People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.
—Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
I’ve boiled this quote down to the easily digestible part, which is a shame really, because if you get the whole thing in context then you get one tough cookie of a scene. This a scene where a young girl, terrified by telepathic visions over which she has no control, and largely seeking to escape from the world, tells a writer (who is fairly similar to Haruki Murakami, except he’s a hack rather than a novelist) that she should have treated her mother’s lover better. The writer rejects this; he tells the girl harshly that she doesn’t have the right to be sorry, because she wasn’t fair to the man when he lived.
A very good thesis about this novel would be as follows: Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance is the story about the excessive questing and emotional involvement necessary to counter the transactional and forgetful nature of advanced capitalism. Nobody is putting words in Murakami’s mouth here; he actually refers to “advanced” or “late-stage” capitalism several times as the novel goes on, and clearly thinks of it as a necessary point of reference.
Nonetheless, this thesis disgusts me. I can’t do anything with it. It sits there like yesterday’s mashed potatoes. I would literally rather have to wade in clown pants through a squalid pond of methanated swampweeds than write on the subject of transactional capitalist apathy.
My guess is that this thesis disgusts me because it is trying so hard to impose something on the individual, and this makes me wonder about the general drift of this sort of resistance-or-death pole vault. In Murakami’s novel, despite the initial claims of the protagonist to a state of vacant ordinariness, he eventually imposes upon himself the task of saving several people. A mystical wise man (the Sheep Man) informs him that he needs to “dance,” and his version of dancing is a series of compassionate acts, undertaken often with only a vague idea about who is being helped, or what they really need.
I highly recommend that you read LittleLight’s new post; incredibly, this is coming just three entries after her amazing prose poetry on the feminism of the monstrous. Obviously, I’m adding her to the blogroll. What LittleLight is accomplishing there is not something that I can accomplish, at least not at the moment, with my stomach feeling the way it does. She is re-creating the quest; the strain of perception which is like going down a rabbit hole, in that it restores the world to wholeness through the willingness to hope (as N. Pepperell has commented, in an insightful entry). A relevant quote: “It was an opportunity to decide if I would be identified by what was broken, or what was whole; by hate for those who had hurt me, or love for those who refused; by what other people had done to me, or what I believed people could do for each other.” The moment of opportunity.
In a post preceding her new series on Blogging for Choice, petitpoussin gives us a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, which ends,
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
I think that one could read Murakami the same way, as asking a question of us that echoes in the wide chamber of the knowledge of death. He seems to be forcing the moment to its crisis. I will even say the text must be read partly that way.
I have been reading that way for some time now: for the tension, for the point at which the moment seems to jump out of its own skin. I would like to stop doing that for…well, for a “season,” perhaps, if that is the right unit to use here.
I would like to do nothing; or at least nothing where the sounds of it — the sound of a pen, or of water about to boil — get lost in the bustle. I am thinking of the way that a blade of grass feels if you’re stuck in right field, and you hold it so gently that it scrapes across your finger, serrated. I am thinking of the way river water gets warmer at dusk. I don’t want to make so much as a ripple. I imagine that it would be possible to read Murakami’s writer as saying that it makes no sense to push backwards through time, cutting and hacking your way with regrets, meanwhile also pushing forward into a future jammed with projects. Fairness and sincerity are immediacies; the closest you can come to them is the feeling of them, carried forward by a story in which they appear, but you would have to blend that with the feeling of Murakami’s sunsets to make any of it distracting to me.
Somebody saw my picture today and said I looked so much younger in the picture. Somebody saw my picture a month ago and said I looked so much younger. I am going to have to throw out two pairs of sneakers and my slippers.
I am sure that silence and slow time will give me back years. I have been listening to Elliott Smith. I can imagine picking up Beckett again.
So, if you have no quest, this is for you.
If you do — if you are on a wild sheep chase — you still have my ear and best hopes.