All of Us Are Dreaming: Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. New York: Vintage, 2005.

 I sometimes think that one doesn’t understand Murakami, one experiences him. Would it be too trite to say in the way one experiences haiku?DSCN1363 You let the story fill you and then you just are: thinking.

And here am I doing something a little similar to what happens at the end of Kafka on the Shore:  slipping between the first and the second person.

Should I even try to make sense of the story? It is a story about journeys, journeys to find something, someone, oneself. Some characters one thinks one recognizes: the apparent fool who understands, the wise hermaphrodite, the naïve picaro on a quest. And then there are the metaphors: do they attain symbolism? Is the forest just the forest or is it that particular wild wood, the tangle of the unconscious? And what about the shore, that place of borders where only the shifting of the sands and the movement of the sea is constant?

DSCN1358 - Version 2Even the story lines are unstable. Narratives interlock with narratives: characters recall their histories, tell the tales of others. But are the stories true? Some are perhaps; others, perhaps not. Only the reader is given all the narratives but, if anything, having “all” the information is more confusing than ignorance. Kafka’s search and Nakata’s search appear closely connected, but are they? One’s normal expectations of the relationship between plot and sub-plot are overturned because the characters do not end up on stage together at the end of the equivalent to the last act. As the story moves to its conclusion, the characters pass near each other but end up apart again. Kafka is going back to Tokyo; Hoshino is going back to Nagoya and Mr. Nakata has “long since left for another place” (455).

One is tempted—another shift in person; the novel does that to you—to say this is a novel about dualities: male and female, dark and light, good and evil, past and present. One’s self and one’s shadow. Sense and nonsense. One hears echoes: Sophocles, Jung, Borges, and, of course, Kafka.

The novel is comic. The novel is absurd. The novel is a dream. The novel is a nightmare. “All of us are dreaming” (299).

The novel criticizes modern society, undermines our expectations. Fish fall from the sky. Colonel Sanders is “a pimp in a back alley in Takamatsu” but also “a metaphysical, conceptual object” (285) who checks “the correlation between different worlds” (284) but is “not much of detail person” and who claims to be “an abstract concept” (285).  A call girl summarizes Hegel: “At the same time that ‘I” am the content of a relation, ‘I’ am alsoDSCN1327 that which does the relating” (274). Time and space shift. Perhaps there are ghosts or living spirits. Murakami takes his characters and his readers into a “labyrinth of time” (243).

One does indeed “make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm” (5) that is Kafka on the Shore. I go back to what I said at the beginning of these thoughts: one experiences Murakami.

The novel is a koan.

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