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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28 Jan '05 07:05:42 AM

There is an unusual chapter in Murakami's new novel, Kafka on the Shore, which it's hard not to take as an uncharacteristic intrusion of authorial comment. Kafka Tamura is living in a library (which most reviews have made too much of, as usual, playing it up for its supposed weirdness or wackiness: he sleeps in a guest room in which it is quite normal to stay, and what's more, he has the permission of the staff), nominally as the assistant to one of the employees, Oshima. It's a small, out of the way, memorial library, a former family library opened to the public. In this chapter two reactionary feminist graduate students, or something like that, come to collect data on the library's contribution to institutionalized sexism. They don't approve of the library's shared restroom facilities, and while they approve of the fact that, for some sort of legacy reason, the library's holdings are separated by sex, they disapprove of the fact that in every category the male authors are listed before the female ones. In other words, they're set up to be skewered, which Oshima then proceeds to do. As authorial creations they're not even given the advantage of being especially savvy about gender transgression; for what seem mostly like dramatic-narrative purposes they get to be the chumps who accuse Oshima of being 'a totally pathetic, historical example of the phallocentric' - 'a typical sexist, patriarchic male' so that he can show them up with his big revelation, one which I think would not have been able to bring more charitably portrayed contemporary feminists to a dumbfounded halt.

Apart from the purely functional role the encounter plays in advancing the story by revealing this new facet of Oshima's character to Kafka (and it feels even more functional than usual, somehow - the surveyor feminists less like the characters passing through some other chapters, and more like ones deliberately placed here), Murkami does in the end use the chapter to put a thematically resonant point into Oshima's mouth, the one about the danger presented by a lack of imagination. But anything interesting about it has to do with the recurrence of that same theme (like earlier when Kafka reads the book about Eichmann at the cabin, and finds the Yeats quote - 'in dreams begin responsibilities' - that Oshima wrote in the back of the book), or with the connection Oshima makes to the story of the death of library director Miss Saeki's boyfriend (mistakenly, stupidly, at the hands of reactionary student protesters in the sixties, in another formulation of Murakami's consistently-returning memory of his own student days). Murakami doesn't really derive any emotional intensity from recasting the alternative of an open or closed reaction to the world (or to the unknown, or to difference) in terms of the way it affects Oshima personally. The satire is too flat, and too out of place - which makes it read to me like a comment on some reaction Murkami's gotten somewhere.

As an observation, this (what I just wrote) is overwritten.

27 Jan '05 06:11:48 AM

I check Government Names every day. Here's a good profile of two of its writers.

26 Jan '05 04:46:38 PM

A maxim I wish I were able to live by: try it and see.

22 Jan '05 10:08:23 AM

Today I stayed in bed and tried to sing along with Bob Dylan. Just about every phrase he sings has some minor inflection to it that I never notice when trying to imitate him. The sense always becomes less direct.

22 Jan '05 10:01:56 AM

But still. No.

22 Jan '05 10:01:45 AM

There is one scene where one is sold.

22 Jan '05 10:01:22 AM

See, I thought Les Parapluies de Cherbourg would have, like, people dancing. With umbrellas. But no.

19 Jan '05 06:28:26 AM

'Oh yes, the sentence,' Creeley once told the critic Burton Hatlen, 'that's what we call it when we put someone in jail.'

18 Jan '05 07:32:56 AM

'You don't even live once.'