Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Does 1Q84 Mean

If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

My experience with “1Q84”, my introduction to Haruki Murakami, was that it was a beautiful, insightful and surrealistic gem that works on the multiple levels of a plot-driven tale of magical realism, a love story where abused children grow up and finally fall in love decades later as a way to heal, and a literary and philosophical statement about the power of the novel, of the imagination and of the creative and subconscious impulses and their effects on both reader and author. What’s not to like.


I also choose to see a strain of quantum mechanics’ Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Schrödinger's Cat style, in which in chain-of-dominoes fashion the act of observation from Perceiver to Receiver transmits the power of the narrative from author to author (Chekhov’s gun to Murakami) to work to other works (Murakami’s character Ushikawa in “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” persisting into “1Q84”) to character to character (Fuka-Eri to her sister to Tengo to Aomame to Ushikawa) to reader (we enter the author’s environment that he conceived out of thin air like a cocoon and it seems real to us while we are immersed in it). And even from this collapsing chain to the reader’s own sense of reality if insanely successful. Don’t be like an author that gets so obsessed with his characters and literary world that it causes damage to those around him in his real life; don’t mistake the narrative for the reality. Don’t become bewitched by the moon and become a lunatic. But can we truly distinguish one experience of reality from the other when we become heavily immersed in our inner worlds.


To consider these ideas in modest detail:

1 The Little People come out of the forest.

2 They come when we are sleeping.

3 They are neither good nor bad but they can cause trouble.

4 They create things out of nothing that give birth to other things.

5 They beat the drum to keep things moving.

The Little People are our subconscious impulses and will, creative and unruly. 1Q84 is the world of our imagination. If we stay on the expressway, on the built road, teaching math, the Little People can’t affect us as much and we stay in 1984, the world of perception seen through our cerebral cortex (the latest part of our brains which evolved in the last blink of an eye in the grand reach of epochs). But what happens if we do the unthinkable and follow our impulses sometimes, deviating from our customary arc through time and existence.

We climb down the emergency stairs like Aomame; we keep to the forest like the venerable Gilyaks; we move to the unsettled world of narrative creation like Tengo. And now our subconscious wills and impulses can drive us to other worlds, to forgotten memories intertwined with current patterns that govern our lives, where cause and effect break down. We perceive the universe around us through a different filter bubble, through a different way of knowing. We truly experience a different reality. Can we call it anything other than 1Q84.

There is a tension between our ancient subconscious mind and our more dominant Johnny-come-lately abstract, rational concepts-and-symbols-using mind. Fuka-Eri, Tsubasa and perhaps other characters seem to be abstractions and ideas more like Plato’s Platonic Forms than flesh and blood figures. But symbols and concepts can be conduits to channel our subconscious and give birth to new developments in our living narratives, to work through painful memories from childhood, or to give birth to children in consummated literary storylines – storylines that are driven by desire and longing but shaped by conscious manipulation of possibilities and ideas. Symbols and concepts can be used to counteract the effect of our innate drives and strong impulses, the triumph of reason over instinct – the rise of an opposing force to the Little People. But sometimes our cerebral cortex, our Professor Ebisuno, sees the subconscious as something to be feared, to be lured out and contained by equations, facts and the mechanics of cause-and-effect, as something bordering on thought-crime when experienced through the top-down filter of logic and reason.


There is a tension between our ancient subconscious mind and our more dominant Johnny-come-lately abstract, rational concepts-and-symbols-using mind. 1Q84 explores this balancing act – one of the most difficult challenges we face in the course of our sentient journey in this world and through our time awake here – with spectacular insight, humor and creativity and for this reader, just the perfect dose of surrealism blended in throughout. What more could one ask for from a 925 page odyssey.


  1. Steve, you're blowing my mind! The novel itself as an air chrysalis, conceived by the author out of thin air like a cocoon for a story -- and all the characters, places, and symbols in it.

    Of COURSE Professor Ebisuno is our cerebral cortex, our superego. So I wonder... what does that make Ushikawa, with his mossy tongue and misshapen head? Topic of discussion for tonight!

    And can I just say -- I'm just really glad Aomame and Tengo finally got to bang.

  2. YES! Glad you like the air chrysalis take. But of course SO much to discuss, since it works on so many levels at once.

    And Ushikawa and his mossy tongue and misshapen head - that also reminds me of the smaller, greenish, misshapen secondary moon in 1Q84 ... Echoes ...

    Laugh, yes, what a way to consummate the love story. We can haz happy now at teh end.

  3. Excerpt from Wiki page introduction to "magical realism":

    The term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous: Winona State University Asst. Professor of Japanese Studies, and author, Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as "...what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe."[2] This critical perspective towards magical realism stems from the Western reader's disassociation with mythology, a root of magical realism more easily understood by non-Western cultures.[3] Western confusion regarding magical realism is due to the "...conception of the real" created in a magical realist text: rather than explain reality using natural or physical laws, as in typical Western texts, magical realist texts create a reality " which the relation between incidents, characters, and setting could not be based upon or justified by their status within the physical world or their normal acceptance by bourgeois mentality."[4] Many writers are categorized as "magical realist," which confuses what the term really means and how wide its definition is.[5]