Althouse | category: Haruki Murakami



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

Because Mieko Kawakami’s novels "look squarely at the times she is living through, with an emphasis on gender and class"...

... the NYT Magazine writer thinks "Western readers may once more be ready for contemporary Japanese fiction that embraces the magic of realism itself."

What is meant by "once more"? Did something happen to us "Western readers" that alienated us from realism when it comes to work by Japanese writers? Well, that's actually the article writer's idea:
For nearly three decades, [the] chief emissary [of contemporary Japanese literature in translation] abroad has been Haruki Murakami, whose American influences and penchant for late-20th-century nostalgia and magical realism obscure whatever genuine insights he might offer foreign readers about life in Japan today. 
The middle-class malaise of Murakami’s protagonists, who are more likely to speak with cats than to have uncomfortable conversations about late rent with their landlord’s wife, is largely absent from Kawakami’s work. That she has found success abroad through novels that look squarely at the times she is living through, with an emphasis on gender and class, suggests that Western readers may once more be ready for contemporary Japanese fiction that embraces the magic of realism itself.... 

Personally, I find the idea of more "emphasis on gender and class" tiresome. This is the refreshing new approach?! And then gratuitously kicking Murakami around? Is that really necessary? There's no reason why one person needs to occupy a position called Japanese "emissary." Anyone can read whatever books they want written by authors from anywhere.

One writer's use of fantasy doesn't prevent another writer from sticking to what is (supposedly) realistic. (Is it "realism" to use the gender-and-class template?)

It's certainly not realism to suggest that Murakami always uses fantasy. I know the article writer hedges by saying "more likely to speak with cats," etc., and I think that's because he knows Murakami's most popular book — "Norwegian Wood" — doesn't have fantasy elements. 

Toward the end of the review, there's also this about Murakami:

Among Kawakami’s more surprising influences is the work of Haruki Murakami, who has praised her work as “breathtaking” and called her a “genius” and his favorite young author but has also been criticized for writing women as one-dimensional characters who can seem as though they exist for no reason beyond advancing the plot.

What an awkward statement! The article-writer has it in for Murakami. 

For Kawakami, though, his novels provided a model for how to think about the individual. “No parents, no family, no soporific preaching, none of the self-conscious struggles or triumphs so common in literature,” she would later write in an essay. “For me, bogged down by situations and circumstances I had never opted into, Murakami’s individualism was shocking.”

This isn’t to say that Kawakami does not differ from Murakami in terms of how she thinks about female characters.

Perplexing double negative there.  

When he made himself available for a series of rare public appearances with Kawakami, including a 2017 Q. and A., she broached the obvious incongruity of their mutual admiration by telling him, “It’s common for my female friends to say to me, ‘If you love Haruki Murakami’s work so much, how do you justify his portrayal of women?’” 
Kawakami chose to highlight an example from his 2017 novel, “Killing Commendatore,” in which a woman introduces herself to the narrator by asking what he thinks of her breasts. Murakami responded by saying this was the woman’s way of suggesting that she viewed the narrator as a kind of eunuch; for Kawakami, though, it seemed like a way of fashioning herself into a sexual object for no obvious reason or benefit.

It's a 500-page novel, but let's fixate on the woman's breasts and try to figure out what they mean. Look squarely!

"It’s a real pain to carry a pad around, and I have found that once I have jotted something down I tend to relax and forget it."

"If I toss the bits into my mind, on the other hand, what needs to be remembered stays while the rest fades into oblivion. I like to leave things to this process of natural selection. This reminds me of an anecdote I’m fond of. When Paul Valéry was interviewing Albert Einstein, he asked the great scientist, 'Do you carry a notebook around to record your ideas?' Einstein was an unflappable man, but this question clearly unnerved him. 'No,' he answered. 'There’s no need for that. You see I rarely have new ideas.' Come to think of it, there have been very few situations when I wished I had a notepad on me. Something truly important is not that easy to forget once you’ve entrusted it to your memory.'"

Writes Haruki Murakami in "Novelist as a Vocation" (Amazon link).

Speaking of notebooks... my other favorite writer, David Sedaris, carries a small notebook everywhere and writes something in it about 10 times a day. In "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls," we see him explaining his practice to a 7-year-old boy. When he encounters a headline, "Dangerous Olives Could Be on Sale," and writes it down in his "a small Europa-brand reporter’s notebook," the boy asks why, and he says, "It’s for your diary.... You jot things down during the day, then tomorrow morning you flesh them out." Of course, the 7-year-old boy still asks "why?" The reader knows why!

Speaking of memory... I've been working on a Spotify playlist I named "Memory"):

The songs need to have something to do with memory and to be things I'd enjoy listening to in sequence... in case you're thinking of making suggestions for my list, which you can see is very small.

Alternatively, tell me what you think Einstein would have on his Spotify playlist.

As for Murakami, I'm picturing this.

ALSO: Here's the Einstein playlist I made (based on "The story of Albert Einstein and the music he loved"):
Einstein quote about music: "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music."

"In my considered opinion, anyone with a quick mind or an inordinately rich store of knowledge is unlikely to become a novelist."

"That is because the writing of a novel, or the telling of a story, is an activity that takes place at a slow pace—in low gear, so to speak. Faster than walking, let’s say, but slower than riding a bicycle. The basic speed of a person’s mental processes may make it possible to work at that rate, or it may not... .This is quite a roundabout way to do things.... Someone whose message is clearly formed has no need to go through the many steps it would take to transpose that message into a story. All he has to do is put it directly into words—it’s much faster and can be easily communicated to an audience. A message or concept that might take six months to turn into a novel can thus be fully developed in a mere three days. Or in ten minutes, if the writer has a microphone and can spit it out as it comes to him.... In the final analysis, that’s what being smart is really all about. In the same vein, it is unnecessary for someone with a wealth of knowledge to drag out a fuzzy, dubious container like the novel for his purposes...."

Writes Haruki Murakami in "Novelist as a Vocation" (Amazon link). 

"He writes for five hours a day and spends the evening at home listening to music. On top of this he gets up at dawn to run every morning...."

"... 'To keep writing for 30, 40 years is not easy,' he says. 'It’s very difficult to keep up your standards. I did everything to keep on writing books, so I sacrificed other things in order to do that. Other pleasures — for instance, nightlife. I didn’t make so many friends, especially in the literary world. I don’t want those relationships and connections. I don’t like dinner parties.... I try to imagine there’s another Haruki Murakami... He’s famous and popular and has many fans. But I’m a different Haruki Murakami and I live a quiet life. Most of the time I forget that I’m a famous writer. I ride the subway or take a bus and go to some used record shop or bookstore, and in those times I’m just nobody. When I write fiction I’m somebody else, but when I’m not writing I don’t feel any ego. Ego is a kind of burden to man, and I don’t like those burdens. I just want to live lightly.'"

From "Haruki Murakami: ‘Ego is a burden’ new/For decades the Norwegian Wood novelist rejected fame. In a rare interview he reveals why he has quit the quiet life and answers accusations of misogyny in his writing" (London Times).

I see there is a new Murakami book coming out in 3 days — "Novelist as a Vocation." 

I've curated 8 TikToks for your pleasure tonight. Let me know which one (or ones) you like best.

1. That fish!

2. The dog's delicate care for a plant.

3. Sounds you don't hear anymore.

4. Do you pronounce these words correctly?

5. A designer food experience.

6. How to dress for a work meeting.

7. Her not understanding any critically acclaimed film.

8. The jazz they play in stores in Tokyo. (And here's his "In-Store (Tokyo Jazz)" playlist.)

"Audience members were treated to author Haruki Murakami serving as a disc jockey while playing the works of jazz great Stan Getz and talking about his music."

"Murakami played records from his own extensive collection during a session held Nov. 13 at the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo.... In the shadows of his spectacular and extensive musical career, Getz continued to suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction his entire life. 'Music is there like an independent form of life unto itself,' Murakami said. 'It keeps evolving even if it lives in a host who is so messed up.'"

From "Murakami spins best of Stan Getz while he talks about jazz great" (The Asahi Shimbun).

A reader sent me that link, and I greatly enjoyed reading it here at my computer with access to Spotify to listen to, notably, “Corcovado” from “Getz/Gilberto."

I made a bookmark for The Asahi Shimbum, where I was pleased to see that the biggest front-page item was "Pigeons figure the odds to perch where safety is assured"...
The unusual sight of 30 or so pigeons perched on the rooftop of a parked car on a road in central Tokyo, rather than an adjacent small park, seemed like an unlikely place to congregate. But in fact it made perfect sense.... It turns out that pigeons take two factors into account when they pick where to perch, according to Shigeru Watanabe, professor emeritus of animal behavior at Keio University who won... the Ig Nobel award, which honors “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think,” for showing that pigeons can distinguish between paintings by Picasso and Monet by showing 10 pictures of each to them.
I who was lost and lonely/Believing life was only/A bitter tragic joke, have found with you, the meaning of existence, oh my love....

"This T-shirt has a straightforward message: 'i put ketchup on my ketchup.'"

"Now, that’s the statement of somebody who is seriously in love with ketchup. It kind of teases those Americans who put ketchup on everything, but I find it interesting that one of the companies that distribute these shirts is none other than Heinz. A little self-deprecatory humor going on here, but you can’t help feeling the American spirit in it, the optimistic, cheerful lack of introspection that says, 'Who cares about being sophisticated! I’m gonna do what I want!'"

I appreciate Murakami's appreciation of Americans, and I just used the rhetorical device the T-shirt uses. It's something I talked about before, back in 2019, prompted by a quote from Walt Whitman: "I live here in a ruin of debris—a ruin of ruins." 

I blogged that because I'd recently seen the idea of a cult following with a cult following:
This could be the kind of joke I've seen many times over the years. I remember hearing it long ago when some character on TV (I think it was Gidget's unattractive female friend [Larue]) said she was so excited her "goosebumps have goosebumps." 

That made a big impression on me when I was a teenager — "My goosebumps have goosebumps." Even at the time, I think, I wondered Is this a good template for humor or is it too dumb? 

One answer is Who cares about being sophisticated! I’m gonna do what I want!

"It might not be the best metaphor to use, but a book I have finished writing feels kind of like a pair of underwear I took off and flung into the laundry."

"Actually, that may not have been the most appropriate metaphor here (haha). What I was trying to say is that when you’re wearing your underwear, they’re very important to you. However, once you’ve worn them, that’s it — you discard them and have no more use for them. It’s the same with my novels."

 Said Haruki Murakami, when he was asked "Is Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World still your favorite of your own books?" 

Quoted in "My Conversation With Haruki Murakami Never Really Ends/Sean Wilsey chats with the prolific novelist about music, racism and a writing process that never stops evolving" (Inside Hook).

"All of us, more or less, wear masks. Because without masks we can’t survive in this violent world."

"Beneath an evil-spirit mask lies the natural face of an angel, beneath an angel’s mask lies the face of an evil spirit. It’s impossible to have just one or the other. That’s who we are. And that’s Carnaval. Schumann was able to see the many faces of humanity—the masks and the real faces—because he himself was a deeply divided soul, a person who lived in the stifling gap in between the two."

From the story "Carnaval" by Haruki Murakami, in his new short story collection "First Person Singular."

If this post makes you want to listen to "Carnaval," you may be interested to know that there are 2 characters who decide that "Carnaval" is the greatest piece for solo piano. They meticulously study recordings of "Carnaval," and one, the man, decides the very best is Arthur Rubinstein’s RCA recording, which you can listen to here. The other person, the woman, takes the position that the best is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, available here.

My reason for posting this isn't really to push the Schumann piece on you or to get you trying to figure out which is the best interpretation. Of course, I'm more interested in the subject of wearing masks. Masks come up in the story because masks are worn at the pre-Lent festival called Carnival (AKA Carnaval). Notice the "carn" — "Carnival is literally the festival of thankfulness for meat, and a farewell to it, as Lent begins." Is there some connection between masks and the loss of meat? The face is meat? 

I'm simply offering this as something to add to your reflection on the subject of mask wearing.

"A cat goes missing, a marriage breaks down, a large, extravagantly boastful frog visits a meek bank-teller and stresses that he must assist in the defeat of a destructive giant subterranean worm.""This T-shirt has a straightforward message: 'i put ketchup on my ketchup.'"

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