josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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10 Jan '05 11:45:11 AM

I am taken enough by Haruki Murakami's books that I ought to be able to say something about them, but I've thought about them so little that I'm not sure that's possible.

When I was younger and read almost nothing that is conventionally considered literature I read at an astonishing pace; Murakami is more or less the only thing I now read that is still suited to that pace. It's more than obvious that his narrator character is more or less the same in every book; I don't know if it's that the fine details of the 'less' are what captivate me, or narcissistic identification with the 'more', or if I just don't care. I find myself hoping for more scenes with eating and drinking and sitting in bars and on reading them I wish my life were more the sort that meant I would be doing that, especially drinking, by myself, or when meeting someone, late at night in mostly empty joints ('joints') or in the middle of the day; I don't really see that there's anything keeping me from doing this, though - I just don't. I always used to sort of gloss over the sex in any of Murakami's books; at the time it was because I saw it as little more than arbitrary that they be included and used as a means of establishing certain relationships and interactions between the characters, as opposed to some other sort of action - but since in the past six months I've had the most intense sexual relationship I've ever had, I suddenly find myself more sympathetic to Murakami's aims. Sometimes when I think about the books I'd like to write I start to wonder if the only thing driving me to write them (understanding that word in its least driving sense) is the urge to have mentioned songs and people playing them, not necessarily with any great significance attached, like the Ellington song in South of the Border, West of the Sun, to pick a middle of the scale example, but just to have the people put a record on. The earlier books with lines in the blurbs, and thus in every review written about them, about hard-boiled thrillers, frequently make me worried that I am missing something that I need to go read Marlowe and Chandler for when I read a page and think, well that's kind of awkward. I don't especially think I'm learning anything interesting about Japan or Japanese culture when I read Murakami, and seeing other people talking as if it's otherwise for them gives me that deeply ingrained reaction where I want to dissociate myself from them and possibly even hide or suppress my own love for Murakami; this is not the only case in which I have this reaction. I think part of what makes Murakami's narratives moves so quickly is that they are written from the point of view of someone who lets things happen rather than making them happen. I wonder whether his affinity for detective stories has anything to do with the fact that often detectives have nothing to do but sit around and wait, possibly drink coffee or whiskey, have a bite to eat. There's enough of a pattern established now, especially over the past four or five years, for me to say that I tend to take out a Murakami novel and reread it (or maybe get a new one if that's possible) when I'm feeling depressed; it used to be that I would take one out when I was depressed in that particular way where I felt stuck and couldn't get anything done, and I could read an entire novel of Murakami's so quickly that the feeling of accomplishment, if that's it, would sustain me enough to get unstuck - but that's not true any more. At the moment I would be happy to be as effective as a Murakami narrator; even when their methodical resoluteness isn't emphasized as in Dance Dance Dance, they have a way of bringing themselves up, or getting themselves back in motion, by just doing what one does. Some critics found that Murakami couldn't keep his story going all through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that it was too much for him to resolve; that never really bothered me or occurred to me, which makes me wonder whether one really needs to think of a story as a thing that will convey anyone at all through to the end of a book, regardless of their interest or attraction to the writing otherwise. Murakami's not-quite-repetition makes me wish sometimes that I could just have one book that combined the right aspects of his other books in the appropriate ways, which puzzles me a little because the pattern he has established now bears some strong similarity to the pattern some of my favorite musicians established by making strings of same-but-different records that I am happier to have in their entirety without wishing for anything else but more records. I never worry about translation when I'm reading Murakami unless I've recently read a review where they mention it; when I'm reading anything else I can be so preoccupied with translation, since I read so many things not originally in English, that I even start mistakenly wondering about things that were originally in English. I would like to give copies of Norwegian Wood to people but I am not yet determined enough in my understanding of it, and especially don't want people to mistake me because the story involves a suicide. It's probably quite true that part of Murakami's appeal for me lies in narcissistic identification with the narrator, but the flaws in the narrator (and thus in me) that that narcissism blinds me to seem to me to be the kind only shallowly dismissable from the outside; if this means that someday I will change and give up on Murakami, I'm fine with that.

Well, a few things, then. A good start.

10 Jan '05 10:50:02 AM

It may just be that I have been setting my sights too high at paragraphs rather than words.

7 Jan '05 10:53:47 AM

I'm about eighty pages into Walden and I haven't seen much mention of sex yet. I reckon Thoreau would or will have something appropriately stoic and ascetic to say about it, whether it ends up being that he affirms it or denies it for some reason. I'm just curious because the passages in 'Economy' on clothing knocked me over, but not without my thinking back to all the slutty girls I saw out salsa dancing (or not) on Saturday night. Or did mating rituals only recently develop a place for fashion?

7 Jan '05 10:43:19 AM

Among the stacks of books I needlessly buy (even those of us on the edges of commercialized life find ways to try to become by consuming), a lot of journals and diaries of famous dead people have slipped in in the past couple of years. I'm not totally sure why. High aspirations, I suppose. The hope that seeing the insides would give me an angle, a word of hope. But there's something nice in Brecht's journal from 1936 or so: a note that he stole the paper for his journal from work.

7 Jan '05 10:39:17 AM

What I mean to suggest, though, is that if that performative impulse never disappeared, it's not so clear what the last fifteen years of their records (!) are supposed to mean.

7 Jan '05 10:37:31 AM

The familiar story that holds that Sonic Youth followed fashion from album to album (somehow) always seems to ignore the performance art deadpan that their earlier records had. Did they stop taking that stance, or did it start showing up in different ways? Or, to put it another way, when did Sonic Youth start being sincere (or not)? Or stop? I think the trend-hopper line is meant to imply - I don't know what the difference would come to - either that they started trying to be sincere, trying to play along in their limited way ('now we're a grunge band! we're angry and full of hostile emotions! now we're hippies! all the world is aflower!'), and thus betraying their earlier kill-all-whatever, which was of course more punk and thus better; or that they stopped trying to be sincere, freeing them up to be able to pretend to all kinds of expressive alternatives closed off to their hazier, limited means of being true, holding fast. You know. Something like that.

6 Jan '05 12:12:00 PM

we / should / kill / time

6 Jan '05 11:59:54 AM

'As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.'

6 Jan '05 11:58:16 AM

'To be bought and sold in this way, time had to be neutralized. Customary ways of spending days had to be deprived of significance so that one day was much like another, and time could thus be spent in one activity as well as another. Days, hours, and minutes become interchangeable like standard parts. It was helpful that in countries that were about to become industrial, Protestantism refused to recognize the saints, thus taking away the 100 days assigned to their celebration. Before this, one could not work on such days. Essentially, as the French Revolution made clear, the process was one of secularizing the calendar. When the year has its religious and other celebrations, certain activities are to be done at certain times and in a certain order. They take up time, but no matter how much they take, they must be done. And they are not interchangeable. At a given time one goes to market or to church, to work, to bed, to festivities, to the tavern or back home. One cannot work at a time for feasting or dancing, for church or the siesta. Something remains of this time in the notion of excusable absence from work - if a close member of the family dies, if a new one is born, or perhaps if one gets married - but the time allowed is cut to the bone, leaving nothing like the fat festivities that once were the rule on such occasions. The payment nowadays of time and a half for overtime or double time on Sunday indicates that one is dealing with a kind of time that bears the imprint of an earlier day. In European languages generally one still does not speak of "spending" time but of "passing" it, a usage reminiscent, too, of an earlier epoch.

With time well secularized, the possibilities of choice seem to increase. One has a whole 24 hours a day and can fill them as one pleases. The lone obligation is to give the first and best part of the day to work. After that - freedom. In this way free time came to be called what it is. The calendar has been secularized, however, but not really neutralized. By and large, work takes first place in time, while other activities partake of work's time characteristics. In olden days what one had was "spare" time, not free time, time unexpectedly left over, as might happen if one got help from a neighbor or found working materials unusually pliable, or if things just went right. If this happened one could properly engage in a pastime, perhaps play cards. But unless circumstances were particularly difficult - a storm having wrecked part of the house or the like - one was not supposed to work in this time, was not to engage in what we would call productive activities. In rural parts of the world today, in Burma, for example, one can see the pattern. After a man's tasks for the day are finished, he is not supposed to be busy. He goes to sit and smoke, gossip and drink "rough tea," or he visits. In Greek villages they say about work done after dark, "The day takes a look at it and laughs."

In the cities of the industrial world, once his debt to work is paid, a man is said to be off duty. He can fill his time as he chooses. He has a decision to make, though: which alternatives to choose for each hour or half or quarter thereof: play, work, chores, moonlighting?

He does have some rules as to how that time should be spent. A man should first of all spend it on things that give visible evidence of doing something. In some parts of the world, sitting or standing still, whether thinking or not, is considered an activity. In the United States it is not. Secondly he should do things to better himself. "To better" usually means to do something that will improve his own or his property's position, appearance, or money-making qualities. One should keep one's house in good condition (keep up the property) and should also try to increase its value by improvements. One should not just read (an activity still somewhat suspect because the only moving organs involved are the eyes) but should shun trash for books that are instructive, informative, useful. In short, a man off work should (1) do something and (2) do something productive. An American could not have written the lines that follow, because only to him or to the egocentric species to which he belongs could time be so busy and dear.

Don't waste precious time
Now, tagging along with me . . .
Little butterfly.

The Haiku is one of Issa's (1763-1827)'