“…maybe I have another face, one no one can imagine, lurking just beneath the surface. Like the far side of the moon, forever cloaked in darkness.”

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage
Conclusion, Part Two
By Dennis Abrams

Illustration by Clifford Harper/Agraphia.co.uk

I’ll have some of my final thoughts, impressions, and favorite things about this book in my post next week (my last on Murakami!), but I do want to say that the more I think about it, the more moved I am by the book. I’m not sure that I’d say it’s my favorite, but it’s the on that has affected me the most personally.  But for today, I thought this was pretty great.

From Strecher:

“We now flash to the novel’s present. Much of the [early narrative], minus the parts about Haida, is related to Kimoto Sara, Tazaki’s new girlfriend and, significantly, the first woman Tazaki has seriously considered marrying. Sara listens to Tazaki’s narrative with great interest, then declares that he must then declares that he must confront this past, for clearly it has caused wounds that have not yet healed. Although Tazaki has, in the intervening years, largely suppressed his memories of the Nagoya incident, the matter becomes more urgent when Sara issues an ultimatum of sorts. She can sense that Tazaki is not wholly with her when they are in bed, that there remains something twisted inside him. Sounding very much like Tengo, explaining to Fukaeri the deeper meanings of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, she tells Tazaki that, ‘however well you’ve hidden your memories, however deeply you’ve buried them, you can’t erase that history.’ Sara looked straight into his eyes. ‘You should remember that. You can’t erase history, and you can’t change it. It would be the same thing as killing your own existence.’ This statement becomes a recurring mantra throughout the text.

As a result, Sara sends Tazaki out on a mission to confront his former friends, to determine what happened and why, and thus heal that ‘twisted’ part of himself. She does the preliminary research, learning that of the four friends, Ao and Aka are still in Nagoya. Ao is an award-winning Lexus salesman, while Aka runs a company that trains company workers to think more independently. Kuro, meanwhile, has married a Finnish man and moved to Helsinki; Shiro, however, has been dead for six years.

Tazaki initially travels to Nagoya, confronting Ao first at his Lexus dealership. Ao does not recognize him at first – a pattern that repeats itself with each of his friends – but after an initial period of awkwardness, the two men are able to discuss the past. The first thing Tazaki learns is that his expulsion from the group was the result of a serious allegation made against him by Shiro all those years ago:

‘Shiro said she had been raped by you,’ Ao said uncomfortably.
‘She said you had deliberately forced her to have sex with you.’
Tsukuru tried to say something, but no words would come out. He had just taken a sip of water, but his throat was painfully dry.
Ao spoke, ‘I couldn’t believe you would do something like that. The other two were the same, Kuro and Aka. No matter how we thought about it, you weren’t the type to force yourself on anyone, and even less the type who would use violence to do it. WE knew that. But Shiro was dead serious, and she was taking it really hard. She said you had two faces, one on the surface and another underneath. Shiro said you had an inner face that no one could ever imagine from the outer one. We couldn’t think of any way to respond to that.’

Ao claims – and later Aka will confirm this – that the question of his guilt and expulsion was largely determined by Kuro, who stood determinedly on Shiro’s side. Asked why they want along with his betrayal (Tazaki uses the verb kiru, ‘to cut’), both men answer that of the five friends Tazaki seemed like the one best equipped to handle the consequences of being cut from the group. As Ao puts it, ‘you lived with both your feet firmly on the ground, and that gave the group a sense of quiet stability. Like the anchor of a ship,’ while Aka describes him as ‘emotionally tougher than the rest of us. Remarkably so, more than you looked.’ Both of these comments, needless to say, come as a surprise to Tazaki.

Finally, Tazaki embarks on his greatest and most unnerving journey, a trek to Finland to confront Kuro, who was, according to Aka and Ao, the real driving force behind his expulsion from the group sixteen years earlier. When he arrives in Helsinki, however, he finds she has gone with her family to spend the summer at their country cottage in the woods surrounding the tiny town of Haemeenlinn, famous as the birthplace of composer Jean Sibelius. To reach this town, he must drive some distance, and in this journey, too, we find a kind of michiyuki, [MY NOTE: a passage – an essential part of classical Japanese theatre, particularly in love suicide plays – undertaken in order to prepare the traveler for death.] not quite as dramatic as those of Pinball, 1973, or A Wild Sheep Chase, to be sure, but nonetheless discernible. He drives through wooded areas of birch trees, great birds circling above them in search of prey on the ground. Finding the town of Haemeenlinn poses no particular difficulty, but on his arrival he realizes that locating this one cottage in the middle of a great forest will be no mean feat. Fortunately he meets an old man on a bicycle, who, asked for directions, without preamble or invitation climbs into Tazaki’s car and shows him the way. The old man’s fearsome appearance and demeanor are worth notice: ‘an old man of small stature…wearing an old hunting cap and long rubber boots. Great tufts of white hair emerged from his ears, and his eyes were red and bloodshot. Like he was filled with rage at something.’ The man’s language is confusing as well; he speaks a variety of languages all at once – English, German, Finnish, and at one point, ‘a language Tsukuru could not place. From its sounds it did not seem to be Finnish.’ Upon reaching the cottage, the old man turns around and storms off without a word and without looking back, ‘like the death god who guided the departed onto the path to the underworld.’ The old man bears certain similarities to the ‘Gatekeeper’ who removes Boku’s shadow at the outset of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but his function is more like the two soldiers who guide Kafka into the forest to meet Saeki in Kafka on the Shore. In both appearance and manner he is clearly marked as a guardian spirit of the forest and gives us our best indication that Tazaki has at last reached his destination ‘over there.’ This is not, however, the same ‘over there’ – the same metaphysical forest – as we have seen in previous Murakami fiction, for when Tazaki finally meets Kuro, he discovers her to be living, with her Finnish husband and her two daughters. This is not the underworld, per se. And yet, as Tazaki and Kuro face one another preparing to confront their shared past, Murakami offers a subtle clue to indicate that this is not entirely the world of the living either: Kuro, as a wife and mother, wears her hair pinned up, but just before they begin to talk in earnest, she removes the pins and lets her hair down so that ‘her bangs now covered her forehead. Now she looked more like the old Kuro.’ It is an updated version of the flickering back and forth between the teenage and the middle-aged Saeki confronted by Kafka at the end of HIS quest.

To Tazaki’s surprise, Kuro (who prefers now to be called by her adult name, ‘Eri,’ and suggests they refer to Shiro by the grown-up name of ‘Yuzu’ as well) confesses that, like Aka and Ao, she never truly believed that Tazaki had raped Shiro; she pursued his expulsion, rather, for the sake of Shiro, who was tottering on the brink of madness. But this was only one of the reasons. She confesses at length that she had always loved Tazaki, knowing all the while of his desire for Shiro. Partly out of awareness of Shiro’s beauty – ‘she was Snow White and I was the Seven Dwarfs,’ she quips – Kuro was simply afraid to confess her love. ‘I lacked confidence in myself as a woman. No matter how much I loved you, I figured you would never take someone like me as your partner. Your heart was set on Yuzu. That’s why I was able to cut you out so mercilessly. It was in order to cut out my feelings for you.’

In between catching up and Kuro’s confession to Tazaki, the two also discuss what had really happened to Shiro. Like Aka and Ao, Kuro notes that Shiro’s injuries were real; she truly had been sexually violated, but she hints that the incident may have occurred in the metaphysical world: ‘there is a certain kind of dream that is more real than reality itself,’ Kuro explains. ‘She had a dream like that.’ Somewhat later Kuro suggests that Shiro ‘had an evil spirit in her…it was always hovering at a slight distance behind her, breathing its icy breath on her neck, steadily pursuing her.’

Tazaki learns that Shiro had gone off to the mountains to hide out while awaiting the arrival of her child – she could not consider an abortion, because she was firmly against the practice – but had miscarried. After this, she drifted further and further from human contact, gradually cutting herself off from society. Like Tazaki, she starved herself to dangerous levels, until even her menstrual period stopped coming.

What Kuro describes is Shiro’s gradual but inexorable shift from flesh to pure spirit, a drive toward death that made it impossible for anyone to anchor her to this world. In the end Shiro moved to Hamamtsu to live by herself, but given her helpless state, Kuro interprets this as an act of suicide. When Shiro is murdered, found strangled to death on the floor of her kitchen, the circumstances are inexplicable; her room is locked from the inside, there is no sign of struggle or break-in, and nothing has been stolen. Tazaki is again assailed by the possibility that it was his own inner self that killed Shiro, perhaps in the ‘other world’:

‘Just as Shiro said, maybe I have another face, one no one can imagine, lurking just beneath the surface. Like the far side of the moon, forever cloaked in darkness. In some other place, without my ever knowing about it, in a totally different kind of time, maybe I really did rape Shiro, slicing deeply into her soul. Despicably, with all my strength. And maybe that dark inner side will eventually rise up, completely overwhelm the surface me, swallowing it whole.’

Tazaki cannot dismiss such fears, if only because his own past experiences – particularly with Haida – have convinced him that flesh-spirit separation is possible, and that he probably does carry within himself a darker self, capable of doing things his outer self would never consider. And yet, he also has a vague notion that this was what was supposed to happen all along:

‘Tsukuru had never in his life felt the urge to kill anyone. But maybe he had meant to kill Yuzu in the abstract. Tsukuru himself had no way of knowing what sort of dense darkness lurked within his soul. All he was sure of what that Yuzu had the same sort of dense darkness within herself. Perhaps their two darknesses had connected somewhere deep beneath the surface. And maybe being strangled by Tsukuru was exactly what Yuzu had wanted. Maybe he had heard her pleas through their connected darkness.’

He does not, however, tell all this to Kuro, opting instead for the more ambiguous statement that ‘I might actually have killed Shiro.’ The meeting between Tazaki and Turo ends shortly after this scene, marked by Kuro pinning her hair back up, signaling the return of the present and the recession of the ‘other world.’ At this moment Tazaki reflects that ‘the flow of time became just a little lighter.’

One important question that lingers here is why Shiro sought death. This is never recorded properly in the narrative, but Tazaki himself has a plausible answer: she simply could not face the idea of growing up. ‘In their high school days the five of them had lived in perfect, tightly knit harmony. They accepted each other as they were, and understood one another. Each of them felt a sense of profound happiness in that. But such happiness could not go on forever…Shiro’s spirit probably could not handle the pressure of what must come.’ This also helps us to understand Shiro’s determination not to become pregnant again – indeed, her general horror of sexuality – for these belong to the realm of the adult world in which, as Tazaki puts it, ‘each person must grow up at their own pace, and in their own direction.’ He concludes that Shiro’s urge toward death – using himself as a stepping stool – represented a flight from that inevitable destiny. From our vantage point, it may be added that Shiro’s drive toward the ‘other world’ is an attempt to escape the effects of time, of growth and change, and remain the young and innocent girl she has always been. This relates directly back to the ‘perfect, utopian circle’ that we have seen again in Murakami’s writing, most prominently in Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, a perfect space in which nothing can disrupt the ideal happiness of Kizuki and Naoko, or Saeki and her boyfriend; yet we have also seen – in the village where the fifteen-year-old Saeki continues her unchanging existence – that this is a realm in which individual growth and development come to a halt. This realm represents perfect peace, but such peace is meaningless without the existence of conflict to define it.

The account above suggests that the ontological stance of this novel is closer to Norwegian Wood or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it is to some of [Murakami’s] more metaphysically imbued texts…in short, it is what might be termed a near-realistic text. Its narrative structure supports this, lacking the regular rhythm of alternating narratives that marks the works up through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but also lacking clear-cut forays into the forbidding darkness of the ‘other world.’ Instead, much as we see in Norwegian Wood, Tazaki Tsukuru’s ventures into the ‘other world’ are symbolically portrayed in his visits to Nagoya, his imagining of Shiro’s final home in Hamamatsu, his internalization of Haida’s story about a hot spring resort in Oita, and, most obviously, his journey to the village of Haemeenlinn, not far from Helsinki, to meet Kuro at her summer home in Finland. None of these locations is truly representative of ‘over there’; rather, like Hokkaido (as opposed to Rat’s villa) in A Wild Sheep Chase, it is their status as being ‘other than Tokyo’ that marks them as likely settings for close encounters with ‘over there.’ And if we are denied the familiar explorations of the ‘other world’ that made works like A Wild Sheep Chase and Kafka on the Shore so intriguing, we are perhaps compensated by the unnerving, yet thrilling sensation that the ‘other world’ is constantly, unblinkingly, observing us.

Incursions of ‘over there’ are most prominently depicted in the early sequences of this novel, particularly those that detail Tazaki Tsukuru’s peculiar transformation, from a youthful, naïve idealist suddenly faced with expulsion from a group that, in many ways, defined who he was, into a detached loner, or what he finally describes, at novel’s end, as a ‘defector from his own life.’ This transformation is brought about, physiologically speaking, through five months of near starvation, as the traumatized Tazaki flirts with the idea of suicide and does not take the trouble of feeding himself. During this time, his perception of the world around him is about as close as we get to a description of ‘over there’ in this work:

‘As far as he could see, the ground was strewn with shattered boulders. There was not a drop of water, not a blade of grass growing. No color, no light. No sun, nor any moon or stars. Probably no direction either. The bizarre twilight and fathomless darkness traded places at regular intervals. It was the ultimate frontier of consciousness.’

As we have seen…the lack of sun and moon, indeed, of light itself, suggests the timelessness of that realm, its dark and forbidding nature. His description, within the context of the novel’s structure, could be read as a metaphorical representation of the darkest despair, but I am more inclined to read this passage as a hint that Tazaki Tsukuru, facing the abyss of death and the unknown, actually exists more inside his mind than outside it during these five critical months. It is in this gloomy no-man’s land, on the border between the world of the living and that of the dead, that he loses his youthful idealism and becomes a new man. And when at least he does emerge, his appearance is altered significantly and appropriately for a man who has faced the brink of death and returned. It is not, to be sure, quite the same level of transformation one finds in the earliest texts – he has not become a talking pinball machine, for instance – but enough that people who know him are shocked by the change. Not only has his body wasted away, but ‘his face has also changed. Looking at himself in the mirror, no traces remained of the soft face of that mediocre, unfocused youth. The face looking back at him was that of a young man, whose protruding cheek bones were sharp, like they’d been carved with a garden-trowel.’ His body and face have at last transformed to match the change in his core self, so that Tasaki Tsukuru is an entirely new man, inside and out. And this new ‘him’ is wholly without regrets for the passing of the old; indeed, we even catch a hint of the dark determination that lurks beneath the surface of this sharply featured new man. Significantly, it is precisely at this moment that we catch another glimpse of that hidden forest that so many previous Murakami heroes have found, for better or worse:

‘Look at it how you may, the youth who had been Tazaki Tsukuru was dead. He had gasped out his last breath in desolate darkness, and as buried in some tiny forest clearing. Secretly, quietly, while everyone else slept. With no headstone. He who stood here breathing as a ‘new Tazaki Tsukuru,’ whose contents had been completely replaced. But no one besides himself knew this, nor did he have any intention of telling anyone the truth.’

Words such as ‘contents’ (naiyo) remind us yet again that the physical body in Murakami fiction is frequently little more than a container (yoki), housing a core identity – a soul, a kokoro – that is, by no means permanently fixed to that container. This was a prominent motif in Kafka on the shore, as we have seen, and casts into sharper perceptive the reason for Kafka’s loathing of his own body; while the ‘contents’ of that body may well be the ‘soul’ of Nakata, the vessel itself is the product of Johnny Walker, and as such is bears the physical curse of that origin. Clearly a similar operation goes on in 1Q84 with the construction of the dota (‘daughter’) characters, more empty vessels destined to receive the seeds of the Leader in the hopes that that material will be conveyed to yet another type of container: the womb. This last image strikes a resonant chord with Tazaki Tsukuru, for in his transformation, Tazaki himself is in a sense ‘reborn’ – a term Ando uses as well – from the dark and mysterious ‘womb’ of ‘over there.’ It is a function of the metaphysical world we have already seen employed with considerable effect in Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, and 1Q84, namely as a symbolic location for growth, gestation, and eventual reemergence into the light as something new. Beginning with Tamura Kafka and continuing through Tazaki Tsukuru, the hero who ventures into that dark and unsettling place has the potential to emerge stronger and better able to cope with the world than before.

But this is not always the case. Shiro, for her part, is the one other character in this novel who almost certainly encounters the world ‘over there,’ and she is destroyed by it. Of the five friends in this novel, clearly Shiro is the most fragile; a delicate, sensitive musician, Shiro struggles with a general tendency to withdraw from interaction with others. Perhaps due in part to her father’s profession as an obstetrician gynecologist, she has developed a basic fear of sexuality, which fits in well with Tazaki’s perception that their high school group avoids any romantic entanglements among the various parties. In any case, as Kuro tells Tazaki near the end of the novel, Shiro (now called ‘Yuzu’) never felt sexual attraction for anyone. ‘Yuzu had a powerful loathing for anything sexual that bordered on terror.’ This is why, following her rape and miscarriage, Shiro virtually starved herself. ‘It was because she wanted to stop her menstrual periods,’ Kuro explains. ‘When you drop below a certain weight, your period stop. That’s what she wanted. Not only did she want to ensure she would never get pregnant again, but she probably wanted to stop being female altogether. If it had been possible, she would have removed her uterus.’

These feelings are worth pursuing for just a moment, because if we observe Shiro’s situation dispassionately, we see certain similarities with Tamura Kafka. Recall that Kafka’s primary source of discomfort is the irrefutable fact of his genetic connection to his father, whom he considers to be evil; Shiro, too, is to some extent uncomfortable about her father’s chosen profession. Why, we might wonder, did Shiro never consult her father regarding her condition? Presumably it is because, as Kuro explains to Tazaki, she could never have considered terminating the pregnancy. ‘Whatever the circumstances, there was no way she could have killed anything…From way back she was highly critical of the fact that her father also performed abortions. We used to argue about that a lot.’ This fits the overall profile of Shiro’s character; particularly her abhorrence of sexual contact, and lends a certain pathos to the fact that the assault upon her was of a sexual nature.

There is, however, another important aspect to consider regarding Shiro, namely, that if Tazaki Tsukuru possesses a ‘darker inner self hidden by his outer mask,’ who is to say that Shiro herself does not have the same sort of ‘dark inner self,’ one that – like that of the ‘nine-figured girl,’ of Naoko, of Kumiko, of Aomame, indeed, of Tazaki himself – is grounded in bestial emotion and raw sexuality? If Tazaki’s inner self is grounded by this uncontrollable sexual desire – is, in fact, the very ‘evil spirit’ of whom Kuro spoke – then we have no reason to assume that Shiro did not possess an inner sexuality that drove her into the hands of that evil spirit, to the possibility that Shiro’s dreams were quite as erotic – as ‘forbidden’ – as Tazaki’s own.

If that is so, than Shiro’s absolutist stance against sexuality and its natural result speaks of a basic resistance to something within herself; thus, her gradual movement toward the world of death is finally an effort to resolve the dilemma within herself, which must end either in the restoration of her ‘innocence’ within the other world or in the triumph of her inner demon. Furthermore, it is not difficult to see that same struggle occupying Tazaki as well. We recall that Tazaki, prior to his expulsion from the group, fought to suppress his growing sexual desire for Shiro (which he did not feel for Kuro). ‘I always did my best not to be conscious of her as a member of the opposite sex. I was careful not to be alone with her,’ he tells Sara, an admission that may shed light on the fact that following his expulsion, Tazaki regularly dreamed about having sexual relations with both women yet – puzzling even to himself – when the climactic moment came, he inevitably ejaculated into Shiro’s body rather than into Kuro. On the unconscious – the metaphysical – level, Tazaki Tsukuru was equally a prisoner of his own ‘evil spirit,’ whose sexual desire for Shiro could no more be stopped than Shiro’s secret desires )for Tazaki? It is unclear) could be suppressed. Within the model of the ‘other world’ we have constructed throughout this text, then, it is quite plausible that Tazaki Tsukuru’s concerns about a dark inner self are correct, that he has acted out his inner fantasy, within the inner dreamscape, and caused irreparable to the woman he wanted more than any other. But was it all perhaps a dream?

By novel’s end Shiro’s pregnancy is left as one of the several unanswered riddles to which we are now accustomed in Murakami fiction. Did Shiro’s dark inner spirit really connect with that of Tazaki Tsukuru, leading to their sexual liaison? Did Tazaki really rape, and later murder, the woman he loved most/ Or was Shiro’s condition, as Ando suggests, just another ‘immaculate conception,’ the result of her own powerfully repressed sexual urges? All we can say with any certainty is that the fact of that conception forced Shiro to confront the ‘evil spirit’ that lurked within her, a confrontation she could not hope to win. And yet, not all has been lost, even for Shiro. In one of the more moving scenes in the novel, as Kuro and Tazaki reminiscence about Shiro at Kuro’s summerhouse in Haemeenlimn, they hold a sort of impromptu funeral for her – neither was able to attend her actual memorial service – by playing a recording of Liszt’s Le Mar du Pays. We can almost feel, as Tazaki and Kuro seem to do, Shiro’s presence joining them once more through this melody, and Kuro tells him that ‘in a lot of ways, she still goes on living.’ One of those ways, in spirit, at least, is through Kuro’s daughter, whom she has named ‘Yuzu’ in honor of their friend. Once again, the ‘other world’ functions symbolically as the womb, in conjunction with Kuro’s actual womb, to facilitate the ‘rebirth’ of Shiro.”

My next post, Tuesday, November 24th, final thoughts.


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