“What’s the point of its being a world that isn’t here?”

Chapters 17-24
By Dennis Abrams

cover 1Q84 2

So…who’s still with us?

Let’s start, again, with Aomame:

The next morning – Aomame sees two moons. One moon she remembers, but two? And why hasn’t more been altered because of the two moons? (And which moon will be the home of the new moon base?)

Two days later, she meets with the Dowager at Willow House. They have a deep philosophical conversation, talking about how perceptions change over time; about good and evil. We learn that the Dowager had a daughter who, much like Tamaki, killed herself to escape an abusive relationship – it was this that inspired the Dowager to open her safe house for abused women.

The Dowager also tells Aomame that she has another job coming up, one that will be much more difficult than those previous. It concerns a ten-year-old girl named Tsubasa, whose uterus has been destroyed. The girl blames it on…The Little People.

Aomame asks Tsubasa about the Little People, but Tsubasa remains silent. The Dowager tells Aomame that Tsubasa is the victim of repeated raping, rapes allowed and encouraged by Tsubasa’s parents. One man, part of the cult Sakigake is responsible – he is also very powerful and influential.

The Dowager speaks of the psychological damage Tsubasa has sustained (similar to the damage Aomame sustained in her own childhood as a member of the Witnesses), and tells Aomame of her plans to adopt the child as her own. According to the Dowager, the cult is seeking paranormal phenomenon to cure illnesses, although she suspects it is a ruse. It is The Leader who raped Tsubasa, and who is continuing to rape girls. But before Aomame can act, she and the Dowager need to learn more about the Leader as well as the Little People.

And speaking of the Little People – as Tsubasa sleeps that night, Little People emerge from her moth, and begin working on what seems to be a fluffy white ball of thread (the air chrysalis?). The Little People are able to adjust their height and size as the ball gets larger, they all wear the same clothing, they do not speak, and work for only a few hours.

Aomame returns to the library to continue her research about the Yamanashi fight between the Sakigake, the police, and the Self Defense Force. She asks Ayumi about the Sakigake group and reveals why she needs the information.

Ayumi learns that the elite members of the Sakigake are heavily invested in land and real estate. Children from the commune follow a pattern of becoming emotionless around the time they’re in first grade in school, before dropping out altogether.

Aomame and Ayumi continue to sleep around. Ayumi learns that Sakigake is a popular religious cult, but the police are keeping an eye on them. A large group of former member have come out in opposition to Sakigake, calling the commune dangerous and fraudulent.

We learn that Ayumi has suffered sexual abuse herself from her uncle and brother, and feels unable to live a normal life because of it. Aomame confesses that she is afraid of herself and what she is doing or might end up doing.

And finally, Tamaru reports that Tsubasa seems to be doing well, but…the German Shepherd who guarded the house was found dead, in pieces as if she had exploded.

And now…Tengo.

Fuka-Eri’s press conference goes very well, pleasing Komatsu to no end (he also notices that she a certain strangeness about her). The literary magazine that contained her story sold out the first day. She is an overnight sensation, just as Komatsu predicted. And with that, regardless of whether or not her story wins the big national prize, Komatsu plans to milk the publicity for all its worth.

Days before the publication of the story in book form, Tengo meets with Fuka-Eri and the Professor at the Shinjuku café, where the Professor thanks Tengo for rewriting the story. He also talks to Tengo about his fears that Fuka-Eri will be forced back to the commune, and of his plans to use the media spotlight to find answers about her parents and to get them away from the commune, where he thinks they are being held against their will. Oh, and the Professor also wants to lure out the Little People.

Not wanting to return home or go the apartment she has in the city, she asks Tengo if she can she spend the night with him, telling him that the two are now “one” because they wrote a story together. Tengo reluctantly agrees, telling her that he will sleep on the couch.

While she sleeps, Tengo sets to work on his own novel, using a pen and paper in the kitchen. He hasn’t written at night in years, and discovers is happy to see that his writing is smooth and his imagination is free. At two in the morning, Fuka-Eri wakes up and joins him at the kitchen table, wearing his pajamas. She recites part of the “Tale of the Heike” to him and they discuss history and writing. Tengo reads to her a story by Chekhov about the Gilyak people, and she falls asleep.

The next morning, she is gone before he wakes up. He thinks about the pajamas she wore with great fondness, and smells them, wondering if he has feelings for the girl, but decides that he does not.

Tengo contemplates the human brain, time, space, and possibility. He questions how time flows and how matter exists. It is possible, he thinks to himself, that his own mind created the image of his mother and another man that has haunted him all his life.

Two weeks later, “Air Chrysalis” make the bestseller list, and Tengo’s life has seemingly gone back to normal. He writes, teaches, has sex with his “girlfriend” – he feels more relaxed, and feels he has become a more practical person. But then…Komatsu calls with bad news – Fuka-Eri has been missing for three days. Komatsu has told the Professor to hold of filing a missing report for at least a few more days.

Tengo wonders whether the Sakigake (or maybe the Little People) had something to do with her appearance. He tries calling the Professor but there is no answer. Six weeks later, Fuka-Eri gets in touch with Tengo.

Tengo finds a brown package with a tape inside it. It contains a recorded message from Fuka-Eri who tells him that she is safely hidden away, and that the Little People will not harm him if he gives them something they don’t have. She adds that she doesn’t want to write anymore, and that the Little People are unhappy that they are in print.

Komatsu calls to let Tengo know that the police have begun a formal search, and that he should prepare and protect himself in the coming storm. They both believe that the Professor is now controlling the situation for his own purposes.

Tengo’s girlfriend tells him about one of her dreams: there’s an abandoned cottage in the forest, as though some monster has come upon it and chased everyone out. They talk about what it means to be insane or a lunatic. Tengo wonders how it is possible to separate the two.

Some highlights and thoughts:

Love the two moons: “There must be something wrong with my mind, Aomame thought. There has always been only one moon, and there should only be one now. If the number of moons had suddenly increased to two, it should have caused some actual changes to life on earth. The tides, say, should have been seriously altered, and everyone would be talking about it. I couldn’t possibly have failed to notice it until now. This is different from just happening to miss some articles in the paper…Strange things keep happening around me these days.”

If you want to hear one of the Dowager’s favorite pieces of music, John Dowland’s Lachrimae, click here.

I believe this completely: “I like history books too. They teach us that we’re basically the same, whether now or in the old days. There may be a few differences in clothing and lifestyle, but there’s not that much difference in what we think and do. Human beings are ultimately nothing but carriers – passageways – for genes. They ride us into the ground like racehorses from generation to generation. Genes don’t think about what constitutes good or evil. They don’t care whether we are happy or unhappy. We’re just a means to an end for them. The only thing they think about is what’s most efficient for them.”

The link between the Dowager and Aomame.

“My method is to go on tormenting him mercilessly without letup but without killing him, as though skinning him alive.” What is it with Murakami and skinning people alive?

Her decision to work for the Dowager: At this moment, Aomame thought, “Even if I give myself over to the madness – or prejudice – here and now, even if doing so destroys me, even if this world vanishes in its entirety, what do I have to lose?”

So…the Little People are responsible for the damages done to Tsubasa?

So much talk/thought about Fuka-Eri’s breasts. Between ears and breasts…

“Tengo had never climbed Mount Fuji. He had never gone to the top of Tokyo Tower, either, or to the roof of a skyscraper. He had never been interested in high places. He wondered why not. Maybe it was because he had lived his whole life looking at the ground.”

“You throw a stone into a deep pond. Splash. The sound is big, and it reverberates throughout the surrounding area. What comes out of the pond after that? All we can do is stare at the pond, holding our breath.”

Everything changed at Sakigake because the Little People came.

“In order to flee from responsibility, Tengo learned early on in life to make himself inconspicuous. He worked hard to negate his presence by publicly displaying very little of his true abilities, by keeping his opinions to himself, and by avoiding situations that put him at the center of attention. He had to survive on his own, without depending on others, from the time he was a child. But children have no real power. And so, whenever a strong wind began to blow, he would have to take shelter and grab onto something to prevent himself from being blown away. It was necessary for him to keep such contrivances in mind at all times, like the orphans in Dickens’ novels…But while it could be said that things had gone well for Tengo so far, several tears had begun to appear in the fabric of his tranquil life since he first laid his hands on the manuscript…”

I’m wondering what the significance is of the section of The Tale of the Heike that Fuka-Eri narrated.

And I loved the Chekhov – and Fuka-Eri’s reactions – “The poor Gilyaks!” “The wonderful Gilyaks!”

“It was impossible for him to continue with his own writing, though. His mind was now fully occupied by Chekhov’s desolate Sakhalin coastal scenes. He could hear the sound of the waves. When he closed his eyes, Tengo was standing alone on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, a prisoner of his own meditations, sharing in Chekhov’s inconsolable melancholy. What Chekhov must have felt there at the end of the earth was an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. To be a Russian writer at the end of the nineteenth century must have meant bearing an inescapably bitter fate. The more they tried to flee from Russia, the more deeply Russia swallowed them.” Significance?

“The concepts of time, space, and possibility.”

Tengo’s girlfriend – allowing her to take the lead. And, like Aomame, having basically meaningless sex.

Ayumi’s confession of abuse at the hands of her brother and uncle.

Who blew up the dog?

Is the Professor running the show?

Tengo and Aomame’s thoughts about time and existence seem to be running along parallel lines.

From Matthew Carl Strecher’s The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami:

“Here we will examine the function of Fukaeri [MY NOTE: His spelling] and Tengo’s narrative, Kuki sanagi (‘air cocoon,’ rendered as Air Chrysalis in the English translation of the novel), and how it functions to create a new reality not only for Aomame but for all the characters in the story. This embedded narrative recounts Fukaeri’s experiences within the compound of her father’s cult, centered chiefly upon the Little People, whom I have described as forest spirits but Murakami describes as ‘something like messengers from a primitive, underground world,” and how those Little People teach Fukaeri to spin a cocoon out of the air…[plot spoilers cut]…Fleeing to the home of a family friend, Fukaeri, who suffers from severe dyslexia and has great difficulty writing, relates her story verbally to her benefactor’s daughter, who then writes it out and submits it to the magazine edited by Tengo’s boss, Komatsu, who then passes it along to Tengo for rewriting.

But how, precisely, does this embedded narrative come to be the reality of ‘1Q84’? This is a complex question and returns us to Murakami’s notion of the ‘internal narrative.’ Tengo, who is a brilliant literary stylist, struggles at the beginning of the text to produce a surpassing novel of his own because, as his editor Komatsu notes, he has not yet managed to access his inner narrative. ‘What you need to be writing is inside you somewhere for sure, but it’s like a seated little animal that’s burrowed its way into a deep hole and won’t come out.’ As Tengo recrafts Fukaeri’s narrative in his own words and style, however, his own internal story awakens as well. ‘As Tengo wrote he sensed the birth of a new wellspring inside himself. No great rush of water bursting forth from this spring, it was rather like a tiny trickle of water coming out of a rocky fissure. The volume of water was minute, yet welled up ceaselessly, droplet by droplet.’

From this perspective, 1Q84 may be seen as a novel about writers and writing, and it is in this context that the obvious and often noted references to (if not actual parody of) George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1948) come into play. Late in the first volume, Tengo attempts to explain the basic plot of the Orwell novel to Fukaeri, focusing particularly on the function of protagonist Winston Smith’s work at the ‘Ministry of Truth,’ which is revising history to match the current political stance of the government. His description of Smith’s task – which is undeniably and uncomfortably similar to revisionist efforts in Japan from 1931-1945 – speaks volumes about the power of language to corrupt and confuse reality, ultimately to construct new ones. ‘When a new history is created, the old history is totally thrown out,’ Tengo tells her, ‘and when history is changed to often, gradually no one knows anymore what the truth was…Our memories are made up of individual memories and collective memories…History is our collective memories. When those are threatened – even rewritten – we lose the ability to maintain our true selves’ This process can be applied to the individual as well, and in fact it is precisely what is happening to Aomame, who begins to doubt her memory and her identity as she realizes that the world of ‘1Q84’ is altered from ‘1984’ in minute but noticeable ways. Her first inkling is when she notices the Tokyo Metropolitan Police carrying automatic weapons rather than the revolvers to which she is accustomed. Asking someone when this change occurred, she is told it was following the shoot-out at Lake Motosu – an incident she does not remember despite being an avid newspaper reader. Exploring the incident through newspaper archives, she begins to wonder how she could have missed this major event that led to the shooting of several police officers and a major change in their sidearm policy.

In time, Tengo finds himself enveloped by the world of ‘1Q84’ as well, a fact as difficult for him to accept as it was for Aomame. He is particularly troubled by the fact that this new world is virtually identical to the setting of the story he has created with Fukaeri…In time Tengo realizes, as does the reader, that he has internalized that world, so that when he writes – and later, even when he is not writing – he has difficulty keeping track of the various realities that swirling in and out of his mind, until the external, ‘objective’ world has all but ceased to exist, or more accurately, has joined together with all other language-based worlds:
[MY NOTE: I don’t think I’m giving anything away with this excerpt from Book Three]
‘He wrote a story in which there were two moons. A world that contained the Little People and the air cocoon. These were things he had borrowed from Fukaeri’s Kuki sanagi, but by now they had become wholly his own. While he faced his manuscript, his consciousness lived in that world. Even when he had put his pen down and left his desk, his consciousness sometimes remained there. At such times he had the peculiar feeling his flesh and consciousness were separated, and he could no longer distinguish where the real world ended and the imaginary world began.’

In a sense, Tengo expresses many of Murakami’s own statements on the act of writing, the dilemmas faced by the imaginative novelist who grapples with a vast array of worlds, all fictitious, but none necessarily more so than the ‘actual’ world. One hears in the passage above echoes of the author’s metaphor of descending into the depths of the cellar beneath the ‘two-story house’ of the imagination.
Through the simple fact of being declared, then, both in the spoken and written world, the world of ‘1Q84,’ with its two moons, Little People, and automatic weapon-carrying police officers, has come into actual existence; it is unquestionably constructed from words, from language, yet it has also taken on actual, concrete existence – others inhabit it, and those who are capable of doing so remark on its peculiarity.

Interestingly, though privileging neither, Murakami makes a clear distinction between spoken and written language, with Fukaeri and Tengo representing each of these respectively. The new world initially comes into being when Fukaeri speaks it to her adoptive sister, but its potential is not fully realized until Tengo has interpreted it and (re)produced it through the simultaneous act of reading and writing, lending it coherence and order. There is an underlying sense of the sacred in this joint act of creation, for Tengo and Fukaeri have assumed the roles and responsibilities of creator deities, and yet, as even the gods eventually discover, no reality lasts forever; whether grounded in the spoken or the written word, every reality is ultimately revealed to be shifty and impermanent.

And so, we might ask, is there a moral to this story? What can we learn from these texts? First and foremost, we may conclude that words are fallible, not to be trusted, but in the end words are all we have, and it is with words that we must construct and interact with the world’s various realities. For Murakami, these realities are best understood as ‘narratives,’ but we might as easily call them ideologies; and like most human-made constructs – insofar as all ideologies are ultimately revealed to be constructs – such ‘narratives’ prove vexingly unstable entities, despite their apparent solidity as they grow more widespread through the groups, cults, or even societies that generate them, and despite the evident determination of those societies to uphold and protect those narratives (think, for instance, of America and ‘democracy.’)”

My next post: Tuesday, September 30th. Book Two, Chapters 1-8, 1Q84.


3 thoughts on ““What’s the point of its being a world that isn’t here?””

  1. I have just finished Chap. 6 of Book 2 so not quite ready to read your post of Sept. 29 — amazed at how well Murakami can build and maintain suspense. Wondering how the last half plus of the book will go. Have you discussed (or is there anything to say?) about the page numbers and the 1Q84 appearing as a mirror image on the odd pages until page 710 when the page numbers appear as mirrored image on even pages but the 1Q84 stays mirrored on the odd. Makes me wonder what happens on that page but I am not one to read ahead.

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