Memory, Hybridity, and Creative Alliance in Haruki Murakami's Fiction

By Lai, Amy Ty | Mosaic (Winnipeg), March 2007 | Go to article overview

Memory, Hybridity, and Creative Alliance in Haruki Murakami's Fiction


Lai, Amy Ty, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


This essay explores the use of animals in Haruki Murakami's fiction, where animals serve as the emblem of selfhood, where human-animal hybrids manifest the fragmented self, and where becoming-animal inspires a creative process in which humans can fare better.

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The couple ... were able to open a cosy little establishment in a
western suburb of Tokyo in 1974. They called it "Peter Cat" after an old
pet of Haruki's--Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words.

This essay attempts to fill the gap in the criticism on Haruki Murakami by exploring the use of animals in his major fiction. While it will critique and expand the critical works on the author, especially those by Matthew Strecher and Jay Rubin, it will also expose insufficiencies in the established concepts regarding animals in the postmodern arts, specifically those of Steve Baker. As such, the essay aims to enrich the already abundant criticism on the author, and open new directions in conceptualizing animal imagery in contemporary literature.

Haruki Murakami's fiction first appeared in the 1970s. Yoshio Iwamoto notes that Murakami's characters are often haunted by "a sense of loss," the content of which "is never spelled out" ("Voice" 297); while they avoid confronting other people, whom they view as functional objects, they pay "fetishistic attention" to consumer goods and trivial things, which furnish them with "a grip on a recalcitrant reality" (297-98). As Celeste Loughman argues, Murakami believes that neither materialism itself, nor the preference for Western popular culture, is the root of current problems, but "that's all there is." The confused or lost identity, caused by an absence of "idealism" or any source of self-fulfilment, is further severed by a loss of connection with the past, including the nation's cultural past ("No" 90). (1) Such is true not only of Murakami's many nameless protagonists, but of the named ones in his most conventional novel, Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori): the protagonists aim at being different from other people, yet are not "truly unique and individualistic" (Okada 65-66). Eager to do away with social obligations, they are nonetheless very much conditioned by Japanese group-oriented mentality (72-73).

Steve Baker, in The Postmodern Animal, quotes Nina Lykke's "Between Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations with Science," claiming that modernity was a "repressive process of purification" that worked to ensure that any monster or hybrid that threatened to transgress the border between human and non-human was reclassified to either the human or the non-human sphere. In the cyborg world of post-industrial and postmodern society, however, such creatures or creations are becoming increasingly common, and their repression, less and less successful ("Leopards" 99). Citing Margrit Shildrick's "Posthumanism and the Monstrous Body," he argues that the proliferation of animals and the embrace of impurity, hybridity, even monstrosity in the postmodern arts could be a positive and creative trend, and that the "humanist politics of norms and identity" might give way to "a politics of hybrids" (100). In the vein of Deleuze and Guattari, Baker stresses that "becoming-animal," which provides a creative escape from a repressive society and other conservative forces, is not equivalent to "resembling, imitating or identifying with" an animal, nor does it happen in the imagination, dreams or fantasies, or necessarily entail a bodily metamorphosis (120-21). While Deleuze and Guattari claim in A Thousand Plauteaus, "becoming-animal produces nothing other than itself. What is real is the becoming itself" (Baker 121), Baker defines "becoming-animal" as "human being's creative opportunity to think themselves other-than-in-identity," hence the precise relationship between the human and the animal as one of "alliance" (125-26). Therefore, in contrast to recent theoretical works on cyborgs, hybrids, and monsters, there is no dissolution of bodily identity: "separate bodies enter into alliances in order to do things," but neither is "undone" by the process (132-33). …

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