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Kafka on the Shore (2002) - Haruki Murakami


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#21 Crow

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 10:11 AM

I've gotten through about 250 pages so far while on a long airplane trip last week. I'm not sure as yet what to make of the metaphysical stuff going on. I will have to see how this all plays out in the end before I can really comment on it. There is one scene that reminded me so much of a similar scene from the film "Magnolia", i wonder if this is a coincidence:
Spoiler


One thing that has struck me so far is that I thought of the hikkomuri culture that is touched on in some Japanese works: of people who through their own choice or other circumstances, live very isolated lives. The two main characters both live isolated lives: Kafka, the runaway, spends his days reading in libraries, and Nakata lives alone after the mysterious childhood ailment that befalls him. And at the library he regularly visits, we see him interact with a couple of characters, Oshima and Mass Saeki, who seem to live isolated lives as well. I think some of the metaphyisical or otherwise strange things going on may be ways of isolated souls struggling to escape to communicate with someone or something else, somehow.

I'll have to see how this all turns out before I can make any definitive statements. I'm trying to read this and Jeffrey's new book as well, and now that I'm at home, I have to grab reading time when I can.

#22 Christian

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 03:45 PM

I'm trying to read this and Jeffrey's new book as well, and now that I'm at home, I have to grab reading time when I can.

Slight digression, but what does "now that I'm at home" mean? Have you been away? Sorry if you've posted about this elsewhere; I lose track. If you meant only that you're "now ... at home" as opposed to "now at work" or something, then I apologize for reading into the comment.

#23 David Smedberg

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 08:09 PM

I've finished reading, and my thoughts run a bit long (about 1500 words) so I've posted it on my website. The first thing I've published there, 'smatter of fact.

I could use many adjectives to describe “Kafka on the Shore” (from here on out, I’ll just say “KotS”, and trust you’ll know what I mean). It is hilarious. It is disgusting and offensive. It is exciting. It is confusing and frustrating. My overall impression of it is negative, and I’ll try to explain why below. The first part of this post contains no spoilers. Then, I’ll warn you before we transition to the second part, where I’ll go into specifics about conclusion of the story.



I look forward to hearing other people's responses/responses to my response.

Edited by David Smedberg, 20 March 2011 - 08:10 PM.


#24 Crow

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 09:26 PM

Slight digression, but what does "now that I'm at home" mean? Have you been away? Sorry if you've posted about this elsewhere; I lose track. If you meant only that you're "now ... at home" as opposed to "now at work" or something, then I apologize for reading into the comment.


I flew to Disneyland last week with my brother and his kids. We had a lot of fun, running around and doing rides and stuff. Being home refers to getting back into the routine, going back to work. Not chasing Mickey Mouse. But chasing Mickey Mouse was fun. :)

#25 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 01:43 AM

I've finished reading, and my thoughts run a bit long (about 1500 words) so I've posted it on my website. The first thing I've published there, 'smatter of fact.

Awesome. Give me a day or two to digest this, and we'll see about starting up this discussion.

#26 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 10:02 AM

I've finished reading, and my thoughts run a bit long (about 1500 words) so I've posted it on my website ... I look forward to hearing other people's responses/responses to my response.

Ok, I don't think there are very many of us who have finished this yet. And anyhow it's still March, so let's not discuss any of the spoilers just yet. I'm a little concerned that even a discussion without spoilers may potentially discourage the others from finishing the book (at least this book). Sometimes, it doesn't take much to convince me to put particular books down and not pick them up again for a couple years as I tear through a ton of more enjoyable books first. So, even though we'll be expressing disappointment, I'll qualify my disappointment by saying that it was still worth reading, if for no other reason than we need to have discussions about books like this once in a while.

It is hilarious. It is disgusting and offensive. It is exciting. It is confusing and frustrating. My overall impression of it is negative, and I’ll try to explain why below.

I certainly enjoyed Murakami's writing style (even in a translation). But to say my overall impression of it was still negative would be an understatement. Having finished it, the only thing I haven't decided is whether it rates in the "books I hate" category (rating it a 0 out of 5) or the "books I dislike strongly" category (a 1 out of 5 for good writing).

Of course, it’s also worth thinking about KotS as a work of art. I say: Murakami has clearly honed his craft. Every bit of every chapter contributes, and my overall sense was of being in strong, well-accustomed hands. I don’t have any misgivings about KotS on grounds of craft.

It is for this reason and this reason alone that I'm not giving up on Haruki Murakami yet after just one book. I do need to take a break from him for a while.

Perhaps it will be helpful if I quote what a young woman says about “Kafka on the Shore”, a lyric poem that the novel is named after:

I think she [the author of the poem, Miss Saeki] found the right words by bypassing procedures like meaning and logic. She captured words in a dream, like delicately catching hold of a butterfly’s wings as its flutters around. Artists are those who can evade the verbose. (p. 225)

It would be a mistake to try to explain exactly what the meaning of KotS is. Instead, I think we can examine each image as it goes by and see what it evokes.

Maybe it's because I'm also currently gritting my teeth through Rob Bell's latest right now, but I'm am starting to get really tired of all this talk about bypassing old-fashioned methodology like meaning and logic, tradition and reason, absolute claims to truth and doctrine. I realize it could be a mistake to try and explain the meaning behind Kafka on the Shore because Murakami himself could potentially have decided for it not to have a meaning. I keep being told that it would be a mistake to try and "label" "judge" or "categorize" Bell's beliefs on hell because Bell never intended to use his theological book to advocate for a particular doctrine. But, it's probably not fair, I know. Kafka on the Shore is a work of dreamy fiction, Love Wins is, well, that's another thread.

What I think I will do, David, is disagree with you. There is a meaning in Kafka on the Shore, and there is one because it is impossible to write a fictional story without the way you look at the world (your philosophy) affecting how you write the story. I think it's worth trying to explain what that meaning is. I actually don't think that it would be a mistake to try. The things in this story all happen for a reason. Just as the events in the novels of Shusaku Endo all happen for a reason. The author put them there on purpose.

Even if an author intends for his book to have no meaning, he's still taking a side whether it likes it or not. A story where the world the characters live in has no meaning, and their actions are all pointless in the end, is a story of a world according to one particular philosophical point of view.

On a separate note, while I'm not absolutely against reading another book along this vein for our club again, let's try and go in a different direction for our next book selection.

We'll lift the spoiler ban in discussion here sometime in early April.

Edited by Persiflage, 22 March 2011 - 10:03 AM.


#27 Anders

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 10:20 AM

While I'm excited to hear more reactions about the book (my general thought was that I liked it, but it was beach read last summer), I'd like to suggest anyone put off by some of KOS's more...ethereal, fantastic elements not to put off Murakami entirely just yet. I think NORWEGIAN WOOD is very interesting and good book, and quite different from some of Murakami's other work.

#28 Ryan H.

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:29 AM

I have to admit, I'm kind of reluctant to start reading this book after these super-negative reactions.

#29 Anders

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:32 AM

I have to admit, I'm kind of reluctant to start reading this book after these super-negative reactions.


Don't let them put you off. I really want to know what you think of it. (Plus, I'm pretty sure that they are disliking the book on the level of philosophy, rather than craftsmanship).

#30 David Smedberg

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:55 AM

Thanks for the response, Jeremy. I agree that spoilers should be avoided... so I'll limit myself to a brief, general response for now...

What I think I will do, David, is disagree with you. There is a meaning in Kafka on the Shore, and there is one because it is impossible to write a fictional story without the way you look at the world (your philosophy) affecting how you write the story. I think it's worth trying to explain what that meaning is. I actually don't think that it would be a mistake to try. The things in this story all happen for a reason. Just as the events in the novels of Shusaku Endo all happen for a reason. The author put them there on purpose.

Even if an author intends for his book to have no meaning, he's still taking a side whether it likes it or not. A story where the world the characters live in has no meaning, and their actions are all pointless in the end, is a story of a world according to one particular philosophical point of view.

In general, whether I'm reading Scripture, philosophy, fiction... whatever: I draw a firm line between different senses of "meaning". Maybe we're going to disagree about meaning in KotS, maybe not. But if we do then we'll have to distinguish between the literal meaning (what happens) and the other types of meaning (how is the author trying to describe indescribable things -- whether those things are moral, emotional, spiritual, whatever).

If you think I was wrong to say, "It would be a mistake to try to explain exactly what the meaning of KotS is," then I look forward to hearing your explanation of its exact meaning. :) I'm partly teasing you here, but I know that if I tried I would flounder and drown... but that could just be me.

#31 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 01:15 PM

I'd like to suggest anyone put off by some of KOS's more...ethereal, fantastic elements not to put off Murakami entirely just yet.

Yeah, it's absolutely not the ethereal, fantastic elements that are putting me off.


I have to admit, I'm kind of reluctant to start reading this book after these super-negative reactions.

Don't let them put you off. I really want to know what you think of it. (Plus, I'm pretty sure that they are disliking the book on the level of philosophy, rather than craftsmanship).

It's an eastern cultural fairy tale full of philosophy discussion. The fact that I disagree with the philosophy doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading Murakami's writing. On the plus side, it has mystery, philosophical talking cats, luridly described libraries and woods, and a dream-like, ethereal quality to the story as noted above. On the negative side, I believe it's coming from an essentially Pantheistic and deterministic worldview, and therefore has an abysmal amoral element to it that I find both false and depressing.

In general, whether I'm reading Scripture, philosophy, fiction... whatever: I draw a firm line between different senses of "meaning". Maybe we're going to disagree about meaning in KotS, maybe not. But if we do then we'll have to distinguish between the literal meaning (what happens) and the other types of meaning (how is the author trying to describe indescribable things -- whether those things are moral, emotional, spiritual, whatever).

I guess the question is - does every author write even fiction under the auspices of a worldview or philosophy?

If you think I was wrong to say, "It would be a mistake to try to explain exactly what the meaning of KotS is," then I look forward to hearing your explanation of its exact meaning. I'm partly teasing you here, but I know that if I tried I would flounder and drown... but that could just be me.

As the discussion continues, and later after more of the group have finished the book and we can finally specifically mention some spoilers, I think I'm going to say that the story is an example of a Pantheistic and Determinist world. That this sort of world is abhorrent. And that hopelessness and despair are a direct result of believing specific things, things which the characters in this book say they do actually believe.

#32 Ryan H.

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 05:22 PM

As the discussion continues, and later after more of the group have finished the book and we can finally specifically mention some spoilers, I think I'm going to say that the story is an example of a Pantheistic and Determinist world. That this sort of world is abhorrent.

Is it somehow especially more abhorrent than any other non-Christian (or, I should say, non-monotheistic) worldview?

Edited by Ryan H., 22 March 2011 - 05:24 PM.


#33 David Smedberg

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 07:08 PM

Ryan, it's more that Murakami takes the idea of an unavoidable curse (I suppose this is part of what is deterministic), and pushes it to its furthest end, what I called (in the spoilered section of my essay) "among the most horrifying images I can imagine".

Edited by David Smedberg, 22 March 2011 - 07:09 PM.


#34 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 11:32 PM

Is it somehow especially more abhorrent than any other non-Christian (or, I should say, non-monotheistic) worldview?

No. Other worldviews and philosophies are at least not amoral.

It's any philosophy that finds itself without, or beyond, or transcending good and evil that I always find most abhorrent.

#35 Christian

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 07:43 PM

Murakami has a short story in the new New Yorker, but a subscription is required for full access.

#36 Andrew

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 08:09 PM

Finished KotS this evening. I'll defer making lengthier comments for the time being. A very good read, but I think I prefer Windup Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. Even if I didn't find it as engrossing as these other two works, I find the label amoral overstrong: certainly Murakami tosses around the notion of 'beyond good and evil' a couple of times, but I found more evidence for notions of right and wrong behavior. There are some loathsome goings-on here, but I don't think they're endorsed as good conduct. Similarly, I see a tension and balance between (pre)destiny/determinism and individual choice in the world depicted herein, rather than the weight falling exclusively on one side of the issue.

#37 Christian

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 08:36 PM

Glad you liked it, Andrew. I'm plugging away at the book -- won't be finished with it by April 1, but I'm confident I'll finish it in the next couple of weeks -- and have been a bit surprised at the negativism of some of the earlier posts here. I realize certain characters' behaviors are distasteful, and their belief systems aren't my own, but I find the book consistently compelling. I'm not sure it's great literature -- it's a bit all over the map -- but I like the strangeness of it.

Edited by Christian, 30 March 2011 - 08:37 PM.


#38 David Smedberg

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 08:40 PM

Finished KotS this evening. I'll defer making lengthier comments for the time being. A very good read, but I think I prefer Windup Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. Even if I didn't find it as engrossing as these other two works, I find the label amoral overstrong: certainly Murakami tosses around the notion of 'beyond good and evil' a couple of times, but I found more evidence for notions of right and wrong behavior. There are some loathsome goings-on here, but I don't think they're endorsed as good conduct. Similarly, I see a tension and balance between (pre)destiny/determinism and individual choice in the world depicted herein, rather than the weight falling exclusively on one side of the issue.

When you have time, I hope I can ask you more about what you think of the conclusion. That was the part that I have the most intellectual difficulty with -- particularly Kafka's reconciliation with his mother. The next-to-last 2 paragraphs of my review get into my problems with this part a bit -- how I felt it was in contradiction to a lot of what was good that had come before.

#39 Andrew

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 08:09 PM


Finished KotS this evening. I'll defer making lengthier comments for the time being. A very good read, but I think I prefer Windup Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. Even if I didn't find it as engrossing as these other two works, I find the label amoral overstrong: certainly Murakami tosses around the notion of 'beyond good and evil' a couple of times, but I found more evidence for notions of right and wrong behavior. There are some loathsome goings-on here, but I don't think they're endorsed as good conduct. Similarly, I see a tension and balance between (pre)destiny/determinism and individual choice in the world depicted herein, rather than the weight falling exclusively on one side of the issue.

When you have time, I hope I can ask you more about what you think of the conclusion. That was the part that I have the most intellectual difficulty with -- particularly Kafka's reconciliation with his mother. The next-to-last 2 paragraphs of my review get into my problems with this part a bit -- how I felt it was in contradiction to a lot of what was good that had come before.


I hope we can get into some deeper discussion in general, in the near future. I've been swamped with work and baseball practices lately, so not much time spent at A&F lately. I promise I'll read your full blog post, soon...

#40 Christian

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 12:47 PM

Is the "official" discussion underway? I still have 85 pages to go, but progress has been good and I see myself finishing the book this week. Thought it was worth stokin' the fires here since it's now April.