Friday, December 21, 2007

Notes on Murakami's "Underground"

Just in from Mabel Callahan:
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.

-Mabel Callahan

1 comment:

TofuUnion said...

I commented in Japundit about baby boomer generation, regarding to Haruki Murakami.

"The Japanese baby boomers are people who were born between 1947 and 49. But I assume those who were born between 40 to 55 had similar circumstances when growing up. They know little about the war and were very young in post-war reconstruction era. Most of them became companies employees. As teenagers they experienced new Western mode like hippie fashion or Rock’n Roll.

Typical image of that generation is salary-man (or salaried office worker), who are deeply obsessed with collective thinking and behavior. The typical characteristics of them are industrious and obedient to authority, sometimes called as ” firm slaves “. They are not used to thorough argument nor tough negotiation, and normally quite patient and don’t express what they think or feel. And they became neither politically nor socially committed.

When Yukio Mishima committed suicide in the incident in 1970, it was apparent he tried to insist Japanese lost soul in economic activities. In his eyes the situation of today should have gone even worse that that time."

I assume actual Japan isn't so homogeneous like those of my image and your image. Even so, what Murakami is implying in many of his works and particularly in " Underground ", and you 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. Anyway, I find his recent " utterance on commitment " quite positive.