Compassion

Chapter 17 “End of the World, Charlie Parker, Time Bomb” is a very short chapter, which is fortunate because it’s largely exposition: The scientist’s granddaughter has arrived at Watashi’s apartment, and they chat about what the grandfather must be up to, messing around in Watashi’s head with shuffling. She sneaks into his bed, making this a very softcore sexposition of sorts, which dials up the tension a bit, but otherwise it’s pretty plain, and short.

There is only one minor cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in a section that is a brief break from the exposition to do some character detail. Check it out:

「学校教育というのは16年間かけて脳味噌を擦り減らすだけのところだって祖父は言ってたわ。祖父もほとんど学校に行かなかったのよ」

「たいしたもんだ」と私は言った。「でも同じ年頃の友だちがいないっていうのは淋しくないの?」

「さあ、どうかしら。私とても忙しかったから、そんなこと考える暇もなかったの。それに私、どうせ同じ年頃の人たちとは話もあいそうになかったし…...」

「ふうん」と私は言った。まあそうかもしれない。

「でも私、あなたにはすごく興味あるのよ」

「どうして?」

「だって、なんだか疲れてるみたいだし、でも疲れていることが一種のエネルギーになっているみたいだしね。そういうのって、私にはよくわからないの。私の知っている人でそういうタイプの人って一人もいないかったの。祖父も決して疲れたりしない人だし、私もそうだし。ねえ、ほんとうに疲れてるの?」

「たしかにに疲れてる」と私は言った。二十回繰りかえして言ってもいいくらいのものだ。

「疲れるってどういうことなのかしら?」と娘が訊ねた。

「感情のいろんなセクションが不明確になるんだ。自己に対する憐憫、他者に対する怒り、他者に対する憐憫、自己に対する怒り———そいうものがさ」

「そのどれもよくわからないわ」

「最後には何もかもがよくわからなくなるのだ。いろんな色に塗りわけたコマをまわすのと同じことでね、回転が速くなればなるほど区分が不明確になって、結局は混沌に至る」

「面白そうだわ」と太った娘は言った。「あなたはそういうことにすごくくわしいのね、きっと」

「そう」と私は言った。私は人生をむしばむ疲労感について、あるいは人生の中心からふつふつと湧きおこってくる疲労感について、百とおりくらいの説明をすることができるのだ。そういうことも学校教育では教えてもらえないもののひとつだ。

「あなたアルト・サックス吹ける?」と彼女が私に訊ねた。

「吹けない」と私は言った。(242-243)

“School is just sixteen years of wearing down your brain—that’s what grandpa always said. And he hardly went to school either.”

“That’s impressive,” I said. “But weren’t you lonely without any friends your own age?”

“Hmm, I dunno. I was just so busy I never had time to think about it. And, come to think of it, I just never had anything to say to kids my own age.”

“Hmm,” I said. I guess she could be right.

“But I’m really curious about you.”

“Why?”

“You just always seem so exhausted, but that exhaustion seems to turn into a form of energy or something. I just don’t get it. I don’t know a single other person like that. Grandpa never gets tired, and neither do I. So, are you actually tired for real?”

“I definitely am,” I said. You could say that again twenty times.

“What’s it like to be tired?” she asked.

“Different parts of your emotions become unclear: Compassion toward your self, anger toward others, compassion toward others, anger toward yourself—those kinds of things.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Eventually nothing makes sense. It’s like spinning a top painted in different colors. The faster it goes, the more difficult it is to differentiate between them, and it ends in total confusion.”

“Sounds interesting!” the chubby girl said. “You seem to really know a lot about it.”

“Yeah,” I said. I could tell you anything you want to know about exhaustion that devours your life, exhaustion that bubbles out from the center of your being. That’s something else they don’t teach you in school.

“Can you play alto sax?” she asked me.

“I can’t,” I said.

It’s a nice little section. I’ve ended it awkwardly, right as the granddaughter gets a little ADD and then tries to make a move on Watashi, but he sets her straight and they get back to talking about the scientist and his experiments.

BOHE, on the other hand, makes this brief section even shorter and cuts all the sections highlighted in red above:

“Grandfather always said school’s a place where they take sixteen years to wear down your brain. Grandfather hardly went to school either.”

“Incredible,” I said. “But didn’t you feel deprived not having friends your own age?”

“Well, I can’t really say. I was so busy, I never had time to think about it. And besides, I don’t know what I could have said to people my own age.”

“Hmm.”

“On the other hand,” she perked up, “you fascinate me.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, here you are so exhausted, and yet your exhaustion seems to give you a kind of vitality. It’s tremendous,” she chirped. “I bet you’d be good at sax!”

“Excuse me?” (178)

Birnbaum cuts the section that gives Watashi the opportunity to become introspective and think about how he feels, and then to express that to the granddaughter. Not a tremendous loss, but it does start to create an image that will be important later in the book: Spinning around. It took me a second to remember that コマ means top in Japanese, but the spinning and colors makes me think of “Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round,” which Murakami uses as an image in a later chapter.

At any rate, just minor stuff here, but nice minor stuff. Murakami concisely and compellingly describes what it’s like to be tired and how control over your emotions (compassion and anger) fractures. It’s important to be compassionate to yourself and to others. It’s difficult to do that when you’re exhausted.

When looking up the phrase 百とおりくらい (which I’m still not sure I totally understand), I located a personal blog post (JP) that mentions this passage in particular and suggests that the feelings expressed reflect the protagonist and the author’s feelings about life at the time of writing – Murakami would have been about the same age as his protagonist at the time, so I think that’s probably a good guess.

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