With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1.
Well, if we’re going to be looking at Murakami, we might as well start at the beginning – the first page of his first novel. Technically it’s been published, but not in the States, so it still counts. I’ve read Birnbaum’s version, and the first line has always been kind of seared into my brain, so you’ll have to forgive me if mine is similar. Something just doesn’t sound right with “Perfect writing doesn’t exist.” I’ve taken this first page from Murakami’s Complete Works 1979~1989.
Listen to the Wind Sing
“There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”
When I was in university, a writer I met kind of randomly said that to me. It wasn’t until long afterwards that I finally understood the true meaning of those words, but it was still possible for me to take some small bit of comfort in them. In the fact that there’s no such thing as perfect writing.
Nevertheless, whenever I got to the point where I was about to write something, I was always attacked by a sense of despair. That’s because the scope of things that I am able to write about is too limited. For example, even if I could write something about an elephant, I might not be able to write anything at all about an elephant keeper. Something like that.
For eight years I’ve wrestled with that dilemma – eight years. That’s a long period of time.
Of course, as long as you keep trying to learn from everything around you, getting older isn’t too hard. That’s the commonly held belief.
I’ve tried my best to live that way ever since around the time I entered my twenties. And thanks to that, I’ve been deeply hurt, deceived, and misunderstood countless times by other people, and at the same time I’ve had many strange experiences. Lots of different people have run in to me and told me their stories, passing over me almost as though they were making noise crossing a bridge, and they’ve never come back. That whole time I kept my mouth tightly closed and didn’t tell them anything. That’s how I welcomed in the final year of my twenties.
It’s impressive how representative this one page is of Murakami’s writing. There’s an elephant in there, a sense of sadness but also curiosity in the strangeness of life, and a hint at the importance of being a listener or a storyteller.
Elephant is, of course, 像 (ぞう), and elephant keeper is 像使い (ぞうつかい). Interesting when you think of 魔法使い (まほうつかい) – magician.