The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Book Two, Chapters 3-13
By Dennis Abrams
Some observations and favorite things:
The meeting with Malta Kano and Noboru Wataya, “In order to make sure that I had not suddenly turned transparent, I put a hand on the table and watched it as I turned it over and back a few times.”
Wataya’s demand that, since Kumiko has run off with another man that Toru divorce her immediately. “All you’ve accomplished in six long years is to quit your job and ruin Kumiko’s life. Now you’re out of work and you have no plans for the future. There’s nothing inside that head of yours but garbage and rocks.”
“…the ability to have complete faith in another human being is one of the finest qualities a person can possess.” Lovely.
The story of shitty island. Toru threatens Wataya.
“There are no sides in this case. They simply do not exist. This is not the kind of thing that has a top and bottom, a right and left, a front and back, Mr. Okada.”
Another letter from Mamiya about his time in the well, which foreshadows Toru’s own time in the well:
“Under these special circumstances, I believe, my consciousness had attained such a viscid state of concentration that when the intense beam of light shown down for those few seconds, I was able to descend directly into a place that might be called the very core of my own consciousness. In any case, I saw the shape of something there…” There’s more, worth rereading, and a more in-depth look at Murakami’s take on core consciousness later in this post.
Creta Kano and her relationship with Toru, “Of course, we did not have relations in reality. When you ejaculated, it was not into me, physically, but in your own consciousness. Do you see? It was a fabricated consciousness. Still, the two of us share the consciousness of having had relations with each other…I used to be a prostitute of the flesh, but now I am a prostitute of the mind.”
Toru holds Creta (similar to the office worker?)
May: “Tell me, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, just how many women do you have hanging around you – aside from your wife?”
“You know, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, you’re a grown man. Why don’t you use your head a bit?”
Toru goes into the well. The half-moon.
In the dark. Memories of meeting Kumiko.
His hatred of jellyfish: “What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get into the habit of thinking, This is the world, but that’s not true at all. The real is in a much darker and deeper place than this, and most of it is occupied by jellyfish and things. We just happen to forget that.”
Kumiko’s detachment while having sex.
The darkness. Time slowing. Kumiko’s pregnancy and abortion. Her odd question, “You think I might have had an affair? Haven’t you thought about the possibility?”
Toru in Sapporo, the performer in the bar who seemed to be burning his flesh.
Toru’s “dream” that wasn’t a dream. The faceless man. Room 208. The smell of flowers. The mysterious woman. Going through the wall back to the well.
May takes away Toru’s ladder and seals him in so he can think better.
May’s second visit – will he starve to death? What’s going on with her? Jealous about the other women?
“I saw myself as the wind-up bird, flying through the summer sky, lighting on the branch of a huge tree somewhere, winding the world’s spring. If there really was no more wind-up bird, someone would have to take on its duties. Someone would have to wind the world’s spring in its place. Otherwise, the spring would run down and the delicately functioning system would grind to a halt. The only one who seemed to have noticed that the wind-up bird was gone, however, was me.”
May: “I mean…this is what I think, but…people have to think seriously about what it means for them to be alive here and now because they know they’re going to die sometime. Right? Who would think about what it means to be alive if they were just going to go on living forever? Why would they have to bother? Or even if they could bother, they’d probably just figure, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got plenty of time for that. I’ll think about it later.’ But we can’t wait till later. We’ve got to think about it right this second. I might get run over by a truck tomorrow afternoon. And you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird: you might starve to death. One morning three days from now, you could be dead in the bottom of a well. See? Nobody knows what’s going to happen. So we need death to make us evolve. That’s what I think. Death is this huge, bright thing, and the bigger and brighter it is, the more we have to drive ourselves crazy thinking about things…You’re literally facing death right now. I’m not kidding around. I told you before, it’s up to me whether you live or die.”
Toru: “Have you ever had that feeling – that you’d like to go to a whole different place and become a whole different self?” May: “You might think you made a new world or a new self, but your old self is always going to be there, just below the surface, and if something happens, it’ll stick its head out and say ‘Hi.’ You don’t seem to realize that.”
The pain of hunger. Examining his ears. The flow of time through the darkness. “Time moved backward in the dark, to be swallowed by a different kind of time.”
Saved by Creta Kano
The letter from Kumiko, her affair. She’s no longer with her lover.
“What had I ever known about Kumiko?…Could it be true that the Kumiko I had thought I understood, the Kumiko I had held close to me and joined my body with over the years as my wife – that Kumiko was nothing but the most superficial layer of the person Kumiko herself, just as the greater part of this world belongs in fact to the realm of the jelly fish? If so, what about those six years we had spent together? What had they been? What had they meant?”
The call from Malta Kano. Creta at the bottom of the well. Toru shaves, finds the physical change Malta had asked about – “a blue-black stain of some kind” on his right cheek – where it had touched the wall.
A naked Creta Kano appears in his bed, not sure how she got there or what happened to her clothes and shoes.
Her “rape” by Noboru Wataya. “In the midst of this pain and pleasure, my flesh went on splitting in two. …And when I regained consciousness, I was a different person.”
From Jay Rubin, to continue our look at Murakami and WWII:
“What does all this talk of war and imperialism have to do with an unemployed paralegal whose marriage is on the rocks? Well, nothing – except that he is Japanese. And he is looking inside himself. Murakami has always written about half-remembered things that lurk in the mind until they unexpectedly jump out and grab us. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Murakami’s most ambitious novel to that point, what leaps out at his narrator from the depths of his individual memory is Japan’s dark and violent recent past. ‘It’s all there, inside me: Pearl Harbor, Nomonhan, whatever,’ Murakami has said of himself.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle continues a debate that still rages in Japan today about the official recognition of the crimes Japan committed against the other peoples of Asia. After decades of official silence in which history textbooks hid the unpleasant facts from schoolchildren, Japan has begun to face up to its past, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle can be seen as part of that painful process. The Japanese now recognize that they were not simply victims of the atom bomb, that Japanese soldiers carried out the Rape of Nanking, and that this was but one episode in Japan’s rape of an entire content. Murakami was indirectly hinting at this truth in his very first short story, ‘A Slow Boat to China.’
Searching deep down in the least accessible areas of memory after a head injury, Boku in ‘A Slow Boat to China’ comes up with the totally inexplicable words: ‘That’s OK, brush off the dirt and you can still eat it.’ In themselves, they are meaningless, but their vary lack of logical connection to anything implies they have somehow surfaces from his unconscious.
‘With these words,’ he writes, ‘I find myself thinking about…Death…And death, for some reason, reminds me of the Chinese.’
At the end of the last episode in the story, which illustrates Boku’s ambivalence towards the Chinese, he declares: ‘I wanted to say something…I wanted to say something…about the Chinese, but what?…Even now, I still can’t think of anything to say.’ He continues in an epilogue: ‘I’ve read dozens of books on China…I’ve wanted to find out as much about China as I could. But that China is only my China. Not any China I can read about. It’s the China that sends messages just to me. It’s not the big yellow expanse on the globe, it’s another China. Another hypothesis, another supposition. In a sense, it’s a part of myself that’s been cut off by the word China.’
In the end, Boku cannot explain what it is that causes him to feel so ambivalent towards China and the Chinese, but The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is far more direct. One of the last images in the book is ‘a young moon, with a sharp curve like a Chinese sword,’ by which China has come to stand for the horrifying slaughter perpetuated by Japanese soldiers in the war.
While writing Book Three, Murakami was asked in an interview: ‘Why should your generation take responsibility for a war which ended before it was born?’ He replied:
‘Because we’re Japanese. When I read about the atrocities in China in some books, I can’t believe it. It’s so stupid and absurd and meaningless. That was the generation of my father and grandfather. I want to know what drove them to do those kinds of things, to kill or maim thousands and thousand of people. I want to understand, but I don’t’
[MY NOTE: The grandfather in Hard-boiled Wonderland?]
Beneath the curved Chinese moon, Toru finds in the water of his heart’s well the sins committed by the generation of his ‘uncle’ – or, rather, the dangerous, media-exploiting Noboru Wataya’s uncle. An elite army officer, Noboru’s uncle can be seen as the heir to Norwegian Wood’s ‘Storm Trooper,’ the roommate who stuttered every time he tried to pronounce the word ‘map.’ Noboru’s uncle believes wholly in the science of logistics, for which maps are an indispensable tool. He comes under the influence of the actual historical figure Kanji Ishiwara (1889-1949), a believer in Japan’s mission in Asia and notorious leader of the Manchurian Incident, the Japanese Army-manufactured ‘attack’ on Japanese troops that started the Pacific War. By inheriting this uncle’s seat in the National Diet, Noboru somehow inherits his legacy of imperialism. Thus it is China that lurks behind his appearance as a modern intellectual on TV, an image that gives Noboru such power over a superficial society. In ‘TV People’ the television screen was blank, filling people’s lives with a numbing nothingness; here, the threat of the invasive medium is tied to the darkest aspects of Japan’s recent history.
Boku of ‘A Slow Boat to China’ may not know what to say about that country, but in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Murakami knows exactly what he wants to say. Japan’s recent history is alive inside Toru, even though he is one of the most apolitical beings imaginable. This is hinted at in a scene in Book One, Chapter 5, when Toru’s 16-year-old neighbor, May Kasahara, asks him his name:
‘Toru Okada,’ I said.
She repeated my name to herself several times. ‘Not much of a name, is it?’
‘Maybe not,’ I said. ‘I’ve always thought it wounded kind of like some pre-war foreign minister: Toru Okada. See?’
‘That doesn’t mean anything to me. I hate history. It’s my worst subject.’
In fact, Keisuke Okada (1868-1952), Prime Minister from July 1934 to March 1936, was a key player in events leading to the ideological extremism that led to Japan’s disastrous decision to go to war. A retired admiral, Okada headed a government that promoted the worship of the mystical ‘national essence’ (kokutai) and of the Emperor, and squashed the more rational, widely accepted ‘organ theory’ of the Japanese state; nevertheless, he was still not considered right-wing enough for the renegade young officers who staged a coup on 26 February 1936. They tried to assassinate him, but killed his brother-in-law instead. Okada resigned after this incident. He never served as Foreign minister, but Toru’s vague reference to pre-war politics hints at dramatic events such as these.
The 30-year-old Toru Okada recognizes a certain indefinable bond with Japan’s pre-war government and displays some interest in the history of the war, but the shadow of history has yet to fall on the young May. She remains a virgin to the end, uninitiated into the ways of either sex or history. The young readers that Murakami has cultivated, however, may lose their historical ‘virginity’ with regard to the war as they follow him from the sunlit beach at Ipanema into Toru’s dark room.
Some commentators have criticized Murakami for fabricating fictional wartime episodes rather than using specific incidents, but this misses the point. The ‘war’ in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is not presented as a series of historical facts, but as an important part of the psychological baggage of Murakami’s generation and beyond. For most Japanese, the war exists in the same half-known realm as Rossini’s opera The Thieving Magpie, the title of which occurs on the first page of the novel and is the title of Book One. All Toru knows about the opera is its overture and the title: it is a thing half-remembered from childhood, something he has taken for granted, but never questioned or pursued.
‘What kind of opera was The Thieving Magpie? I wondered. All I knew about it was the monotonous melody of its overture and its mysterious title. We had had a recording of the overture in the house when I as a boy. It had been conducted by Toscanini. Compared with Claudio Abbado’s youthful, fluid, contemporary performance, Toscanini’s had had a blood-stirring intensity to it, like the slow strangulation of a powerful foe who has been drowned after a violent battle. But was The Thieving Magpie really the story of a magpie that had engaged in thieving? If things ever settled down, I would have to go the library and look it up in a dictionary of music. I might even buy a complete recording of the opera if it was available. Or maybe not. I might not care to know the answer to these questions by then.’
The opera features prominently in the book not because its plot provides a key to the novel but precisely because it is just out of reach, on the periphery of most people’s consciousness. Parts of the overture can be heard in TV commercials, and some readers may associate it with the violent Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange, but for Toru The Thieving Magpie will always be something he hasn’t quite understood. It is familiar, and yet its meaning eludes him. This is one instance when Murakami and his Boku are almost indistinguishable. I was with Murakami when he bought a video of La Gazza Ladra [The Thieving Magpie] in San Francisco in November 1992. He wanted to find out once and for all what it was about – long after he had written Book One of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.”
And from Matthew Strecher:
“It should be borne in mind that identity in Murakami fiction is as much a physical thing as it is an abstract concept of the mind. That is to say, while identity is constructed of one’s memories, experiences and personality traits, it also has a physical manifestation in the author’s world, endowed with a real, tangible quality. Its existence is asserted again and again in Murakami’s work, and the way he characterizes it is consistent enough that it merits some discussion here.
Identity for Murakami is always a combination of two primary elements: the conscious self – the person we know as ourselves in daily life; and the unconscious ‘other,’ a mysterious alter ego who dwells in the depths of our unconscious. These two sides of our identity ideally share the task of identity formation, but perform different roles. The conscious self, as might be expected, encounters new situations and acts upon them, providing experiences to be processed by the unconscious ‘other;’ the inner self, or ‘other,’ the processes these experiences into memories, simultaneously creating links between the various other memories that are stored in the unconscious. In simple terms, the conscious self tells the unconscious other what it sees, and the unconscious ‘other’ tells the conscious ‘self’ what that means in light of previous experiences.
The relationship between these ‘sides’ is a symbiotic one; both are necessary for the construction of a solid identity. The two are virtual opposites, yet neither can stand alone. Together, they form – and then control – what might be called the ‘core identity,’ or ‘core consciousness,’ of the individual. This ‘core’ is the source of identity, the heart and soul of the individual. May Kasahara describes it as a kind of ‘heart source’ that keeps us living. ‘Everyone’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence,’ she tells Toru. ‘And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside.’
This is the most important aspect of identity in Murakami, and lies at the heart of movement and desire of the Murakami hero. That is to say, the recurring motif in Murakami fiction is the hero’s desire to come into contact with that ‘something’ that lies at the core of his identity, to know more about it. At the same time, to come into contact with this ‘core’ engenders a certain risk, for in so doing one threatens to influence, even alter, the essential nature of the thing, leaving one in doubt as to who one really is.
Fortunately for Murakami characters, that ‘core identity’ is well protected, guarded by heavy walls within the mind. it is sometimes described by the author as a ‘black box,’ something like the flight data recorder on modern aircraft. Armored against tampering, fire, and the force of impact in a crash, the black box is designed to retain its information regardless of what is done to it. Only when it is opened does it become corrupted.
Of course, it can always be removed from the aircraft. Once this is done, the machine from which it has been removed will no longer carry any record of where it has been, or what it has done.
This may seem like an odd metaphor for human identity, but it is an appropriate one…It is what happens to Creta Kano, for instance, whose ‘defilement’ by Noboru Wataya is both physical and psychological. Reaching directly into Creta Kano’s body, Noboru splits her in two, then draws out the ‘core’ of her identity, leaving her empty and lost. We cannot fail to note here the very physical manifestation of that ‘core.’
‘Out from between the two cleanly split halves of my physical self came crawling a thing that I had never seen or touched before. How large it was I could not tell, but it was as wet and slippery as a newborn baby. I had absolutely no idea what it was. It had always been inside me, and yet it was something of which I had now knowledge. The man had drawn it out of me.’
Like other characters who suffer this fate, Creta Kano wants desperately to see for herself what this ‘something’ is — to know ti firsthand, and thus know who she really is. But no one is ever permitted to know this. Malta Kano says much the same thing, a little cryptically: we are never permitted to see ourselves directly: we must rely on the gaze of another (an ‘other’) to tell us what it looks like. ‘One cannot directly at one’s own face with one’s own eyes, for example. One has no choice but to look at one’s reflection in the mirror. Through experience, we come to believe that the image is correct, but that is all.'”
My next post: I figure we’ll take the 4th of July off, so my next post will be on Tuesday, July 8, on The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Book Two, Chapters 14-16 and Book Three, Chapters 1-8.