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When Murakami Double Crossed Chekov. Or not ?

October 22, 2014

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Now, I’m going to write about a literary review. I never study literature, well, I might though, back in the high school, but I didn’t get so many things that I can call myself a literature-pro. So, I’m just going to do it with my knowledge from many things. I studied semiotics in college by the way, so, it might somewhat be related with it.

This time I will talk about my new favorite writer, Haruki Murakami. A friend, two friends to be precise, introduced me to him. I think it might be interesting to start reading on him, since I am now enrolled in a Japan Area Studies, it might help my study. It is, at some extent. So, the first Murakami I read is 1Q84, the thickest one I think. It was well written, I love how he writes anything in details, with so many references throughout the literary world. Then, I read his short story collections: After the Quake. Another nice pieces of his writings. Surrealistic stories, imbued with a pretty well hidden symbolism. Of course, I won’t know if he really meant that, but hey, the author is dead anyway (look up for Roland Barthes’ Dead of the Author, you’ll see why I say that the author is dead). Then I read what people said to be his best work, Kafka on the Shore. It’s nicely written, but I still think 1Q84 is better. Personally, subjectively, of course. I can’t force you to like or unlike beef steak, it is all personal.

There are so many things I found interesting in Murakami’s book. At first, the surrealism. Of course, it brings you somewhere you’ve never think you will ever go. Having sex with your mom, getting pregnant without having any sexual intercourse, going into the woods and find an old imperial Japanese army, etc. So many things seems unreal, but for the characters, it is real. It is their reality. For me, it is a metaphoric realization of a metaphor. Confused ? Contact me via private line, a phone call is preferred, I can’t really explain it well through a chat. But I think it is, something like that. Second, Murakami loved to include popular figures into his novel. Colonel Sanders, Johnnie Walker, that Tiger Billboard (only Japanese readers or those who have been in Japan in such times the billboard existed might know this, but I can imagine), Beethoven, Bach, and many other figures. Why is it interesting, because it is just happen. It is chaotic. No order. It is just the way it is, it is just the way it has to. Third, well, I can keep going if I’m doing this, so, I guess I will stop at third. Eh, no I haven’t mention the most important part. The third one: he quotes Chekhov, Anton Chekhov twice, and might or might not betrayed him, twice or thrice, or never, I’ll let you be the judge, but I think it is never.

Before we go, here’s a little bit about Anton Chekhov from his Wikipedia entry. I haven’t read his book, so it is kinda obvious if I ask wiki, it is not a scientific writing after all. Anyway, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is somehow Russian Tompi who happened to live in the 1800s. Why do I call him Tompi ? Because he is a doctor, who is also a physician, and also a writer. Awesome. And why Tompi ? Because he is a doctor, and a singer, and occasional politician (IYKWIM). Anyway, I don’t really know Chekhov, but I think I’ll just floor his importance on this literature think tank. One of the most famous principle is the Chekhov’s gun. In which he said: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” And why is this important in this writing ? Because Murakami quoted it twice on his books, different books. And, I sometimes question myself, did he betray Chekhov, or not ? And the answer, I can’t tell, I can only show you some possibilities.

(SPOILER ALERT FOR KAFKA ON THE SHORE)

The first one came up in the Kafka on the Shore. One of the dialogue between Colonel Sanders (yes, that Colonel Sanders, the KFC dude) where Colonel Sanders Emphasize the importance of the stone Mr. Nakata’s have been looking for to Mr. Hoshino. That time, Colonel Sanders explained that (I quote this directly from the book that was translated by Philip Gabriel)

“What Chekov was getting at is this: Necessity is an independent concept. It has a different structure from logic, morals, or meaning. Its function lies entirely in the role it plays. What doesn’t play a role shouldn’t exist. What necessity requires does need to exist. That’s what you call dramaturgy. Logic, morals, or meaning don’t have anything to do with it. It’s all a question of relationality. Chekov Understood dramaturgy very well.”

From this dialogue, we can infer that what Chekov means is that any –thing, character, places, you name it- that popped up in a story, has to have an importance role to the story. One does not simply pop it up, and *poof*, it doesn’t have any matter anymore. In the Kafka on the Shore story, Hoshino questioned the importance of the stone Mr. Nakata have been looking for. In the end, the stone marks the start of an end to the story, and in the end, it close the end of the story. It have such importance, that if it is a gun, it is been fired, and might hit someone dead, erasing them from the story.

At first, Hoshino was thinking that lifting the stone is a pain in the ass. Moreover, it has to be taken from a sacred Shinto shrine which might get him cursed in the end. So, at first, he won’t bother picking the stone. But, after Colonel Sanders explained it to him about the Chekhov’s Gun, he agreed, and in the end, if it is a gun, it is fired anyway. In this case, Murakami did not betrayed Chekhov. It does fired.

(SPOILER FOR KAFKA ON THE SHORE ENDS HERE)

The second one come from the 1Q84, this one is less metaphoric. I think it is quite interesting that Murakami takes the metaphorical principle from Chekhov’s gun, into the literal situation between Aomame, Tamaru, and the gun.

(SPOILER FOR THE 1Q84 STARTS HERE)

The Chekhov’s gun talks begin when Aomame asked Tamaru to get her a gun. She thinks that it is important to protect her from Sakigake’s follower. At first, Tamaru have doubts about letting her get the gun, because he somewhat might wind up if Aomame come in contact with police, and it will ruin his clean history on the police database. This time, Tamaru told Aomame about the Chekov’s gun. He said that if a gun come into story, then it have to be fired. He said that in order to makes Aomame understand that if Aomame decided to get hold of a gun in a very dangerous mission of murdering the Sakigake’s Leader, the gun will mostly taken into action. Tamaru’s concern is ‘can Aomame pull the trigger when the time comes ?’ Aomame argued that she won’t use it to kill people, she will use it to threaten them, to buy her times to commit an (almost, almost, almost) painless suicide. In the end, Tamaru agreed to give her the gun.

In the end, the gun didn’t fire anything. It was cocked for a few times, but Aomame never have nerves or chances to pull the trigger. In this sense, the Chekhov’s metaphorical gun have become a literal gun, and it didn’t fire anything. Does it means Murakami betrays the Chekhov’s gun principle here in the 1Q84 ?

One’s say he might, the other said he isn’t, and the other said he is, while the other haven’t read the book, and the rest are just don’t care at all. Me, I’d say he is not. Let’s take it back to the Chekhov’s quote. The necessity of something exist when something exist in the story. So, when a gun –which main purpose is to shoot something- come into story, it has to be shot. If it is not, it will lose the meaning of its existence. This one part is interesting. The Chekhov’s real intention is to show that if something is not important to the story, it shouldn’t be brought up. But, the gun analogy is weak. Maybe, maybe, Chekhov never did any security studies.

In security study, a presence of military corps in one’s country is important. Its existence threaten another party to not mess with them. But, in this case a gun doesn’t have to be shot to ensure that one’s military force is strong enough to deal with other’s military force. For example, when Indonesia adds up a bunch of Sukhoi fighter Jet from Russia, it will be a threat to the neighboring country, let’s say, Malaysia. Malaysia and Indonesia’s relation has been conflictual lately. So, when a war break out, those Sukhoi fighter Jet will be a massive threat for the Malaysian. But, in order to be a threat, the Sukhoi itself doesn’t have to fire its missile, doesn’t have to be undetected in the Malaysia’s radar, doesn’t have to be fast enough to run from Malaysia’s fighter jet, etc. By just being existed, it has become a threat. So, it serves another purpose here: a threat for another country. In the other hand, it gives the Indonesian air force a calming sense to have such technology in their hand. Another purpose for the Sukhoi: a reliable weapon that gives a calming sense.

From my analogy here, it can be said that the gun, the weapon, does have another purpose in existence. It will make the bearer feel safer, and it might (since it never happened) threaten the enemy when they know. In the story, the gun does not have a significance impact to the story, but it gives Aomame the calmness she needs to come into the leader’s room in the hotel. And it MIGHT give her an impact somehow, when she tried to kill herself a few times, she felt doubt. A doubt where the gun might missed her brain, a doubt where she might slipped the trigger so in the end the gun doesn’t shoot the part of her head she wants to shoot, etc. This doubt cancels Aomame’s urge to kill herself. And these doubts are produced by the gun. When the gun comes into existence, it doesn’t shoot, but it made Aomame feel the safety, and the doubt. That means, the gun did gives an impact in the story, it might not be big (but, if Aomame did kill herself with let’s say, pills, or lethal injection, she might never find Tengo, vice viersa) but it doesn’t have to be fired. For those who said Murakami betrayed Chekhov in 1Q84, you might think of this now.

(SPOILER FOR THE 1Q84 ENDS HERE)

The most interesting things I can pick out from those two are, how Murakami use the Chekhov’s principle metaphorically (to the stone in Kafka on the Shore), and literally (to the gun in 1Q84). I think it is one of the most important think to understand Murakami’s novel. On how to understand metaphor. On how he brings metaphor to the real life, or/and the real life into a metaphorical sense. I think this is why he should be call genius.

So, in the end, Murakami never betrayed Chekhov. He only make an impression that he might. I think, again, the author is dead, so it is my duty to GUESS his intention, my guess can be wrong, but yours can be wrong too. Although, there is something odd with another Murakami novel I’ve been reading. It is his newest one, Colorless: Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. But I think I need to re-read it. In short, there’s this character, Haida, who doesn’t really have such an impact in the story (I think, that’s why I have to re-read it), but Murakami gave him a lot of portion in this book. Maybe I’ll update this one later on. He might betray Chekhov here.

So, what do you think ? did he, or did not he betrayed Chekhov ? Feel free to contact me if you’re interested !

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3 comments

  1. nah, karena belum baca 1q84, urg skip dulu bagian dua-nya. chekhov’s gun, efisiensi prop dan karakter menurut urg. urg suka, minimalis nanti jadinya (kecuali kalau bakal banyak prop dan karakter yang terlibat, haha).

    urg sebenernya lagi bikin cerpen juga, it has a gun in it too, and a bit depressing. berapa bulan tah gak beres-beres, nulisnya mesti lagi depressed juga. haha


    • eh, bukan minimalis ketang maksudnya yang pengen urg bilang teh. efisien: all in its right places, each with particular function; mechanical cogs in a machinery, working smoothly. eh, russian. minimalis mah bisa-bisanya weh sederhanain “mesin”-nya. sori. haha


      • tentu, minmalis itu baik. Karena sayang kalau ada karakter atau benda yang terbuang. Yang unik dari Murakami di tulisan ini, dia bisa merubah metafor yg sebelumnya udah ada, terus semacam bikin metafor baru sebagai pengembangan dari itu. Urang rasa itu jenius sih. Btw, kalau bicarain Murakami minimalis atau nggak, karakternya minimalis, tapi gaya berceritanya nggak, tapi nggak selamanya kalau nggak minimalis itu jelek, heuheu



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