BookTalkII — Part 6 — In the Shadow

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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 7-10 of Book Two of V for Vendetta and chapters 13-18 of Book Two of 1Q84 (up to page 663).

But it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.  Of the many central themes of 1Q84, the “paper moon” theme captures the tangential center: to believe in an idea, or rather to believe in someone, something.  The power of belief is what Orwell ridiculed in 1984; this is what V for Vendetta endures and tortures.  In 1Q84, the reader need only believe in the presence of two moons, the second one being the “paper moon”; and just like that, 2+2=5.  You switch tracks.

Only Haruki Murakami could relate train tracks to the core of a literary novel such as this, the train tracks metaphor rigidly fits a dystopia set in Tokyo.  On time, scheduled, and punctual, all while taking you to your destination, the narrative precision of 1Q84 can be underwhelming — if you let it.  Fortunately, you can just as easily take the wrong train, and surprise yourself as to where the next destination will be; in fact, something might be on the tracks and the train might be delayed.  Weirder things have happened before.

Shadows mistakenly cast could cause a stir or strike fear in the hearts of visionaries.  Haruki Murakami connects “the Shadow” as described by Karl Jung to this central “paper moon” theme as elegantly as a spider weaving a silken web under the moonlight.  The reader awakens in the morning to see the new dawn refracted in dew drops, the attention grabbing flaw that bitterly reveals the stealth trap setup overnight.  The Moon itself is physical play on light and shadow, for we see the Sun’s light in the shadow of the Moon when we experience the brilliance of moonlight.  How could a reflection be as illuminating as a self-emanating source of light?  The symbolism shines like a prism.

Just as the shadow of mankind is brought into being by the striving towards light and showing our best selves first, Tengo creates and promotes a story that creates a vacuum and sucks Aomame in.  She is his shadow.  The cleverness of 1Q84’s meta-narrative lies in Tengo writing this story from the center of the novel outward  to the beginning and end.  As the reader you have to believe in the story’s ability to be a story to continue reading; and like a self-fulfilling prophecy you make it true.

“What kind of world will be there tomorrow?  ‘No one knows the answer to that,’ Fuka-Eri said.”  (Page 624)

“The Last Rose of Summer” accompanies one of many numerous sexually explicit scenes that are customary for any commercial piece of literature since Orwell’s time and well before.  When talk of how 1984 was banned in places upon publication, people tend to glance over the rationale that the book was too sexually explicit.   Government censors cared less about the subversive psychology and philosophy, compared to the romance explored by Winston and Julia.  Julia after all sees herself as a rebel from the waist down.  She captures the “sex as rebellion” theme, the one that Orwell sees as the weakness of orthodoxy.  What sets these authors apart from the raunchy run-of-the-mill commercial writers that produce forgettable works that do not stand the test of time, is that the necessary sacrifices — the ones that the Little People, the audience, demand — they can be given, they can be served with a higher purpose.  The scapegoat, or the virginal sacrifice, can be completely passive.  The martyr flips the script.  If the shadow is killed for a higher purpose, a purpose that the shadow creates, than the bad guys win.

The Little People of 1Q84 become the readers, or audience.  As the author almost negotiates with the audience over the direction of the plot, and ultimately concludes that it is for the best to give the audience what it really wants: balance.  Whether in Art or in Justice, it seems that balance calls favorably in the minds of the majority.  But, when does popular sovereignty not guarantee favorable returns?  Just because the audience calls for the hero to beat the bad guy and save the girl and the day, does it also entail that the sacrifice made by the bad guy, the Leader, be worth the new order created?  The reality from the eyes of the Leader can be just as clear in shape and form as the shadow is to the object it represents.

If real objects are realer than their shadows, than what is realer than the real objects?  Socrates asked this question and he continues to ask it in a world of philosophy, a world the exists as a flat circle.  “That world no longer exists.”  “But it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.”  If critics of 1Q84 lament about the repetition and internal referencing, it is only because it is overt.  The symmetry and balance that Murakami alludes to in his central theme of the “paper moon” calls for an equally artistic echo.  A call and an answer.  A Tengo and an Aomame.

The brighter the light the darker the shadow.  Like a nuclear explosion, the irradiated shadows are burned into the mind of history.  “Maybe I’m just letting the specter of some nonexistent ‘Little People’ frighten me.”  It takes what we love most to reveal what we fear most.  Take for instance, how readers find out Winston’s fear of rats while he is at his most blissful with Julia.  Unfortunately, the telescreen was recording it all.

“Tengo suddenly recalled the fact that people lose fifty million skin cells every day.  The cells get scraped off, turn into invisible dust, and disappear into the air. Maybe we are nothing but skin cells as far as the world is concerned.  If so, there’s nothing mysterious about somebody suddenly disappearing one day.”  (Page 630)

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Precise as you would expect, 1984 happens to be the “Year of the Rat” according to the Chinese Zodiac, it will also occur in 2020 — the same year Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics.  1Q84 includes a twisted tale of a kid possessed with the ability to carve rats out of wood.  The savant’s gift turned into an obsession.

“It’s just that I still have this vivid image of him ‘pulling rats out’ of blocks of wood with total concentration, and that has remained an important mental landscape for me, a reference point.  It teaches me something—or tries to.  People need things like that to go on living—mental landscapes that have meaning for them, even if they can’t explain them in words.  Part of why we live is to come up with explanations for these things.”  (Page 646)

We are the rats!  Have a Happy New Year!  Here’s to the shadow of 2014.

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