Why Does Murakami Haruki Keep Writing the Same Stories?

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Murakami Haruki is one of those writers I like less than I think I should. He’s a go-to for many learners of Japanese, as he tells adult stories but with fairly straightforward and accessible language. While I really like some of his short stories (his collection アフターダーク [After Dark] is particularly charming),I find the rogue-ish charm of his male protagonists wears off on me after a while. I also feel like he’s telling essentially the same story over and over again.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Writing for the Toyo Keizai (東洋経済 – Japanese link), critic Kurihara Yuuichirou discusses Murakami’s latest novel, 騎士団の長殺し (Kishidan no Nagagoroshi, or The Knight’s Long Murder), and how it conforms to the “Murakami pattern”:

いかにも村上春樹的な「私」が、いかにも村上春樹的なアイテム(自動車に音楽、料理……)をはべらせて、いかにも村上春樹的な登場人物たちと、いかにも村上春樹的な会話や交流を持ちながら、いかにも村上春樹的な状況と謎に巻き込まれて物語は進んでいく。[…]

「春樹の小説は構造に類型がある。喪失感や虚無感を抱えた主人公が何か(ピンボールマシン、羊、ガールフレンド、妻……)を探している。世界は2層になっていて、現実と異界が接触しており、その間の行き来によって物語は推進力を得ている。異界には何か邪悪なもの(羊、やみくろ、リトル・ピープル……)が存在しており、現実世界へ侵入してくる」

A very  Murakami-esque “I” [first-person narrator], very Murakami-esque items (Cars and music, food) are all lined up, and, teamed up, with very Murakami-esque characters and dialogue and conversation flow, are all wrapped up in a very Murakami-esque situation and mystery…

There’s a pattern to Murakami’s construction. A protagonist enveloped in loss and emptiness searches for something (a pinball machine, a sheep, his girlfriend, his wife). The world splits in two, and reality and unreality touch on each other, the action of which gives the story its driving power. In the unreal world, some interfering factor exists (sheep, darkness, little people), which intrudes into the real world. 

But Kurihara doesn’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. He makes a comparison to the protagonist of Murakami’s latest novel, a painter whose bread and butter is portraits, and who tries and paint people down to their core.

「未完成と完成とを隔てる一本のラインは、多くの場合目には映らない」「しかし描いている本人にはわかる。これ以上手はもう加えなくていい、と作品が声に出して語りかけてくるからだ」

「私」が語る絵画論は、村上春樹本人の創作に対する意識にほかならないように見える。その意味でこの新作長編は、文芸評論家の清水良典や社会学者の橋爪大三郎も指摘していたが、村上春樹自身による村上春樹論の趣を持っている。…

村上春樹が同じ物語類型を反復しているのは、最善のメタファーを探り当てるための模索であり、より適切な描線でイデアを写し取るために要請された長い格闘なのだろう。村上春樹はおそらく自分が焼き付けるべきイデアをもうずっと前に感受している。後期の村上作品というのは、そのイデアをめぐって連綿と続けられている一連のプロジェクトのようなものなのだ。「新たな主題が何かわからない」と書いたのはそういう意味だ。

“The gap between a finish and an unfinished line is, in most cases, not evident to the eye.” “But the person who drew it knows. Because the work itself calls out and says, no more – that’s enough.”

Thus argues the painter “I”, but it can also be seen as nothing other than Murakami Haruki’s awareness of his creations. Literary critic Shimizu Yoshinori and Social Scientist Hashitsume Ousaburo have pointed out the same thing about this new work, but it becomes Murakami-esque when stated by the author himself.

It might be that Murakami repeating the same pattern is a long fistfight requested long ago, his way of groping for the best metaphor and rendering the idea with the best image possible. Perhaps he has been receiving the ideas he knows he should write about from a long time back. It’s like his later period works are a project all turned toward pursuing this one idea as a single unbroken project. This is what he means when he writes, “I don’t quite understand new themes.”

It’s an interesting perspective on a unique writer and a national treasure who, much to the nation of Japan’s consternation, constantly finds himself just missing out on the Nobel Prize in literature. The prize last went to a Japanese writer in 1996, when it was given to Ooe Kenzaburou. Perhaps this is finally the year that Murakami manages to write that finished line that begs not to be re-written?

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