Thursday, February 22, 2007

In Haruki Murakami's world: Cooking spaghetti to live, living to cook spaghetti

Once you become aware of the figure of speech known as chiasmus and how it's used in The New Yorker, you start to see it everywhere -- including fiction in The New Yorker (emphasis added).
Like other writers of great ambition, Haruki Murakami has created his own distinctly identifiable world, an imaginary universe that can be found in even the smallest of his works. "The Year of Spaghetti," a short tale that originally appeared in The New Yorker a few years back, takes up a mere five pages in his latest story collection, but it is about as concise an introduction to Murakami's cosmos as one could wish. "In 1971 I cooked spaghetti to live, and lived to cook spaghetti," the anonymous narrator informs us. Those are the horizons of his existence. He doesn't seem to have a job or, for that matter, anything else to occupy him. We never learn how he pays for his pasta or comes up with the rent. If anything, he seems to be hiding from it all. "As a rule I cooked spaghetti, and ate it, alone. I was convinced that spaghetti was a dish best enjoyed alone. I can't really explain why I felt that way, but there it is."
This passage is from an excellent review of Murakami's new short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Christian Caryl, the Tokyo Bureau Chief of Newsweek, in The New York Review of Books.

The Japanese novelist is wildly popular at home, but sells well in countries as diverse as the U.S., Russia and China, and he has been translated into 36 languages. Caryl looks to the weirdness of a globalized world for an explanation of Murakami's astonishing worldwide popularity.
Just like the odd events that overtake Murakami's lukewarm heroes, globalization is a process that is, by virtue of its ubiquitous complexity, at once mysterious and banal. Its outward forms (John Wayne and Colonel Sanders) can be enjoyed even as they displace native customs and habits of thought; when the Italians export spaghetti, they're exporting loneliness, too. Murakami's heroes, carting the baggage of their minor miracles, know the story. They've been to the outlet mall and survived to tell the tale.
You might call him the poet laureate of globalization and its discontents.

1 comment:

Emily Gordon said...

Chiasmus, once understood, takes over. Especially when you interpret it freely--metaphorical chiasmus, syllabic chiasmus, half-rhyme chiasmus, etc. It's much more common than people think it could be, and it'll likely make you exclaim out loud whenever you hear or read it, but no one else will understand. It can be a bit lonely. Prescription: Dr. Grothe's website for everyone!