Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kafka on On The Shore of Nonsense

Susan Sontag apparently said "books are funny little portable pieces of thought." I didn't hear her say it but I read it and I believe almost everything the Oprah Magazine prints. Anyway, that citation was printed on the bookmark I used while reading this book and it strkes me as particularly apropos for this book.
Kafka on the Shore is a collection of thoughts. The famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is apparently known for his unusual style. I would have liked it better if he had gutted the plot and thrown it out. This is not a story; this is a book. A literary work if you will. If you're looking for storytelling, umm, you've come to the wrong side of the Entrance (a cryptic reference Murakami makes to something akin to the fine separation between this world and other worlds, other realities).
Simply put, the book is nonsense - highly intellectual nonsense but still nonsense. Alice in Wonderland is nonsense and it is the most enthralling nonsense. The magic of the book remains even though you understand that no matter how Carroll explains verdict before judgment will never make sense.

If you take Kafka as anything other than nonsense, you may feel like your brain is being squeezed. Murakami has apparently called his strolls into fantasy, philosophy and legends, riddles.
But they are such awfully boring riddles. Why would a 15-year-old believe that his father, a detached, deranged sculptor would be capable of putting an Oedipal curse on him and make it come true? The teen, Tamura, whose mother left him when he was a child, runs away from home in order to avoid the curse. The subsequent journey: erotic dreams amidst a medley of stray philosophy quotes dripping from the mouths of unlikely characters at the most awkward moments possible.
Reaction to the book will not be a question of understanding but of appreciation. I think it would be ludicrous and somewhat insulting to suggest that people may not understand the book. There is a serious possibility that after reading the book you will feel that you have wasted your time.

The characters were all shades of one character and that character seemed to be a less knowing form of the the omniscient narrator. They is no realness to them...I don't mean similitude or realism. I mean realness in the slangy sense of the term. All of them seem like literary devices. The only well developped character is Oshima - he is amusing, self-aware, and says things you'd expect a cultivated Japanese man to say. His character is consistently strange from jump - a hemophiliac transexual man who likes to speed and spend time alone in the forest.
There is also the predilection for a Maupassant-type realism. In real life people often repeat the question asked before answering it. In art, it is grating. Some people's jobs consist, metaphorically, of throwing stones over a wall, walking over to the other side and picking them up. Who wants to watch that!
There are some lucid passages and I got my hopes up but then I'd fall into the abyss again with cats that talk, incestuous dreams, gore and spirits that take on the appearance of Colonel Sanders. Yes, the chicken guy! The parts are so disconnected, I nearly tore a page.
Maybe it would be more enthralling if I were high. Food for thought!

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