Fuel

from Tuesday, August28th of the year2007.

I just finished on the train this morning Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, which is a short, moody little book. I am a big fan of his; I am actually really suspicious of people who don’t like his writing (or who say they don’t like it; usually these people have a whole constellation of weirdly unjustifiable opinions about completely random things, like ‘I don’t drink white wine’ or ‘Vornados don’t work’ or you find out that they’re PC-users or something); unlike other writers I like, for instance McEwan, where I think that the reasons I like it are pretty much vornado.jpgspecific to me and I would never assume that everybody feels similarly. One of the reasons I like Murakami so much is that reading it feels like skating or gliding above a smooth surface, where the intense effort involved in writing it is shrouded or completely hidden. The example I have in my head is like riding in a plane with headphones on: you completely forget about the elaborate mechanism involved in your propulsion, and sit there listening to Bruckner or whatever. Check out this passage from the middle of the novel:

“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed ’em to the fire, they’re all just paper. The fire isn’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is Kant,’ or ‘Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,’ or ‘Nice tits,’ while it burns. To the fire, they’re nothing but scraps of paper. It’s the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there’s no distinction””they’re all just fuel.”

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Bruckner Afferentur regi

I’m sticking this Bruckner here because it is so beautiful, but also because I love the trombones. The trombone has been weighing heavily on my mind recently; I am writing a piece called Wonders for multiple trombones and voice, all played/sung by my dear Helgi Hrafn. Also, I am writing a piece for the Chicago Symphony MusicNOW people with a long bass trombone solo up-in.

Something that has always appealed to me about Murakami is the lack of Obvious Hierarchy in his works, particularly in the larger ones like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. There is a lot of detail that is simply that, and passes by as a texture. Occasionally, things will come up out of the surface of the writing, but sometimes kanakaredes46854.jpg it means nothing and sometimes it means everything. I enjoy not being constantly reminded that I am living in a constructed universe; some novels make you think that you’re in an episode of CSI:NY or something where if the camera lingers on a little smudge of something at the base of a window trimming, obviously Melina Kanakaredes is going to be solving the case with that Very Smudge twenty minutes down the line.

Don’t you love these Republican Sex Scandals?! Wow! Bathroom Cottaging. So out of control and so appropriate; you couldn’t write it better. Did anybody else notice, too, that the arresting officer, Dave Karsnia, is cute as a button?picture-1.png And somehow, he was assigned to gay cottaging vice squad? Just by accident? Poor thing. I hope he gets mad bonuses.

All joking aside, what a terrible life it must be to be a Republican Senator from Idahó trying to get some play in an airport men’s room. Where is the glamor, the stodge, the old-fashionedness? It would be tragic if it weren’t so infuriating. A few weeks ago, I had a sudden theoretical realization about the issue of gays in the military; there is no justification, as far as I can see, that would permit putting a limit on the possibility of somebody’s civic engagement. If I wanted, even with my rudimentary Arabic, to join the army and translate for these poor 18 year-olds from, you know, Idahó who have to break down doors and scream at Iraqi women, talking about, “Where your husband is” etc. ““ I wouldn’t be allowed. SO, all of that being said, there is an arbitrary restriction on the end bathroom_stall1.jpgof my civic engagement: I’m not good enough to die for my country. Says who? Says Republicans trying to get a quick frot at the airport. Awesome. But it’s not like the Democrats have my back either, the whole thing is such a grotesque mess; I can’t honestly think about any foreign policy issue before I think about this one. If you want to talk about bombing Iran, I just wonder how many smart gay Farsi speakers are forbidden from helping. If you want to talk about North Korea, same thing. And how many people’s children are dead because of inadequate translation skills!? It’s unthinkable. Here is Thomas Weelkes’s When David Heard. Text below.

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Thomas Weelkes When David heard
Choir of New College, Oxford

When David heard that Absalon was slain, he went up to his chamber, over the gate, and wept; and thus he said: O my son, Absalon my son, would God I had died for thee. Samuel II 18:33

I can’t escape the academic calendar; every time I try to recenter myself to a January-is-the-beginning it backfires. Right now, I eagerly await the arrival of a new computer, I eagerly await my departure for Detroit tomorrow, I eagerly await the arrival of fall, I eagerly await new projects, new schemes, new plans.

7 Comments

  • My favorite Murakami so far is Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World… one of those books I was sad to finish. I think, having read it, I’m now a slightly different person.

  • trombones especially bass trombone, indeed can produce deep/tantalizing sounds such as for the performances of ’round midnight, and makin’ whoopee by sinatra. personally, i have always felt that trombones were a bit shafted in the world of jazz and classical music and it is wonderful to see another avid support. cheers~

  • Oh David, Oh Absalom.

  • ON!!!

  • Murakami was the writer who got me started on Japanese. I read Wild Sheep Chase in English; the author’s biography said he had translated writers like Chandler and Hammett into Japanese, and the translator had translated the Japanese back into a kind of hardboiled English, but I kept wondering what this could possibly be like in Japanese. The book had a scene, anyway, that I loved: a gangster’s driver comes to pick up the narrator’s cat, which will be looked after while the narrator does a job, and the driver, narrator, girlfriend and cat go off in the car. ‘What’s his name?’ asks the driver. ‘He doesn’t have a name.’ The driver and girlfriend are appalled because he failed to give his cat a name. The driver proposes a name for the cat. There is a discussion of why some things have names and others don’t. The driver suggests that towns, parks, stations and so on are given names to compensate for their fixity on the earth. Narrator: Well, suppose I utterly obliterated my consciousness and became totally fixed, would I merit a fancy name?…Driver: But you already have a name. Narrator: Right you are. I nearly forgot.

    Anyone who has studied analytic philosophy would find this passage hard to resist. I found myself ordering the Japanese text through Books Nippon, buying Halpern’s Kanji Dictionary, buying a Romaji Dictionary, buying a grammar, working doggedly through various favourite passages… So the Japanese I know is heavily influenced by
    Murakami (ear, cat, cheese snacks, name). (Books Nippon had been so helpful in ordering books not in stock that I was encouraged to order Kurosawa’s Autobiography, so I am very much in Murakami’s debt.)

  • I too was sold on Murakami by “A Wild Sheep Chase,” which is I think still my favorite novel of his. But I did not learn Japanese, to my regret…

  • Nico – have you or have you not ever stood in front of your Vornado and noted the amount of air it wasn’t moving. Or were you too busy appreciating its compact size and appealing looks? You got marketed upon! I will bring over a $10 behemoth from the 70’s for show and prove, but we’ll have to tether down the cats.

    Will – I stand in front of it daily. I suffered for years with the Square Thing and it was noisy as all sin and was Djænórmus. The cats also worship the Vornadoâ„¢ because they think that it is an emissary of the Printer.