A note on the little project: My favorite contemporary author is Haruki Murakami; his latest work to appear in English translation is 1Q84 and was released in late October, 2011. His novels are often pulpy page turners, and the urge to get to the end to see what happens often hurries me up; I don’t notice things the first time through, and I certainly don’t stop to savor the first reading. So this time I am stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak by blogging about every three chapters I read. I go through them once, think about them for awhile, and then start typing notes—whatever comes to mind—as I skim over the chapters again. Sometimes I refer back to previous sections, but I try to keep it all pretty much within these three chapters. That way I’ll have an ongoing record of my response to the book.
Also, I am reading the book in hard copy. This is odd because I just got a Kindle, which has so far been very useful and has changed my reading habits for the better. I’m doing the hard copy of the Murakami to again be a sort of public reader; it’s a new book, his fans tend to be very loyal, and I am looking to start conversations with random people in a pleasant way.
Took awhile to get through and digest these three chapters, maybe because they also have that special density I noticed in the previous set, maybe because I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. Anyways, one night of insomnia, and here are the notes!
- I just read Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility for another books club and was distracted by the overdone metaphors; the I came across the first few paragraphs of chapter 7 in book which involves the following metaphors in about 20 lines: the lobby of the hotel is “like a huge, stylish cave,” filled with sounds “like the sighing of disembowled animals,” a carpet like “moss on a far northern island… that absorb[s] footsteps into its endless span of acccumulated time,” people “like ghosts tied in place by some ancient curse… men armored in tight-fitting business suits… women [wearing] small but expensive accessories, like vampire finches in search of blood,” and “a large foreign couple… like an old king and queen past their prime.”
- That makes six, uh, ambitious metaphors in a very tight space, and I don’t think Murakami pulls it off. A phrase like “a carpet’s endless span of accumulated time” is almost designed to give certain amazon critics ammunition, and to separate the Murakami faithful from the people who expect authors to give them answers, not more questions. But it’s a pretty petty move: does a massively successful author really need to engage with critics?
- “A place so filled with legend and suggestion” (391). Is a hotel lobby full of legend?
- My friend AMB says that the book so far tells more than it shows, and this is a perfect example.
Identity and Will
- Aomame has a bad feeling about the situation, but says to herself, “That’s not the Aomame way to live” (392). This would be the “something about what it is to be Aomame” that Tengo has imagined; a force of will; a desire to resist fear that would push her away from her course, a desire to change the world, even if just by killing someone. A desire to make a decision, to exercise her will. (note that she is feeling uneasy about a plan that was put in place by someone else, much as Tengo’s a pawn for Komatsu and Ebisuno).
- And there is the Society of Witness’s prayer, which is now a source of strength for her; Aomame left her family when she was only 10, and yet she is still defined by that prayer. The things we hate in childhood define us as adults; we are formed before we have a chance to make a decision about what forms us.
Unbelievabilty, that Pesky Unconfident Narrator
- Aomame is amused at Buzzcut and Ponytail’s “neurotic attention to detail,” and yet they both miss the fact that she is carrying a needle-like weapon and a gun that weighs about a full pound. Their “attention to detail” is pretty weak I’d say; usually when someone is neurotic about something they are more inclined to be thorough, to recheck themselves. I suppose a neurosis could keep someone from executing his duties (especially a religious person whose job had to do with examing a woman’s underwear), but still.
- Less believably is the idea that a smart woman like Aomame would risk carrying a gun into such a situation. How could she trust that they would would miss a gun? A poison pill in her mouth would be much more effective as a means of offing herself.
- But as she says to herself, “Prayer works” (395). That is an extremely odd statement coming from Aomame; as thought faith could make anything possible… which brings me to:
Miracles and Belief
- the cult wants girls who haven’t had their period yet to become pregnant by the Leader; obviously that would require a kind of miracle, and maybe the whole book is about miracles; creation (of books by authors, of belief out of nothing, of a personality out of a void like Ayumi, of a person from a vacuum, like Tengo from his father).
- Belief does play a big role in the book; there are all sorts of examples, from the Society of Witnesses, to Tengo believing in himself, to Tengo believing in the power of Fuka-Eri’s story to us buying into the story as we read the book (not to mention the epigram— “it’s a barnum and baily world, just as phony as it could be—but it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me”).
- And at times I feel like Murakami is teasing me and seeing how far he can push me before he breaks his own spell. He better be damn sure of where he’s going to engage in such shenanigans.
A Strange Promise
- Ponytail and Buzzcut lead Aomame through some strange steps before they let her into the sanctum: they make her promise not to tell anyone what she sees or hears (she ducks by saying that she keeps secrets about bodies safe); then they talk about the sacred as a basis of faith; they don’t make her agree to their faith, they just let her establish that recognizing the sacred is important, as though they are softening her up.
- And then they talk about the sacred, and how the sacred is the basis of faith. They’ve got clever rhetoric; they don’t ask Aomame to join their beliefs; instead they make her accept the idea of the sacred as a basis of faith. They don’t convert her, they merely tie her hands by asking that she not violate an idea that allows their faith. It’s a tricky move, and one that is expertly handled. The confrontation between Aomame and the Leader is coming up, and Murakami is A) getting as much mileage from it as possible and B) giving Aomame a more complicated choice than just “make yourself a bit impure by killing this morally reprehensible man.”
- This is born out (at least a bit) in the other Aomame chapter; the man is suffering already; if Aomame killed him it might be putting him out of his misery—so which does he deserve more: dying painlessly or living out his days in agony? Murakami complicates the matter further by saying that his shrinemaidens choose to have sex with him while he is immobile. This doesn’t let him off the hook—if they want to bear his child then they should have to wait until after they physically can get pregnant—but it is slightly better than forced intercourse..
- “There is a sacred region into which we dare not stray” (398). Aomame recognizes the sentiment as she recognized how fundamental the sacred is; she thinks that she may be living in a world where such a belief is at her core. In the most crude terms, her sacred space would be the bodies of young girls, which have been violated by the leader. Remember that Aomame’s body is a temple, and the possibility that the huge, blighted space within Ayumi was related to the fact that she’d been sexually abused as a child, and that the perpetrators were never brought to account or otherwise forced to recognize their actions.
- Certain phrases are bleeding into the Aomame story from Tengo’s story. Ushikawa told Tengo that his employers had “long arms” as he suggested that Tengo accept a good deal of money; here Buzzcut says “we have strong hearts and long arms” as he tells Aomame that they can give her lots of money.
- The organization might just use the phrase long arms in many of its dealings, or maybe Tengo is applying phrases that occur in his life to the story he’s writing about Aomame.
- Of course you hope that Tengo and Aomame both keep their integrity and refuse the money.
- Aomame feels like she’s gone to “the kind of place it might be possible to reach with great effort, but from which return was impossible” (415). This recalls the story of the town of cats and Professor Ebisuno’s earlier comment that, even if Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and he reversed course, they wouldn’t likely wind up where they had started.
- I can’t help but think of Creta Kano’s meeting with Noboru Wataya (which also took place ina hotel room); I hope this goes better for Aomame.
- His conversation is eerily reasonable so long as it seems to be criticizing the Society of Witnesses; is this a ploy to gain Aomame’s trust? Hardly, if he goes on to describe how he has sex with young girls; he does say that he gets no sexual pleasure out of it, however dishonestly; he also implies (via the passive tense) that he might not be the one who initiates these acts; that it may be his followers beliefs that lead to the young girls being forced to have sex with him—which would be an interesting twist if we take the relationship between the Leader and his cult to be analogous to Murakami’s relationship with his audience.
- And again, the believers are hoping to become pregnant through a miracle, another possible reference to Christianity (422). Hmmmm
- He identifies pain with grace, and perhaps, being or identity.
- He makes reference to an ambiguous “they;” could he be referring to the Little people? They’ve already ruined Tsubasa’s uterus—are they ruining his retinas in the same way? (423)
- He ends by saying that there is something only Aomame can do for him; it is almost like Jesus asking Judas to betray him in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Plunging Over the River
- Tengo feels helpless to change the situation with Fuka-Eri, Komatsu, and the potential scandal surrounding Air Chrysalis; “If the boat they were all riding in was plunging over the falls upside down, there was nothing to do but fall with it” (399). This is true enough, but it reminded me of Komatsu’s earlier comment that the time for getting out of the boast was earlier, while the current was still gentle. We do have the chance to shape what happens to us, but we have to make that decision well before any possible consequences come into view.
Writer’s Block and (of course) the confrontation with the Father
- My first time through I felt like Tengo’s words to his father are like a first year acting exercise; he can’t love anyone until he knows who he is, etc. etc. I thought about it in light the philosophical light from the Aomame chapters and it made sense. Tengo feels unable to love because he cannot understand it somehow; in contrast, Aomame may not understand her love for Tengo, but it inspires her even in completely disconnected circumstances; we may not have some ultimate understanding of what motivates us, but we shouldn’t let that keep it from motivating us.
- All of a sudden, after the calls from Kyoko’s husband and Ushikawa, he can’t write any more, as though the spring that his rewrite of Air Chrysalis opened is now closed.
- He suddenly finds himself going to visit his father, with whom he had a very strange relationship, and who is contrasted, however lightly, with his son. Thanks to his job with NHK, Tengo’s father can live out his years in relative comfort; did he sign a deal with “the man” that resembled the deal Ushikawa offered Tengo?
- However well the Town of Cats story resonates with Murakami’s themes (someone enters a parallel, uncanny world; he feels the terror of somehow being invisible, even when visibility means vulnerability; and even the phrase “irretrievably lost” is repeated from an earlier Tengo chapter), I think the most interesting thing is the fact that Tengo chooses the story for his father (when his father has asked for something from his own bookshelf), and the father’s response to it; he asks questions and then responds to the story in a way that answers Tengo’s questions.
- The bit with the father touches on Murakami’s obsession with bloodlines (which shows up in the first chapter of Wind-Up Bird as well) as well as plenty of Freudian stuff (the rejection of the son by the father, the need for recognition and knowledge from the son; the need for some sort of knowledge that will define him, etc.).
- Tengo confirms (sort of) that he is not his father’s son. There is something of Joyce and Ulysses in this, for sure, even more so for the father’s cryptic remarks about Tengo being nothing; the father says that he is only occupying a vacuum, a vacuum that Tengo himself will in turn occupy. This is a rich section; Tengo’s father says that Tengo had no father; this has an obvious parallel to Jesus; but then the father says that Tengo’s father was a vacuum, a great empty space. Following a Christian reading then, god, the source of all meaning, is a vacuum that nevertheless gives rise to something (a son); that son will in turn replace the vacuum, like the cats occupying the town. It could be read to refer to some sort of author/god—we have the idea that there is some reason, some intelligence behind everything, whether that is a father or ourselves. It could be a sort of kooky take on atomic theory or the nature of existence: we rise out of chaos or a vacuum only to sink back into it (compare this with Creta Kano statement that we all emerge from the warm mud and we all return to it eventually).