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social and antisocial - 6 04 2001 - 22:37 - katatonik

Furtive glances. Oh, well.

Ronsens writes about the Japanese writer Murakami Haruki which, as things happen in camp catatonia, gets me into motions of frantic recollection and manic textual production. The first book of Murakami Haruki I ever read was “Wild Sheep Chase”, a book I found massively fascinating at the time – for its depiction of human relations as sequences of furtive glances at others’ ears and lives, the seemingly inappropriate framework of a detective story, and, last but not least, the absurdly casual touch of paranoid mysticism thrown in for good. [The bit about the ears actually inspired an experiment that is legendary at least in autobiographical terms. Perhaps I will inform camp catatonia about it at some later point in time. Write 100 times: must not distract.] I read the book at a time when I had started to learn Japanese, was generally attracted to Japanese literature and considered even Yoshimoto Banana a great writer. Times have changed, paradigms have shifted. I don’t even consider Yoshimoto Banana a writer anymore.

The next Murakami book in my biography was “Dance Dance Dance”, read some time in my first few years in Hiroshima. Murakami was still fascinating, but not just for the above reasons – also because I happened to live in an environment that was for the most part unintelligible to me (or so I made myself believe), and actually seemed to consist of sequences of furtive glances, and an absurd touch of paranoid mysticism. At certain stages, finding life mirrored in literature can be comforting. But not for long.

“Wind Up Bird Chronicle” followed a few years later, still read in Japan. Not bought, just borrowed; not finished, just started. Overfed on sequences of furtive glances in real life, I didn’t want to read about them in literature anymore. Other aspects of life needed to be mirrored.
In a second-hand bookshop, I came across “tooi taikô”, “distant drum(s)”, a collection of travel writing where Murakami records his own three-year-trip through Europe in the late 80s. So far untranslated, I believe. He also published several short pieces on his life in the US in the early 90s. Also untranslated, I believe. That was just what I needed, living in Japan: Reading a Japanese author’s observations of his own life outside of Japan.

“Norwegian Wood”, his first well-known novel, only now translated into German, never crossed my path until last year’s (was it last year?) infamous incident in the TV broadcast “Literarisches Quartett” where divergent opinions on this book unfortunately served as an occasion for a scandal that had nothing to do either with Murakami or the book. What amazed me at the time was that the biggest scandal of all was barely mentioned in the subsequent media merry-go-round: That Murakami’s book was translated into German not from the Japanese original, but from its American translation, a translation that the author himself said was more of a rewrite than a translation – against which he didn’t object, but which he thought created an altogether new book. I don’t know whether the American translation really differs from the Japanese original that much, but for me translating a translation makes a literary work absolutely worthless. This is one of the reasons why I never touched “Norwegian Wood” in German, and probably never will. Vintage books will publish the English translation of Murakami’s interview book with victims of the Tokyo Gas Attack in 1995 (“Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche.”). The Japanese original is sitting on my bookshelves, unread because my time forces me to do other things. Or so I make myself believe.

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