The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Book Two Chapters 14-16 and Book Three Chapters 1-8
By Dennis Abrams
Notes, Observations, and Favorite Things:
Creta Kano continues her story, her new self. “I had become an ordinary girl again…I needed time to get used to my new self. What kind of being was this self of mine?…My new self was able to feel pain, though not with that earlier intensity. I could feel it, but at the same time I had learned a method to escape from it. Which is to say, I was able to separate from the physical self that was feeling the pain. Do you see what I am saying? I as able to divide myself into a physical self and nonphysical self.”
Toru to Creta: “You could have been lost forever; you might have had to wander forever through genuine nothingness.”
“You and I joined our bodies together in my mind.” ‘When I heard myself actually speaking these words, I felt as if I had just hung a bold surrealistic painting on a white wall.”
Creta invites Toru to go to Crete. “Come to think of it, I have never once in my life said unambiguously to anybody, ‘I want to do this.’”
The long shadow of hatred. “When you cut the other person, you cut yourself.”
The hatred in Noboru Wataya’s heart was what split Creta in two.
Creta prophesizes that something bad will happen to Toru if he stays and doesn’t go to Crete.
A visit to May Kashara. “The only bad thing that’s happened in this house in the last ten years is that it’s so damned boring!”
Would she have let him die? Possibly.
The truth about the motorcycle accident. Her decision to go back to school.
“I don’t want to watch you going under, and I don’t want to sweat any more for you than I already have. That’s why I’ve decided to go back to a world that’s a little more normal. But if I hadn’t met you there – here, in front of this vacant house – I don’t thinks would have turned out this way. I never would have thought about going back to school. I’d still be hanging around in some not-so-normal world. So in that sense, it’s all because of you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. You’re not totally useless.”
I nodded. It was the first time in a long time anyone had said anything nice about me.
May licks Toru’s mark.
People watching. Doughnuts and coffee. The well-dressed middle-aged woman with the Virginia Slims. Do you need any money? Am I the only one who finds their off-kilter conversations very funny?
Toru follows and then beats the shit out of the musician he heard in Sapporo the night of Kumiko’s abortion. The baseball bat. The empty guitar case.
Letters from Kumiko’s family. An exchange of letters with Lieutenant Mamiya.
A visit to the real estate office to learn the price of the land where the Miyawaki house was.
“I have to have that well. Whatever happens, I have to have that well.”
Lottery tickets. The well-dressed woman “I guess I need some money now.”
The chapter “What happened in the Night?” What do you think that was about?
Toru shows for his appointment. The extraordinarily well-dressed young man, “possibly the handsomest man I had ever seen in my life.”
Was it Haydn? Bach?
The goggles. A women enters, licks his mark. “I close my eyes and separate from this flesh of mine.”
The envelope of money. New sneakers.
“One thing for sure: things had started to move.” The cat returns.
A letter from May.
Renaming the cat “mackerel”
The well-dressed woman takes Toru shopping for suits, shirts, shoes, a watch, a haircut, but tells him to go buy handkerchiefs, a wallet, a key holder and underwear on his own. I loved the scene – very…odd.
“This reminded me of several so-called art films I had seen in college. Movies like that never explained what was going on. Explanations were rejected as some kind of evil that could only destroy the films’ ‘reality.'” Could this apply to Murakami’s work as well?
The dinner. “Bring me a salad and a dinner roll, and some kind of fish with white meat. Just a few drops of dressing on the salad, and a dash of pepper. And a glass of sparking water, no ice.”
“Do you have some problem with the shape of your appendix?”
“…I want the people around me to look right, even if I have to pay for it myself.”
Nutmeg Akasaka and Cinnamon Akasaka.
The Mystery of the Hanging House – why did Murakami decide to do these kind of “injected” chapters in Book Three?
A new house has been built on the property, along with a new well with a steel ladder. Toru tries to break through the wall.
From Jay Rubin:
“When the wife strays into the dark realm of desire and begins sending her husband ambiguous cries for help from that unknown world, he is understandably confused. Afraid to follow her into that darkness, he waits for a sign to tell him what to do. He receives a letter from her asking for a divorce and containing a graphic description of her affair. This would have been more than enough evidence for most men to end the relationship, but still he hesitates to ask. He considers escaping to Europe with another woman and leaving all of his troubles behind, but in the end he decides to stand and fight.
Toru, the husband, works through his anger by directing it at someone else, beating up the folk singer he saw perform on the night of his wife’s abortion. The loss of this child, he finally realizes, signaled the beginning of the end of their marriage. But the love they shared for six years is too important to abandon. If it was meaningless, then his life at the time was meaningless, too, and perhaps his whole life has been meaningless. This he cannot accept and he vows to fight for his wife’s return.
Toru decides to purse his wife, Kumiko, to preserve the integrity of his own personality as much as the continuity of his marriage. ‘I had to get Kumiko back. With my own hands, I had to pull her back into this world. Because if I didn’t, that would be the end of me. This person, this self that I think of as ‘me’ would be lost.’
Thus, rather than doing anything so practical as hire a private detective or search the streets himself, Toru launches his quest inwards. He goes down into the earth, into a well, to brood on his past. What he finds there has implications that go far beyond his own inner world. As his young friend May Kasahara tells us (almost too directly), in choosing to fight for his wife Toru will become a kind of culture hero, fighting battles not only for himself as an individual but ‘fighting for a lot of other people’ as well. In trying to find out who he is, Toru discovers elements of his identity that have wide-ranging cultural and historical significance.
The psychologist Hayao Kawai reads Kumiko’s disappearance as an allegory for the kind of emotional barrenness that can overtake a modern marriage when one partner psychologically withdraws from the relationship; this in turn can be seen as emblematic of human relations in general, which call out for the often painful process of ‘well-digging’ on both sides.
The well thus holds out the promise of healing, which is why Toru goes to inordinate lengths to assure himself of an opportunity to spend time inside it, but the process of ‘well-digging’ is by no means pleasant. Indeed, it suggests the threat of a slow, painful, and most of all lonely death, as we saw in Norwegian wood, and as May Kasahara reminds Toru after she has pulled up his rope ladder:
‘If I just walked away from here, you’d end up dead. You could yell, but no one would hear you. No one would think you were at the bottom of a well…they’d never find your body.’
Toru spends so much time in the well in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle that many readers want to know if Murakami himself has been down one. The answer, quite simply, is no. He would be ‘too scared’ to do such a thing he told Laura Miller in an interview for the web magazine Salon, adding that he associates the well with the story of Orpheus descending to the land of death. He also became visibly excited when he told an audience at a benefit reading he did after the Kobe earthquake that he had recently read about a hunter who had survived several days trapped down a well. Many of the details of sound and light in the report matched what he had written entirely from his imagination.
The name ‘Toru’ (literally ‘to pass through’) was used in Norwegian Wood, perhaps to indicate that the protagonists was making his passage into adulthood. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, however, Toru learns to ‘pass through’ the wall separating the ordinary world from the world of the unknown. In the original, his name first appears in the katakana phonetic script, though it is later written with a Chinese character meaning ‘to receive,’ which suggests passivity. It therefore seems to imply both activity and passivity. Most of the time, Toru is a typical Murakami Boku, a first-person narrator of interest to us less for himself than for the stories he hears – the stories he ‘receives’ through his ears – from the more colorful, even bizarre characters who surround him. Toru listens to one ‘long story’ after another, and one of the major attractions of the novel is the stories themselves.
His wife’s name is also significant. The ‘kumi’ of “Kumiko’ could have overtones of neatly bundling things together, arranging things, or, from another ‘kumu,’ to draw water from a well. The connection with water and wells brings to a kind of culmination the well symbolism we have seen since Murakami’s earliest works.
If the well is the passageway to the unconscious, the water at the bottom represents the contents of the psyche. When Toru goes down into the dry well, he takes on the role of its water, becoming almost pure psyche. In the darkness, he all but loses track of his physical existence and becomes pure memory and imagination, floating in and out of consciousness, unsure of where he ends and the darkness begins. Only the wall against his back seems to provide a barrier between the physical world and that deeper darkness he seeks. But then Toru passes through the wall, and he discovers his fears concentrated in a place known as Room 208, which is reminiscent of Room 101, the repository of every person’s greatest fear, in George Orwell’s 1984. (The Orwell connection may not be accidental.)
The number 208 may also strike the reader as strangely familiar: the twin girls 208 and 209 in Pinball, 1973. In that early novel, the cute twins evoke the mystery of memory. Without any explanation, they show up in Boku’s bed one day and go back just as suddenly to their ‘original place’ in the depths of his mind.
Room 208 exists in Toru’s (or perhaps even Kumiko’s) mind and is accessible only through a dreamlike state. For Toru, Room 208 is a place of irresistible sexual allure, where the faceless telephone sex woman lies in bed, seemingly naked, waiting for him amid the suffocating fragrance of flowers; a place where his half-conscious attraction for Creta Kano blossoms into a sexual fantasy so intense it cause him to ejaculate in ‘reality,’ an adolescent throwback perhaps related to Creta’s Sixties-style hair and clothes. 9though, born in April 1954, Toru would have been only nine in 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated.) Finally, Room 208 is a place of danger where there is a threat of death involving sharp knives and it is somehow related to his brother-in-law, the evil Noboru Wataya.
Toru hesitates to confront his fears, but he is determined to wrench some kind of ‘meaning’ out of his existence. Whereas most of Murakami’s earlier characters were content to leave things unexplained and even relished their absurdity, Toru wants answers. He wants to understand another person, the woman to whom he is married – and, by extension, himself.
‘Is it possible, finally, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?…
That night, In our darkened bedroom, I lay besides Kumiko, staring at the ceiling and asking myself just how much I really knew about this woman…
I might be standing in the entrance of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known. I saw it as a big, dark room. I was standing there holding a cigarette lighter, its tiny flame showing me only the smallest part of the room.
Would I ever see the rest? Or would I grow old and die without ever really knowing her? If that was all that lay in store for me, then what was the point of this married life I was leading? What as the point of my life at all if I was spending it in bed with an unknown companion?’”
From Matthew Strecher:
“Sexuality does play a role in Toru’s life…and it has greater importance to him than he is willing to admit. The novel begins, in fact, with Toru receiving telephone calls from a woman whose voice he does not recognize, who begs him for ‘ten minutes’ of his time so that they might ‘understand one another.’ He finds it exceedingly strange that she knows so much about him – his exact age, the fact that he is out of work – and yet he has no clue as to who she might be. When she calls again later her talk is unmistakably sexual, and he prudishly hangs up on her.
Early on we suspect a connection between this woman, pleading for mutual understanding with Toru, and his self-admission that he knows nothing about his wife…
Sexuality also plays a key role in Toru’s relationship with the Kano sisters, Malta and Creta. Malta Kano, a clairvoyant brought in by Kumiko to help locate their missing cat, is assisted by her sister, Creta, whose connection with Toru is that she just happens to have been sexually assaulted by Noboru Wataya, causing some kind of ‘defilement’ that has displaced her ‘self,’ forcing her to construct a new identity for herself. This in turn leads Creta Kano to pursue a sexual relationship with Toru, in order to help reverse the damage done by Noboru. Appearing in his dreams on two separate occasions while he naps, she has sex with him, causing him to ejaculate. At the time Toru believes he has simply had erotic dreams that spilled over (literally) into the waking world, but when Creta visits him in reality she is able to describe the scenes in detail, making it clear that they really happened, but in a different realm of consciousness. ‘Of course, we did not have relations in reality. When you ejaculated, it was not in 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.’ This is possible, she explains, because she is a ‘prostitute of the mind,’ able to join her mind sexually with those of others. Later she explains that she is ‘able to divide myself into a physical self and a nonphysical self’, and thus to move some mental aspect of herself – her mind, her soul, her consciousness – to another place.
Toru learns much from this experience with Creta. He is intrigued by the fact that in their second unconscious meeting she not only wore one of Kumiko’s dresses, but even seemed to turn into Kumiko during their intercourse. This gives him the idea that the key to finding Kumiko may lie in developing the same ability that Creta uses to enter his own unconscious realm more or less at will. After hearing Mamiya’s story about a near-vision at the bottom of his well in Mongolia, and having been told that there is a dry well in the yard of a nearby house by May Kashara, Toru decides that the well is the gateway to his inner self, and this is where he goes to pursue his quest.
The dreamscape in which this part of the story takes place in a vast, labyrinthine hotel (mirroring the chaos of the unconscious), the core of which for Toru is Room 208. There, he re-encounters the seductive ‘telephone woman’ – and sometimes Creta herself – and shares the details of his quest with her. More importantly, however, he is not permitted to see her – the voice is shrouded in darkness – but can only hear her voice. Her voice, however, remains unfamiliar to him.
Clearly, this unconscious hotel is the key to solving the mystery of Kumiko’s disappearance, a fact that Toru himself comes to understand by the middle of the novel. At the same time, it is also a realm of danger, hiding unknown enemies who seek to harm Toru for reasons he cannot yet fathom. He learns this during one of his ‘visits’ when the door to Room 208 suddenly opens, and a shadowy figure enters with something that gleams like the blade of a knife. Frantically he makes his escape through the wall, but not before the ‘telephone woman’ joins herself to him in a different way:
‘I felt the woman’s tongue coming into my mouth. Warn and soft, it probed every crevice and it wound around my own tongue. The heavy smell of flower petals stroked the walls of my lungs. Down in my loins, I felt a dull need to come. Clamping my eyes closed, I fought it. A moment later, I felt a kind of intense heat on my right cheek. It was an odd sensation. I felt no pain, only the awareness that there was heat there. I couldn’t tell whether the heat was coming from the outside or boiling up inside me.’
What has happened here may be as unclear to us as it is to Toru initially, but after emerging from several days in the well he returns home and shaves off his beard, upon which he discovers a dark purple mark on his right cheek, ‘about the size of an infant’s palm.’ He, of course, has no idea what the mark signifies, but cannot help noticing as time goes on that it is warm, and seems to be alive. ‘Perhaps the mark was a brand that had been impressed on me by that strange dream or illusion or whatever it was,’ he tells himself. ‘That was no dream, they were telling me through the mark: ‘It really happened. And every time you look in the mirror now, you will be forced to remember.’
But there is much more to the mark than just this. It signifies yet another kind of joining, through which the ‘telephone woman’ has placed something inside of him. The mark is a new, embryonic consciousness, one that will live and grow in his cheek until it is ‘born,’ coincident with the completion of his quest…”
My next post: Friday, July 11, Our next reading: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Book Three, Chapters 9-23.