The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Book Three, Chapters 9-23
By Dennis Abrams
Some notes and observations:
Nutmeg’s escape, the slaughter of the animals at the Hsin-ching zoo before the arrival of Russian troops. “All they could do was pray that their deaths would not be too painful. None of them wanted to be crushed under the treads of a slow-moving tank or roasted in a trench by flamethrowers or die by degrees with a bullet in the stomach. Better to be shot in the head of the heart. But first they had to kill these zoo animals.”
The young soldier hears the call of the wind-up bird. What does it mean? Symbolize?
Nutmeg’s difficulty in telling stories.
Toro’s desire to save Kumiko and The Magic Flute. Nutmeg: “In the opera, the prince and the birdcatcher are led to the castle by three children riding on a cloud. But what’s really happening is a battle between the land of day and the land of night. The land of night is trying to recapture the princess from the land of day. Midway through the opera, the heroes can’t tell any longer which side is right – who is being held captive and who is not. Of course, at the end, the prince gets the princess, Papageno gets Papagena, and the villains fall into hell…Anyhow at this point you don’t have a birdcatcher or a magic flute or bells.” “But I do have a well,” I said.
“Maybe the world was like a revolving door, it occurred to him as his consciousness was fading away. And which section you ended up in was just a matter of where your foot happened to fall. There were tigers in one section, but no tigers in another. Maybe it was as simple as that. And it was precisely because of this lack of logical continuity that choices really didn’t mean very much.”
“The phantom empire of Manchukuo was disappearing into history. And caught unawares in the wrong section of the revolving door, the veterinarian with the mark on his cheek would share the fate of Manchukuo.”
Another letter from May, life in the wig factory. Poor May.
Cinnamon and the “other” in his bed, no more speech.
The newspaper continues its investigations: M’s Secret Cure
The appearance of Ushikawa: “He was, without question, one of the ugliest human beings I had ever encountered. And not just physically ugly: there was a certain clammy weirdness about him that I could not put into words – the sort of feeling you get when your hand brushes against some big, strange bug in the darkness. He looked less like an actual human being than like something from a long-forgotten nightmare.”
Uchikawa’s threats: “There are things in this world it is better not to know about. Of course, those are the very things that people most want to know about.”
Cinnamon and Nutmeg. Cinnamon’s natural cleanliness.
Toru in the well: “I could feel a certain warmth in the mark of my check. It told me that I was drawing a little closer to the core of tings…Eventually…silence descended and began to burrow its way into the folds of my brain, one after another, like an insect laying eggs. I opened my eyes, then closed them again. The darkness inside and out began to blend, and I began to move outside of my self, the container that held me. As always.”
Another letter from May: “I have absolutely no idea where I’m going from here. For me, this could be the end of the line…Can I be honest with you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird? I mean, really, really, really honest? Sometimes I get sooo scared! I’ll wake up in the middle of the night all alone, hundreds of miles away from anybody, and it’s pitch dark, and I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen to me in the future, and I get so scared I want to scream. Does that happen to you Mr. Wind-Up Bird? [MY NOTE: Again, the dark – and contrasted with Toru’s desire for the pitch-dark well.] When it happens, I try to remind myself that I am connected to others – other things and other people…On the list, of course, is you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. And the alley, and the well, and the persimmon tree, and that kind of thing.”
Another visit from Ushikawa – what is he up to? “You’re going to burn out sooner or later. Everybody does. It’s the way people are made. In terms of evolutionary history, it was only yesterday that men learned to walk around on two legs and get in trouble thinking complicated thoughts. So don’t worry, you’ll burn out. Especially in the world that you’re trying to deal with: everybody burns out. There are too many tricky things going on it, too many ways of getting into trouble. It’s a world made of tricky things.”
Ushikawa’s offer — Noboru Wataya wants to buy the house and property.
The fitting room. Nutmeg as “healer” her exhaustion, she finds her successor “the moment she saw the mark on the cheek of the young man who was sitting in front of a building in Shinjuku, she knew.”
Another letter from May: I LOVED this:
“Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I supposed there are few exception), they think that the world or life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent. Talking with my neighbors here often makes me think like that. Like, when something happens, whether it’s a big event that affects the whole society or something small and personal, people talk about it like ‘Oh, well, of course, that happened because such and such,’ and most of the time people will agree and say, like ‘Oh, sure, I see,’ but I just don’t get it. ‘A is like this, so that’s why B happened.’ I mean, that doesn’t explain anything. It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it’s only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that’s just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin. I suppose I’d be shocked, of course, but I don’t know, I think I’d be kind of relieved too. Or at least I think I wouldn’t be so upset, because that would feel, in some ways, a whole lot more real.”
May’s line of disconnected things. “Every time the bell rings and I take off the cover, I seem to find something I’ve never seen before.”
“Sometimes I think that the reason I’m sitting here making like wigs like this every day is because I kissed your mark that time. It’s because I did that that I made up my mind to leave that place, to get as far away as I could from you.” Kumiko and May had to leave to get away from Toru?
Ushikawa arranged for Toru to talk online with Kumiko (in what was obviously something new when the book was written).
Cinnamon’s computer system. His passwords: ZOO and SUB
Nutmeg’s story. Her success as a designer, her husband, his brutal murder – drained of blood, heart, stomach, liver and both kidneys and pancreas missing, head “severed from the torso and set on the lid of the toilet, facing outward, the face chopped to mincemeat” Why?
Nutmeg finds her calling.
Toru and Kumiko chat: jellyfish and metamorphoses. “’Going bad’ is something that just happens over a longer period of time. It was something decided in advance, without me, in a pitch-dark room somewhere, by someone else’s hand…I want you to think about me this way if you can: that I am slowly dying of an incurable disease – one that causes my face and body gradually to disintegrate. This is just a metaphor, of course. My face and body are not actually disintegrating. But this is something very close to the truth…”
Toru refuses to give up and forget everything: “I can accept the fact that one Kumiko is trying hard to get away from me, and she probably has her reasons for doing so. But there is another Kumiko, who is trying just as hard to get close to me. That is what I truly believe. No matter what you say here, I have to believe in the Kumiko who wants my help and is trying to get close to me…I can never just forget about you, I can never push the years we spent together out of my mind. I just can’t do it because they really happened, they are a part of my life, and there is no way I can just erase them. That would be the same as erasing my own self…I know this. I know that I want to find my way to where you are – you, the Kumiko who wants me to rescue her. What I do not know yet, unfortunately, is how to get there and what it is that’s waiting for me there. In this whole long time since you left, I’ve lived with a feeling as if I’d been thrown into absolute darkness. Slowly but surely, though, I am getting closer to the core, to that place where the core of things is located….”
It’s got to be in that hotel room, right?
Toru reads about Manchukuo and the Wataya family’s history. And then this extraordinary paragraph:
“I put the book away and, folding my arms behind my head, stared out the window in the vague direction of the front gate. Soon the gate would open inward and the Mercedes-Benz would appear, with Cinnamon at the wheel. He would be bringing another ‘client.’ These ‘clients’ and I were joined by the mark on my cheek. Cinnamon’s grandfather (Nutmeg’s father) and I were also joined by the mark on my cheek. Cinnamon’s grandfather and Lieutenant Mamiya were joined by the city of Hsin-ching. Lieutenant Mamiya and the clairvoyant Mr. Honda were joined by their special duties on the Manchurian-Mongolian border, and Kumiko and I had been introduced to Mr. Honda by Noboru Wataya’s family. Lieutenant Mamiya were joined by our experiences in our respective wells – his in Mongolia, mine on the property where I was sitting now. Also on this property had once lived an army officer who had commanded troops in China. All of these were linked as in a circle, at the center of which stood prewar Manchuria, continental East Asia, and the short war of 1939 in Nomonhan. But why Kumiko and I should have been drawn into this historical chain of cause and effect I could not comprehend. All of these events had occurred long before Kumiko and I were born.”
And that, I think, might be the question. Why? Is it just that they are the inheritors of that past, the post-war generation?
From Matthew Strecher:
The “Other” Strikes Back: Who is Noboru Wataya?
If Noboru Wataya really is Toru’s ‘other’ self, as I have suggested, however, then his antagonistic nature makes him something of an anomaly. Whereas in other Murakami fiction the unconscious ‘other’ has always been a benign existence whose aim is to help the conscious protagonist discover himself, in this novel the ‘other’ is fiercely hostile to Toru. The reason for this is not difficult to discern, however: whereas ‘self’ and ‘other’ maintain a healthy, symbiotic relationship when living in their respective worlds, here the ‘other’ has broken out of the unconscious realm, and seeks to coexist with Toru in ‘this’ world. Since by its nature the two aspects of the Self cannot live together in the same place, Noboru’s emergence into Toru’s conscious world can only bring trouble. No one makes this clearer than Creta Kano:
‘Noboru Wataya is a person who belongs to a world that is the exact opposite of yours,’ said Creta Kano. Then she seemed to be searching for the words she needed to continue. ‘In a world where you are losing everything, Mr. Okada, Noboru Wataya is gaining everything. In a world where you are rejected, he is accepted. And the opposite is just as true. Which is why he hates you so intensely.’
Toru seems to understand this much himself, particularly in his inability simply to ignore Noboru’s existence. ‘I can distinguish between myself and another as beings of two different realms,’ he notes early in the book. ‘When someone gets on my nerves, the first thing I do is transfer the object of my unpleasant feelings to another domain, one having no connection with me.’ But with Noboru this is not possible. ‘I was simply unable to shove Noboru Wataya into a domain having no connection with me.’ Why should this be, if not for the fact that Noboru is a part of him, and he can never entirely ignore or run away from himself?
As Creta Kano says, Noboru is the opposite of himself, existing in a ‘different world.’ This opposition is manifested in their behavior throughout the novel; whereas Toru is a mild, passive, unobtrusive figure, Noboru is violent, dominant, and ambitious. Yet there is crossover, or rather, there are points when this dark, violent side overcomes him, just as Kumiko’s dark, sexual side gradually takes hold of her. We see Toru lose control of himself in the scene when he beats the guitar player with his own baseball bat.
‘My mind was telling me to stop. This was enough. Any more would be too much. The man could no longer get on his feet. But I couldn’t stop. There were two of me now, I realized. I had split in two, but this me had lost the power to stop the other me.’
This enraged Toru is, one supposes, a manifestation of Noboru, who gains strength in the darkness and takes control of Toru’s actions in the real world. We might note in passing that Toru’s description above is almost identical to ‘Ushikawa’s’ monologue about beating his wife and children, hinting at the connection between them:
‘I’d try to stop myself, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t control myself. After a certain point I would tell myself that I had done enough damage, that I had to stop, but I didn’t know how to stop.’
The object of ‘Ushikawa’s’ beating vis a vis the object of Toru’s is not important here; what matters is the expression of uncontrollable violence, for as Toru listens to ‘Ushikawa,’ he really confronts himself.
Image and Artifice
If Noboru Wataya is indeed an ‘image’ character, then his emergence as a politician and television commentator are particularly appropriate for this role. Interestingly, his artificiality is obvious to Toru even when meeting Noboru face-to-face:
“[L]ooking at his face was like looking at a television image. He talked the way people on television talked, and he moved the way people on television moved. There was always a layer of glass between us. I was on this side, and he was on that side.’
Noboru’s ideas, according to Toru, are equally phony, though they take in the vast majority of the people. ‘[I]f you paid close attention to what he was saying or what he had written, you knew that his words lacked consistency. They reflected no single worldview based on profound conviction. For Toru, who detests artifice so profoundly that he feels uncomfortable even putting on a suit for his meeting with Malta Kano, such chicanery is intolerable, and for this reason as much as any other his attitude toward Noboru has a touch of extremism in it, as he tells Ushikawa, ‘I don’t simply dislike him: I cannot accept the fact of his very existence.’
Violence and Sexuality
The oppositional relationship between Noboru Wataya and Toru Okada is, as I suggested earlier, observable most of all in their respective approaches to sexuality. If indeed the two men represent diametric oppositions – dominance vs. passivity, ambition vs. modesty, artifice vs. sincerity – then this is demonstrated in their practice of sexuality as well, a fact that is particularly critical in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, in which sexuality is the means both to destroying, and also to restoring, the ‘core consciousness.’ The negative effects of sexual violence are visible in Noboru’s attempt to take control of Creta Kano, resulting in the loss of her identity, and something similar presumably happened to Kumiko’s elder sister, causing her to commit suicide. A rampant, dominating sexuality is also at the root of Kumiko’s disappearance, as we have seen. At the center of each of these incidents stands Noboru Wataya, whose sexual energy expresses itself in destructive ways.
An entirely different aspect of sexuality is seen, however, in the work that Toru performs at the ‘clinic’ operated by Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka. As the healer of internally unbalanced women, Toru’s role is to help a very elite clientele to restore something that is missing from their inner selves. And yet, though I call this ‘work,’ his role is wholly a passive one, that of a medium through which the women establish contact with the ‘shared consciousness’ in which so much of this novel is played out. Toru’s ability to serve as medium is grounded in the mark on his cheek, literally a sign on his face that he has access to that place, and carries a tiny conduit to it. His work is also aided by his growing skill at dividing his mind from his body, much as Creta Kano does. Through him, as a result, psychic energy flows between the two worlds, a mysterious source of healing for those in whom that flow has been disrupted. One might say that by establishing direct contact with that flow of psychic energy, his patients are able to restart the flow within themselves.
The process sounds simple enough: Toru sits in a darkened room, his eyes covered with dark goggles, and he allows his mind to empty until he has reached a state of existence between the conscious and unconscious worlds. While he sits in this state of repose, the clients touch and manipulate the mark on his cheek, establishing direct contact with the ‘other world’ of the shared unconscious. What they find there is impossible to say with certainty, but we sense that they touch, fleetingly, that mysterious ‘heat source’ that lies at the center of their existence as individuals, and find temporary peace.
But the operation is also unquestionably sexual. While Toru sits utterly still and passive, the women essentially make love to the mark on his cheek, causing him to climax.
‘She then stood up, came around behind me, and instead of her fingertips, used her tongue…she licked my mark…With varying pressure, changing angles, and different movement [her tongue] tasted and sucked and stimulated my mark. I felt a hot, moist throbbing below the waist. I didn’t want to have an erection. To do so would have been all too meaningless. But I couldn’t stop myself.’
But this is by no means a ‘meaningless’ joining, for in his passive role as sexual stimulus/unconscious conduit, Toru mirrors in reverse the violent, penetrating assaults of Noboru, whose violent sexuality has the effect of destroying the flow between the conscious and unconscious, closing off the necessary movement between inner and outer selves, and thus, in figurative terms, shattering the fertile relationship between the two worlds in which identity and individual selfhood develop.
This helps us to understand better the nature of Toru’s sexual relations with Creta Kano, as well. We note, for example, that in both of their sexual encounters Toru takes the less aggressive role: Creta fellates him in the first instance, while in the second he lies on his back as she mounts him, foreshadowing his task as a healer. The result is that the two of them share some metaphysical aspect of their inner selves with one another. They literally bring their inner ‘cores’ into contact with one another, establishing a flow of energy that allows them to communicate in a mystical way. ‘It felt as if something inside her, something special inside her, were slowly working its way through my organ into me,’ says Toru. At the same time, something of Toru’s – a part of his ‘core,’ perhaps – works its way into Creta Kano, helping her to rid herself of the sense of defilement left behind by Noboru.
The same thing, on a slightly more chaste level, occurs between Toru and May Kasahara: a ‘flow’ is established between them that allows their core identities, however fleetingly, to come into contact with each other. As Toru rests in the sunshine with her shortly after the appearance of the mark on his cheek, his eyes closed, May Kasahara begins to kiss the mark on his cheek, just as Nutmeg’s customers will later do. At the same time, she places his hand on a nearly-healed cut over her eye, received in her recent motorcycle accident. While she applies her tongue to his mark, Toru strokes the wound on her face, and as he does so, ‘the waves of her consciousness pulled through my fingertips and into me – a delicate resonance of longing.’
Surely, this is the point of the entire book, the one act that can save the world, this contact between the core identities on the individual level. May Kasahara certainly sense it. Her greatest desire, aside from understanding more about the core that lurks within her, is to share her awareness of its existence with someone else. ‘What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person,’ she tells Toru immediately before the scene described above. ‘But I can’t seem to do it. They just don’t get it. Of course, the problem would be that I’m not explaining it very well…’
The real problem, of course, is that she tries to convey in words what can only be experienced through the senses. How can one explain what can only be felt through the pulsing flow of pure energy?”
(Of course, as we saw above, it was, at least in part, this “contact between core identities” that cause May to flee, first back to school, and then to the wig factory.)
OK – where do you think this is all going end? Thoughts on the book so far? Are you enjoying it? Questions?
My next post: Tuesday, July 22, on the rest of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.