Reading Beyond Murakami offers online literature courses focused on the literature and philosophy in Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories.
Read and discuss Haruki Murakami’s work with participants from all over the world in this online course series. Explore each novel and short story and the many theories and philosophies informing each work. Each course includes further reading and resources, live discussions or their recordings, and a community of readers.
WHAT IS READING BEYOND MURAKAMI?
Reading beyond Murakami is a way to appreciate Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories on a deeper level. These three novels are written on the shoulders of giants. The extra reading and ideas mentioned below will illuminate the stories you already know and probably love. Some of the works listed here are explicitly mentioned in the novels while others are alluded to. Some are never mentioned at all, but they will help readers understand some of the underlying themes running through the novels.
When thinking about the underlying message of a narrative, it’s best to keep in mind that writers rarely begin their stories knowing that they want to communicate some grand idea about love or loss or death, or in Murakami’s case, identity, memory, and truth. If writers reflect on their process, they emphasize discovery, adventure, and even curiosity to know what will happen to the characters. They are just as eager as we are to see them react to unexpected circumstances.
I say all this because analyzing the philosophies, thinkers, or influences of any given novel is not designed to take away from or overwhelm the meaning of the story. There is so much we learn from the characters of each of these books. The theoretical concepts explored in the extra readings I mention below, helps ground each story. Even though Murakami’s readers often find it difficult to identify with one of these stock protagonists in bizarre circumstances, these deeper concepts and themes do resonate with us because they tap into universal themes and metaphors. Reading beyond Murakami is important if we want to know why these books resonate so deeply.
There is a saying in biblical interpretation that you always use scripture to interpret scripture, and I would argue the same for Murakami. Use Murakami to interpret Murakami. Once you read one of his works, you are far more capable of reading and understanding his others. This is why I suggest people should read Murakami’s works in a certain order. Even so, once you read some of the influences of each story, you will start to understand and appreciate his other works on a deeper level.
I have no idea if these thinkers were on Murakami’s radar at all when he wrote this book. Much of their work was published before Murakami gave literary birth to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but who really knows? I wrote a 90 page thesis on the connection between these two works, but I will save you from most of the academic jargon and sum it up for you. Basically, these thinkers articulate an unconscious mind that is productive and machine-like. The clincher, though, and where they differ from Freud, and Lacan after him, is that they theorize that the product the unconscious mind makes is real.
Much of the plot of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World separates the two worlds (oscillating chapters, unique pronouns for each protagonist, and entirely different settings), but there is even more that brings the two worlds together leading up to the grand finale. Ultimately, what happens in the unconscious part of the Dreamreader’s mind directly influences the conscious mind as embodied by the Calcutec. This book, (and the 2010 film, Inception after it) represents the theories introduced by Deleuze and Guattari in really fascinating ways. Once you read these thinkers, you will see their ideas everywhere, especially in Murakami’s writings.
- Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Structure of the Unconscious by Sigmund Freud
- The Mirror Stage by Jacque Lacan
- Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure
- The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness by R.D. Laing
The first chapter of Baudrillard’s book articulates this concept called hyperreality. This is really fun to teach because it’s not that hard to grasp. Like most theories, once you understand it, you see it everywhere. Essentially, it deals with appearance and reality, so a little background knowledge on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is helpful. The prisoners in the allegory see only shadows when staring at the wall. Those figures are all that is real, and the prisoners have no idea they are merely shadows pointing to substance. Essentially, the appearance was their reality. Said another way, the representation was their reality.
Okay, so hold that idea in your mind. What Baudrillard does is take the allegory one step farther. He conceives of this idea that the representation is more real than the real. Murakami, and The Matrix after him, follow this line of thought to look at the real world consequences of what takes place in the realm of the represented. Yes, it’s a realm… of a sort.
The tension builds as Toru Okada tries to understand it intellectually and emotionally, “I tried to convince myself that it was a hallucination caused by the combination of darkness and fatigue. But in the end, I had to recognize its truth.”
- Simulacra & Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
- Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche
- On Exactitude in Science by Jorge Luis Borges
- The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
This drama is the greatest Greek tragedy of all time, and it really is foundational in understanding our culture because it is one of the most referenced stories of all time. While the plot is actually summed up in Kafka on the Shore, the original work is worth reading for the subtle nuances that directly relate to Murakami’s novel. The first, and I would argue one of the most powerful parallels, is what Oedipus says when the tragedy opens:
I would not have you speak through messengers,
And therefore I have come myself to hear you–
I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name.
Oedipus is on a journey to find answers. At times, Murakami spells out the similarities without requiring his reader to know the original work. In the first few pages of the novel, we learn Kafka, with his very own famous name, leaves home on a journey of his own, searching for answers. Before leaving, he takes one last look at his sister and gives an obvious nod to Greek tragedies:
“My sister’s looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It’s like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that’s half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness.”
Through exploring the texts that shape this novel, we begin to understand what John Updike means when he writes, “Murakami is a tender painter of negative space.”