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).


  1. The Mirror Stage! This takes me back to Professor Krier and the term paper I wrote for her class. She would love you for this.

  2. PS Can we read your dissertation for PBR Book Club?

  3. The diss is almost pretentious enough for PBR Book Club but not quite compelling enough. But maybe I'll try and quote my own work in a future blog post, professor-style!