Getting intimate with Kafka on the Shore

When life has lost its meaning, I’d take any Murakami books and start flipping through pages.

Have you ever tried that game- you get the Bible, close your eyes, then ask a question- may it be about love, life, or your fate for today, or tomorrow, it doesn’t matter, afterwards you open the book, point your finger anywhere on the book, and the phrase where your finger is pointing will be your answer to that question or your fate of the day/forever.

It’s like a magic 8 ball game.

I do that with Murakami’s. It’s kind of fun and pathetic- I know, but it helps pass time.

2 weeks ago, I decided to re-read Kafka on the Shore, once again, I am transported into a place I’ve always known I thought I had forgotten. It awakened feelings I thought I had buried in the past- myriad of emotions- happiness, sadness, emptiness and I-don’t-knows.

Right after I am done with the book, I lost something I could never get back.

I am lost somewhere I know I could never go back.

I am not sure what to feel, which is odd. But I guess, it would be more weird if I said it hurt-

how would you get hurt when you didn’t even know what happened?

How would  I even know it was missing, when I didn’t know it was present all the time?

How would I even know I was lost, when I didn’t know where to go?

Anyhow…

Below are  my favorite scenes from Kafka on the Shore.

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you reall will have to make it through that violent metaphysical, symbolic storm. NO matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh, flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot fresh blood and blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the torm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

Crow to Kafka, pp 5-6

“Listen up- there’s no war that will end all wars.” Crow tells me. “War breeds war. Lapping up the blood shed by violence, feeding off on wounded flesh. War is a perfect, self-contained being. You need to know that.”

“You have to overcome your fear and anger inside you,” the boy named Crow says.  “Let a bright light shine in and melt the coldness in your heart. That’s what being tough is all about. Do that and you really will be the toughest fifteen-year-old on the planet.”

Crow to Kafka, pp 404

“In traveling, a companion, in life, compassion,'” she repeats making sure of it. If she had paper and pencil, it wouldn’t surprise me if she wrote it down. “So what does that really mean? In simple terms?”

I think it over. It takes me a while to gather my thoughts, but she waits patiently.

“I think it means,” I say, “that chance encounters are what keeps us going. In simple terms.”

Sakura and Kafka’s conversation – page 24

“Have you heard about this?”

“No.”

“In ancient times people weren’t just male or female, but one of three types; male/male, male/female, or female/female. In other words, each person was made  out of the components of two people. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and never really gave it much thought. But then God took a knife and cut everybody in half, right down the middle. So after that the world was divided just into male and female, the upshot being that people spend their time running around trying to locate their other missing half.”

“Why did God do that?”

“Divide people into two? You got me. God works in mysterious ways. There’s the whole wrath-God thing, all tat excessive idealism and so on. My guess is it was punishment for something.Like in Bible. Adam and Eve and the Fall and so forth.”

“Original sin”

“That’s right, original sin. Anyway, my point is that it’s really hard for people to live their lives alone.”

Kafka and Oshima’s conversation

“That’s why I like to listen to Schubert while I’m driving. Like I said, it’s because all the performances are imperfect. A dense, artistic kind of imperfection stimulates your conciousness, keeps you alert. If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of,-that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging. Do you know what I’m getting at?”

Oshima to Kafka – pp 118.

“From my own experience, when someone is trying very hard to get something, they don’t. And when they’re running away from something as hard as they can, it usually catches up with them. I’m generalizing, ofcourse.”

“If you generalize about me, then, what’s in my future? If I’m seeking and running at the same time.”

“That’s a tough one. If I had to say anything it’d be this: Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

Oshima to Kakfa- pp 162

“I don’t care what you are. Whatever you are, I like you.” Kafka.

“I appreciate it, I know I’m a little different from everyone else, but I’m still a human being. That’s what I’d like you to realize. I’m just a regular person, not some monster. I feel the same things everyone else does. Sometimes, though, that small difference feels like an abyss. But I guess there’s not much I can do about it.

I’ve experienced all kinds of discrimination,” Oshima continues. “Only people who’ve been discriminated against can really know how much it hurts. Each person feels the pain in his own way, each has his own scars. So I think I’m as concerned about fairness and justice as anybody. But what disgusts me even more are people who have no imagination. The kind T.S Eliot calls hollow men. People who fill up the lack of imagination with heartless bits of straw, not even aware of what they’re doing. Callous people who throw a lot of empty words at you, trying to force you to do what you don’t want to..

“‘Cause if you take every single person who lacks much imagination seriously, there’s no end to it.” I say.

“That’s it. But there’s one thing I want you to remember Kafka. Those are exactly the kind of people who murdered Miss Saeki’s chidlhood sweetheart. Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology , usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.  Ofcourse it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors in judgment can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here.”

Oshima to Kafka- pp 191 to 192.

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life -and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technocolgy, new terminology..But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes placec in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of these.”

Excerpt from the letter written by the teacher who was in-charge of the 16 students at Yamanashi Prefecture. Pp 104

“You have to look!” Johnnie Walker commanded. “That’s another one of our rules. Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappera just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, the things will be even worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in, Mr. Nakata. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.”

Johnnie Walker to Nakata- pp 155

“All kinds of things are happening to me.” I begin. “Some I chose, some I didn’t. I don’t know how to tell one from the other anymore.  What I mean is, it feels like everything’s been decided in advance- that I’m following a path somebody else has already mapped out for me.  It doesn’t matter how much I think things over, how much effort I put into it. In fact, the harder I try, the more I lose my sense of who I am. It’s like my identity’s an orbit that I’ve strayed far away from, and that really hurts. But more than that, it scares me. Just thinking about it makes me flinch.”

Kafka to Oshima- pp 209

“Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?”

Miss Saeki to Kafka, pp309

“It’s not that I’m dumb. Nakata’s empty inside. I finally understand that. Nakata’s like a library without a single book. It wasn’t always like that. I used to have books inside me. For a long time I couldn’t remember, but now I can. I used to be normal, just like everybody else. But something happened and I ended up like a container with nothing inside.”

Nakata to Hoshino, pp318

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“There must be a limit to that kind of lifestyle, though,” she says. “You can’t use that strength as a protective wall around you. There’s always going to be something stronger that can overcame your fortess. At least in principle.”

“The strength I’m looking for isn’t the kind where you win or lose. I’m not after a wall that’ll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that outside power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things- unfairness, misfortune, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.”

“That’s got to be the most difficult strength of all to make your own.”

“I know…”

Kafka to Miss Saeki, pp330

Listening to Fournier’s flowing, dignified cello, Hoshino was drawn back to his childhood. He used to go to the river every day to catch fish. Nothing to worry about back then, reminisced. Just live each day as it came. As long as I was alive, I was something. That was just how it was. But somewhere along the line it all changed. Living turned me into nothing. Weird..People are born to in order to live, right? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve lost what’s inside me,- and ended up empty. And I bet, the longer I live, the emptier, the more worthless, I’ll become. Something wrong with this picture. Life isn’t supposed to turn out like this! Isn’t it possible to shift direction, to change where I’m headed?

Hoshino lost in his own thoughts @ the coffeeshop, pp 341

“A deaf composer’s like a cook who’s lost his senst of taste. A frog that’s lost its webbed feet. A truck driver with his license revoked. That would throw anybody on the loop, don’t you think? But Beethoven didn’t let it get to him. Sure, he must have been a little depressed at first, but he didn’t let misfortune get him down. It was like, Problem? What problem? He composed more than ever and came up  with better music than anything he’d ever written. ”

Hoshino to Nakata being not able to read, pp 372- 323

“Do you think music has the power to change people? Like you listen to a piece and go through some major change inside?”

“Sure that can happen. We have an experience – like a chemical reaction- that transforms something inside us. When we examine ourselves later on, we discover that the world’s opened up in unexpected ways. Yes, I’ve had that experience. Not often, but it has hapened. It’s like falling in love.”

Hoshino and Oshima, pp 395

“My life ended at age twenty. Since then it’s been merely a series of endless reminiscences, a dark, winding corridor leading nowhere. Nevertheless, I had to live it, surviving each empty day, seeing each fay off still empty. During those days I made a lot of mistakes. No, that’s not correct- sometimes I feel that all I did was make mistakes. I felt like I was living at the bottom of a deep well, completely shut up inside myself, cursing my fate, hating everything outside. Occassionally, I ventured outside myself, putting on a good show of being a live. I slept around a lot, at one point living in a sort of marriage, but it was all pointless. Everything passed away in an instant with nothing left behind except the scars of things I injured and despised.”

Miss Saeki on loneliness and emptiness, pp 410

“But you’re not there, are you?”

“No, I’m not. I’m not there anymore.”

“What do you want from me if I do go back.”

“Just one thing,” she says, raising her head and looking straight in the eye. “I want you to remember me. If you remember me, then I don’t care if everybody else forgets.”

Miss Saeki and Kafka, pp 460

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Image sources:

Lisa Ito Arts

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