Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Japanese Orpheuse: Myth, Modernity, and the Unconscious in Murakami

This is the presentation I gave at the symposium. I know that only a few people were able to come (sorry I couldn't do likewise), but here is the script. This damn thesis was a lot of work, and now I'm finished. Whenever you guys get time, please take a look and tell me what you think:


Haruki Murakami, or in Japanese Murakami Haruki, is a living, contemporary Japanese novelist. Some titles of Murakami stories:
the novel sekai no owari to haadoboirudo wandarando (Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World);
hitsuji o meguru booken (A Wild Sheep Chase) ;
or the short story with one of his longest titles, “Airplane – or How he Talked to Himself as if Reading Poetry.”

Trust me, the titles sound just as ridiculous in Japanese as they do in English.

I suppose that I have inherited Murakami’s habit for long ridiculous titles. Modernity? Myth? The Unconscious? Japanese Orpheus? How do all these things go together? I promise to deliver answers to these questions, but in doing so, I may have to lengthen the title of my paper. For what began with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Murakami’s most difficult novel, turned into an struggle to tie together Murakami’s earlier and later work along with Japanese myth, and solve certain local problems in my chosen methodology: Jungian psychoanalysis. We could call it “How the Wind-up Bird Chronicle sent me on A Wild Sheep Chase.”

I thought I’d begin with some biographical information, but I think I’d rather let the author speak for himself – quote:

The world of literature is probably 85 percent feeling and desire, things that transcend differences of race or language or gender … I suspect that when people say “There’s no way an American can understand Japanese literature”, they’re just revealing a complex. It’s my belief that Japanese literature has to open itself much more broadly than it does now to the scrutiny of the world at large.
In Murakami there are no kimonos or samurai swords or even kamakazi pilots. His Tokyo is the Tokyo of today: popmusic and mass-media; Sony executives and Ginza call-girls; everybody, even grandma’s riding bicycle; Japanese teenagers working part-time at Disneyland or at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken. Murakami is a writer of the global era for the global era.

Today I will:
1) review some of Murakami’s early work, namely the short story entitled “The Dancing Dwarf”
2) introduce the methods of Jungian psychology, and…
comment briefly on The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Murakami’s role in contemporary world literature.

The Dancing Dwarf: just a warning, “The Dancing Dwarf” (or odori kobito) is probably Murakami’s most fantastic story.

“The Dancing Dwarf” begins with the words:

A dwarf came into my dream and asked me to dance.I knew this was a dream, but I was just as tired in my dream as in real life at the time. So, very politely, I declined. The Dwarf was not offended but danced alone instead.

Old records are scattered around the room, and the dwarf performs a frenzied jig to the an odd musical assortment on a portable record playter: Glenn Miller, the Rolling Stones, and Great Selections for the Classical Guitar. The narrator insists that this is a dream. The dream ends and the narrator returns to what we assume is a normal, intelligible reality:

I washed my face with great care, shaved, put some bread in the toaster, and boiled water for coffee. I fed the cat, changed its litter, put on a necktie, and tied my shoes. Then I took a bus to the elephant factory.
The Elephant Factory? The sudden turnabout makes us pause in disbelief. Reality and dream have suddenly traded places, juxtaposed in magical confusion. Our nameless hero really does work at an “elephant factory” where living elephants are literally mass-produced through detailed industrial process:

We don’t make elephants from nothing, of course. Properly speaking, we reconstitute them. First we saw a single elephant into six distinct parts: ears trunk head abdomen, legs, and tail. These we then recombine to make five elephants, which means that each new elephant is in fact only one-fifth genuine and four fifths imitation. This is not obvious to the naked eye, nor is the elephant itself aware of it. We’re that good.


Let’s pause for a moment to discuss Murakami’s style. Three important considerations:

1) automatic writing – Murakami does not plan his stories in a traditional way; he writes things as they come. He describes writing as a very physical process, since writing this way is very difficult.
2) frame narrative – Murakami uses and abuses multi-linear storytelling techniques, by introducing newspaper clippings, stories the narrator hears second-hand, and, above all, dreams. Murakami creates several interweaving “rivers of narrative.”
3) Magical Realism – Murakami’s writing genre is called “magical realism,” the most famous example of which is Garcia Marquez. By Mixing a very realistic and detailed, everyday world with the magical, Murakami begins with a very believable story, and makes it impossibly absurd, or at times, sinister – a moment Freud calls the “Uncanny” or in Lacan, the Real.

A short summary: the dancing dwarf appears to the narrator in a dream. Somehow the young man’s dream coincides with reality. The narrator becomes interested with a mysterous new girl at the factory, and he goes to ask her out. She will only give him a date, if, coincidentally, he can impress her with his dancing. The dwarf appears to him in one more dream. He offers a bargain, “I’ll make you a deal. If I enter your body, you’ll become the best dancer in the world. That way you’ll be able to seduce her, or anyone for that matter. But whatever you do, you can’t say a word. If you do, then your body is mine, forever.” The young man agrees to the bargain. He goes to the dance hall and is finally able to impress the new girl. The whole time, he manages to get by without saying as much as a word. The story ends, and I won’t say how exactly, with the image of the new girls’ corpes, decomposed and covered with maggots. The narrator magically brings her back to life.

The Jungian method in literature, based in the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, is a mostly synchronic, comparative technique that uses motifs from world mythology. These lietmotifs are called archetypes, or “eternal symbols.” Archetypes are related to the unconscious and, more specifically, a theory of the mind called the collective unconsious. By treating the story as if it were a dream, we raise the elements to the same plane of time and examine the structural interactions, disregarding the elements’ chronological place in the narrative.

I my paper, I compare “The Dancing Dwarf” to two ancient Japanese stories, the fairytale called “Urashima Taro” and the story of Izanami and Izanagi from the Japanese creation myth. The legend of Izanami and Izanagi is from the Kojiki, the Japanese “record of ancient matters.”

Izanagi and Izanami are the first parents in Japanese myth. The goddess Izanami gives birth to everything in the world. Finally, by giving birth to fire, she is burned and dies. Her husband, Izanagi, laments and visits the underworld to find his dead wife. She asks him to wait, saying “Whatever you do, don’t look at me.” It is completely dark, so he can see nothing. However, the god cannot wait any longer and makes a fire. He sees his wife in a terrible state of disintegration; maggots are squirming and roaring on the corpse. Hereupon he is awestruck and flees. The goddess says, “He has shamed me!” and pursues him with the hags of the underworld.

The legend is related to the Sumerian myth of Ishtar and the Greek myth of Orpheus.

Returning to the “The Dancing Dwarf:” The plot is essentially driven forward by a simultaneous, dialectical conflict with the narrator’s shadow alter-ego, the dwarf, and with the femine Other. As in the tale of Urashima, the hero must leave his everyday world to meet with the mysterious female. The common motif is the motif of two parallel worlds: the underworld or the nighttime world of dream and the unconsious, and the daytime world of everyday life. In most ways, we can consider “The Dancing Dwarf,” structurally, as a microcosm of Murakami’s major works. Because of its mythological structure, and since, like much of Murakami’s fiction, it parodies or inverses the logic of modern concepts such as linear time, the division between wakefulness and dream, and industrial mass-production - I call “The Dancing Dwarf” a “postmodern fairytale.”

When using the Jungian method in my research, a couple of difficulties surfaced.

1) How can a symbol both universal and particular at the same time, that is, archetypal and have a specific function in Japanese literature?
2) In reference to Murakami, what is it about the unconsious that makes it so

With those questions in mind, we turn to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Like most of Murakami’s long fiction, the story centers on a middle-aged Tokyo man who works at a boring dead-end job, and who suddenly wanders into an absolutely strange world outside of his own. The book is Murakami’s most ambitious work, combining several epic rivers of narrative. I follow a scholar named Matthew Stretcher in summarizing these various rivers into 3 simultaneous narratives:

1. A protagonist named Toru in search of his lost wife, Kumiko
2. A mother and son team, named “Nutmeg” and “Cinnimon,” who run a clinic for alternative healing
3. the historical chronicle of wartime Japan – events leading up to the World War.

Like the other stories, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle operates on the principle of ego and alter-ego. For example, I make the argument that all the main female characters may actually be the same woman, Kumiko, reincarnated if you will, behind a carnival of doppelganger masque. In order to find Kumiko, Toru navigates these various doppelganger personalities including one of his own, in what resembles an archetypal quest: like that of Orpheus or as in our Japanese myth of Izanagi.

Today, I’m mostly concerned with the connection between the stories in modern-day Tokyo and the accounts of the Japanese occupation of China during the Sino-Japanese War. A passage from Narrative 3:

[long quotation involving Japanese soldiers stationed at a Zoo. They have to “liquidate” some tigers, much like later, they have to execute some Chinese students.]

3 narratives, covering 2 distinct historical periods, united by one image: the image of the well, a tunnel into the unconsious. What makes the unconscious so collective in the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is this memory of history and violence that each of us, Japanese or otherwise, must come to face.


Chris (lolz) said...

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