James Crisp

Coding, calisthenics, book reviews, mind hacks and the occasional personal bit.

Category: Fiction

Some Murakami Quotes

Recently, I’ve been catching up on my reading. Haruki Murakami is one of my all time favourite authors. His novels are always interesting, and the writing style is generally gorgeous, although it does vary a little between different books. I’m not sure if this is Haruki Murakami changing his style in the original Japanese, or simply results from different translators.

Something I’ve been noticing lately is that in all of the Murakami novels I can recall, the protagonist always has a lot of time. This is so different to most other novels which try to rush from one exciting event to the next. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I really like Murakami’s writing so much. Anyway, here’s some memorable quotes from Murakami novels that I’ve read recently:

From Kafka on the Shore:
“Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It’s all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real pickle. You’d better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.”

“Pointless thinking is worse than no thinking at all”.

From Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World:
“Huge organisations and me don’t get along. They’re too inflexible, waste too much time, have too many stupid people.”

“It’s frightening,” she said. “Most of my salary disappears into my stomach.”

From The Wind Up Bird Chronicles: (language warning on this one)
Show quote, although it contains 4-letter words.

A few choice quotes from "The Unbearable Lightness Of Being" by Milan Kundera

Starts slowly with quite a philosophical bent, but becomes really compelling once the main characters are introduced. Some memorable quotes:

Happiness
“If Kerenin had been a person instead of a dog, he would surely have long since said to Tereza, ‘Look, I’m sick and tired of carrying that roll in my mouth every day. Can’t you come up with something different?’ And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.”

Love
“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful… Their love story did not begin until afterwards: she fell ill and he was unable to send her home as he had the others. Kneeling by her as she lay sleeping in his bed, he realized that someone had sent her downstream in a bulrush basket. I have said before that metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”

A feeling of importance
“We all need somebody to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public…
The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners…
Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark..
And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.”

Kitsch
“Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence
Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch. The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a basis of kitsch…
And no one knows this better than politicians. Whenever a camera is in the offing, they immediately run to the nearest child, lift it into the air, kiss it on the cheek. Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements…
In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions…
From that time on, she [Sabina] began to insert mystifications into her biography, and by the time she got to America she even managed to hide the fact that she was Czech. It was all merely a desperate attempt to escape the kitsch that people wanted to make of her life.”

Dance Dance Dance

Just finished reading Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami. Amazing novel. Not exciting, but totally gripping. I couldn’t put the thing down. The plot is a little unconventional to say the least, but my empathy with the narrator was overridingly strong and it is really this that made the novel so gripping.

Our narrator is 34, and in many ways, leads a normal and boring life. The boring parts of his life are described in detail. If you counted the pages devoted to descriptions of his every day life such as cooking, eating etc, I think you’d count about 1/3 of the novel. Rather than making the novel boring, as you would expect, it instead makes our narrator more real and human. And since he is so real, and so like you and me, even the “boring” parts of his life are interesting and enjoyable. For example, having a good meal and reading a book are nothing “exciting” in the traditional sense. However, since the narrator is so real, and so human, you can easily remember your own feelings when doing a similar thing.

There is something so real in the mediocrity of our narrator that strikes a chord with me. Our narrator is a good, fair guy, playing his part in an “advanced capitalist society”. He’s not amazingly talented at anything, he doesn’t fit in and he’s not very socially ept. He “shovels cultural snow” writing pieces for magazines. He has a few friends and romantic interests. He tries not to hurt people but doesn’t know where his life is going or what he really wants. When you look at him, and think about him, it forces you to look at yourself, in a very similar advanced capitalist society, shovelling virtual snow, or whatever you do. At the end of the day though, he’s the best of the bunch. He’s responsible and he cares. Maybe that’s cause for hope.

Dance Dance Dance follows on from A Wild Sheep Chase, although you could probably get by without reading the earlier novel. It’s a great book, go forth and read it 🙂

From "A Wild Sheep Chase" by Haruki Murakami

“Nor do you know where you stand. Now listen, I thought it over last night. And it struck me. What have I got to feel threatened about? Next to nothing. I broke up with my wife, I plan to quit my job today, my apartment is rented, and I have no furnishings worth worrying about. By way of holdings, I’ve got maybe two million yen in savings, a used car, and a cat who’s getting on in years. My clothes are all out of fashion, and my records are ancient. I’ve made no name for myself, have no social credibility, no sex appeal, no talent. I’m not so young anymore, and I’m always saying dumb things that I later regret. In a word, to borrow your turn of phrase, I am an utterly mediocre person. What have I got to lose? If you can think of anything, clue me in, why don’t you?”

Great passage, ya?

Litost in Le Petit Prince

I was reading a post on Phillip Eby’s blog recently which quoted a little of “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry (“The Little Prince” in English). It’s been a long time since I read it (I studied it in French class at school), so I got hold of my old copy and have been re-reading it. It’s really great – both funny and serious, and I’ve been enjoying exercising my atrophied French muscles a bit. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you get it and have a read in either French or English. Wikipedia has got some more information on the novel here.

Anyway, I came across an interesting passage that seems to dove tail very well with my recent post on Litost. Here we go:

“Elle serait bien vexĂ©e, se dit-il, si elle voyait ça… elle tousserait Ă©normĂ©ment et ferait semblant de mourir pour Ă©chapper au ridicule. Et je serais bien obligĂ© de faire semblant de la soigner, car, sinon, pour m’humilier moi aussi, elle se laisserait vraiment mourir…”

And here’s my rough translation into English:

“She would be very vexed, he said to himself, if she could see that… she would cough violently and pretend to die to escape being laughed at. And I would be obliged to pretend to heal her, so that I could humiliate myself as well, otherwise, she would really let herself die.”

PS – Found the full-text available online in English, French and some other languages!

Litost

For some reason, while doing the washing up today, my mind was wandering and I remembered reading “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera. A colleague and friend of mine gave me the book for my 24th birthday. It was a fun and interesting read with a good story. The passage I was day dreaming about was “What is Litost?”. I was thinking I might take a stab at explaining it in my own words, but having read the passage again, I’m sure Milan Kundera has done a better job than I could hope to achieve. Hence I give you the passage verbatim:

What is Litost?
Litost is an untranslatable Czech word. Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.

Let me give an example: The student went swimming in the river one day with his girlfriend, a fellow student. She was athletic, but he was a very poor swimmer. He could not time his breathing properly and swam slowly, his head held tensely high above the surface. She was madly in love with him and tactfully swam as slowly as he did. But when their swim was coming to an end, she wanted to give her athletic instincts a few moments’ free rein and headed for the opposite bank at a rapid crawl. The student made an effort to swim faster too and swallowed water. Feeling humbled, his physical inferiority laid bare, he felt litost. He recalled his sickly childhood, lacking in physical exercise and friends and spent under the constant gaze of his mother’s overfond eye, and fell into despair about himself and his life. They walked back to the city together in silence on a country lane. Wounded and humiliated, he felt an irresistible desire to hit her. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked him, and he started to reproach her: she knew about the current near the other bank, and that he had forbidden her to swim there because of the risk of drowning – and then he slapped her face. The girl began to cry, and when he saw the tears on her cheeks, he took pity on her and put his arms around her, and his litost melted away.

Or take an instance from the student’s childhood: His parents made him take violin lessons. He was not very gifted and his teacher would interrupt him to criticize his mistakes in a cold, unbearable voice. He felt humiliated, and he wanted to cry. But instead of trying to play in tune and not make mistakes, he would deliberately play wrong notes, the teacher’s voice would become still more unbearable and harsh, and he himself would sink deeper and deeper into his litost.

What then is litost?

Litost
is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

One of the customary remedies for misery is love. Because someone loved absolutely cannot be miserable. All his faults are redeemed by love’s magical gaze, under which even inept swimming, with the head held high above the surface, can become charming.

Love’s absolute is actually a desire for absolute identity: the woman we love ought to swim as slowly as we do, she ought to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But when the illusion of absolute identity vanishes (the girl looks back happily on her past or swims faster), love becomes a permanent source of the great torment we call litost.

Anyone with wide experience of the common imperfection of mankind is relatively sheltered from the shocks of litost. For him, the sight of his own misery is ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, therefore, is characteristic of the age of inexperience. It is one of the ornaments of youth.

Litost works like a two-stroke engine. Torment is followed by the desire for revenge. The goal of revenge is to make one’s partner look as miserable as oneself. The man cannot swim, but the slapped woman cries. It makes them feel equal and keeps their love going.

"Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is an excellent novel. I finished reading it at lunch today, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The novel is really subtle, and at the start, I wasn’t immediately interested. However, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. Toru, the narrator is so well developed in the novel that he seems almost like somebody I have met in real life. If you haven’t read it, don’t hesitate – start reading it right away! And don’t read any more of this post.

If you have read it, what do you think of the ending? I’ve read people suggesting that Toru committed suicide or similar, but I don’t believe that that is the case. For one thing, he’s got to live to 37 and catch a plane, as described at the start of the novel. I think the “dead centre” reference is due to Toru being dead centre of the “countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere”, rather than having died. I think the ending is happy. Or maybe I just want it to be. Here’s my interpretation. Toru is lost in the middle of nowhere. His old life was based around Naoko and Kizuki (plus Reiko as a link to them). They have all died or left. He is in the middle of nowhere. But Midori can rescue him from this. She is his anchor to reality and a new life. She will give his life direction and meaning – that’s why he calls out to her again. If anyone in the novel is a symbol of life, it is Midori, and by calling out to her, I can only understand that Toru has chosen to keep living and to pursue happiness. Midori’s silence is “the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world”. That’s a positive image for me at least, pregnant with possibility.

If only I could read Japanese, perhaps I would understand better.

PS – Many thanks to my friend Jim for lending this most excellent book to me.

Some Random Writing

You’ve heard the expression ‘All men are the same’? That’s obviously not true. However, there are some things that most heterosexual men share. One of them is an inbuilt, natural response to stimuli, a certain bond that eats cultural differences for lunch, and that applies across all ages and languages. No matter what they pretend, a visit to a womans’ clothing warehouse is a daunting experience for a man.

Just look around. Sure, there are one or two women who look like they find shopping for clothes a chore. But the majority, see their rapt attention and concentration, circling the racks of clothes, looking, holding, touching, and cradling the cascading cloth against their bodies.

Now, for the men. You can see four sitting around the room – two are reading newspapers, one is operating a PDA and the last is just staring at his legs, spacing out. Only men sit in the chairs. They are the loved ones and drivers. Their opinion is sometimes sought, but generally only out of politeness. The women already know what suits them best.

Some Interesting Quotes

“Imagine, Paul said to me once, that the present is simply a reflection of the future. Imagine that we spend our whole lives staring into a mirror with the future at our backs, seeing it only in the reflection of what is here and now. Some of us would begin to believe that we could see tomorrow better by turning around to look at it directly. But those who did, without realising it, would’ve lost the key to the perspective they once had. For the one thing they would never be able to see in it was themselves. By turning their backs on the mirror, they would become the one element of the future their eyes could never find…
For years I’ve been determined to get on with my life by doggedly hunting down the future… It’s a blind way to face life, a stance that lets the world pass you by, just as you think you’re coming to grips with it.”
— Extract from “The Rule of Four” by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

“You know, for the longest time, I kept trying to make my life easier. It wasn’t until a month or so ago that I started to realize just how unbelievably fucking stupid that was. We’re not here to have an easy life. We’re not even here to do the things that we have to do. We are here to do the things we choose to do, and sometimes we choose to do them because they are challenging, not in spite of it. Would you keep playing a video game that was trivial to beat?”
Phillip J. Eby

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only arseholes do that.” (Nagasawa)
“You try too hard to make life fit your way of doing things. If you don’t want to spend time in an insane asylum, you have to open up a little more and let yourself go with life’s natural flow… So stop what you’re doing this minute and get happy. Work at making yourself happy.” (Reiko)
— from “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami

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