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.
A Little Quibble
- “[his father’s] eyes fixed on the outdoor scene like a soldier on guard duty, determined not to miss the next signal flare sent up by the savage tribe on the distant hill” (424). Why add that bit about the savage tribe on the distant hill? Not the mention that faulty comparison (his eye would be like “those of a soldier on guard duty,” not “like a soldier on guard duty).
- His father filled in a vacuum (left by Tengo’s absent mother and biological father) by raising Tengo; it is odd that Tengo feels that his father never loved him, despite this rather marvelous decision.
- Even after all that about how his father was not his biological father, Tengo still calls him “father”; is this what draws the tear from the old man’s face? Or is it the memory of Tengo’s mother?
- His talk with his father seems to have removed the weight of the past from his shoulders and allowed him to move forward; he “had a strong sense that somehow he would be able to overcome the danger” (426)—and yet before he said that he’d learned that bad feelings come true more often than good ones. Is he now a confident optimist, or is he setting himself up for a fall?
- Even Fuka-Eri thinks he looks different (429).
- But no sooner are things wrapped up with his father than Ushikawa dangles the prospect of learning about his mother in front of him.
A Fresh Start
- Like Aomame Tengo wants to make a new start of things (452) but he can’t just up and move ahead while leaving his life messy.
- He’d need to find out about his mother all at once, not in bits and pieces (453). And really Murakami’s been letting us learn about everyone but the mother in bits and pieces.
Fuka-Eri’s Ears and Sex
- Of course she’s got beautiful ears. What more could I expect?
- There is that old tension of whether or not Tengo and Fuka-Eri will, uh, get together; after he tells her the story of the Town of Cats she guesses that he went to his own Town of Cats and tell him that he needs to do some sort of purification, as if to keep a balance (I seem to remember a Murakami short story about having to restore balance by robbing a McDonald’s, but I can’t remember the title); she says that they have to go to a Town of Cats together, whatever that means.
- She is a deliberate counterpoint to the ugly, dreary world outside; Tengo doesn’t know which world to have faith in (454). And I’ve felt that feeling a thousand times in New York. Little, impossibly perfect moments of beauty and understand burst out from a chaotic background and then fade.
- There’s something weird about the way Tengo describes his girlfriend: “Just as every village has at least one farmer who is good at irrigation, she was good at sexual intercourse. She liked to try different methods” (456). What? Is this somehow about social roles that people play in the community? Does a village need a village mattress?
A Bit of Shakespearean Humor
- Right after the moment of tension between Ushikaway and Tengo there is a bit of humor; Fuka-Eri has forgotten Tengo’s safety measure about only answering the phone after a sequence of rings. When he asks her why she picked up the phone she guilelessly asks him if he wants to do it again. It’s almost like an episode of the Honeymooners.
- And then it goes right back into the ominious; the Little People are stirring and may make something extraordinary happen, something that Tengo and Fuka_Eri would be better off if they faced it together.
Town of Cats
- It’s a kind of Kafka-ish story, and it is worth noting for a few reasons: it “belonged more in his father’s room than in Tengo’s possession,” and we have two listeners or readers.
- Empty towns or houses that are occupied by new tenants, so to speak, are another favorite theme of Murakami (think of Toru emptying himself out for the women in Wind-Up Bird).
- He says that he visited his own Town of Cats and Fuka-Eri says the same thing (426 and 461)
Investigation of Sakigake
- A big question is whether or not Fukada is the Leader; the investigation of Sakigake the day previous hadn’t turned up any sign of Fukada (which would mean that he wasn’t the Leader… except that maybe the Leader had already left for Tokyo for his appointment with Aomame
The Little People
- I still can’t decide if it is the Little People (who may represent some sort of mystical or divine power) or just the religious group at Sakigake who are after Tengo and Fuka-Eri
- A-HA: Tengo guesses with Fuka-Eri: “… in this world, there exist something like values that make it possible to resist [the Little People’s] wisdom and power.” These values would be opposed to the, uh, tempting relativism (if that’s the right word) of the Leader.
- Aside from the connection to Macbeth, the thunderstorm provides a specific event that could allow us to line up the two narratives; we would even work backward from the thunderstorm to decide when the two narratives began, relative to each other. You know, if we were into really obsessive means of interpretation.
- Fuka-Eri seems to think that the Little People can’t threaten Tengo directly, though they can threaten the people around him, like Kyoko Yasuda.
- I seem to have gotten one prediction at least partially right; Aomame is having trouble going through with the Leader’s assassination because living means more suffering for him than death.
- But (and here’s why I love Murakami) it is not as simple as that. In fact there is a whole raft of kooky stuff going on here, including Brothers Karamazov references (woot!), which isn’t too surprising as FMD is such a philosophical writer himself.
- The Leader can “bear any pain, as long as it has meaning” (437). This brings up the previous discussion of pain as a basis of identity from before.
- Aomame naturally wonders at the fact that she is trying to cure a man that she thinks she will soon kill; she feels that she can have multiple roles, but not simultaneously (q.v. Dreyfuss and Kelly’s discussion of moods from All Things Shining).
- Aomame is fascinated by him, by his “obstruction”and what she can do for him. She is like Ayumi, who wondered what she could do for men via kinky sex, and what they could do for her.
- And indeed after Aomame has finished her stretching session Murakami compares them to lovers.
A Congress of… Philosophical viewpoints
- The two have an interesting discussion: Aomame says that the Truth is the observable, provable and more often than not painful (which would make her a rational empiricist).
- The Leader says that people prefer ideas and stories that allow them to ignore the weaknesses in their own bodies to ideas that show them how weak they are, even if the latter ideas are rational. And yet he then talks about the spirit as though it were an indestructible thing, a necessary counterpoint to the weakness of man’s flesh. (this argument is related to Dostoevsky’s, which says that man needs god because of flaws in his intellectual equipment). I don’t know if this is Murakami taking on charming, superficial religious figures or if this is how he really feels.
- Aomame replies that she has love, which apparently gives meaning and direction to her life (perhaps because it is painful) and so she doesn’t need to ask spiritual questions.
- The Leader says that her attitude “may be the very essence of religion,” which I find to be the least bit new-agey. (442)
- For what it is worth I had the feeling that he would be able to recognize her as an assassin, and that he may have wanted her to kill him to put him out of his misery.
- The Leader claims to be an intermediary, like some Delphic oracle. He doesn’t even know if he is telling the truth; all he is doing is relaying what the Little People tell him (442). This is like the Professor, who transmutes cultural practice into a meaningful interpretation, or Tengo and other authors, who transmute their questions into other, different forms.
- I don’t know what he means by restoring the balance (as Aomame restored the flow in his body), but I douibt if Murakami’s universe works that way—things only move forward (like Tengo’s father’s disease), never in cycles. (and on the subject of balance, Tengo notes that something is out of whack in his chapter on 456).
- “Even if the world were to lose all morals and go to pieces, it wouldn’t be my fault. (449). Wha?
Another Dirty Deal
- The Leader offers Aomame a deal similar to the one Ushikawa offered Tengo, though it is more direct—he’ll spare Tengo’s life, while Ushikawa only offered veiled threats. It is uncertain how two or three people can threaten a religious movement, but maybe that is Murakami’s—the author’s—conceit. The offer is a bit the least bit weird as the Leader wants Aomame to kill him, while Sakigake only wants Tengo to wear their leash.
Brothers Karamazov Come Up
- The Leader’s interpretation of Brothers Karamazov doesn’t cut it for me. FMD wasn’t painting a world where good and evil changed places and the good was in keeping a balance.
- Ayumi’s death remains ambiguous, but the Leader feels responsible for not preventing it. In terms of Brothers Karamazov this puts the Little People in the role of Smerdyakov and the Leader in the role of Ivan Karamazov, the intellectual brother. At first blush this would be a contradiction; how can the leader of a religious group most resemble an intellectual? Ultimately what Dostoevsky and Murakami may be saying is that the intellect requires as much faith as any other religion.
- The whole thing is an uncomfortable retelling of the Grand Inquisitor; someone comes to earth, performs miracles, and then is threatened by someone of that earth. This parallel would make Aomame into the Grand Inquisitor and the Leader, a pedophile, into Jesus. Weird stuff, that.
The Little People
- They’ll lose someone who listens to them, and they don’t want that; they killed somehow turned the clock forward for Ayumi so that she was killed earlier than she would have been otherwise. Ut who are they? Presumably the Little People, but it could also be the Sakigake people too. Anyways, they killed Ayumi as a warning to Aomame not to kill the Leader (it feels like it makes sense, and somehow it doesn’t make sense at all; are the Little People manifestations of some psychic or societal tendency, like Smerdyakov embodies the three brother’s desire to kill Fyodor Karamazov?.
- “people have to pay a price for the gifts they are given.” (442).
- “Better to believe than not to believe, Tengo thought, basing it not so much on logic as experience” (451).
- “There were lots of questions and few answers. Like a trade imbalance.” (455).
- “What does ‘real’ mean,” Fuka-Eri asked without a question mark.” (460).