing her. You follow?

An instance of bad editing, or extremely clever writing:

·        Tengo got injured in Judo and joined the school band—“all they needed was a human being who could hold two sticks”—and yet the “music teacher had chosen the Sinfonietta because he thought he had two outstanding percussionists” (180), and so was at his wits’ end when he lost them both. It would seem that A) something got past the editors, perhaps in translation (you can’t replace a good musician with just anyone who can hold two sticks—just watch this video for an anecdote appertaining to the idea). Or that B) Like Komatsu, the music teacher was manipulating Tengo into a convenient direction.

Her dinner with Ayumi

·        The whole bit with the wine that the know-it-all politician had rejected seems a little bit forced; another example of a blowhard making it hard on everyone else, and having the chef get his revenge (by inflating the bill) and some savvy young women benefit from the situation.

·        More of Aomame being obsessed with the Apocalypse. “The world’s going to end before we know it anyway” (193)

·        The homoerotic bits remind me of Chasing Amy. Ayumi and Aomame might both claim to be straight… but if they hit it off, why not get together sexually and comfort each other.

 


[1] Come to think of it, there is also something Dickensian in the way that Tengo’s school teacher helps him renegotiate his relationship with his father,

[2] This reminded me of an episode described in Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; his teacher in a university in India has said that all things are illusory; the student, Phaedrus, asks whether or not the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were illusory. The professor smiles, says “yes,” and Phaedrus leaves the school.

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