Wednesday, April 16, 2008

 

Odds and Ends: Murakami and the Red Thread of Destiny



Haruki Murakami discusses his love of running and its influence on his writing.

"I started running immediately after I finished writing 'A Wild Sheep Chase' (in 1982). In writing that, I felt it is a hazardous undertaking to write a full-length novel. The motive for running is my thinking that I should take exercise to keep my health strong."


Amen to that. Writers do need to exercise to keep the mind sharp. But the real revelation to me in this article was the following:

Hayao Kawai, a noted psychoanalyst who died last year at age 79, is the sole intellectual with whom Murakami has repeatedly held talks. "When I talked using the word 'stories,' it was only Kawai-sensei who could correctly understand that meaning," Murakami reminisced.

For Murakami, writing stories is to fall deep into his soul. "Stories are very beneficial but very dangerous at the same time. Kawai-sensei really understood this. He was not a mere researcher. He had the excellence of a man who crosses a battlefield because he actually examined patients."




My own copy of Dr. Kawai's English language book "Dreams, Myths and Fairy Tales in Japan" is dog-eared, underlined, well worn and well loved. For me, it's like a secret passport straight to the Japanese heart for anyone who takes the time to read it. Frankly, it's a good read for anyone wanting to understand more of the world, and wanting to eschew such stereotypes as, "All those Japanese look like little robots to me," as a western person recently confided to me atop a Tokyo skyscraper.



One of Kawai's insightful claims is that the Japanese psyche is primarily feminine, and not the swashbuckling masculine and heroic ego of the west (God, you can say that again. 12 hours on a plane from Narita to LA and there I am in the Red Carpet Club watching some woman with her shoe-clad feet propped up on a table one might use for eating, yacking away on the phone, while nearby, a couple watch a DVD on their laptop with the sound turned up high, with no regard for how this noise might impact others. I almost took photos for a cultural compare and contrast, then decided I was tired and ornery. But seriously, this "Look at me!" and "It's my right!" gets so nauseating after a while.)

Most Westerners are confounded by Japanese fairy tales, says Kawai. The stories seem incomplete to them, to go nowhere. This, he suggests, is the result of treating the tale as an object in itself, "separate from the subjective feelings in the reader's mind." (The Japanese Psyche p. 22) Referring to "The Bush Warbler's Home," a story well known to the Japanese, Kawai explains that Westerners who find the story incomplete need to understand the feeling of awaré (softly despairing sorrow) which a Japanese would feel for the female figure who disappears in silence.

In this story a young man in high spirits is walking in the mountains when he suddenly sees a mansion he has never seen before. Then a beautiful woman appears and asks him to watch the house while she goes out. He must not, however, go into the other rooms. Unable to contain his curiosity, he goes into the rooms lavishly provided, and is delighted with what he finds. In the last room he looks at three beautiful eggs and accidentally drops them. With that, three birds hatch and fly away. The woman returns, saddened. Telling him he has caused her to lose her three daughters, she turns into a bush warbler and disappears. The man finds himself again standing in the middle of the meadow without a trace of the mansion to be seen. Kawai points out that although he stands in the same place, he has experienced another world.

The woman who disappears sorrowfully

Isn't this an aesthetic that sounds familiar to some of you out there? And, yes, I realize that it isn't fashionable anymore to view anything through the lens of Jungian psychoanalysis, which has its limits, but the observation and analysis itself are fascinating, and you'd have to be an idiot not to notice that western fairy tales and Japanese fairy tales are, derrrr, different.

At any rate, if I were ever in the lucky position to have a conversation with Murakami about anything, I know exactly what I would want to talk about, and it would be Dr. Hayao Kawai and his writings.

In other news, the cell phone novel "Red Thread" is being given the star treatment in Japan. It's being turned into a TV series and a movie, with the film concluding the plot set up. News outlets are claiming that this is an unprecedented way to plan and tell a story in visual media, though certainly my beloved Hana Yori Dango is finishing up its storytelling via a film. After having lazily abandoned the novel midway through, I've picked it up again.

Comments:
Thank you for that - sent me straight over to Amazon. That sense of psychological movement (a kind of pointing without pointing? Sorry, that's a dreadfully pretentious thing to say but I'm thinking of Kawabata and The Master of Go) is the thing I love about a lot of Japanese writing (though I can only read it in translation, admittedly).
 
Oh, I'm glad it was useful! As for reading in translation . . . I remember Donald Keene once addressing this subject and to paraphrase, he said that he suspected the kind of people who insisted on reading everything in its original language were probably not people that any of us would like very much, or who would appreciate literature in the first place. I loved him for that comment. In other words, it's better to read in translation, than to not read at all.
 
Some words on Haruki Murakami.

Probably Murakami is domestically not so respected. He is completely different from Oe or Kawabata. Oe is a kind of idealist like Jean-Paul Sartre (ideology, commitment, " Hiroshima Note "). I don't enjoy reading Oe because of his style(complex language, too much rhetoric). Yasunari Kawabata was a great successor of beautiful Japanese classic along with Mishima or Jun-ichiro Tanizaki.

Following is very a rare video of Murakami. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4cj_J0PfSk&feature=related

I haven't read his late novels, so I might not understand his works well enough. I tried to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but gave up. Even though, I can say I know his style. His language is light, simple and easy to understand. But his stories themselves are not easy to interpret.

I was confounded by some of his novels like Norwegian Wood. Why love doesn't work ? Why they get mentally unstable or kill themselves for some reason that the readers don't understand ? Why things don't work ? The stories are incomplete and nowhere to go, and uncomfortable.

I see his imaginary stories are not set as ordinary narratives. It's likely the story arc in his world doesn't go as the readers wish to have.

I guess his stories have no Father ( like Franz Kafka ). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_the_Father
The Fatherless World is a kind of universal theme today. ( Post Modern ? ) It's something like a journey without any guideposts and maps.

Anyway, the popularity of Murakami owes a lot to his enjoyable style to read. As a fiction writer he must be a great entertainer.
 
Oh my goodness! TofuUnion! I'm so flattered that you are visiting my site.

My favorite Japanese writer so far is Junichiro Tanizaki. His "Makioka Sisters," which I know has a different title in Japanese, is one of my all time favorite novels and I am always hoping to get people to read it and am so happy when someone obliges. I think it is a stunning book.

I do not read Japanese well enough to be able to understand how style varies in Japanese. This is something I hope to address over time.

I wonder if you have ever heard of Hayao Kawai?

As you know, books that are popular in one culture don't necessarily translate so well in another.

I have never read Oe (that I can remember--I may have read him in college, but forgot what I read). I have read Kawabata, whom I found beautiful but frightening. He might be easier for me to accept now.
 
I've visited your site for one month.

" Makioka Sisters (or Sasame Yuki) " is certainly a masterpiece. Sophisticated language and beautiful culture, however much of them are unfortunately lost today. I must have read some articles by Hayao Kawai, but his stuffs aren't remaining in my memories.( Anyway, I don't buy Jung psychology).

I understand the story telling method of Murakami as follows : he doesn't construct or describe whole the story, instead let it compensate by reader's imagination, or he doesn't feel the necessity of making complete a story as it is unreal. That said, he is trying to not control the story, but only set up so that the reader can start playing in his story.

Well, I assume you read The Elephant Vanishes or Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I'm sure Murakami's books translate very well. They are easy to read and entertaining enough. As for American literature I read lots of American short stories in translation by Murakami, such as John Irving, Tim O'Brien and Raymond Carver. ( In English I read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea or Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.)
 
I'm flattered that you are here, TofuUnion. I may be tempted now to write less silly posts, however, since I know you are watching.

I think that Murakami translates well, but it isn't his prose that really excites American readers--it is his sensibility. I have not read all of Murakami (reading some more of his books are a project for this year) but what I think intrigues Americans is his imagery and unconventional plot twists. In the same way, Americans find Hayao Miyazaki's anime films to be refreshing. Stories do not unfold conventionally and at a rigorous, army like pace. Characters come and go. The surreal intervenes. This is exciting for Americans and because Murakami is Japanese, any "unusual" story-telling devices are forgiven.

I must confess to never fully coming around to appreciating Hemingway. His writing lacks music for me. Salinger was a wonderful stylist. I encourage you to take a look at John Steinbeck. It is not currently fashionable to read Steinbeck (particularly for women), but I do love his prose and his stories. Cannery Row is a good place to start and is filled with nostalgia.

Also, I wonder if you have read the English/Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro? He is one of my very favorite writers right now and a very big inspiration. He was born in Japan, but moved to the UK at ten (I think). Now, he INTENTIONALLY writes in such a way that his books will be easy to translate. His style is very clean and precise, but also very emotional and beautiful. I enjoyed his recent books in particular.

Finally, since I know you care about quality music, I would encourage you to listen to some of Kurt Elling's jazz recordings. He is American and has a very, very fine voice, very beautiful lyrics and a wonderful band. It's a complete musical experience and something I hope that you enjoy.
 
Don't care about me. Besides, I would probably comment only on literature in your site.

I agree with the characteristics of " imagery and unconventional plot twists or unusual story-telling " of Murakami.

As for John Steinbeck I watched the Movies "The Grape of Wrath" and "East of Eden". With them, I call it a day for the time being. I will someday read Cannery Row in English.

I think I have watched a documentary of Kazuo Ishiguro on Japanese TV. What I am willing to read so far are, Charles Peirce, James Joyce or Noam Chomsky.

By the way, Did you read something of female French writer Marguerite Duras ? My understanding is that she is one of the most important novelists in 20th century who exceeded linguistic form in emotional expressions. Some of her works are made to movies, Hiroshima Mon Amour, The Lover, etc. A Must read novel is The ravishing of Lol V. Stein.
 
My, my. Interesting taste! You'd read Chomsky over Steinbeck? Or Joyce? That takes some chops (the use of "chops" here is an American idiom). You have to be careful with Chomsky--his ideas develop over time and some are considered more relevant than others. I like and agree with his ideas concerning the difference between thought and language (ideas which Stephen Pinker explored in greater scientific depth in The Language Instinct, also a favorite of mine), but his newer ideas have left me cold.

It's been a while since I've read Duras. She was not a happy woman and it shows in her fiction. In general, I'm better read in English than French literature. I would probably respond to her writing better now than in the past.

Okay, final recommendation: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. This is cerebral and demanding fiction along the lines of what you have listed, but very good prose and deep emotion.

I'll see you around!
 
The Makioka Sisters! I loved that (and I do seem to have a fair number of volumes by Donald Keene on my shelves). Further Paul Bowles - much though I love the Sheltering Sky, I think The Spider's House is better. But it's all relative.
 
Thanks for recommendation about Paul Bowles.

I'm just interested in semiotic part of Chomsky, as I haven't read his own articles. As for Joyce I've read couples of his short stories and enjoyed them pretty much.
 
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