murakami’s eye talks to freud’s ghost
If you have, at any point, been forced to read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature,” then you have certainly encountered and been repulsed by Emerson’s image of Nature as a gigantic, omniscient, transparent eyeball. It’s a terrible attempt to represent Nature, and even worse as a stand-in for God. I didn’t think having read “Nature” would ever do me the least bit of good.
That is, until the day when I was approached by a gigantic, semi-omniscient, transparent eyeball. My life has not been the same since. Of course, since this meeting occurred yesterday, a skeptic may feel that the jury is still out.
“Hello,” said The Eye. “I am Haruki Murakami, author of 1Q84.”
Naturally, I was pretty excited to hear this. A chance to speak directly with Haruki Murakami! After all, in addition to 1Q84 he is the author of such famous books as Norwegian Wood (original title: Schizophrenic Baby, You Can Drive My Car) and The Brothers Karamazaki.
“Haruki! It’s such a pleasure to meet you in person. But I’m a little worried about your body. Is it missing?”
“I completely understand,” said the Eye. “For a long time, I worried about that too. But then, as I was floating around, I happened to spy my body jogging contentedly down a suburban road. I watched my body for quite a long time, actually, but it only did three things: jogging, writing about jogging, and eating food in order to jog some more. Eventually I ceased worrying about it, keeping in mind that jogging is quite healthy.”
“What a relief!” I cried. “That makes complete sense. Nothing is better for an author than jogging.”
“Exactly. Jogging also enables me to write increasingly long books. My next book will be over twenty thousand pages long.”
I nodded, and then, seizing my chance, I asked the Eye to explain what inspired his most recent book.
“You are not the first person to ask me that. I cannot tell you where the book comes from, but I can tell you another story, if you prefer. It is about Freud’s ghost.”
“Please go ahead,” I replied. “If there’s one thing I love, it is pointless stories-within-stories that completely sidetrack the narrative.”
“I thought so,” said the Eye. “That’s what drew us together in the first place.” With that, he began.
For many years, I floated around, listening to jazz albums and reading my way through the Western Canon. It would be inaccurate to say that I loved a certain book, or a certain vista, as I went drifting along — rather, I merely did what I was made to do, which is look dispassionately at whatever is in front of me. There were almost no sounds, smells, or tactile sensations in my world, although I did listen to a lot of music with headphones.
There is no limit to the strange things you see when you have nothing to do but observe; eventually, as I was busy compiling my endless film of the world, I bumped into Freud’s ghost. He was smoking a cheap spectral cigar, and his skin and beard were the same color as the smoke.
What are you up to? I asked myself. Yet, despite my slightly aqueous transparency, Freud’s ghost also noticed me, which is a rare occurrence.
“I am tremendously glad you are here, Mr. Murakami,” said Freud. “Obviously, this is a situation that requires immediate treatment.”
“I know why I am here — I am a famous living Japanese author,” I said. “But why on earth are you here?”
“Because of folks like you, actually. People have been believing in me so fervently that I’ve started walking around and smoking these cigars, which taste like musty sepulchres.”
“Like Christopher Nolan. Have you seen Inception? But lots of other people, too. The creators of The Sopranos. Stephanie Meyer. Harry Potter, if he existed.”
“OK. But what does this have to do with me? I’m just a floating eyeball. Why are you so concerned about me?”
“Because, Mr. Murakami, you are like all eyeballs. You have a blind spot. This blind spot is ‘yourself.’ And let me tell you, yourself is a mess. You have all kinds of primal traumas, unresolved sexual preoccupations, and lingering neuroses.”
With that, Freud’s ghost produced a large vellum scroll, dried and cracking around the edges, and unrolled it on the large, blue, Viennese table before us.
I looked on in astonishment. In all my travels, I’d never seen anything so wonderful! There were huge blotches of color, which apparently represented the “moods” certain songs evoked in me. There were obscene, pornographic drawings, most of which had to do with breasts, and there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. There was a single word, “EINSTEIN,” and then a bunch of snaky arrows leading to pictures of clocks acting strangely. A mostly finished graphic novel, representing my childhood, was there, along with an embedded silent cartoon called “Infancy.”
What’s more, Freud was an absolutely wonderful guide to all these things. With infinite patience, he walked me through every redundant fantasy, every compulsion that I had to repeat a certain word, such as “inexplicable.” He created simplified models and drew even more arrows, connecting everything to everything else. Sometimes he would ask me a question, such as “What kind of spy thriller do you consider damn sexy?” and my answers helped us fill in the less densely mapped areas.
After several months of working closely together — during which time Freud became less and less spectral, even appearing visibly flushed one Thursday afternoon — we reached the point where I could lie back in Freud’s fantastic “human hand chair,” and he could recite my whole story, from my birth, to the growth and detachment of my eyeball, to the very day we’d first met in the course of my travels.
When, at last, Freud said we’d reached “the end,” he stood up and began rolling the crinkly scroll carefully back up.
“What are you doing? Stop that!” I yelled.
“I’m putting your complexes away, of course,” he said, staring me down. His beard quivered sternly. “We’ve reached the end of them. It must be obvious to you, as a perfectly rational floating eye, that they are quite silly and senseless. This is your catharsis. From now on, you will be able to just go about your life, free of all neuroses.”
“On the contrary!” I sputtered. “What you say is true. Some of the stuff on here is a bit silly. But it’s all I’ve got! For years I’ve just been floating around, looking at this and that. I haven’t felt particularly close to anything! Now we’ve finally gotten around to something that I can call ‘myself.’ I know I’m almost as ghostly as you, but I like following these little arrows around from one neurosis to the next. They deserve my attention. They even deserve love.”
“I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me,” said Freud. “These complexes are just a simple way of describing what’s going on in your head, so that we can get you to your catharsis before it’s too late. If we were to continue talking, for example, about why you like Janacek’s ‘Sinfonietta,’ you’d realize that the Janacek is just a symbol of something else.”
“But the solution is so simple!” I retorted. “I don’t want to go on analyzing things with you forever, begging your pardon. It’s been simply terrific, but the patient ought to get some say in these things too, and I am quite sure that we’ve reached a good stopping point.”
“So you don’t care why you like the Janacek, after all?”
“Of course not! I have a few whys, and that’s more than enough. I’m not interested in why I like the Janacek any longer; I’m only interested in the fact that I like it. From now on, I can simply say that there is something too deep for words about the ‘Sinfonietta,’ and that this something moves me profoundly.”
At this, Freud rolled up the vellum scroll and stormed out of the room. It was too late, though; I remembered every detail.
“But my dear Haruki,” I said, “aren’t you worried that your readers will lose interest in your books? If they keep getting longer, and more obsessed with your own fetishes?”
“Not in the least!” said the Eye. “Did people ever get tired of the sex and strange clocks in Milan Kundera? No, they didn’t. Like him, I throw in some very serious political issues. Cults, for example.”
“Interesting…what is your theory about cults?”
“I think people join them because a lot of people are dumb and sheep-like.”
“You must be right,” I admitted. “After all, that was exactly what Kundera always said about Communism. And I, myself, have often thought that people are dumb.”
“But there’s more,” said the Eye. “My books warn people against thinking too deeply, especially when it comes to art, while at same time warning them against the shallow modern world. Whenever I don’t want my readers to think about something, I just use a lot of vague language, which allows them to project whatever they want onto the text. When you get right down to it, I’m very generous in that way.”
I have to say, this impressed me deeply. It was as though a strange, inexplicable something had taken hold of my brain, like a dream, or perhaps like “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, if you’ve heard that disturbing and unique record. I looked forward to unrolling my own inner vellum. Somewhere, in the far distance, Freud’s ghost became ever more tangible, though it had also begun to writhe in ceaseless agony. Murakami’s Eye said a polite goodbye. It looked fine, I thought. Perhaps a little bloodshot, but still primarily transparent. Many other eyes must look the same.