Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage: An Afterthought

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“You can hide memories, suppress them, but you can’t erase the history that produced them… … if nothing else, you need to remember that. You can’t erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself.”

It’s been about 3 years since Murakami’s previous work, 1Q84, was published, and compared to its predecessor, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage is almost a 180° change in what most, I guess, have come to expect from Murakami’s works – the usual suspects are there, of course: weird sex, bottles of Cutty Sark, musings at night, and the constant sense of ennui the protagonists face – but there is undoubtedly much less emphasis on the supernatural and the paranormal in this work compared to the tale of the Little People.

What we have here is, undoubtedly, a novel written in the traditional Murakami style, as some like to call it – a focus on everything but the story! – without much of what makes a Murakami book uniquely his. Sure, there were cryptic dreams yet again, and there was discussion of a man who could see auras, but ultimately, that ended up being nothing more than an anecdote. Even the symbols, the metaphors were much more human: dreams of sex, sixth fingers… this time there is no well. There is no chrysalis, there is nothing that disappears. What we receive is something intensely human at the core.

It’s also been quite a while since Murakami started writing in the third-person perspective rather than from a first-person perspective, which worked magnificently in his novels, especially Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, and it, in a way, disassociates Murakami from his own text: while in previous novels the image of Murakami could be projected onto their male protagonists, and the protagonists onto Murakami,  this new writing style invites us to join him in examining what happens, observing our characters face their problems, live their lives, with Murakami not as the artist of the exhibition, but as its curator.

Along with the shift in narrative style comes a demystifying effect: what 1Q84 and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki excelled in, in my opinion, was a more honest depiction – and dare I say, a better depiction? – of the character’s emotional responses, thoughts, feelings. Emotions aren’t something triggered by the supernatural, by the surreal. Emotions aren’t special dramatic events. Emotions are what defines humanity – it is emotion that drives us forward into tomorrow. Tsukuru’s reaction to his being exiled from his close-knit community of colorful friends may strike some as strange, defeatist, or cowardly, but to me it was something instinctive, natural: what else could one have done in that situation? Faced with such an unbelievable order, can someone really find the power within himself to be angry?

While Aomame’s yearning for Tengo in 1Q84 and vice versa had a surreal, almost magic overtone, the characters of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki have none of that: as such, they strike me as much more real, and all the more believable. The book is carried not by the magical and the mystical, but facilitated along with Tsukuru’s conversations with people – people which we may never know more about- it immersed me in its color-splattered world. Not all primary, not all happy, but colorful, its world was.

But with the book becoming much more realistic, of course some parts of the book left me unsatisfied: Murakami’s knack for leaving stories unresolved. True, it’s what he does: “The Little People came suddenly,” he said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what it means. I was a prisoner of the story. I had no choice. They came, and I described it. That is my work.” At the risk of sounding apologist, I don’t blame him for having no end in mind: it tends to leave the mystic, mystic. It’s yet another Murakami trait.

Still, we never know what happened to Haida aside from conjecture, and we’ll never know how Sara would reply. In fact, we don’t even know Sara’s motivations all that well: she puts in so much effort for Tsukuru to recover, so it’s almost inexplicable for her to have done what she did. The feeling…. is much like you’re packing away the book into your mind, placing it in the corners, packing it in and filling up the space, and having this big empty space left over. You want to see more, but you know you can’t. Is that a good thing then? Perhaps, since the book’s strengths were after all, realism: not everything ends like 1Q84, not everything ends like a novel. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about Haida and Sara, but it’s something I guess I just have to live with.

Speaking of having to live with unfortunate truths, perhaps the reason why the book had a great impact on me was that I could relate very well to Tsukuru’s situation, having being placed in a similar situation once myself, in my youth, and watching someone else being put in the spot as well. Granted our pilgrimages weren’t as long (hopefully) as Tsukuru’s, but having gone through a similar experience myself, only made me appreciate the book even more. Tsukuru’s reactions, emotions, thoughts: at times, I felt as though the book was written for me. That was how much I realised I had immersed myself into his railroad world. The book wasn’t bombastic. It certainly was not as loud as his previous works. It was subdued, quiet, like sitting in a balcony at night, just watching the city sleep. Even without all the Murakami mysticism, its world would have been the same – just as touching, and just as engaging.

To end off, I quote the book again.

“In the deepest recesses of his mind, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. Our heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are instead, linked deeply through our wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility.”

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Sticker from the book, “Community”.

To Mimic The Behaviour Of The Blissful

The same-old, age-old, all-too-familiar facial movement: it’s like wearing a pair of old jeans. Same same but different. Likewise, the smile’s stretched out, stretched out to reach the ends of the world, and the teeth are bared- an impromptu dentist inspection, files of recruits falling in, trying to stay still, stay tidy, et cetera et cetera – with the eyebrows raised, ready to strike. A naturally man-made phenomenon. If the situation calls for it, you should appear happy; if you detect the same-old suspicions of joy, ditto: monkey see monkey do. Be their mirror, just as they were to you; they smile, you smile, because we are all happy, joyful, exuberant, altogether now. Yet, the creases in your forehead betray you: layer onto layer onto layer – Son, are you bothered by anything, Son, did anything happen , Son, you could practice smiling more, Son – parataxis, questions like quack doctors clamouring to save the sick, to revive the dead, to console the cheerless.  They pile up in the corner of my lips. I can feel them, pressing onto my cheeks, both from the inside and the outside; much like that time when you knew you were happy, but you didn’t show it, not by nurture but by nature; yet you caught yourself smiling when no-one was around to see it. Back then, you knew that smile was beautiful, even without looking at it.


 

I have a problem with smiling.

I’m very conscious of my teeth. They’re very crooked. Some in some out, some big some small. I didn’t brush my teeth enough when I was young. I was also often told that I didn’t smile a lot, or I always appeared moody: so I believed that this was the reason. But I could still smile with my mouth closed, so it wasn’t the cause – I soon realised that this disconnect existed for me, between emotion and action, feeling and behaviour: I could be happy but still appear the same, to be in the default state, the ‘stoneface’…my family won the lottery with my A-Levels certificate a few days ago. My mother was ecstatic, telling me how lucky she was to have bought 4D that day with the certificate I finally got back from my friends a few months after it was released. Who has the time to visit  old HCJC in the middle of sunny Singapore when you’re spending every bloody day in the mosquito-infested jungles of Mandai and Joo Koon? I digress, but she hugged me and I could see just how joyful she was, her smile was from ear to ear, and I suppose I was happy too, because honestly I am, I was, I swear, but then I caught a glimpse of my face in the display cabinet door, and I soon saw the ridiculousness of it all – a mother smiling, joyful, embracing the son, standing there limply as though in the wake of a car accident. 

will probably revisit this sometime, had difficulty ending it….I’ve made about 4 revisions now. I also wrote about this subject back when  I was way, way, way angstier. 

Anyway taiwan comes next week. the jungle awaits me…

triptych #2

I.

“I know what I want

But I don’t know where it is.”

I’ll keep looking

Around in circles of dust

Left behind, in the afterglow

And the aftermath.

“I know what I want

But I’m afraid to ask.”

 

II.

I wanted to feel it again.

I want to feel the familiar

Movement: wrist in rotation

Pen in motion:

Thinking with ink.

I wanted to write

But about what?

It gushes.

I’m drowning with the feeling

That I’m supposed to be inspired:

After all, surrounded by books

What can you do but write?

 

III.

In circles I navigated on the trails you’ve left behind. Old words older photos modern letters symbols characters. (Some made up.) This path seems familiar (because I’ve been down this path before). Walking around in circles again. The buzz of city life like flies on roadkill. Everything continues to move because nothing stops. We are not Warsaw. We are not still life. The signs are like tracks obscured by the lalang. It grows. It hides yet it grows still. Still I dream. Around and around in circles again.  Now, the platform seems different, the station has changed and shrunken. How do I go back to where/what I was? I am in a new place yet I knew everything was the same. I’m lost for now, but still I know that this is where I wanted to be. Now, I know what I wanted, but I was afraid to ask. Still, we’ll move forward, circles into circles into circles. Today yet again, I caught myself thinking in circles.


 

 

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layout of booksactually: a bad sketch

 

Spent the better half of today completely lost. Went down Chinatown. Past familiar restaurants where we had reunion dinners. I wanted to buy some books I read about in the Straits Times from BooksActually, but I had never actually been there. I saved the address in my phone as 125A Telok Ayer Street, but that was the original address. The store had moved twice. When I reached there I removed my earphones. The music was good. The cats lay on the books near the door. My mood was good. I felt like I had to write something, so I typed this on my phone. Could have been better but I’ll post it as-is.

In retrospect, I should have went to check the address first before I left. When I was lost at Ann Siang I checked my phone and I saw the address had changed, but I was skeptical. Actually,  now that I think about it, I think I knew it had changed for sure then, but I just didn’t want to leave yet.

#1″  was here.

 

Books I ended up buying: Echolation – Mani Rao Sonnets from the Singlish – Joshua Ip Payday Loans – Jee Leong Koh I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist – Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde and a photobook on Japanese Cafes.