BookTalkII — Part 5 — Understand It With an Explanation


Warning:  BookTalkII assumes an audience that has already read George Orwell’s 1984, and attempts to compare the classic dystopian nightmare against both the novel 1Q84, written by Haruki Murakami, and V for Vendetta, a graphic novel by Alan Moore.  Broken into twelve parts, each part of the BookTalk will focus on a chronologically new section of 1Q84 and V for Vendetta while considering the entire narrative of 1984.  See the BookTalkII main page for more details and links to all twelve parts.

Spoiler Alert:  This part covers chapters 3-6 of Book Two of V for Vendetta and chapters 7-12 of Book Two of 1Q84 (up to page 575).


V commandeers the broadcast airwaves.  He ascends the bully pulpit of all media, grabbing the spotlight.  But, why?  For what purpose is V sacrificing himself.  Is he making us use him as a scapegoat, or a martyr, or a victim, or a god-king?  Fascism and totalitarianism of the 20th century reconciled the separation of church and state by combining the two.  If some of the cruelest regimes promoted atheism, and of course Stalinism would be the first to fit the bill, it was a case of the leader replacing the god icon and the rituals of a religion practiced as civic life.  Guilt transformed, euphemistically, into duty, civic duty, duty for the state.

Fundamentalism threatens our liberty.  Between the nanny state and anarchy rests a balanced civic life, one that is participatory and fulfilling while also minimally burdensome or invasive.

“Someone once said that nothing costs more and yields less benefit than revenge,” Aomame said.

“Winston Churchill. As I recall it, though, he was making excuses for the British Empire´s budget deficits. It has no moral significance.”

The Leader in 1Q84 creeps in and around the center of the novel.  Shrouded in darkness and mystery, he combines the evil powers of a god with the frailty and doubt of a human.  The reader falls into a meta-myth.  British practice of orthodoxy can best be expressed by the British and understood by the British.  Orwell made Big Brother a god in a modernist religion of the 1900s.  Haruki Murakami extends and blends this concept.  The Leader gets a substantial share of the narrative’s point-of-view allotment—just as how Aomame’s share far exceeds that of what Julia was given by Orwell–Murakami gives the Leader chapters of space, well more than what Big Brother possessed in 1984 (if he possessed that much at all).

When we get to know our enemy, we incur greater empathy and are less inclined to hold ill will towards the antagonist.  Even though the Leader appears as a bizarro Alan Watts, one can’t help believing the fidelity of a character’s convictions.  You want to believe in the power of faith, regardless of your own personal faith, to have that option granted in return.  We respect each others’ beliefs, even though we may disagree.  And when our desires align, they typically compete.  As a literary competitor, Haruki Murakami stuffs 1Q84 with compound layers of myth.  The story within a story that shines as the crown jewel atop the entire 1Q84 trilogy of books can be none other than the Town of Cats.  If you want a tasty sample of the novel 1Q84, look no further than this excerpt published by the New Yorker.

More animations on the words of Alan Watts

“The smaller and narrower such a group is, the more firmly they can resist outside pressure.”

Aomame valiantly spars with the Leader, deftly delivering him to the other side.  She doubts her purpose even when her place is guaranteed.  Her part must be played by no one else.  For if she chose to abandon her station in life and go off the script, then a vacuum would open and another figure would be sucked in to fill the part.  Whoever the understudy is they will still be Aomame and the former Aomame will no longer exist.

If you couldn’t understand something without an explanation, you couldn’t understand it with an explanation.

Haruki Murakami pays homage to the Golden Bough.  The Hoover Institution at Stanford University interviewed René Girard and he succinctly captures the linguistic weight of Sir James George Frazer’s ideas.  The Killing of The Divine King analyzes The Golden Bough (1890–1915), written by the Scottish anthropologist, through a traditional Western European lens.  René Girard admits in the interview that his scope of interpretation is limited to the West and fails to include the Oriental lens.  The ideas of the East differ from the Judeo-Christian tenets of civil society.

Collection 3 in our school’s College Prep. Literature course textbook explores voices of protest.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on Vietnam in 1967 anchors the thematic unit.  Jonathan Swift’s a modest proposal and topics of satire are also included in the unit.  A great satirical animated series today, Boondocks, jokes about the role of MLK if he were alive today.  Sometimes our leaders need to be sacrificed, or sentenced to martyrdom, so that their legacies are preserved at the height of their power.  As if the heroic nature of an icon cannot endure the ravages of time, we rarely allow legends to retire peacefully.

Whether in Vietnam or in the Middle East of present day, we must ask ourselves how our foreign policy reflects domestically.  We must be willing to put  ourselves in the shoes of our enemies and their enemies.  We must play devil’s advocate like Karamazov, or else strike a deal.

Did the War on Poverty start the War in Vietnam?  Or did the War on Terror create the Rise of ISIS?  As the 21st century unravels, we are seeing globalization matched by intense localization.  Margaret Mead notoriously warned us to “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater and forfeit our liberties in pursuit of absurd security.

“There is an episode involving the devil and Christ in The Brothers Karamazov, I recall.  The Christ is undergoing harsh austerities in the wilderness when the devil challenges him to perform a miracle—to change a stone into bread.  But the Christ ignores him.  Miracles are the devil’s temptation.”

Tengo dons his Jeff Beck t-shirt and beholds his aging father turning into stone, his stories about this stone breed loaves of bread.  For as Heather Zadra concludes, “‘This is the year’ that history will be written for the future, and death will be overcome by the transcendent.”

Just as Martin Espada sees how this is the year “police revolvers, / stove-hot, blister the fingers / of raging cops.”  This is the year of the hammerhead shark for: “The eyes of this shark are placed on the outer edges of the hammer. This allows them a vertical 360 degree view, which means the Hammerhead shark is able to see both above and below quite easily. Unfortunately, this eye placement causes a huge blind spot directly in front of their nose!”  It’s right in front of us, this year.


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