Reality A and Reality B: 1Q84 as an Allegory of Our Time

[This blog post is a crosspost from one of my other blogs, Reading 1Q84]

A few weeks ago I finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The novel was a page turner although I found myself feeling uncomfortable trying to interpret it as a whole. Then I stumbled on a blog post by Jay Voss about the enduring value of the book at his blog called Viz. In his post, titled “Who said the book was on its way out?”, Voss talks about the aesthetic power, and the value of the book artifact in this digital age. In his post, he alerts us to an essay that Haruki Murakami published in The New York Times in November of 2010, titled: “Reality A and Reality B“. I just read it and find that it helps me with my understanding of Murakami’s novel.

Murakami argues that our age, our mentality and the ways we read, write and understand stories has undergone a profound shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Not only have political and economic structures shifted because of these twin events, but also the way we process, produce and disseminate information. It would seem that all systems have been dismantled, and that we have lost criteria for evaluating what is real and what is not. One of the metaphors for this phenomenon, according to Murakami, is the imagery of 9/11 itself, which though real, cannot be digested as realistic. The reality of our reality (in which 9/11 occurred) cannot feel as real as what we imagined the world to be like if 9/11, and everything that followed, had not happened. In other words, we live in a time of interpretive chaos, separated from key mechanisms for judging what is real. All of this impacts literature as well… how we read, understand and write stories.

Murakami writes that “the role of a story is to maintain the soundness of the spiritual bridge that has been constructed between the past and the future…fiction has always been assigned responsibility and questions to deal with in every age, but surely the responsibility and questions are especially great now…To transform the things and events around us into the metaphor of the story form and to suggest the true nature of the situation in the dynamism of that substitution: that is story’s most important function. ” He goes on to describe 1Q84 as a metaphor for an exploration of the fundamental problem of our age, of the search for a new language for speaking about (defining, judging, tracing, evaluating) a new reality. In facing the conflict between realities (one real and one less real), what is gained, lost and learned? How do we digest the chaos of a new reality and adapt to it? These seem to be the questions and concerns that define 1Q84 in Murakami’s own view. I love the way he closes his article: “as a hopefully humble pilot of the mind and spirit, I cannot help but feel this way — that the world, too, after a good deal of trial and error, will surely grasp a new confidence that it is getting it, that the world will undoubtedly discover some clues that suggest a solution because, finally, both the world and story have already crossed the threshold of many centuries and passed many milestones to survive to the present day.”

Aomame and Tengo have crossed over into a world that seems real, but is a bit off kilter. They are in a reality that seems real, but is also fundamentally unreal in comparison the world they once new. The fall of the Berlin Wall took place in 1989, five years after 1984. The setting of Murakami’s novel in 1984 situates it on the cusp of the profound, epochal, reality challenging shift that he describes in his New York Times article.

I am still wrestling with how to deal with the little people and the air chrysalis and many details. But I don’t question their place in the novel. I just wish I had a filter, a way to make this unreality (or Murakami would call it chaos perhaps) more real and more comfortable. But if Murakami is right, then this too is a symptom of our present crisis: the desire for outmoded notions of order, hierarchy, transparent allegory and predictability.

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