Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Murakami's Void and the American Suburb

Fluffy was not an indoor cat. Since she traveled to Madrid when she was a mid-sized teen she learned that the world has a lot to offer, and so the domestic realm doesn’t suit her. The American suburbs, for Fluffy, are the domestic indoors exteriorized—privatized, predictable, philistine, repressive, lazyboy'd, apathetic, eco-wasteful. The white short-haired apolitical, patriarchal cat families seem to feel most comfortable there. In the suburbs animal injustice and diversity are masked by multinational strip-malls, neutered nature, and the lack of any public space (where one could resist or get away from its void). A lot like a bad dream. A long time indoors, or in the suburbs, and she feels limited and drained of her physical and mental energy. But clearly aware that she must leave, and grateful that she can. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood reminded her of this and motivated her to write something. (H. Murakami is adept to writing about the metaphysical depths of the feline specie.)

Fluffy couldn’t continue with Norwegian Wood. One quarter of the way through and she put it aside, curled up, and fell asleep in her temporary suburban accomodation. She didn’t want to read another story about elite undergraduate relationship-explorations with a 1970s Americana soundtrack. (Murakami's other novels were much more original!) But a couple hours later the novel revisted her, in her dream, or nightmare. Fluffy was taken back to the loneliness of her years in East Quad at U of Cheshire, where mid-size cats “became of age,” and she was excluded. As usual her hearing apparatuses and glasses didn’t exist; she could only see red-orangeness, and sounds were muffled. But somehow she managed to look out her dorm window and see that--they were moving! The entire dorm was on train tracks! They were taking her somewhere! Fluffy managed to escape through a flimsy hollow-core door. Later she discovered Kitkat in a classroom. Kitkat was crying like never before. Fluffy licked Kitkat on the ear, and Kitkat sobbed that her thesis adviser had decided to transfer to a different university. Fluffy woke up upset and decided that she would not take Norwegian Wood back with her to Tokyo. Today, while packing, she placed the novel on a shelf. (If for some reason she really wants to read it later she has it in pdf file.)

Is Fluffy too hard on the suburb? Should she give Norwegian Wood another try?

Suburb-Eating Robot by Andrew Maynard

I wonder if Murakami knows how far his story has traveled, how it has been read through the eyes of suburban homes, farm houses, flourescent-lighted Walmarts on the other side of the world, how much his story has twisted and turned into other stories, incorporating, leaving behind, branching out into other experiences along the way. What difference does it make if he knows or not. Well, the difference would be if a majority within a democracy could recognize intertextuality, if so, it would improve the quality of everyday life, and save some lives. Yesterday, in her script reading on the Tucson shooting, automaton S. Palin (stomach cringes), on national television, denied collective influence. In other words, ideology and intertextuality... If this is true, why does she even bother speaking? (Speaking entails responding to something in the past.) As long as the public continues to be misinformed, literature will continue to be a vital antagonism.


Renee said...

You're not being too hard on the suburb, Megan. It is everything you say it is--an in-between space, a vacuum full of vacuum cleaners--and you are very lucky not to have to stay there very long. It's getting harder for me to go back and forth between the suburbs and the city because the suburbs have infiltrated my personality, sadly. Yet I am happiest in cities and towns, not this in-between place. You're right to leave behind an uninspiring novel, unless it can feed your research into the city and provide reasons to advocate for public space. What am I doing here? I asked myself forlornly yesterday. This is temporary, I keep telling myself. This place is my motivation to find a better job. Like you! Thank you for continuing to be a source of stimulation for yourself and your friends--I greatly appreciate you :)

Renee said...

PS. "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire is still a good song though; you should check it out!

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can be too hard on something that has no soul, I mean something that doesn't seem to have been invented or created or brought forth by a single person or group of people. Sure, there were land developers and architects and everyone in between involved in the planning (and lack of) modern America's Burbs, but I don't think anyone necessarily saw this coming.

Fernando Velásquez said...

the sterility of american suburban life is to me one among many abuses those in power (of any kind) have inflicted over populations to gain more control over them. sadly, numbness is like a cancer that keeps sprouting and taking detours nobody would have expected. nobody saw this coming, indeed. but it happened, because you cannot keep people still and out of trouble--human nature is conflictive, and that is precisely where its richness is. but you can turn human energy into something sterile or, even worse, criminal. highways, malls, fast food, you name it. and i know i'm going too fast, but i'm not writing an essay, but reacting to your piece. thanks for the reflections. and although i think you have many valid points about the novel, my experience was different--when i read norwegian wood i felt less lonely because i was going through a phase in which i could relate to the characters, etc. i wish we could have a coffee now and talk, or follow cats and talk.

and yes, the suburbs is a great song in a great album.