Wow, what a fantastic piece in the New York Times on Haruki Murakami, his new tome, 1Q84, and the odd and oddly intoxicating organism that is Japanese culture.
I read an excerpt from the 1Q84, "Town of Cats" in the New Yorker last month, and it was terrific. But this piece by Sam Anderson is so great because instead of focusing strongly on this single book, he so deftly zeroes in on the beating heart of Murakami's work -- that terrible and beautiful Murakami muse: the darkness and light, the "ennui and eroticism" that is Japan, and his self-described outsider status.
Anderson implies that Murakami is bemused by his unofficial Japanese literary ambassadorship to the world, as he thinks of himself as a sort of reject from Japanese society. But this is what I find so tragic and beautiful about Japanese culture: their wa (which means both "Japan" and "harmony") -- and thus their perceived homogeneity -- while working well on the surface, lends itself to an individual and private feeling of otherness, of outsider status. This paradox of rejection and complete Japanese-ness, and Murakami's ability to heave this sort of unrequited love out of himself and into the novels that he writes, is what makes him the perfect ambassador for this country in perpetual identity crisis. I don't think Murakami is alone, and I think both he and Anderson know that.
After a few minutes, a strange creature fluttered into my view of the garden. At first it seemed like some kind of bird — a strange hairy hummingbird, maybe, based on the way it was hovering. But then it started to look more like two birds stuck together: it wobbled more than it flew, and it had all kinds of flaps and extra parts hanging off it. I decided, in the end, that it was a big, black butterfly, the strangest butterfly I had ever seen...[m]oments after the butterfly left, Murakami came down the stairs and sat, quietly, at his dining-room table. I told him I had just seen the weirdest butterfly I had ever seen in my entire life. He took a drink from his plastic water bottle, then looked up at me. “There are many butterflies in Japan,” he said. “It is not strange to see a butterfly.”