Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Interim B-Pig Meeting

This is not meant to be minutes of the meeting or anything, just a few hurried lines of random remembrances - hopefully it'll trigger others to add to it in the comments or their own posts.

We wondered about whether cultural filters that we lacked were causing us to miss anything about the story regarding popular culture, sexuality (including a brief tangent on wood cuts), potential lingering effects of WWII and also commented on a review some had read about how Murakami has Western influences and in fact his work seems ripe for translation to English. We marveled out how difficult it must have been to translate, even so. Also, apparently, the work was released in Japan in books, so it wasn't a huge tome to be intimidated by all at once.

We talked about surreality at the level of the story and world as well as in the moments created scene by scene, such as the telephone ring taking on the personality of the caller. We noticed the detailed descriptions of what everyone wore and tried to reconcile it with our ideas of how people dressed in the 1980's in America.

We talked about the mirrors motif, the symmetry in the story as well as in the printed book and how "real life" appeared frequently in the reading, 30-some-odd times in all based on a search of the e-book on tablet. We noticed a parent/child theme echoed here and there, from the religious organization splitting off to the idea of an air chrysalis as a shell or birth pod to the significance of Aomame's name: "green bean" as a pod containing seeds.

I am intrigued by the pervasive echo of being on a main road or expressway versus being off the grid and moving through the forest - Aomame on the expressway, the Gilyaks sticking to the forest even after roads were built, Fuka-Eri being good at disappearing and moving through the forest (but you can hear a road in the background nearby on her tape), and I think it's even present in the contrast between Tengo's love of math with its formulas and equations (reality of sorts) and his fascination with writing (the not so rigid or defined "forest" of the narrative world).


We pondered the use of the term "Little People" (curiously enough we didn't really ponder what they were) and the general consensus seemed to be it was an intentionally drawn contrast with or at least a play on "Big Brother" in Orwell's work; a decentralized, distributed presence versus a top-down central omniscient authority. Speaking of "1984", I described the tension I felt between knowing that the love interests in that work ended up betraying each other when put to the test and me really not wanting Tengo and Aomame to betray each other at some later point in "1Q84" !

I meant to bring up but forgot to bring up the concept of the "memory hole" (ironically) and revisionist history presented by Orwell and discuss their potential relevance to Murakami's book. The protagonist in the former has as his main job the re-writing of history as the current propaganda changes and in the latter we have Tengo (in concert with Fuka-Eri) writing narratives that other people (like Aomame) seem to be experiencing as part of their reality.

I foisted my half-baked idea that some of the tenets of quantum mechanics run throughout "1Q84" and raced through a nutshell description on the differences of the Copenhagen versus the Many Worlds interpretations of what happens when potential outcomes are selected. No cats were harmed during this discussion and BananaSuit also mentioned the concept of parallel universes with CourtBelle referencing string theory. Murakami has that effect on people like us.

Some wondered if everything about Aomame and Ayumi was plausible but generally liked the characters. Aomame seemed to be a favorite with the dowager and Tamaru in the mix as well.

Finally, we talked about Russian writers and generally hoped the Gilyaks were doing okay in spite of their shortcomings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Pig

Tonight Nog will be crying his eyes out, because we'll be meeting at the Pig without him. That's the Bourgeois Pig, 7:30 p.m., for any of you literary hipsters who'd care to join us. @afreshstand has even teased us with the prospect of a PBR coozie; you'll have to show up tonight to find out.

As evidenced by our December blog entries, most of us are too intimidated to write anything longer than 140 characters about Book 1 of Murakami's 1Q84. But there's been a lot of chatter over on twitter about bald heads, falling down wells, and all-night sex feasts.

If you can't make it tonight, have no fear -- we'll be meeting again soon to discuss Book 2. ... Does that mean Nog is giving us an extra month to read Book 3?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Richard and IQ84 and "the Mirror Stage"

Early in my PhD program I took a seminar in Southern Lit. The reading list was top-notch: Faulkner, O'Connor, Percy, Twain, a little Morrison, some Richard Wright. I was ready to talk about the South, man! But little did I know my prof was a hardcore psychoanalytic critic (particularly of the Lacanian variety) and that we'd spend A LOT of the semester scouring the texts for "primal scenes"...or at least halfway reasonable approximations of such. If you're not up on your psychoanalytic theory, a "primal scene" is a moment where a child witnesses (or perhaps fantasizes) sexual relations between the parents.

The recurring "primal scene" in IQ84 doesn't fully fit the definition, but I assure you my prof would have jumped on it anyway. In Murakami's novel, Tengo is occasionally overwhelmed by a memory from infancy (odd enough in itself) in which a man (not his father) sucks on his mother's breast. What this means and why it keeps surfacing is not yet clear (at least at 200+ pages in), but the power of childhood sexual experience is clearly a primary concern. Aomame, too, is occasionally launched into the past via memories of her own first sexual experience, a childhood encounter with her female friend Tamaki. It's interesting that this memory surfaces for the first time as Aomame descends the expressway ladder into the "alternate"(?) reality she begins to refer to as IQ84. And are the Little People as well connected with sexual experience, or perhaps in this case repression of traumatic sexual experience? I'm at the point where they have just emerged from the mouth of a sleeping child victimized by particularly nasty sexual abuse at the hands of a religious cult.

But the point where my prof might have particularly gone Lacanian all over Murakami's ass is with the idea of the "mirror stage," the moment when an infant becomes cognizant of the self, which for Lacan is less about recognition than misrecognition or separation from the self. Fits right in with this book's focus on duality, right? And notice how many times we actually see Aomame staring at her own naked body in mirrors.

But the truth is that these kinds of psychoanalytic readings never do much for me. So most likely my future posts will just focus on abstract business regarding time and history and memory. And maybe I'll try to work in some shit from my dissertation on those subjects. I need to be doing something with that tome anyway.

Quote to ponder:

"Aomame visited several little rooms she possessed inside her, tracing time backward the way a fish swims upstream. She found there familiar sights and long-forgotten smells, gentle nostalgia and severe pain. Suddenly, from some unknown source, a narrow beam of light pierced Aomame's body. She felt as though, mysteriously, she had become transparent" (220).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brautigan on Steroids with Vonnegut as his Bookie and Campaign Manager

One delicious aspect of this book is whether it is a retelling of George Orwell's "1984" or not. It keeps flirting with the reader that way and generates additional tension above and beyond the clever, fantastical storyline.

I am deep into the work and have become attached to the characters and the universe they inhabit and really don't want them to end up betraying each other with rats in cages eating their faces. Will "1Q84" end up mirroring "1984" in some way or will it use it as a springboard or will it perhaps lovingly parody it? I guess that's what the "Q" is for in the title.

I got a couple hundred pages into this and found myself enjoying every turn of phrase, every synesthesiatic swirl of intuition-metaphor-image-concreteness, every whimsical gesture, every playfully abrupt change in meta-narrative level.

As Nog hinted at with his observation of the two currents, this work is rife with so many wonderful not-quite-exact symmetries, parallels, mirrorings, and echoes. I think somehow Tengo's dichotomy of math prodigy and powerful writer serves as a touchstone for much of the near-symmetry throughout. As Tengo leaves the (for-him) safe comfortable world of equations and numbers (the basis of reality) he ventures into the much less rigid forest of the narrative world.

Even Aomame climbing down the emergency expressway stairway from the superhighway at the beginning of the story mirrors this idea of choosing to leave the mainstream reality and strike out through a thicket of uncertain narrative. We even end up visiting other cultures and realms in the course of the book that cleverly echo this as well.

So far the physical size of this volume hasn't been a deterrent in the least, as I'm always looking forward to the next page, the next chapter, the next insight. At one point I Wiki’d Murakami and found that two of his greatest Western influences were Vonnegut and Brautigan – my two favorite authors! No wonder I am loving this - for me it is like Brautigan on steroids with Vonnegut as his bookie and campaign manager. I can only hope that this entry point for Murakami for me doesn't spoil any possible enjoyment of his earlier works if this turns out to be his masterpiece because right now I can envision retiring from PBR Book Club for a year to drown myself in Murakamiism.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Very Murakami Christmas: Our December and January Selection

All right, book clubbers, we've had our fun with an escapist romp through 80's pop culture in Ready Player One , but we largely agreed it was pretty shallow. So let's tackle the 80's in a more profound (and profoundly weird) fashion with Haruki Murakami's 900+ page opus IQ84.

From what I've gathered, our usual book-clubbers are not particularly knowledgeable about Murakami, even though he seems to be increasingly regarded as one of the world's great living authors. My experience is limited to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (true, it's considered the masterpiece, but my reading was so long ago that it barely registers now).

Perhaps we should all begin with this terrific recent NY-Mag piece, which asserts that the author "has produced, over time, one of the world’s most distinctive bodies of work: three decades of addictive weirdness that falls into an oddly fascinating hole between genres (sci-fi, fantasy, realist, hard-boiled) and cultures (Japan, America), a hole that no writer has ever explored before, or at least nowhere near this deep. Over the years, Murakami’s novels have tended to grow longer and more serious — the sitcom references have given way, for the most part, to symphonies — and now, after a particularly furious and sustained boil, he has produced his longest, strangest, most serious book yet."

Not yet convinced that you need to devote two months to this project? Then try this:

"About halfway through, the book launches itself to such rarefied supernatural heights (a levitating clock, mystical sex-paralysis) that I found myself drawing exclamation points all over the margins."

Yep, that's how we'll be spending January, folks. Join us if you dare.

[Minor spoilers in next section]

As for me, I'm about 80 pages in and enjoying the dual narratives. So far I'm a little more intrigued by the inquiry into the nature and process of art and writing in the Tengo sections than I am by the "down the rabbit hole" tale (in this case, the "down the elevated expressway ladder" tale) of Aomame. But I'm also having a blast wondering what Bananasuit will say about Murakami's creation of his lead female character (Aomame, which means "green peas") and especially a wild scene in which she beds an old dude because she likes the shape of his head and then feels an overpowering desire to kill him.

Let's take a look at this portentous passage in the opening paragraph:

"...he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents."

Is this simile also a description of the novel's narrative technique, with its two stories of Aomame and Tengo gradually converging? (at least I'll assume they converge). Or does it suggest the notion of various realities colliding, which seems to be the case so far despite Chapter One's philosophizing cabbie telling us and Aomame (in bold print no less!) that "There's always only one reality."

Folks, this is going to be a wacky ride.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ready Playlist One

Not confined to the 80's but centered on it. Reaches back before and after some, like the book. Two disks:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yes, There Will Be Homework

Tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. we convene at the Tap for a pretentious literary discussion about Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. PBR Book Club has big shoes to fill as "the precursor of the synthesis of extrainstitutional intellectualism," and that's why I'm assigning you homework:

  • What's one person, event, or issue that you want to make sure we address? Of all the burning questions you're dying to ask, pick just one.

  • Obvi, RP1 is loaded with retro pop culture references. What pop-culture relic did Cline miss (or gloss over) that you'd argue to put in a major scene?

  • Would you recommend this book to your mom (or zombie mom)? Why or why not?

See you at 8:30 tomorrow night, ready to chat! I hear it helps to skim the first and last chapters right before you come. Your answers will be graded.

The Minister of Inquiry