Pigeon

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to build up my hopes and dreams for Murakami to win the Nobel Prize for Literature only to have them dashed by some Norwegian guy.

I don’t actually get my hopes up anymore—I feel like I have a more objective view of Murakami’s work now, so I see why there’s just as good a chance that he never wins—but I am a sucker for tradition. So on that note…

Welcome to the Eighth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace

passenger

This year I’m too short on time to continue my Hard-boiled Wonderland project for the whole month (I’ve gotten mired in an awfully long chapter which I will hopefully complete at some point), so I thought I would take a look at material from the 自作を語る pamphlets that Murakami included with his Complete Works. He used these to provide commentary on his writing process. Jay Rubin has used a number of excerpts in his book, and Murakami has rewritten many of those stories over and over, such as the baseball origin.

Recently Murakami told this story again as an introduction for the new, official translations of his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. This intro has been published in The Telegraph in full.

I read it without really noticing anything until a friend said to me, “Aren’t passenger pigeons extinct?” Yet Murakami claims to have encountered a passenger pigeon on the day he learned he was a finalist for the writing competition that he eventually won. I went looking for this passage in the Japanese. Obviously this isn’t identical to the one in The Telegraph; it’s a different version, one Murakami wrote 25 years ago for the Complete Works, but he’s writing about the same moment. Let’s take a look:

『風の歌を聴け』が最終選考に残ったと『群像』編集部のMさんから知らされた日のことをよく覚えている。それは春の始めの日曜日の朝のことだった。僕はもう三十になっていた。その頃には新人賞に応募したことさえすっかり忘れていたので(原稿を送ったのは秋だった)、電話がかかってきて、最終選考に残りました、と言われたとき、仰天してしまった。それからとても嬉しくなった。僕は作家になってからいろんな喜びを体験したけれど、あれほど嬉しかったことは一度もない。新人賞そのものを取ったときですらあれほど嬉しくはなかった。その電話を切ってから女房とふたりで外に散歩に出た。そして千駄ヶ谷小学校の前で、羽に傷を負って飛べなくなった鳩をみつけた。僕はその鳩を両手に抱いたまま、原宿まで歩いて、表参道の交番に届けた。その間ずっと鳩は僕の手の中でどきどきと震えていた。その微かな生命のしるしと、温かみを僕は今でも手のひらに鮮やかに思いだすことができる。それはぼんやりとした暖かな春の朝だった。貴重な生命の匂いがあたりに満ちていた。たぶん新人賞を取ることになるだろうな、と僕は思った。何の根拠もない予感として。

そして実際に僕は償を取った。

I remember really well the day that M-san from the Gunzō editorial department called to say that Hear the Wind Sing made it to the finalists. It was a Sunday morning in early spring. I had already turned 30. At that point I had completely forgotten that I submitted to the contest (I sent the manuscript in the fall), so when the phone rang and they said, you made it to the finalists, I was shocked. Then incredibly happy. I’ve experienced all different sorts of joy since becoming a writer, but never have I been as happy as that. I wasn’t even as happy as that when I actually won the New Writer’s contest. After getting off the phone, I went out for a walk with my wife. We found a pigeon with an injured wing that couldn’t fly in front of Sendagaya Elementary School. I walked to Harajuku with the pigeon in my hands and brought it to the police box in Omotesando. It shivered nervously in my hands the whole time. Even now I can vividly remember that faint sign of life and its warmth in the palms of my hands. It was a vaguely warm spring morning. The area was filled with the smell of precious life. I thought to myself, maybe you’ll win the New Writer’s prize. A sort of premonition without any basis.

And then I actually won the prize.

As you can see from the Japanese, he uses 鳩. Passenger pigeon is リョコウバト or 旅行鳩. Makes me curious to see what word the original Japanese for the piece from The Telegraph uses. I wonder whether the editors at The Telegraph lodged any complaints or even noticed (or whether the translator, Ted Goossen, did). I imagine that the Japanese editions may get rereleased in Japan, maybe even in a combined text, along with this intro essay, so we might be able to check at some point.

Other than that the story is almost identical. Murakami is not as emphatic about how “bright and clear” the day was in this version, although I’m not sure if I’ve rendered ぼんやりとした correctly. Is it modifying the kind of heat on the day?

Next week I’ll try to take something from the Pinball, 1973 section, and I’ll continue on through his works all this month. Check back next week!

Embrace

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen

embrace

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” part three. Watashi and the Girl in Pink head into the hatch in the laboratory and continue on their way to the INKling sanctuary. Watashi thinks a bit more about feeling detached from his body in the darkness. Then, in the Birnbaum translation, we have this passage:

The path wormed left and right but kept going further and further down. There were no steep inclines, only a steady, even descent. Five minutes later, we came to a large chamber. We knew this from the change in the air and the sound of our footsteps. (212)

There’s nothing in particular about the passage that stands out as strange on its own (other than the further-farther mistake?), but there is a massive cut hidden between the second and third sentences. As we’ve seen in the past few posts, Birnbaum made cuts that eliminated some of the more overtly sexual banter between the two and also Watashi’s warm reaction to a peck on the cheek. The reason for those cuts ultimately might have been because he chose to cut this scene here. The Complete Works edition followed by my translation:

道は左右に蛇のように曲がりくねり、いくつもの枝道にわかれながら、下方へ下方へと向っていた。急な坂こそないが、道は一貫して下りだった。まるで一歩一歩地表の明るい世界が私の背中からはぎとられていくような思いだった。

途中で一度だけ我々は抱きあった。彼女は突然立ちどまり、うしろを振り向き、ライトを消して私の体に両腕をまわした。そして私の唇を指先でさがし求め、そこに唇をかさねた。私も彼女の体に腕をまわし、そっと抱き寄せた。真っ暗闇の中で抱きあうというのは奇妙なものだった。たしかスタンダールが暗闇のなかで抱きあうことについて何かを書いていたはずだ、と私は思った。本のタイトルは忘れてしまった。私はそれを思いだそうとしたが、どうしても思いだせなかった。スタンダールは暗闇の中で女を抱きしめたことがあるのだろうか?もし生きてここを出ることができたなら、そしてまだ世界が終わっていなかったとしたら、そのスタンダールの本を探してみようと私は思った。

彼女の首筋からはメロンのオーデコロンの匂いはもう消えていた。そのかわりに十七歳の女の子の首筋の匂いがした。首筋の下からは私自身の匂いがした。米軍ジャケットにしみついた私の生活の臭いだ。私の作った料理や私のこぼしたコーヒーや私のかいた汗の臭いだ。そういうものがそこにしみついたまま定着してしまったのだ。地底の暗闇の中で十七歳の少女と抱きあっていると、そんな生活はもう二度と戻ることのない幻のように感じられた。それがかつて存在したことを思いだすことはできる。しかし私がそこに帰りつく情景を頭に思い浮かべることができないのだ。

私たちは長い時間じっと抱きあっていた。時間はどんどん過ぎ去っていったが、そんなことはたいした問題ではないように私には感じられた。我々は抱きあうことによって互いの恐怖をわかちあっているのだ。そして今はそれがいちばん重要なことなのだ。

やがて彼女の乳房が私の胸にしっかりと押しつけられて、彼女の唇が開き、やわらかな舌があたたかい息とともに私の口の中にもぐりこんできた。彼女の舌先が私の舌のまわりを舐め、指先が私の髪の中を探った。しかし十秒かそこらでそれは終わり、彼女は突然私の体を離れた。私はまるで一人宇宙空間にとり残された宇宙飛行士のように、底のない絶望感に襲われた。

私がライトをつけると、彼女はそこに立っていた。彼女も自分のライトをつけた。

「行きましょう」と彼女は言った。そしてくるりとうしろを向いて、前と同じ調子で歩きはじめた。私の唇にはまだ彼女の唇の感覚が残っていた。私の胸はまだ彼女の心臓の鼓動を感じることができた。

「私の、なかなかよかったでしょ?」と娘はふりかえらずに言った。

「なかなかね」と私は言った。

「でも何かが足りないのね?」

「そうだね」と私は言った。「何かが足りない」

「何が足りないのかしら?」

「わからない」と私は言った。

*

それから五分ばかり平坦な道を下ったところで、我々は広いがらんとした場所に出た。
(294-295)

The path snaked left and right, branched off on numerous occasions, and continued down, down into the ground. The grade wasn’t all that steep, but the path descended incessantly. It felt as though the bright surface world was being torn from my back step by step as we went.

Along the way we hugged just once. She stopped suddenly, turned around, turned off her light, and put her arms around me. Then she searched for my lips with her fingers and pressed her lips against them. I put my arms around her as well and gently pulled her closer. It was strange to hug her in the pitch dark. Stendhal wrote something about hugging in the dark, I thought to myself. I’d forgotten the title of the book. I tried to remember it but could not. I wonder if Stendhal ever hugged a woman in the dark. If I managed to get out of here alive, and if the world hadn’t already ended, I resolved to find the title of that Stendhal book.

The melon scent of her eau de cologne had already disappeared from the nape of her neck. In its place was the smell of a seventeen-year-old girl. And beneath her smell was my own smell. The smell of my life was ingrained in my Army surplus jacket. The food I’d made, coffee I’d spilled, and sweat I’d sweated. All of it had just fixed itself there and was ingrained. As I stood there in the darkness underground in an embrace with a seventeen-year-old girl, that life felt like an illusion I’d never return to. I could remember that it had existed once upon a time, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever returning to those circumstances.

For a long time we just stood there hugging. Time ticked away, but it didn’t feel like a serious problem to me. By embracing we were able to share how scared we were with each other, and that was most important right now.

Finally she pressed her breasts firmly against my chest, opened her lips, and slipped her soft tongue and warm breath into my mouth. The tip of her tongue flicked against my tongue, and she ran her fingers through my hair. But after ten seconds or so, she stopped and suddenly separated herself. I was overcome with the bottomless despair of an astronaut abandoned in outer space.

When I turned on my light, she was standing there. She turned on her light.

“Let’s go,” she said. She did an about face and began walking at the same pace as before. The sensation of her lips remained on my own. I could still feel her heartbeat on my chest.

“I was pretty good, wasn’t I?” she said without turning around.

“Not bad at all,” I said.

“But something was missing, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Something was missing.”

“I wonder what’s missing.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

*

After five minutes we had descended the slope and came to a large, empty room.

Makeout scene! I can’t believe this was hidden in the original version. It seems much more natural to leave the relationship completely unconsummated: It’s satisfyingly unsatisfying. Kind of tantalizing in a sexy way. It’s more satisfying to linger in the possibilities. She’s also half his age.

Not that the kiss is much of anything, and I do think it’s well written—probably better than some of Murakami’s more recent sexy writing, which has earned him the infamy of an award nomination.

This passage felt very typically Murakami. Experience and interiority overlap. Unlike the previous reaction to the peck on the cheek, Watashi is sent into his associations: by the darkness and embrace into Stendhal and by the smell into his everyday life. Then she leaves him floating in the darkness alone. The astronaut metaphor is nice.

Not much else to say about this one. Hugging and embracing both felt like pretty awkward renderings of 抱きあう, but I left it hugging for the most part.

This is probably the last official Murakami Fest post, but there will be two more posts about Chapter 21. That may seem like overkill, but there’s one more section that gets cut related to this post’s passage and another section that’s just kind of curious and has differences between the Complete Works and paperback versions.

That’s all for this year. Best of luck with the Nobel, Murakami!

Seventeen

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons

seventeen

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” continues. Watashi and the Girl in Pink make it through the waterfall and to the laboratory, but it’s been ransacked like everything else. Watashi is convinced that they took the old man as well until the girl goes into the closet to show him the secret exit. Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl went to the closet in the far room and threw the hangers onto the floor. As she rotated the clothes rod, there was the sound of gears turning, and a square panel in the lower right closet wall creaked open. In blew cold, moldy air.

“Your grandfather must be some kind of cabinet fetishist,” I remarked.

“No way,” she defended. “A fetishist’s someone who’s got a fixation on one thing only. Of course, Grandfather’s good at cabinetry. He’s good at everything. Genius doesn’t specialize; genius is reason in itself.”

“Forget genius. It doesn’t do much for innocent bystanders. Especially if everyone’s going to want a piece of the action. That’s why this whole mess happened in the first place. Genius or fool, you don’t live in the world alone. You can hide underground or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody’s going to come along and screw up the works. Your grandfather is no exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and now the world’s going to end.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it’ll be all right,” she said, drawing near to plant a little peck by my ear. “You can’t go back now.”

The girl kept her eye on the INKlink-repel device while it recharged. (210)

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I was a little surprised at this point to see that she actually kisses him. I remember her being a horndog, but I didn’t remember any physicality. Here is the Complete Works version and my translation:

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあうかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七○センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないものな」

彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に行った。充電が完了したのだ。(289-290)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here.”

She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my wound also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

Interesting. Birnbaum (or his editor) cut the interiority after the kiss. It’s just a peck and then she keeps talking. He thinks nothing of it.

As you can see, though, Murakami makes his own cuts in the Complete Works edition. When there’s smoke there’s fire, so I was super curious to check out the Japanese paperback original for “cabinet fetishist” and to see which parts both BOHE and Murakami cut. Here we go (my translation follows):

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあるかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七十センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないのな。まさにマニアックだな」

「あら、マニアックなんかじゃないわよ。マニアックというのはひとつの方向なり傾向なりに固執する人のことでしょ?祖父はそうじゃなくて、あらゆる方面に人より優れているだけなのよ。天文学から遺伝子学からこの手の大工仕事までね」と彼女は言った。「祖父のような人は他にはいないわ。TVやら雑誌のグラビアやらに出ていろいろと吹聴する人はいっぱいいるけれど、そんなのはみんな偽物よ。本当の天才というのは自分の世界で充足するものなのよ」

「しかし本人が充足しても、まわりの人間はそうじゃない。まわりの人間はその充足の壁を破って、なんとかその才能を利用しようとするんだ。だから今回のようなアクシデントが起るんだ。どれだけの天才でもどれだけの馬鹿でも自分一人だけの純粋な世界なんて存在しえないんだ。どんなに地下深くに閉じこもろうが、どんなに高い壁をまわりにめぐらそうがね。いつか誰かがやってきて、それをほじくりかえす。君のおじいさんだってその例外じゃない。そのおかげで僕はナイフで腹を切られ、世界はあと三十五時間あまりで終わろうとしている」

「祖父がみつかればきっと何もかもうまく収まるわ」彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

「みんなうまくいくって信じていれば、世の中に怖いものなんて何もないわよ」と彼女は言った。

「年をとると、信じることが少なくなってくるんだ」と私は言った。「歯が擦り減っていくのと同じだよ。べつにシニカルになるわけでもなく、懐疑的になるわけでもなく、ただ擦り減っていくんだ」

「怖い?」

「怖いね」と私は言った。それから身をかがめて穴の奥をもう一度覗き込んだ。「狭くて暗いのは昔から苦手なんだ」

「でももううしろには引き返せないわ。前に進むしかないんじゃないかしら?」

「理屈としてはね」と私は言った。私はだんだん自分の体が自分のものではなくなっていくような気分になりはじめていた。高校生の頃バスケット・ボールをやっていて、ときどきそういう気分になったことがあった。ボールの動きがあまりにも速すぎて、からだをそれに対応させようとすると、意識の方が追いついていけなくなってしまうわけだ。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に言った。充電が完了したのだ。 (361-363)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here. You’d have to be a total maniac.”

“Hey, he’s no maniac,” she said. “A maniac is someone who fixates on a certain thing or tendency, right? Grandfather isn’t like that; he’s superior on all different levels. From astronomy to genetics and even carpentry like this. There’s no one else like Grandfather. There are tons of people who appear on TV or in magazines to try and promote themselves, but they’re all a bunch of phonies. True geniuses are fulfilled by their own world.”

“But even if geniuses are fulfilled, the people around them aren’t. The people around them try to break down the walls of that fulfillment and use their genius for something. And that’s why accidents like this happen. You don’t exist in a world that’s purely your own no matter how smart or how stupid you are. No matter how deep underground you dig, no matter how high of a wall you try to surround yourself with, right? Eventually someone will come along and try to expose you. Your grandfather isn’t any exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and the world is going to end in just over 35 hours.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it will all work out.” She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my would also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

“If you just trust that everything will work out, there’s nothing in the world that can scare you,” she said.

“As you get older, you trust in fewer things,” I said. “It’s like the way your teeth wear down. You don’t get cynical or skeptical, just worn down.”

“Are you scared?”

“I am,” I said. I squatted down and looked in the hole again. “I can’t stand dark and cramped spaces.”

“But we can’t go back. We can’t only keep going, right?”

“In theory,” I said. I gradually started to get the feeling that my body was no longer my own. I occasionally had that sensation when I was playing basketball in high school. The ball moved too fast, and when I tried to make my body keep up, my consciousness got left behind.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

So “fetishist” is literally “maniac” in the Japanese. I think Birnbaum’s fetishist is a better translation. I left it as maniac to give non-Japanese readers a better sense of the passage. The only other possibility in English is “zealot,” perhaps.

As you can see, Murakami cuts the discussion of genius in its entirety for the Complete Works edition, and Birnbaum has adapted it somewhat liberally above in his version. It’s too bad that the line about trust gets cut: say what you will about Murakami as a writer, in his younger days he did write compellingly about what it feels like to get older.

And it’s nice to see his pet images the well and the wall in the original paperback version.

I wasn’t quite sure about the implications of 吹聴, but I took it to mean “experts” who are always making appearances on TV or in magazines, partly to share their knowledge but also to build their brand.

As mentioned last week, next week’s cut is a doozy. Can’t wait to take a closer look at it.

Hard-ons

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirth, Wasteland

hard-on

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” is a beast. It’s the final chapter of the first half of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and spans 38 pages in the Complete Works edition yet is only 17 pages in translation. There are more cuts in this chapter than anywhere else in the novel so far, and they are pretty interesting (I’m actually still coming across them—eight pages left to read). So I’ll tackle the chapter a cut at a time over the next few weeks.

In this part of the chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink head back to the laboratory under the waterfall to check on the old scientist.

In a way, this is the perfect Murakami chapter. Nothing happens. They mostly just walk. This gives them plenty of time to have conversations and for the narrator to sink into his thoughts. He actually does this immediately: He has no interest in going through any more of this ordeal, so he imagines himself with the girl wearing bracelets in the Nissan Skyline they saw in the previous chapter after getting hamburgers. (Bonus cut: In Chapter 19, page 188, Birnbaum translates the scene as “music” playing from the radio, but Murakami has them listening to Duran Duran – Hungry like the wolf!) He imagines the woman showering and having sex with only the bracelets on and, yare yare, he ends up with an erection. This is funny because he couldn’t get it up with the librarian earlier.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts liberally throughout, condensing the interiority and some of the dialogue. Then, as they hike, we come to this passage in the translation:

I was ready to turn back, but we forged on. She knew every step of the way and scampered ahead. When I trained my light on her from behind, her gold earrings flashed.

“Tell me, do you take off your earrings when you take a shower?” I spoke up.

“I leave them on,” she slowed down to answer. “Only my earrings. Sexy?”

“I guess.” Why did I have to go and bring up the subject?

“What else do you think is sexy? I’m not very experienced, as I said. Nobody teaches you these things.”

“Nobody will. It’s something you have to find out for yourself,” I said.

I made a conscious effort to sweep all images of sex from my head. (206)

It works well in translation, perhaps better than what Murakami initially wrote. Here is the Complete Works edition with my translation immediately following. To orient you, although the first line of the following passage is dialogue, Birnbaum rendered it above as narration:

「なにがどうなってもいいから、このまま帰りたくなったよ」

それでも我々は流れに沿って前進した。彼女が先に立ち、私があとにつづいた。私がライトを彼女の背中にあてると、切手くらいの大きさの金のイヤリングがきらきらと光った。

「そんな大きなイヤリングをいつもつけていて重くないのかい?」と私はうしろから声をかけてみた。

「慣れればね」と彼女は答えた。「ペニスと同じよ。ペニスを重いと感じたことある?」

「いや、べつに。そういうことはないな」

「それと同じよ」

我々はまたしばらく無言のうちに歩きつづけた。彼女は足場を知りつくしているらしく、ライトでまわりの風景を照らしながらすたすたと前に進んだ。私はいちいち足もとをたしかめながら、苦労してそのあとを追った。

「ねえ、君はシャワーとかお風呂に入るときにそのイヤリングをとるの?」と私は彼女においてきぼりにされないためにまた声をかけた。彼女はしゃべるときだけ歩くスピードを少し落とすのだ。

「つけたままよ」と彼女は答えた。「裸になってもイヤリングだけはつけてるの。そういうのってセクシーだと思わない?」

「そうだな」と私はあわてて言った。「そう言われれば、そうかもしれないな」

「セックスってあなたはいつも前からやるの?向いあったまま?」

「まあね。だいたいは」

「うしろからやるときもあるんでしょ?」

「うん。そうだね」

「それ以外にもいろいろと種類があるんでしょ?下になるのとか、座ってやるのとか、椅子を使うのとか……」

「いろんな人がいるし、いろんな場合があるからね」

「セックスのことって私よくわからないの」と彼女は言った。「見たこともないし、やったこともないし。そういうことって誰も教えてくれなかったの」

「そういうのは教わるもんじゃなくて、自分でみつけるものだんだよ」と私は言った。「君にも恋人ができて彼と寝るようになればいろいろと自然にわかるようになるさ」

「そういうのあまり好きじゃないのよ」と彼女は言った。「私はもっと……なんていうか、圧倒的なことが好きなの。圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの。いろいろととか自然にじゃなくてね」

「君は多分年上の人と一緒に長くいすぎたんだよ。天才的で圧倒的な資質を持った人とね。でも世の中って、そういう人ばかりじゃないんだ。みんな平凡な人で、暗闇のなかを手さぐりしながら生きているんだ。僕みたいにさ」

「あなたは違うわ。あなたならオーケーよ。それはこの前に会ったときにも言ったでしょう?

しかしとにかく、私は頭の中から性的なイメージを一掃しようと決心した。私の勃起はまだつづいていたが、こんな地底の真っ暗闇の中で勃起したところで意味はないし、だいいち歩きにくいのだ。 (282-283)

“I don’t care what happens, I just want to get home in one piece.”

But we continued forth along the river. She took the lead, and I followed. When I shined the light on her back, her stamp-sized earrings glittered in the darkness.

“Doesn’t wearing big earrings like that get heavy?” I tried to shout up ahead to her.

“You get used to it,” she answered. “Same as a penis. Does having a penis ever get heavy?”

“Not really. That doesn’t happen.”

“It’s just like that.”

We continued walking in silence for a while. She seemed sure of her footing and proceeding at a quick pace, shining her light all around as she went. I labored on after her, carefully checking each step as I went.

“Hey, do you take off your earrings when you get in the shower or the bath?” I shouted up to her again so she wouldn’t leave me behind. She only slowed down when she was talking.

“I keep them on,” she answered. “Even when I’m naked. Think that’s sexy?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, flummoxed. “Now that you mention it, maybe so.”

“Do you always have sex from the front? Facing each other?”

“I guess. Usually.”

“You must do it from behind sometimes?”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“And there are a bunch of other ways too, right? You can be underneath or you can do it sitting down or using a chair…”

“There are lots of people and probably just as many ways to have sex.”

“I don’t really understand sex,” she said. “I’ve never seen it done and never done it. Nobody will teach me anything about stuff like that.”

“You don’t learn that stuff, you find it out for yourself,” I said. “You’ll come to understand all sorts of stuff once you get a boyfriend and start sleeping with him.”

“I don’t like stuff like that,” she said. “I like more…more devastating things. I want to be taken by someone with devastating force, and I want to take it in with equally devastating force. Not just naturally.”

“I think you’ve been with people older than you for too long. Geniuses with devastating intellects. But the world isn’t just filled with that kind of people. It’s filled with ordinary people fumbling their way through the darkness, trying to live. People like me.”

“You’re different. You are gonna be fine. Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”

For the time being, I resolved to clear my mind of all sexual images. My hard-on continued, but it was meaningless down here in the pitch dark and mostly just made it difficult to walk.

That last line is fantastic, and it’s too bad that BOHE didn’t find a way to keep it. I guess some of the other stuff is a bit ancillary, especially since there were similar scenes the first time they met when the girl comes off as a total horndog. (Although I am currently unable to locate the piece of dialogue she refers to when she says “Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”)

I like my rendering of “You are gonna be fine” because SPOILER ALERT we know that the narrator will not in fact be fine, but あなたならオーケーよ is probably closer to “You’re OK…(even if everyone else isn’t).”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with 圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの. And maybe that’s the reason BOHE cut the passage. 犯す gets listed as “rape, deflower, taken” in various dictionaries, so it probably has a range of meanings, and I don’t think the girl is asking to be raped, but she seems to be asking for force. Deflower seemed too formal for her, although maybe she needs formal. Any thoughts?

For the most part, as I mentioned above, the cuts are effective. BOHE keeps the key takeaway of the scene—she brings up sex again—but cuts the unnecessary bits. The penis line is especially awkward.

The good news is that all these posts build up to another cool cut—at least this week and next week’s post do. A very interesting cut two weeks from now, but next week is good too. Join me then.

Rebirth

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: Warmth

mediterranean

In Chapter 19 “Hamburgers, Skyline, Deadline,” Watashi and the Girl in Pink have hamburgers, make it to the old man’s office building, and then prep for another spelunking adventure…after ominously discovering that there are 36 hours left until something bad happens.

A couple of interesting things of note in this chapter. There is one callback to the watermelon metaphor that gets cut by Murakami for the Complete Works version. After Watashi tells the Girl in Pink that he doesn’t think he has any special qualities, she insists that his “emotional shell” is what makes him special and gives him the ability to shuffle. It helped protect him from the procedure they performed on him. Here is the paperback version after that:

「ガードというのはつまりメロンの皮のようなものだね?」

「簡単に言えばそうね」

「それで」と私は言った。「その僕の抗体なり殻なりメロンなりというのは、先天的な資質なのかい?あるいは後天的なもの?」(330-331)

“So this guard is basically like the rind of a melon?”

“Put simply, yes.”

“So,” I said. “This antibody or shell or rind or whatever it is, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?”

I’ve borrowed some of Birnbaum’s language from his translation, which is very close to the Complete Works version:

私はそれについてしばらく考えてみた。「その僕の抗体なりガードなり殻なりは、先天的な資質なんだろうか?」(265)

Except Birnbaum keeps the “acquired line” in translation:

I thought this over. “This antibody factor or guard or whatever, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?” (194)

Not a massive change, but a missed callback to the melon stuff from earlier. Always interesting to see what Murakami is doing.

Birnbaum works some of his translation magic as always. When the pair get to the office, it’s been ransacked just as his apartment was, and all the girl’s clothes are strewn across the floor, which gives Birnbaum the chance to work with this line:

濃いピンクから淡いピンクまでの見事なグラデーションだった。(266)

An orchestration of pink in every gradation from light rose to deep fuchsia. (195)

And there is also a missed translation…because everyone is fallible. The device to repel the INKlinks (yamikuro) is still working, despite it having been knocked around:

“It’s all right, it works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. Lucky for us, because the mechanism’s so simple, one little whack could have broken it.” (195)

But the Japanese suggests that it could not have been broken so easily:

「大丈夫よ。ちゃんと動くわ。きっと意味のない機械だと思ったんでしょう。それにこの機械の原理はとても簡単だからちょっとぶっつけただけではなかなか壊れない」と彼女は言った。(267)

“It’s all right. It works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. And the mechanism’s so simple that a little bump on the head wouldn’t break it,” she said.

An alternate translation for that last line might be: “And the mechanism’s so simple that it would take more than a little bump to break it.”

But all these are just trivia, for the most part. The most interesting cut has to do again with the Girl in Pink, who becomes far more interesting this chapter. She’s always been overly cute and sensual and a bit frisky, but in this chapter she shows us exactly how smart and skillful she is. She’s learned just about everything from the old scientist: how to dodge taxes, trade stocks, run things for him. She’s completely financially independent. In what seems like a foreshadowing of Creta Kano’s invitation to Toru, she invites Watashi to run off to Europe. The Girl in Pink even suggests that once abroad he could be “reborn” as a “first-rate human being” (一流の人間). Watashi’s response from the Complete Works:

「ふうん」と私は言った。(263)

“Hmm,” I said.

Birnbaum’s translation leaves a vestigial tale of the original paperback text:

“Hmm.” Not a bad offer. (192)

In the original, the narrator deliberates a good bit longer and in doing so captures the mindset of many Murakami protagonists:

「ふうん」と私は言った。悪くない話だった。計算士としての私もこの事件のせいで微妙な局面にさしかかっているし、外国でのんびり暮すというのは魅力的だった。しかし自分が本当に一流の人間になれるという確信が私にはどうしても持てなかった。一流の人間というのは普通、自分は一流の人間になれるという強い確信のもとに一流になるものなのだ。自分はたぶん一流にはなれないだろうと思いながら事のなりゆきで一流になってしまった人間なんてそんなにはいない。(327)

“Hmm,” I said. Not a bad offer. This incident had put me in a tight spot as a Calcutec, so a leisurely life abroad did have its charms. However, I wasn’t confident I could ever become a first-rate human being. Usually first-rate human beings become first rate because they have strong conviction that they can become first rate. There aren’t many human beings who became first rate just caught up in the current of things, the whole time thinking they weren’t first rate.

Not exactly critical information, but kind of the arm-chair philosophy/wordplay that has generated fanboys and girls for Murakami. And endearing, for sure…at least to me. It builds up the narrator as more of an underdog.

This passage feels like Murakami digging into his subconscious. He basically jetted off to the Mediterranean shortly after publishing this book, and he worked on Norwegian Wood while he was there (1985-1987 or so). He had a decent readership by the time Hard-boiled Wonderland was published, but I bet he wondered what level of success he’d achieve. He published Norwegian Wood in 1987 while still living abroad, and when he came home, he was a celebrity. Quite a rebirth.

Warmth

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld Man, Watermelons

skull

From Bill Gracey‘s photostream.

Welcome back! As with last year, my laziness continues. I will pull the starter cord on the rusty (but trusty) lawnmower that is my close reading of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and read through a few more chapters to examine changes that Murakami made for the Complete Works edition and adjustments made by Birnbaum (or his editor) (BOHE) in translation.

Chapter 18 “Dreamreading” is an appropriately short chapter for me to get back in the swing of things. It’s only five pages in the “Complete Works” edition and just a bit longer in the paperback. No major changes between those additions, and BOHE didn’t make many either.

There are a few minor adjustments in translation of course, as there are with any translation, and many of these would vary with any translator. But they’re still fun to look at.

In this chapter, Boku describes his frustrations with the dreamreading process, reads a few dreams, and discusses his frustrations with the Librarian. Her job is to wipe down the unicorn skulls—the dreams—after he has brought them from the stacks and to serve him coffee when he’s finished. Birnbaum renders this in a wonderfully clean translation:

I select a skull from the long shelves and carry it to the table. She helps me, first, to wipe off the dust with a dampened cloth. With meticulous care, she then polishes it with a dry cloth until the skull becomes like sleet. (183)

Murakami’s Japanese, however, is a bit more decorated:

僕は見わたす限りの書架に並んだ古い夢のうちのひとつを手にとり、そっと抱えるようにしてテーブルに運んだ。それから彼女に手伝ってもらってほんの少し水で湿らせた布でほころと汚れを拭きとり、次に乾いた布で時間をかけてごしごしと磨いた。(249-250)

I take one of the old dreams lined up endlessly along the shelves and, cradling it gently, bring it to the table. Then she helps me to wipe off the dust and dirt with a slightly dampened cloth, and then to carefully polish it with a dry cloth.

BOHE simplifies “lined up endlessly along the shelves” to “from the long shelves.” “(just) slightly dampened cloth” becomes “dampened.” And the “cradling” gets cut completely. But he adds in the description of the skull like “sleet.” The result is much sparser, simplified translation. This results in other great passages such as the following:

At the end of each session, she serves coffee. Occasionally we share biscuits or fruitbread she bakes at home. We do not speak as we eat. (184)

That line hit me when I was reading the translation.

There is one very small cut later in the chapter that I think does more damage to one of Murakami’s main themes in this book (and in many others): warmth (ぬくもり).

When they finish in the Library, Boku and the Librarian walk through the Town again:

As always, we sit on the narrow steps that lead from the Old Bridge down to the sandbar. A pale silver moon trembles on the face of the water. A wooden boat lashed to a post modulates the sound of the current. Sitting with her, I feel her warm against my arm. (185)

Again, a great translation, and I think he ends it on a nice point that shows more than tells. Murakami goes on for a few more sentences:

我々はいつものように旧橋のまん中にある中洲に下りるための階段に腰を下ろして、川を眺めていた。冷えびえとした白い月が小さなかけらとなって川面で小刻みに揺れていた。誰かが中洲の杭につないだ細い木のボートが水音を微妙に変えていた。階段の狭いステップの上に並んで座っているせいで僕は肩口にずっと彼女の体のぬくもりを感じていた。不思議なものだ、と僕は思った。人々は心というものをぬくもりにたとえる。しかし心と体のぬくもりのあいだには何の関係もないのだ。(252)

As always, we sit on the steps that descend from the middle of the Old Bridge to the sandbar and watch the river. The frigid, white moon breaks into small pieces and flutters on the surface of the water. Someone has tied up a flimsy, wooden boat to a post on the sandbar, and it slightly alters the sound of the water. Perhaps because we are sitting next to each other on the narrow steps, I feel her warmth in my shoulder the whole time. It’s strange, I think. People always think of the mind as warmth. But warmth of the mind and warmth of the body are completely unrelated.

I’ve maintained Birnbaum’s translation of kokoro here with “mind,” but this is one spot in particular where “heart” might make more sense. Birnbaum has made other modifications to keep his same spartan translation style (for example, moving the “narrow” to the first sentence in the paragraph from the fourth), but he just cuts the final three sentences completely.

In an MFA workshop, those are the sentences someone would have marked as “Show don’t tell” or “Too on-the-nose,” I guess. (There have been a surprising number of references to MFA workshops in the reviews of Tsukuru Tazaki. Mostly in regards to stilted dialogue or strange wordings.)

I also have a feeling that Murakami will address this mind-body divide later in the book, so it might not be totally necessary to introduce it so explicitly right now.

In the end, I attribute this slight change to Birnbaum’s major decision to translate kokoro as mind rather than heart. I think it works perfectly in most of the rest of the novel, but here I think the line “People always think of the mind as warmth” in particular feels a little off. “People always think of the heart as warmth,” on the other hand, feels a little more natural.

Sex With Fat Women

Now begins the Sixth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement.

For those of you who don’t know how this works, check out the past five years:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance, Mountain Climbing

This year I’ll be even lazier than normal and just continue my close comparison of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World with its translation. I’ll be looking at a chapter a week.

fat_woman

This week I’m looking at Chapter 7, which is in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel. Watashi gets home from his job laundering the data, has a sleep, and gets up the next day to do some shopping and consider his new gift from the old man: a unicorn skull (but he doesn’t know that yet). He checks out some books at the library, hits on the librarian, and then has her bring him books on unicorns after it’s clear that Semiotecs are scoping out his apartment and trying to get the skull.

I am a changed man after reading this chapter.

Why? you may ask. It is because, for the first time in my history of reading Murakami (14 years, now), I have DEFINITIVE PROOF that Murakami makes edits to his manuscripts for the Complete Works editions.

But first, let’s look at the translation. Birnbaum is up to his usual techniques in this chapter:

– He compresses where Murakami sometimes goes long. When Watashi returns from shopping, he details how he puts away all his groceries – wrap the fish and meat, put the coffee and bread in the freezer, put the beer in the fridge, throw out the old veggies, hang the clothes, etc. Birnbaum renders this “Back at the apartment, I put away all the groceries. I hung my clothes in the wardrobe” (76). Capiche?

– He cuts possibly unnecessary culture drops. Wilhelm Furtwängler anyone?

– He translates a little more cleverly than Murakami’s Japanese. For example, this passage:

ペーパー・クリップなんてどこにでもある。千円だせば一生使うぶんくらいのペーパー・クリップが買える。私は文房具屋に寄って千円ぶんのペーパー・クリップを買った。(110)

Birnbaum renders this:

Paperclips were indeed used by everyone. A thousand yen will buy you a lifetime supply. Sure, why not. I stopped into a stationery shop and bought myself a lifetime supply. (76)

It’s a neat translation but not precise with the 千円ぶん. He uses the transitive property to translate that as “lifetime supply” rather than “a thousand-yen worth.”

– He cleans up the end of the chapter. Rather than end with a short declarative statement by Watashi (私は喜んで道順を教えた; I gladly told her the way to my place), he ends it on a line of dialogue by the librarian: “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she said, “but I don’t suppose you’d want to tell me the way to your place” (82). The translation is cleaner and much more suggestive.

This is Birnbaum being Birnbaum. This is why we love him.

I was prepared to write a very different entry because I found what I thought was a very large addition by Birnbaum to the manuscript. On page 73, after Watashi eats lunch at a restaurant, he drinks his post-meal coffee and thinks about the fat granddaughter, then about the last time he slept with a fat girl. I’ll give the section in its entirety here because it’s great:

The last time I’d slept with a fat female was the year of the Japanese Red Army shoot-out in Karuizawa. The woman had extraordinary thighs and hips. She was a bank teller who had always exchanged pleasantries with me over the counter. I knew her from the midriff up. We became friendly, went out for a drink once, and ended up sleeping together. Not until we were in bed did I notice that the lower half of her body was so demographically disproportionate. It was because she played table tennis all through school, she had me know, though I didn’t quite grasp the causal relationship. I didn’t know table tennis led to below-the-belt corporeality.

Still, her plumpness was charming. Resting an ear on her hip was like lying in a meadow on an idyllic spring afternoon, her thighs as soft as freshly aired futon, the rolling flow of her curves leading gracefully to her pubis. When I complimented her on her qualities, though, all she said was, “Oh yeah?” (73)

This passage is nowhere to be found in the Complete Works edition. I was prepared to discuss how this might have been an attempt by Birnbaum to give the book a little more fleshed out (excuse the pun) back story (excuse the pun) and connect it with a Japanese historical timeline. But just to be safe, I decided to pull out my paperback and hardback copies of the book (yes, I have, like, five copies of this book; it’s a sickness).

And there it was. The passage is complete in both of the pre-Complete Works versions. Birnbaum makes a few minor adjustments, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. All within his standard operating procedures. After this paragraph, however, Birnbaum does cut two smaller paragraphs that go on longer about sleeping with fat females.

For what it’s worth, here are those two extra paragraphs in Japanese:

もちろん全体がむらなく太った女と寝たこともある。全身が筋肉というがっしりした女とも寝たことがある。はじめの方はエレクトーンの教師で、あとの方はフリーのスタイリストだった。そんな風に太り方にもいろんな特徴があるのだ。

このようにたくさんの数の女と寝れば寝るほど、人間はどうも学術的になっていく傾向があるみたいだ。性交自体の喜びはそれにつれて少しずつ減退していく。性欲そのものにはもちろん学術性はない。しかし性欲がしかるべき水路をたどるとそこに性交という滝が生じ、その結果としてある類の学術性をたたえた滝つぼへと辿りつくのだ。そしてそのうちに、ちょうどパブロフの犬みたいに、性欲から直接滝つぼへという意識回路が生まれることになる。でもそれは結局、私が年をとりつつあるというだけのことなのかもしれない。

Here’s my translation:

I did also sleep with a fat woman whose body was more evenly distributed. And with a woman who was a total beefcake – muscles all over. The former taught electric organ, and the latter was a freelance stylist. So even being fat has its own little quirks.

The more women you sleep with, the more scientific you end up being about the whole thing. The pleasure of the act of intercourse itself starts to fade away. Of course there’s no science in sexual desire. However, when sexual desire follows its appropriate course, it produces the waterfall of sexual intercourse, and as a result, it does lead to a pool filled by a sort of science. And soon enough, just like Pavlov’s dog, it creates a consciousness circuit that leads directly to that pool. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting old.

I’m not sure if I’m following Watashi’s thought process here, but that might be the point: maybe he’s supposed to sound like a guy who’s tired and confused, drinking a cup of coffee and thinking about women he slept with, possibly whom he had feelings for…or not.

The passage is more important than I initially suspected. I understand why Birnbaum cut it – Murakami does sound a bit rambly, as is his tendency – but it’s got the consciousness circuit and the waterfalls! As we all know (SPOILER ALERT!), Watashi will fall into an endless consciousness circuit because of his shuffling. And the book is heavy with waterfalls. There were waterfalls in Chapter 1 (Watashi thinks about Houdini going over Niagara Falls while trapped in the elevator), the waterfall covering the old man’s lab, and the sound of the Pool in the End of the World (which he notes is different from a waterfall). Not hugely important in terms of the overall book, but consistent enough to be called imagery and thematically significant.

Which makes me wonder why Murakami cut it in the Collected Edition. Did he think he sounded lazy or imprecise? Or did he cut the two other women because they aren’t as well developed characters, which then required the cutting of the other paragraphs?

Perhaps seeing Birnbaum’s cut in translation convinced Murakami to trim the entire section in the Collected Works manuscript? Or maybe he felt the reference to the Asama-Sansō incident was out of place when he compiled his Collected Works in the the early 90s. We may never know unless the Paris Review lets me interview the man.