Oe and Murakami


Spring 2002

Jackson, Jr.



A mini-synthetic forum.

I have collated together four
contributions to the questions concerning differences between the work
of Oe Kenzaburo and Murakami Haruki and the differing valences of their
respective figures as „writers.“ In one of the four texts, I intervene
somewhat extensively in red. This is not a cause for alarm. Earl
Jackson, Jr

From: „Cynthia Rowen“

Subject: Beating a dead horse deader unfortunately.
. .

Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 18:27:47 -0700

Well in response to the Japanese-ness question. .. I find
it hard for myself to engage in thinking about who’s more Japanese, to
me it’s almost the same as asking myself which American writer is more
American, William Faulkner or Mark Twain.

Maybe I feel more free in interpreting these texts with
the tools I have such as Freudian analysis because I choose not to be part
of the PC Police of text interpretation or because I choose to ignore them
or maybe it’s my own, I suppose you could call it pseudo „Japanese-ness“
getting in the way and wiping away my ability to sense Japanese-ness. The
last reason being one that I highly doubt as being true. I see the difference
between Oe and Murakami as the difference between writers because the amount
of strangeness of some of the things they write about doesn’t strike me
as being a sign of being „Japanese.“ I’ve read some things from Faulkner
that were as strange or alien as the things that Oe writes.

For example, Quentin’s obsession of Caddy’s sexuality
and his fear of it strikes me as strange and foreign but I don’t have a
problem of interpreting it. Maybe that example in itself is really off
because Quentin was a horse short of a full calvary but still it’s an American
writer writing about America, so we would find ourselves having less trouble
trying to interpret it than we would a Japanese text. Or maybe now that
I think about it, the Quentin example isn’t so bad of an example after
all because Oe’s character in The Day He Himself Shall Wipe our Tears
features a person who also has mental problems.

He is as obsessed over a Certain party and his actions
as Quentin is obsessed about Caddy’s promiscuous behavior. Certainly there
are different cultural aspects between the two writers but I have a hard
time understanding how differences between cultures can be crippling to
a person’s interpretation of a text.

Then again maybe I’m pretentious and arrogant, which is
a unfortunate habit I have especially in writing. In any case, addressing
sexuality is not restricted to non-American works. . . in fact sexuality
is addressed in American literature. . .how much different is the scene
in Prize Stock about the boy’s description about the Soldier’s penis
any more disconcerting than the bestiality scene in chapter one of Toni
Morrison’s Beloved or the scene of the castration of Joe Christmas‘
dead body in Faulkner’s Light in August?

Personally I find Morrison’s and Faulkner’s more disturbing.
Or in the case of Wipe my Tears, the protagonist says that he should
make babies with his mother. . .well is that any different than Quentin’s
ambiguous statements about committing incest with Caddy? Neither of the
two actions happened at all. All of those depictions are disconcerting
images of human sexuality and fantasy to a naive and . . .well somewhat
prudish reader. I admit that I can be pretty prudish about such things
but I don’t let such things as sexuality or cultural difference deter me
from interpreting a text in any other way that I would interpret it. Maybe
this is my innocuous arrogance shining through. As for that last comment
about Picnic being a TV movie I’m not surprised but in my case I
think that has more to with knowing the culture enough not to be incredulous.
So maybe I’m biased in that sense. Or maybe Americans act as if they’re
still in the Victorian era. But I admit that is quite unfair of me to say
in a way. Hopefully that is neither too confusing or disgustingly arrogant.


Re: hoping to dispose of the dead horse. .

Fri, 19 Apr 2002 17:43:04 –

From: (Patrick Ohslund)

Seeing as the majority of the stuff I have received is
regarding this question of Japaneseness I feel inclined to cast my take
into the incinerator in hopes that we can generate enough heat to dispose
of this quite dead horse. It seems funny that we are trying to determine
exactitudes of genera in a literature class dealing with postmodern material.

To my understanding post modernism uses many approaches
to call into the question the validity of the boundaries that separate
genres. I agree with Cynthia in that it seems to be counterproductive to
scrutinize every means one has available for analysis. Unless writing a
formal paper mistakes seem to be the best way to learn of new alternatives
that work and others that do not. We are further dealing with material
that written in a present context. We are also deciphering it form the
viewpoint of our present context. Within either of these perspectives there
are innumerable opportunities for incongruence.

It seems as though the first rule of thumb for analyzing
these premises is to ay one idea down next to the other and compare them
with as little excess baggage as possible. To provide an example Prize
Stock and The Second Bakery Raid both display the theme of sexuality. In
Muakami sexuality is not considered with a huge importance it is written
about consistently in his literature in a very matter of fact way, especially
in A Wild Sheep Chase. Prize Stock exhibits sexuality as something
that is to be taken with great awe. Oe does not depict sexuality in a matter
of fact non-chalance. From this we could discern many things one of which
would be that Oe’s writing is more focused on an engagement with life that
is set out with a high degree of intensity. Murakami’s material is not
devoid of intense subject matter, although his chartacters interact with
it as though it is not so important.

I would say that Oe’s engagment with intensity has to
do more with a sense of history, where as Murakmi is more concerned with
the present and how the engagement with life in an “ every day manner“
effects the outcome and reflection of situations. Neither are more or less
Japanese from a Japanese stand point. However one viewing the Japanese
culture as the other would likely look for signifiers that bespeak a uniqueness
to there culture. In this case the individual would probably see Oe as
more Japanese, rather than Murakami who weaves his style with interactions
on more of an every day manner. I hope that this was not to vague or misconnected
with the prose that preceded it thanks Patrick

From: Mercury Ellis

The Oe/Murakami dichotomy

Hi all, I would like to respond to Matt Piccola’s speculation
on what I meant when I said that Oe is more Showa than Murakami. I simply
found that to be the most efficacious way of saying that when I read Oe
(Prize Stock especially) I feel as if I am reading non-fiction,
specifically history. Prize Stock especially is imbued with historical
presence to the degree that I cannot suspend disbelief. I do not indulge
my imagination when reading Oe in the way I do with Murakami. I’m sorry,
but I just don’t feel that I’m challenged by Oe to indulge myself in that
way. I do not mean to say that Oe isn’t challenging. Indeed, it is challenging
to suddenly (forgive me) „go native“ with him, to experience a confrontation
with the other that is actually not the other for an American-imperialist-by-association
reader, which I am.

Now, this ties into what Earl said today about Oe considering
Murakami to be a fluffy writer. Murakami really does some absurd things,
doesn’t he? This became so clear to me as we discussed „The Second Bakery
Attack.“ And yet his stories work, and he is wonderful to read, I think.
Perhaps Oe’s umbrage with Murakami lies in the fact that Murakami relies
less on historical angst in the conjuration of his fabula than Oe.
Of Course, Murakami does not deny these historical themes (look at the
Secretary’s dialogue with the protagonist in Sheep Chase). Murakami
really requires a reader (this reader, at least) to suspend disbelief,
whereas Oe shakes his quasi-non-fictional-ness in your face. Murakami takes
the ordinary lives of mildly distressed protagonists and twists them ever
so slightly, it seems, but he twists them much more than could ever really
happen, right? Find the sheep or you’ll never work again in this town or
anywhere else? I mean, come on. But I never doubt for a moment that this
is happening in my imagination, and for me my imagination is a good as
constituting a reality. So I’d say that Murakami is hardly fluffy, though
I doubt I’ve „proven“ it here. I enjoy him, yes, but there is some very
deliberate structural and thematic consideration within his work. Something
to work out in a paper, no doubt… -Merc

Japan Forum One
Japan Forum Two
Study Guide One Study Guide Two Study Guide Three
Study Guide Four


Spring 2002

Jackson, Jr.