New Haruki Murakami Book

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For those readers out there, another one of the world’s current great authors, Haruki Murakami, also has a new book out.  It’s called Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  My favorite three books of his are probably Kafka On the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  I think that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his masterpiece, but Kafka On the Shore is probably the best place to start as it is more accessible.

For anyone that has seen a David Lynch movie, Murakami has the same sense of the uncanny that Lynch has.  He has the ability to make the everyday seem strange and haunting.

I spent time in Japan last year and I have been interested in their culture for a long time.  After going there I read a little bit about their culture.  Because they have stricter rules than us concerning personal interaction they are more comfortable with ambiguity.  There is a certain amount of ambiguity and abstraction even built into their language.  Often what is meant is inferred by body language and facial expression, instead of being overtly expressed.  I’ve commented before that this plays a role in their art.  If you watch any movies that are wildly popular in Japan, they will seem much more surreal than our popular entertainment.  Anyone that has seen movies like Spirited Away can attest to that.  Murakami’s work, although it can be extremely realistic at times, also has many moments of this surrealism as well.

I love art that has a certain dream logic to it, as I often see the world as being dreamlike.  If this is something you find yourself drawn to then I highly recommend that you check out Murakami’s work.

David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami

 

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Two of the best living novelists have new books out.  David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami are both novelists that are able to entertain and deal in serious themes of the human condition.  

Here is an excellent review of Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks in The Atlantic:  

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/review-david-mitchells-bone-clocks-the-cloud-atlas-authors-meta-masterpiece/379445/

Here is a review of Murakami’s new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by rock n roll legend Patti Smith:

I intend to read both of these novels.  I highly recommend Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, please god don’t see the movie, although all of his works are worth checking out.  My favorite Murakami books are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On the Shore, although again almost all of his work is excellent.  

Understanding Others Through Fiction

There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about the relationship between men and women and what women have to put up with.  That is an interesting and important conversation to have at any time. I want to kind of get off track for a minute and talk about empathy. 

In the novel Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, one of the themes is that those that lack imagination are capable of evil things.  Those that lack imagination, lack the ability to put themselves in others shoes, and therefore do not develop empathy.  In the novel the main character reads a book about the Nazi Eichmann.  Eichmann never questions his morality; he just does the most efficient job that he can.  He lacked the imagination to put himself in the shoes of those that were suffering.  This theme that Murakami highlights is not original, but the way it weaves into his masterful novel is really powerful. 

Fiction can be a great way to temporarily step into the shoes of others and learn empathy for those unlike ourselves.  Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove tetralogy are some of the most entertaining books that I have read.  Commanche Moon is a bit uneven, but that is a small complaint in an otherwise great series.  I want to talk about the second novel that was written and the last novel time wise in the series.  That novel is Streets of Laredo and it is black as coal. 

I don’t want to give anything important away regarding the overall story.  However, now is where I want to circle back to the first topic.  In the book you are constantly made aware of how women are made to feel in this wild west environment.  The women in this book are given real inner lives.  They are constantly under the probing eyes of men and often under the threat of real violence.  You feel empathy for them the way they are written.  They may be living in a fictional past, but the emotions and situations are too real to ignore. 

As a man you shouldn’t need to read a western novel to understand what many women go through on a daily basis.  However, fiction can make you dwell on something that you might only temporarily ponder otherwise.  I am not pretending that reading can solve all of the worlds problems or even most of them, but it can’t hurt to take temporary journeys into the lives of others through literature. 

Tokyo Gas Attacks and 911

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attacks and the Japanese Psyche.  Murakami is one of my favorite authors, but this is the first piece of nonfiction that I’ve read by him.  It deals with the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway by the terrorist group Aum.  However, it mostly it is mostly made up of the testimony of the survivors.  I’m only about 40% of the way through the book, I’m reading it on my Kindle, and don’t have a final thought on the book yet.  It’s interesting so far. 

One thing that I find amazing about the book so far is the amount of survivors that refuse to let their lives be dictated by hate concerning the group that carried out the attacks.  Most of them want to see the members of Aum receive the proper sentencing, but only a few of the people seem to be angry.  I am not far enough in the book to make a final judgment, but this seems to me to be a remarkable contrast to the bloodlust that was unleashed after the 911 terrorist attacks. 

Another book that I picked up recently, which I’m about the same amount of the way through, is Terry Jones’s Terry Jones On the War on Terror.  I have mentioned this book in previous blogs.  With laser sharp wit Jones points out the foolishness of the west in our response to the 911 terrorist attacks.  He makes the case with the utmost clarity on how our actions immediately following 911 actually probably created more terrorists than anything Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts could have done on their own.  This is especially true with our foolish foray into Iraq which had nothing to do with 911, which is obvious now and was obvious at the time to those that paid attention.  With this absurd drone war under President Obama it seems that we haven’t gotten much smarter since then. 

A recent post that I made talked about how we are falling further and further behind in world wide education.  We continue to lead the world in military spending.  I’d like to see those things reversed.  First maybe we need to change the actual psyche of our nation.  Although we need to prosecute fully those that trespass against us, we should be careful of revenge of the most savage kind.  It rarely leads to anywhere that we want to go.  It can often create future threats in ways that we can’t fully grasp at the time.  

Let It Rain

I am up in Seattle now.  It has been raining off and on.  No big surprise.  I love it.  I never thought I could miss rain, but I do.  Down in Austin we have been in a drought for awhile.  Rainy days, where you can hide away in your house, are rare.
There are certain books, movies, and films that just feel better when it rains.  The Cure’s Disintegration would be one such piece.  With books I think of something like Haruki Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. 
I like to occasionally slide away into that land of dreams.  Where you are awake, but touched by the realm of the mystical.  The rain allows that.  Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain…

Roads Still Yet to be Traveled

I’ve really become interested in electronic music lately.  Some bands that I’ve been listening to lately have been Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, OMD, and Book of Love.  I also love the Knife, though their music fits less moods than the others, as they are more abrasive and confrontational.  I also love the music on Johnny Jewel’s label, especially the band The Chromatics.  I’ve always loved synth pop.  I grew up on bands like New Order.

I’m interested in the idea of people getting emotion out of technology.  Also some of the best pop songs are in this genre.  Bernard Sumner from New Order can write endless melodies that never leave your head.

Although I grew up with bands like New Order, Electronic, and Depeche Mode, some of my current interest has been driven by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.  He uses this music to great effect in films like Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives.  He understands that although this music is very synthetic on one hand, it is also capable of great emotion.

If country and folk music, which I also love, evoke pastoral settings, electronic music reminds me of the city at nighttime.  That’s not to say that electronic music can’t also be pastoral.  Brian Eno’s 70’s album Another Green World is an album that brings nature to mind more often than not.  Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album also has moments like this.  Although I love songs that have a message and am a fan of great lyrics, sometimes music is wonderful when it just creates space for dreams.

Haruki Murakami’s book After Dark creates a surreal dream like version of the city at night.  When I read things like this I often picture certain pieces by Kraftwerk and the Chromatics as being the perfect soundtrack to these worlds.

I grew up as a fan of the pop song.  More recently I’ve begun to be as interested in music that is non verbal.  Music that is non verbal has to create emotion and thought through pure sound.  This can be music that is instrumental or music that has the vocals obscured through production techniques.  Non verbal to me can even be bands that sing in foreign languages, where I can’t understand what they are saying, and the voice becomes just another emotional texture.  Often in electronic music, especially as you see with bands like Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, only a few simple phrases will be repeated throughout a song.  Even though you understand what they are saying it is open to interpretation when combined with the music.  The words become almost just another sound that feeds into the music and vice versa.

Although I write in the pop song format, and it’s still my favorite format, there is something to be said about music that is non verbal.  The human imagination is a powerful thing.  In the place of words we will often find that our dreams take over and place meaning into things that may or may not be intended by the artist.

I’ve mentioned before how David Lynch liked using grainy digital video for the movie Inland Empire, because he wanted the human imagination to fill in the space that the imperfect images left.  I think a lot of electronic music, the kind that is non verbal or almost non verbal, does this same thing.  It allows for interpretation and dreaming on the part of the listener.

Well there are many forms of instrumental music, many of which I love, the sounds created by electronic instruments create a different headspace.  Again it is often, but not always, more urban and futuristic.  Some bands like OMD, who write pop songs and instrumental pieces, create a retro futurism.  It’s like the sonic version of a film noir that takes place in the past and the future at the same time.  One of my favorite albums right now is their album Dazzle Ships.  It is an album full of mystery, ideas, and dreams.

Too often I think people let cultural or tribal things get in the way of exploring new worlds.  People are more open now to new musical experiences than ever before.  Sometimes though, there still exists a certain tribal instinct that gets in the way of people enjoying different forms, based solely on what they might find “cool” or acceptable in their group.   The human imagination can go anywhere and should be given as much room to roam as possible.  Don’t listen to anything but your own gut.  There are many roads still yet to be traveled.

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Narrow Minds Devoid of Imagination

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.” – Haruki Murakami, Kafka On the Shore