Thursday, August 6, 2015

Murakami and Language


I've gotten around to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami finally.  It has been on my to-read book list for years now.  I think it is really exceptional so far (still have about 1/3 left).  

I keep finding myself thinking about the fact that it was originally written in Japanese.  So many of the passages are exacting to experiences or thoughts I have had.  Like someone finally put words to it in just the right way.  Like this one:

“I decided to make spaghetti for lunch again. Not that I was the least bit hungry. But I couldn't just go on sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal. I put water in a pot, turned on the gas, and until it boiled I would make tomato sauce while listening to an FM broadcast. The radio was playing an unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach. The performance itself was excellent, but there was something annoying about it. I didn't know whether this was the fault of the violinist or of my own present state of mind, but I turned off the music and went on cooking in silence. I heated the olive oil, put garlic in the pan, and added minced onions. When these began to brown, I added the tomatoes that I had chopped and strained. It was good to be cutting things and frying things like this. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could feel in my hands. I liked the sounds and the smells.” 

The way he switches from the empty act of cooking to his semi-conscious thoughts about the music to a reflection at the end is so true to actually living in that moment. 

I wish I could read the book in Japanese because I keep wondering how two languages that have different structures and words could relay the same feeling to a reader.  But maybe its even better in Japanese?  But that seems hard to imagine, the words seem so well picked.  I guess what I keep turning over in my mind is how universal the human experience is even when miles and languages should make it seem more distant.  

Which ultimately brings me back to painting and a particular painting I keep looking at recently.  Its a Fairfield Porter and it conjures up a feeling in me that has no english equivalent I'm aware of.  I guess nostalgia is the word closest, but its nostalgia without the sickening, sweetness. It's the way looking at a summer night sky, something supposedly ordinary strikes a sublime chord and makes it feel like a lightbulb is in your stomach.  

Someone sent me this link to words with no english equivalent a while back.  And the Japanese word "aware" stood out to me, the article says it means "the bittersweetness of a brief and grading moment of transcendent beauty."  Maybe english is just too dry to contain all that in a single word, or maybe it exists and my vocabulary isn't good enough.  But either way I am thankful that paintings and visual experiences need no translation.  Nothing is lost or mitigated when looking.

But even if something gets lost in translating The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is enough power in it to overcome the gap and express that universal transcendent beauty.  Highly recommend it.

2 comments: said...

I know what he means - your reading of the text is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I also love that painting, thanks for sharing!

Rob L said...

Hey Aubrey, its funny you should be reading this because 3 days ago I finished Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The same thought had passed my mind how could books (in this case Murakamis and Brothers Karamazov) still be so poetic and thoughtful and yet in a different language. Parts of this book were bizarre so I don't know if I can recommend it, and to be even less helpful I couldn't tell you if I liked it or loved it but it was certainly a positive experience and beautiful. It may be a while until I read him again but mostly because it was very graphic and intense. I am currently reading Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express and love it, his characters and thoughts on the developing world really translate to life here in Senegal. Anyway love you great to catch up on your blog.

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