Reading Haruki Murakami’s Dance dance dance. The style is interesting. Couldn’t decide if I liked it at first.
(My first comments were: Strange book. Soft, flowing, dreamlike. Yet compulsive as a soap opera. But unlike a soap opera does it operate under the surface of the mind, the seemingly meaningless exterior? Whereas soap opera is obsessed with the surface itself and sees nothing else.
Need to come back to it. Can’t say if it’s boring. A lot of truisms, e.g. pp. 209-10. Piss-taking, poised between wisdom and banality. I suppose though, as a comment on the unreality of much of life, it is effective. I can understand why people like him. And I can understand why people don’t like him.)
I guess I do. Hypnotism of the ordinary. A lot of everyday life. The narrator is searching for something, but is mostly killing time. Eating, walking around, reading. Clouds, snow. Everything muffled, dreamlike, but also ordinary. Still, most of life is made up of these boring actions, as the author understands. It draws me in, the pages fly by.
Interpolation: This seems to me to be the opposite of much contemporary culture, where the ordinary is over-hyped, raved and screamed about. Here in Melbourne anyway*, the endless babble about football and cooking. The way cooking and reality TV (nearly typed TB, which would be preferable) have fused to form a new kind of super-banality, the endless blather about food and ‘celebrity chefs’. It seems that our society in its comfortable old age has reached that stage where nothing real is allowed to be discussed because it might cause a fight, it might upset our slow peaceful death, so the most safe and boring topics are brought up constantly like mental pap to be masticated in the nursing home. But god forbid we should recognise them for what they are.
Bits of the strange within the ordinary. There is a Sheep Man who inhabits a secret realm within the Dolphin Hotel. Talk of crocodiles and gorillas. Anthropomorphised animals linked to ancient Egypt.
Another writer would make these irruptions seem magical, here they are downplayed, no more extraordinary than cooking a meal or drinking a beer, both of which happen a lot in Murakami’s novels.
The Sheep Man tells the narrator (p.84): “Thisisyourworld.”
Nice idea: that there is a reality for everyone, their home, a spiritual home with physical reality, that they can get back to. Because like many sensitive, introverted people, the narrator feels out of place in this reality. Perhaps it’s a prodding. The thoughtful person believes in a true path that they need to find. Many extroverted, or should I say externally-guided people feel threatened by this, by evidence of divergence, and try to persuade thoughtful people to do the same as them. Rather than analysing their own life choices they seek to have them externally reinforced by attempting to coerce others to make the same choices. So other people in the novel criticise the narrator, his life choices.** He goes beyond even the threat of a different choice, because he questions whether any choice is meaningful, given the meaninglessness of existence.
p.113: “Some people say that’s escapism. But that’s fine by me. I live my life, you live yours. If you’re clear about what you want, then you can live any way you please. I don’t give a damn what people say. They can be reptile food for all I care. That’s how I looked at things when I was your age and I guess that’s how I look at things now. Does that mean I have arrested development? Or have I been right all these years? I’m still waiting on the answer to that one.”
Imagine if we could tell the truth to people. But there are far too many barriers to that. (To be sensitive and unable to lie to oneself, a particular kind of curse. Leading only to madness or art.) Fear of getting hurt. Gossip. Safer to keep quiet. Otherwise, develop hippo skin and join the brawl.
There is a quote on the back cover:
“Murakami is a true original and yet in many ways he is also Franz Kafka’s successor because he seems to have the intelligence to know what Kafka truly was – a comic writer”
Funny to read that, as it’s what I’ve always said, as well as about another great writer on the black humour of existence, Philip K Dick. I’ve nearly always got funny looks in return. Most people seem to think, “Oh Kafka, he’s paranoid, he’s depressing”. Yes, he is, and hilarious, and gentle, and wild, and wise. The wisdom of seeing how crazy we all are, how crazy this life is. The torment of being both ape and angel, so to speak. How very, darkly funny the absurdity of it all is.
*And from reading Will Self’s article it is in the UK too, this mind-numbing hype around food and ‘celebrity chefs’. Anyone who idolises chefs should try a stint working in a commercial kitchen, and find out what a wonderful world of sub-criminal, psychopathic apes it is.
**This is a common occurrence in the literature of the strange, of disturbance. Think about Alice, how the inhabitants of Wonderland constantly criticise and belittle her. Or the dwarves in The Hobbit. The strange interrupts the quiet and reflective reality, throws the protagonist into the adventure, shakes up his beliefs. A topic for another post.