Friday, April 12, 2013

A World With Two Moons

Haruki Murakami has achieved literary fame yet that celebrity status is based on a singular purpose. After all it takes focus to write. Luckily Murakami is a man of concentration as is evidence by his yearly habit of running marathons (his highlight being a 3:31:27 in 1999 in NYC).

Murakami didn't always have writing as his main purpose. He owned a jazz club for a while and then he reached an epiphany that he could write novels while watching a baseball game. A ball was hit and he was struck with the idea that he could write, and write he has.

His latest work, 1Q84, a play off of George Orwell's 1984 and the Japanese word for nine, pronounced like an English "Q," is a three volume, one thousand one hundred fifty seven page piece of labor. The lengthy love story was originally two volumes published in Japan in 2009, a year later Murakami expanded the story to its denouement and the finished product was published in 2010.

1Q84 is an amplification of Murakami's "On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" with the main character's, Aomame (meaning Green Peas), and Tengo falling in love with each other as children. Aomame grasps onto Tengo's hand one day in school and the two fall for each other. However, their fates pull them apart with Aomame being sent to a different school. They continually think of each other but never come in contact until a strange series of events propels them to meet in a world with two moons. Their inescapable love and fateful coming together is alluded to by Aomame early in the novel when she speaks of free will to her friend Ayumi saying,

"It's the same with menus and men and just about anything else: we think we're choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everythings's decided in advance and we pretend we're making choices. Free will may be an illusion" (241).

The illusory agency of the characters is initially propelled forward through Tengo, a cram school teacher and aspiring writer, deciding to rewrite a novel called "Air Chrysalis." Fuka-Eri, the original author, is a beautiful seventeen year old woman whom is dyslexic and comes from a shadowy cult, The Sakigake. Under the influence of Komatsu, a popular editor, Tengo decides to rewrite the novel and submit it to an emerging writer's contest. The novel wins and becomes immensely popular.

In the meantime, Aomame, an aerobics teacher, body worker (she stretches people in something akin to yoga), and part time assassin is hired by an older woman, the dowager, to kill the leader of the Sakigake cult who has been raping young girls. Aomame engages in her missions by touching a specific part of the body with a make shift ice pick and targets men who are domestically abusive. This by no means should be taken as Aomame being a feminist or a lesbian, as she states explicitly to the dowager's question if she is either, "I don't think so. My thoughts on such matters are strictly my own. I'm not a doctrinaire feminist, and I'm not a lesbian" (168). Aomame does engage in some lesbian activity though, but that is one of the lighter "sexual deviancies" in the novel.

The leader of the cult, whom also happens to be Fuka Eri's father is a large, mystical man, who can levitate alarm clocks and undergoes prolonged periods of muscular rigidity during which he is unable to move his body at all. This is what leads Aomame to him. As an expert in muscle stretching she is recommended to alleviate his ailments. While he is in rigid states young women fornicate with him. When quizzed about the nature of these relations, the leader evades  the question of rape stating that "'I had congress with her,' he said. 'That expression is closer to the truth. And the one I had congress with was, strictly speaking my daughter as a concept'" (580). If that doesn't make any sense, don't worry about it, most of the rest of the novel doesn't either and according to the leader the morality of "having congress" with young women is entirely subjective as,

"In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil... Good and evil are not fixed stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov" (558). 

Through the conversation between Aomame and the Leader, the Leader convinces Aomame to kill him anyways. He wants out of his life, and his crappy body. She obliges and then is on the run from the cult. She hides out in a safe house provided for her by the dowager and then is mysteriously impregnated, much like the Virgin Mary. Unlike the mother of Jesus, Aomame knows the father, Tengo! Evidently he knocked her up somehow, and Murakami alludes to Tengo boning down with Fuka Eri as being the source of Aomame's pregnancy. Somehow Fuka Eri acts as a medium for his sperm and Aomame's body, basically its a magical realist menage a trios! 

Murakami seems to enjoy playing with weird sexual acts, and often has some serious mother loving situations as evidenced in Kafka On The Shore which has a Oedipal story line. Murakami certainly doesn't disappoint the mother lovers amongst us in 1Q84.

He gives Tengo a weird relationship with his mother who abandoned him as a child. His only memory of her is a scene in "which his mother in underclothes let a man who was not his father suck on her breasts" (345). Tengo continues to relive the scene and remembers the "look of ecstasy suffused his mother's face while the man sucked on her breasts, a look very much like his older girlfriend's when she had an orgasm" (218).   Tengo decides to relive the scenario with his older girlfriend who wears a white slip like Tengo's mother.  Tengo takes off the slip and:

 "adopted the same position and angle as the man in his vision, and when he did this he felt a slight dizziness. His mind misted over, and he lost track of the order of things. In his lower body there was a heavy sensation that rapidly swelled, and no sooner was he ware of it than he shuddered with a violent ejaculation" (218).

The novel isn't just about weird sex though, its also about cooking! Murakami's characters often cook and drink cans of beer. Murakami carefully lays out cooking scenes with care  as is evidenced by Tengo who:

"chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsely, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. Spreading a paper towel, he laid the shrimp out in neat rows, like troops in formation. When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame" (452).

Despite all this cooking "Tengo drank only half his beer and ate only half of his shrimp and vegetables" (453)! What a waste! Luckily Tengo goes on to cook some more while listening to old Rolling Stones Albums with Fuka-Eri. After all "cooking was not a chore for Tengo. He always used it as a time to think- about everyday problems, about math problems, about his writing, or about metaphysical propositions" (653). Tengo was making rice pilaf with ham, mushrooms, and brown rice accompanied by a miso soup with tofu and wakame to help him think about his metaphysical propositions.

Ushikawa, the novel's villian, of sorts, doesn't cook for himself. Instead he eats simply and when he stakes out Tengo's place he just eats "canned peaches, and smoked a couple of cigarettes" (923). When Ushikawa does go out it is for simple food as he "ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth" (954). Ushikawa's meals have none of the metaphysical properties of Tengo's, that's for sure yet there is still a large role of food for even the villain.

Along with weird sex, and food, another recurring topic is music, specifically Leos Janacek Sinfonietta. Both Tengo and Aomame continually listen to the piece throughout the novel. I have no idea why, nor the significance of it although this write up might shed a helpful light on things. Tengo and Aomame also listen to jazz and modern rock too. Why they don't listen to Oingo Bongo, or Duran Duran, beats me, I guess its just a Murakami thing.

Overall the novel is a sprawling tale. Murakami takes his time in telling a convoluted, twisted, and surreal love story. The premise is simple, boy and girl meet, fall in love and live happily ever after but as Murakami says "the role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form" (222) and that other form is a lengthy weird tale... or in other words its a typical Murakami piece that is longer than the rest.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"I'm About Making Money! That's the Dream! The American Dream!"

I often wonder what people do with their free time that is the time in which they are not engaged in "productive labor". Are they watching movies? Reading books? Going to theme parks? Enjoying a meal with a friend at a restaurant? I always wonder what commodity and to what extent they are dealing with it, and how they just get it away from it all. Recently Hollywood has given me a voyeuristic encounter with how people spend their time away from the drudgery of work and school.

Spring Breakers, directed and written by Harmony Korine of Kids, and Gumo fame, is the story of four nubile, and nearly identical young women who vacate their collegiate life to enjoy a spring break bacchanal. The thin story begins with three of the women (all bleached blondes) robbing a working class, "Chicken Shack," an obviously low standard restaurant in their hood, in order to fund their extravagant vacay away from school. The necessity for the vacation is obvious in the women's lines and their desire to see another world after all spring break is "Way more than having a good time". Spring Break is a way to get away from it all, "its nice to have a break from reality". They even convince the light weight moral compass, Faith, to come along on the hedonistic trip with their repetitive mantra of "Spring Break Foeva".

Their plans go sour when after a collage of cocaine, alcohol, and exploratory bisexuality they are arrested. Luckily the Alien, portrayed by James Franco, bails them out. Franco, an obvious play off of rapper Riff Raff, (who is a mixture of white trash, and black gangsta rapper - think Kid Rock meets  Ole Dirty Bastard but not as cool, unless you are a hipster, then its probably deeper- both ironically cool and uncool at the same time) is Alien, another worldly being who is made of money. Alien is the embodiment of currency made flesh pronounced when he exclaims "Look at my teef", which are rimmed with gold and diamonds. Alien is made of the right currency after all for the young ladies "Money makes my tits look bigger", and "money makes my pussy wet". Which in the realm of the spectacle a wet pussy and big tits will get you far.

 When Alien first comes on stage as an active agent in the drama, it is in the courtroom, a third of the way through the nonlinear narrative. Alien leans forward interested in the girls being charged and given the choice to pay bail or spend two more days in county jail, a place of B-O-R-E-D-O-M, almost as bad as school. Alien, visually sporting his $ neck tat, makes his tat not just a signifier but signified when he springs the ladies out.
seriously have you ever seen rich bitches look so bored?

Alien meets them outside and brings them to the underbelly of of Spring Break, which doesn't mean that the continual splicing of white kids ejaculating booze on lined up rows of white women stops, it just means that there are more black bodies about. The black bodies come to a for in a strip club which is visited by Alien and three of the girls (Faith drops out of the indulgence with fake tears). The black females are covered with money and Alien slaps their asses as he talks to his childhood best friend, Big Archie, who taught him everything he knew.

The two are threatened by each other and posture, after all what working class white rapper isn't threatened by a black working class rapper? Both have come from the "streets" and somehow both made it into the realm of spectacular capitalism, although neither of them are working class any long but are nouveau rich. Obviously there is a clash of markets and the conflict is not only one of color, but also of the ways in which the colonizer mimics the colonized (how many white girls asses did we see in the film? How many women of color twerked?) The racial depth, along with conflicts of sexuality and  depth of intra class warfare, are beyond the depth of this trite blog review however, poo poo.
So hood, soooo hood!

In an encounter on the street, with both driving expensive sports cars, Big Archie, in obvious dissatisfaction that his vehicle does not have $ sign rims opens fire on Alien's car. One of the girls (don't ask me who) is hit in the arm. The flesh wound is so upsetting that Alien must engage in a solo piano number, smashing the keys, while the wounded girl showers naked (in a surprisingly unsexual scene). The wounded girl goes home and then... there were two little blonde girls.

In an act of vendetta and an attempt to show his masculine prowess, rather than be a continual "Scaredy Cat," Alien lays siege to Gucci Mane's place of residence, which is sea side and has a hot tub. Alien and the two girls ride a motorboat, dock, and clad in bikinis and pink balaclavas the two girls way waste to all the black men in the compound, finishing their bulletory ejaculation with Gucci Mane who is watching two voluptuous women of color engage in light lesbianism. Alien, however dies in the first burst of fire and the ladies are left to commit racial genocide without their man. Sad, sad, sad.
Bikini Girls with Machine Guns!

In the end what can we gather from this film? Is it a new venture in riot grrl capitalism? A way of white angst expressing dissatisfaction with the growing black bourgeoisie? A condemnation of curvy bodies? Or black bodies? A tale of intraclass violence? A testimony of the power of the phallus and threat of violence? Is it just a teen exploitation movie?

Well one thing is for sure... it is a commodity meant to sell and a commodity appears, at first sight as a very trivial thing, seemingly easily understood. Its analysis shows, however, that it is in reality, a very peculiar thing, abounding in pop-cultural subtleties and ideological niceties.