This summer I am reading Haruki Murakami. Reading is perhaps not the word for it. If I could melt his collected works, I would dunk myself and drown there. No, I wouldn’t: I would grow gills and rejigger my metabolism so I could breathe below the surface. I am besotted. His writing is spare and redolent. It is also lyrical, almost sentimental, and full of magic. He writes about singularities. I suppose everybody does.
I was moved to get hold of his works after a colleague who does not say much to me about intellectual life said on Facebook that s/he was a fan. I have this (hidden) worry that I disappoint this person, that I am an awkward exception to a standard s/he wants to apply, a rule s/he wants to enforce. That I am not “intellectual” enough. I pay attention to clues s/he sheds about significance. Murakami surfaced in one of these.
But it’s not that I never heard of him before; I have passed over his fiction in countless issues of the New Yorker :o) I believe I had looked at his prose and experienced …nothing. So I didn’t put any effort into engaging with his work. Now, though, I do so, and I am rewarded. And who cares why? My motives are not inauthentic. But neither are they native to the work itself. They are immigrant motives, in a way. I have found my own way into his work.
Immigrant labor built this country. Immigrant motives: what are they good for? Is it really true that whatever floats your boat is OK, doesn’t matter?
To engage with something new on someone else’s recommendation: Doesn’t this happen all the time? “The strength of weak ties,” and all that… If you spend your time cycling round in a single tiny orbit that never changes, with others who do the same, you soon exhaust the font of the New. But if your orbit brings you even glancing contact with others cycling round a distinctly Other orbit, you bring fresh — or at least unfamiliar — elements, each of you, to the other. In this way, ideas and opinions, tastes and fears all spread. Like contagion, but also like gears. A social apparatus is set in motion. Contact, like cogs.
Which is more useful: obtuseness? Or courage? Not, “which is more Noble” or “more honorable” or “virtuous.” On a purely pragmatic level, which quality has greater utilitarian value? Actually “gets you farther” — the power to press onward in the face of known (and appreciated) danger? Or the merciful unawareness of danger? There are times, I would argue, when it is a toss-up. There are other times when dullness clearly has the advantage. How often do we remark that some great advance owes its success to the perpetrator’s ignorance of the impossible? Enough, I think, that we should not find it remarkable.
Ours is still a brash, gauche, self-focused, teenaged society. How annoying we are. We are embarassing, as if we lack tutelage in the world’s heritages, and we lack experiences of our own to make up the difference. On the other hand, we have pushed outward. We crack the crusty known. We have released new molten stuff that flowed and fixed itself into shapes that were reminiscent of nothing that came before.