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PostModern
Japan


Earl
Jackson, Jr.


talkingcure2000@aol.com

Yen
Economies


Variations
Without A Theme


Another
Scene

Benkyo
3. On Murakami Haruki’s „The Elephant Vanishes“


[Earl
Jackson, Jr.’s feedback in Red.]

Analysis of „The Elephant Vanishes“

DJ Anderson

Murakami Haruki’s „The Elephant Vanishes“ can be read
as a narrative of post-modern alienation; a story written in the face of
globalization, late capitalism, and the ruthless commodification of all
that exists, it casts a nostalgic spell (magical realist pun intended)
through its faceless nameless narrator’s minor obsession about a local
elephant’s disappearance and all that the elephant signifies. Post-modern
themes of media mediation, everyday-life banality, urban sprawl, emotionless
corporate pragmatism, and increased distance in personal relationships
are placed in contrast to the romantic, irrational mystery of the old elephant
and its disappearance; the narrator locates a certain sentimentality in
the elephant that has also disappeared from the world. The story serves
as an example of what the post-modern ‚condition‘ is like without the romantic
idealism attributed to the elephant and the past it comes from, and the
narrator’s half-hearted interest in where and why it disappeared.


Evidence of the post-modern disconnection and banality
that the narrator lives in abounds throughout the story. The story begins
with a description of his daily morning routine; waking up at 6:13 to read
the newspaper and eat breakfast with the radio to serve as white noise,
methodically reading the newspaper section by section. He tells the story
of the elephant, summarizing in a blank, terse, emotionless tone, chronologically
listing various political issues surrounding the problem of the elephant,
practically turning it into a PowerPoint presentation. Many of the events
that take place in the „real world“ aren’t even narrated by him, but quoted
from the newspaper or television much of the story has the cold, lifeless
feel of a news report, a blank „objective“ style that merely states facts
or quotes from political figures.

These banal passages are in stark contrast to the narrator’s
discussions of the elephant; while discussing the elephant, the narrative
takes a decidedly more personal tone, as the narrator inserts many more
details that serve to flesh out the elephant and its keeper and portray
them with a kind of caring, sensitive style absent from his bare-bones
approach to the rest of the world. This contrast illustrates the post-modern
aesthetics as compared to the almost-sentimentality of the elephant descriptions
the condensed, efficient, lifeless prose of the news reports and details
of normal life are boring and not as interesting as the detailed, warm,
personal descriptions of the elephant and its keeper.

These post-modern aesthetics are not only entrenched in
the sjuzet but the fabula as well; the story is a response
to their encroachment onto everyday life. The very problem of the elephant
has its roots in the urbanization of the suburbs, as the old zoo was being
cleared away for a new condo. The wonders of a zoo, full of exotic animals
and reminiscent of Romantic ideas about nature, being bulldozed away to
create yet another high-rise; the destruction of an old era by the new,
of which the elephant is the only survivor. Too old and feeble to be attractive
to other zoos, the elephant is a relic of the past that refuses to go away.
A problematic history which refuses to be erased. Representative of an
older way of life, the elephant and its keeper’s strong emotional bond
are nostalgically envied by the narrator, who (though he can’t explain
why) is drawn to watching their private interactions – kind of like a peeping
tom, staring into someone else’s life, envying their life for having what
he lacks – in this case, a „proper balance“ in life, „unity of design,
unity of color, unity of function,“ A simple life, free of the cares of
the modern world, a real emotional connection not mediated by the forced
formality and pragmatic concerns of today’s interpersonal relations.

During his description of the date he has with the editor
of a magazine, his emotional alienation shines. They met while discussing
kitchen appliances and the sales pitch appealing to the average conformist
consumer housewife, trying to sell them uniformity and mass-produced style.
It isn’t what the buyer actually needs, but the image of what they need
that is really important to sales – the false world of advertising, cynically
taking advantage of the general public for profit, a world of deception
that everyone knows is deceitful yet still buys into. The narrator calls
it pragmatism, which he describes as a way of making work easier, of avoiding
‚complicated problems‘ likely relating to issues of conscience – a view
that isn’t even really his, but what everybody is told to think so they
can get through work easier. The simple honestness
[honesty?] of the elephant and its
keeper, the sincerity of that imagined world appeals to the narrator. After
this, he and the woman drink champagne and talk about co-workers and the
university they sort of have in common. The details of their conversation
are pragmatic as well; they are both unmarried and are at the right ages
to get married, have vision problems, dress sensibly, and talk about their
jobs. In other words, they were beginning to like each other.“

Their ‚interest in each other is based primarily on job
similarities, and the fact that they can’t immediately find something *wrong*
with each other, and not really based on any real emotion. Their relation
is mediated through their workplace, and pragmatism in general (although
it is admittedly hard to forge a ‚real emotional connection‘ when you’re
trying to pick someone up at a party) They proceed to a bar to talk about
the usual boring date topics before he mentions the elephant. The narrator
admits that he might have brought it up in order to share his „own, unique
view on the elephant’s disappearance“ – probably the only „unique“ thing
about him in this mass-commodified world.

After going over what everyone already knew from the news,
she managed to draw the story out of him – although he warned her that
it made little logical sense. He explained to her that he saw the „balance“
between the elephant and the keeper change, that the night they disappeared
it seemed as if a different time was flowing for them, that they were giving
themselves over to a „new order that was trying to envelop them.“ It being
a difficult story to follow, the date ends shortly afterwards. After the
date, the narrator tells us about his growing apathy to the real world.
He began having trouble distinguishing between the results of his actions,
although he had success selling kitchen appliances when he tries to be
pragmatic based on what he remembers. He describes himself as having fallen
out of balance inside, after the elephant disappeared, although he is able
to „sell himself“ more easily afterwards, and ascribes it to the desire
for unity in the kitchen that is the world.

After the elephant disappeared, something vital within
him disappeared as well. He was out of balance, and since something dies
if it is „out of balance with its surroundings,“ something in him died
– the Romantic, individualistic part of him, and he gave in completely
to the consumerist/conformist world in which he lived. The imagined simplicity
and innocence of life and emotions from a different time that the elephant
was a symbol of were gone, and „will never be coming back.“ In its place
is the post-modern way of life – alienated from ourselves, estranged from
others, our lives mediated by media conglomerates that tell us what to
know in carefully crafted blank prose, our ‚individuality‘ sold to us,
the triumph of capitalist rationality over emotion, the banality of wage-slave
workdays, and all the other bad things caused by globalization and late
capitalism.

D.J. Anderson


 


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Post-Modern
Japan Forum One
Post-Modern
Japan Forum Two
PMJF4
PMJF3 PMJF5
PMJF6 PMJF7 PMJF8
PMJF 9 PMJF 10 PMJF 11
Study Guide One Study Guide Two Study Guide Three
Study Guide Four

PostModern
Japan


Earl
Jackson, Jr.


talkingcure2000@aol.com

Yen
Economies


Variations
Without A Theme


Another
Scene