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July 07, 2006

Comments

Taro

Yikes... さかさま人生行路.

Chuckles

But Murakami's novels are indeed too western - and I will supply the lit-crit essay needed. First of all, Murakami's style is easy to deduce: Following on the wave of DeLillo, Pynchon, Rushdie et al, hysterical realism is pretty much the way for young trendy authors to go now. Thus we have books stuffed with facts and minutiae but devoid of any character development. But that really isnt the main problem with Murakami - after all, after we witnessed A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, and other such fantastic creatures - who could get upset with a microeconomics essay worked into a novel? The problem however, is that character development in the works of people like Marquez, Okri and even Tutuola (who could give any magical realist today a loooooooooooooooong run for his money) was not treated in so cavalier a fashion as hysterical realists (seeking to outdo their magical forbears) have done. Murakami is merely a Japanese incarnation of a most despicable trend in Western literature. His novels are overpopulated, he has a bank of stock characters that he recycles at every opportunity, he deploys MacGuffins like Onigiri - basically, his books, just like the rest, have *too* much going on. Yeah, sure, it rains fish and cats talk and sexy hookers read your palms and sheep possess your brain and control Japanese politics and inklings attack you and so on...but this angle is so overworked, and so tired, that one would be distracted even if one didnt have to cope with his litany of Jazz themes, appeals to Greek literature (with a token mention of classical Japanese authors) and so on. Certainly, I could give a pass to Umibe no Kafuka and Norwegian Wood. Perhaps there is a certain literary sensibility to A Wild Sheep Chase. But the rest is just overdone - lacking all of the grace and restraint of Japanese authors: so noisy they make my head hurt. I wish a speedy death to hysterical realism: It is but a mark of this chaotic age of ours where everyone has become a social critic. The sad part is that the imitators of DeLillo and Pynchon possess none of their subtlety - certainly none of their grace or their sheer mastery of prose.
What next - a talking cheesecake becomes President of the United States and launches war on a country populated by post menopausal grandfathers and women with erectile dysfunction? Do we really need to buy literature only to find authors chanelling scenes from The Venture Brothers chanelling Kafka?
I tell you: World Literature has gone to the dogs. A sheer mockery is what it is. Not only is the author now supposed to be some kind of talkshow host handing out metaphors like Xmas presents, the fact that they are mostly a bunch of leftists who have nothing illuminating left to say about the human condition and hence, have assumed the burden of systems and structural analysis is just godawful. In Murakami's case, it is even worse: Because for him, individuality is something obtainable in a Western context - as though collectivist and individualist elements arent present in all cultures.
This guy is popular in the West, I think, because he writes just what folks at places like Salon, NYRB etc want to read. Ooooooh....those soldiers in the forest havent aged from WW II; Oooooooooh.
Long and short of it is that Murakami is popular the same way Coca Cola is popular - sugar and highs and something decaying inside your head.

James

So Chuckles, what books do you read?

Chuckles

Whatever James...I cant get the chemicals off my veggies but I eat them anyway.
But seriously - compare Ishiguro to Murakami.
Its like comparing a wise old man to a self confident youth - and Ishiguro is the younger of the two. Its not just a matter of style. For instance, there is a mastery of prose in Alice in Wonderland that is legitimately nourishing sans the fantastic.

~Ford P

Glad to see he's speaking out against Japanese nationalism:
http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1811674,00.html

Douglas Knight

I have nothing to say about authentic modern Japanese writing, but reading two translations of the first chapter of that book does give me sympathy for seeking authentic Murakami.

Abiola Lapite

Chuckles, you're a tough 'un to please, eh? I'm still not that far into the novel as yet, but what I've read so far hardly seems as terrible as all that - in fact, it doesn't seem terrible at all - and his writing style is refreshingly clear without the overtly "learned", showy literary ticks which can make reading certain Japanese authors feel as if one were dealing with a completely different language from that used by living, breathing people. 

Chuckles

Abiola - I'm not going to pay the part of spoiler here, but I do ask that my main complaints against Murakami's oeuvre be noted - so they can be broadly assessed:

1. A flight into the West: Now, I have nothing against a Japanese author dropping Jazz hints and broadly recalling American pop culture icons in his book - but doesnt this lend credence to the argument that he isnt "Japanese enough"? Certainly a provincial argument - but if Murakami were to be passed off as a "world writer" or "a writer" - fine. But Japanese?

2. Hysterical Realism and Overpopulation: Okay - so a cat blithely notes that on the morrow, its going to rain fish. Sure enough, the day comes and it rains fish in Tokyo (I think) and folks pull out their umbrellas and proceed about their business. Fine. But add to this the appearance of a magical Colonel Sanders who pimps for a hooker; wormy essences crawling out of peoples bodies; strange fellows with half shadows; discourses on German idealism and Greek philosophy and you're like WTF man! Enough already! (Kafka on the shore)

3. Recycling: While certainly "Dance, Dance, Dance" may be seen as separate from The Rat Trilogy, - I get the feeling that Murakami was just too lazy to think up anything new and ended up recycling Sheep Men and Hotels and similar characters from "A Wild Sheep Chase" You will notice this in several precursors to Murakami also; For instance, Pynchon recycles from "The Crying of Lot 49" into "Gravity's Rainbow" - he recycles the Kenosha Kid trope and others; also a significant portion of the Chemistry essaylets are recycles. Doesnt that hint that these people arent authors but philosophers intent on producing complete systems of social criticism? Look at Dickens - a most prolific fellow. It would be hard put to accuse him of such charlatanry (though it does occur in small doses) - yet his prose and characters are superbly crafted.

4. I will hold on "Wind Up Bird" - because again, it is one of the better works; though I can assure you that the characters in the book will be making appearances in several other works. As for his prose, I suppose this is precisely the reason why he is regarded as being "pop": One doesnt have to be overtly learned to be a superb craftsman of language. Mishima was a superb craftsman. Soseki was a superb craftsman. Murakami is just an okay writer. I dont understand the hype - okay I do. He compensates for his prose deficiencies by being magical.

5. The broad thematic outlines are so tired and overworked. Modern life is alienating, okay; contemporary Japan is spiritually void, okay; but there are still living, breathing people in these societies with *character* that can be represented in prose. Today's works are rich on "thought" and philosophy and systems analysis and poor on character development.

Thats my rant and I'm sticking to it.

Abiola

「千人千色」、as they say. それしか言えないんです。

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