I'd like to recommend to everyone Murakami Haruki's work of non-fiction, Underground (『アンダーグラウンド』 & 『約束された場所』 in the original), which I think ranks as one of his best works to date. I was never really a fan of his until I read this, and now I'm rereading his earlier fictional works with the understanding that they share with Underground the same central concerns -- namely, the search for lost narratives and the excavation of spaces inhabited by those left-behind, out-of-place, and marginalized by the well-oiled and monolithic "system" that is modern Japan.
I must confess, however, that I have my doubts about just how "monolithic" this system is. Is Japan today as a society any more prone to conformity than, say, America is? Does the Japanese individual hand over his own capacity for a subjective narrative more frequently and with less compunction than we Americans do? Is there really only one script available -- the script of risshin shusse 立身出世 -- and do those who choose not to read from this pre-written script really get banished to the fringes? That seems to be what Murakami is implying in many of his works and particularly in Underground, and I get the feeling that much of his popularity outside of Japan is due to the fact that he again and again presents us with this straight-jacket image of Japan that much of the world expects to see.
Also, his tendency toward sentimentality, which flares up like an atopic rash from time to time, can be a little nerve-wracking. He lays it on especially thick in Tokyo kitanshu 『東京奇譚集』, which otherwise is an enjoyable collection of bizarre stories involving disappearing acts, volunteer detectives, and talking monkeys. But more on this (and on Underground and its subject -- the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway) later.
That is all for today. Thank you for your patience.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Just in from Mabel Callahan: