Monday 7 November 2016

Open Mind

The story of Haruki Murakami's novel Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki and his years of pilgrimage is that of a quest. In late adolescence, Tsukuru had been one of a group of five young people who were very close. They were not just friends, they thought and acted almost as one. Then, in his second year at university, his four friends cut him off, and told him not to get in touch with any of them again ... ever. It seemed as if he had done something, but he did not know what it was. For months he was extremely depressed. He wanted to commit suicide. The novel is a pilgrimage in which Tsukuru journeys through his life, and tries to find out what the meaning of all this had been.

In his twenties Tsukuru meets Haida, a young man of about the same age as himself, and they become close. Haida is a graduate student who says that his idea in life is "to think deeply about things. Contemplate ideas in a pure, free sort of way ... kind of like constructing a vacuum" (p. 48).

I think what Haida is talking about here is a kind of reflection, a kind of contemplation, a kind of mindfulness, in which in the "vacuum" one lets thoughts just come into one's mind. I think this is the mode in which Murakami may write his books. It is the mode in which I write mine. It's the mode one enters when one takes up a literary novel or short story, and lets it in. One puts aside one's mundane concerns and goals, and opens one's mind to whatever may occur.

Whereas in the East, a kind of meditation has grown up in which one concentrates on one particular thing, perhaps one's breathing, and allows other thoughts that enter the mind just to drift out of it without paying attention to them, this kind of mode is an opposite. It is a welcoming of all the thoughts that come into the mind, an allowing of them to move around in there, to make associations with other thoughts, with memories, with ideas. It's on these kinds of associations, when they are meaningful to us, that we may concentrate, whether we are writing or reading.

We have featured Murakami's short stories before in OnFiction (click here). In some of these he starts by depicting what seems to be an ordinary world. Then, one finds that growing out of it, or growing alongside it, is an extra-ordinary world, something like a dream world. This idea is developed further in Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki. Just as, in A midsummer-night's dream, Shakespeare was able to present us with a dream world, in order to see our day-to-day world more clearly, so too is Murakami. The dream-world is something like the unconscious. It's composed of inward meanings. Moving between the two—the ordinary world and a dream world—is part of this novel. By means of such movements Tsukuro, and we, are able to think about ourselves, and each other, and our relationships with others, in new and clarifying ways. In life, or as one makes one's own pilgrimage through this book, in the vacuum that one may create in the mind, thoughts and memories can connect with each other and, by means of associations between and among them, we can change from the sometimes colourless, to the more colourful. That is to say that among our thoughts, memories, and reflections, we can choose what is important for us, and understand it more deeply.

Murakami, H. (2014). Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki and his years of pilgrimage (P. Garbriel, Trans.). Toronto: Anchor Canada.

Shakespeare, W. (1600). A midsummer night's dream. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1995).

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