Metaphors

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 Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More Drawers, Phone Calls.

We’re looking at Book 2 again on page 336, and this time the note to myself is “world is a big model room – nice.” Let’s check it out:

Aomame slowly looked around the inside of the room again. This is like a model room, she thought. It was clean, had a sense of uniformity, and all the necessary items had been arranged. However, it was cold and lacked any individuality – it was just an imitation. Dying in a place like this probably wouldn’t be a very pleasant way to die. But even with a nicer backdrop, was there really such thing as a pleasant way to die? As she considered this, Aomame realized that the world in which we live is itself something like a giant model room in the end. We come in, take a seat, have some tea, watch the scenery outside the window, and when the time comes we say our thanks and leave. All of the furniture inside is nothing more than makeshift knock-offs. Even the moon shining through the window could be an imitation made of paper.

I can’t remember who I had this conversation with – possibly a translator friend – but I remember talking with someone about Murakami, and that person remarked that the strongest part of Murakami’s writing is his metaphors. He can write damn good metaphors. This one appealed to me when I first read it, and I still think it’s pretty good. It has that ever-present Murakami theme that reality isn’t much more than a place where we eat, live, shit, and fuck before we die. やれやれ.

The passage also refers to the “It’s Only a Paper Moon” epigraph. I can’t remember if he refers to it this specifically anywhere earlier in the novel, but the moon is important throughout the book.

One interesting language note: Murakami mentions that he wrote the book entirely in third person – his first one – but he still has lines like this: もし私がこんなところで死ぬことになるとしたら、それはあまり心愉しい死に方とは言えないだろう. (Which I rendered above as “Dying in a place like this probably wouldn’t be a very pleasant way to die.”) I’m not certain, but I feel like Murakami uses the 私 to show that this is being filtered through Aomame’s consciousness, so I guess it equates to something like free indirect speech in English? It’s first person kind of, but it’s actually third person. The goal is to make it feel like that initial “she thought” (彼女は思った) covers the entire paragraph, which is why I translated it as Aomame might think it to herself in English rather than using the “If I” that you might normally use. Anyone have thoughts on this?

I was also curious about tense. It jumps to present in the “As she considered this” sentence. Does that seem to work?

One last note – papier-mâché is はりぼて in Japanese. The Google Images search makes this pretty clear. The word gets used twice in the passage above. The first usage is just はりぼて, but the second is 紙で作られたはりぼて, which would seem redundant unless there’s another meaning for the word, and Yahoo Dictionary notes the other meaning is metaphorical, so I went with “imitation.”

15 thoughts on “Metaphors

  1. Great post Dan! & great translation.

    I looked up はりぼて – seems like it can also mean “facade”
    http://kotobank.jp/word/張りぼて

    So by saying 「紙で作られたはりぼて」Murakami may be trying to accentuate the transience & lack of dependibility of the はりぼて..if that makes sense..

    Also, はりぼて can be weaved out of bamboo or crafted out of clay, with paper glued over it. (the bamboo or clay acts as the mold). If you take that into consideration, 「紙で作られたはりぼて」 could also mean that the はりぼて is made entirely of paper, so it’s much more fragile.

  2. There’s this passage in Kawabata’s 古都 where the father remarks that the camphor trees look like oversided bonsai. The woman says that Kyōto as a whole feels like that, including the people. The father says it applies to all of Japan. It has stayed with me, and from time to time everything looks like bonsai. And then there’s Baudrillard…

  3. Ah, nice. I like facade. That’s a nice way to put it. I’m not entirely happy with my “imitation made of paper.” Maybe I should have gone with papier-mache.

    And, Leo, I did think about Baudrillard, but I couldn’t remember what that word was – a copy of something for which an original doesn’t exist. Doesn’t seem like that’s exactly what Murakami was going for, but it’s hinted at. He’s clearly going for the paper moon reference. I’ll be curious to see how Rubin handles it.

  4. I’m guilty as well – couldn’t be arsed to find the right way to do papier-mache in the comments. Word did it for me for the post.

  5. So to my mind, the obvious thing to compare this passage with is Shakespeare and the famous “all the world’s a stage” thing. I think one interesting difference is that in the Shakespeare metaphor, people are active: we are playing parts (lots of parts!). Murakami has us just sitting in a chair drinking tea. We don’t do anything — we don’t even change over the course of our lives. Shakespeare says “We play roles (for some unknown audience)”, Murakami’s is “We’re in a model (made by unknown hands)”. (And I won’t repeat myself from last time, but again, this kind of passivity is also arguably a weak point of Murakami’s.)

    The question then is what real thing Murakami’s fake room-and-moon are modeling. This is where the Baudrillard comes in, I guess, but then who’s serving us tea? Are there people (or, let’s say, “forces”) one level of abstraction above us, who can see that the room is fake? This sort of thinking seems to be dragging us back to plain old modernism, but then again, Murakami often writes about other worlds, so it’s possible the vantage point could just be one of those other subjective places (that happens to have a pretty good view of our world), rather than an absolute place of objectivity.

    Re the 古都 thing, my memory is hazy but I think that the implication is that Japan used to be real but has bonsaied itself, so you don’t get the potential “models all the way down” interpretation, but rather a Baudrillardian self-simulacrization but with a “real” referent somewhere in the past.

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