Prostitutes and Novelists

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2021! This year I’ll be looking at five more chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), Murakami’s travel memoir from Europe. Another fascinating set of chapters! Murakami is finishing Norwegian Wood and traveling through Italy. We get some great details about the writing process.

This is Year 14 of the fest. Where has the time gone? Here are the previous entries:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard

In 南ヨーロッパ、ジョギング事情 (Southern Europe, The Jogging Situation), Murakami writes about his experience jogging in southern Europe. Jogging is city culture, and even large cities like Rome are slower-paced and not as quick with trends, so the customs here seem to annoy Murakami. People ask him questions about what he’s doing, he gets chased by stray dogs on his way from his housing to areas where he can jog, and the people who do jog seem obsessed with jogging in groups and chatting while they jog, not something Murakami the running fanatic is interested in.

There’s a nice section at the end of the chapter where Murakami talks about how he takes in a city through jogging; driving is too fast, so you lose the details, and walking takes too much time, but with jogging you can cover ground and still get a good sense of the culture. It brings us to this nice passage he uses to end the chapter:

ある種の人々が知らない土地にいくと必ず大衆酒場に行くように、またある種の人々が知らないに行くと必ず女と寝るように、僕は知らない土地に行くと必ず走る。走ることで僕にしか感じられないことを感じようとする。そういうのが上手くいくこともあり、いかないこともある。でもまあ走る。なにはともあれ走ることは好きだし、知らない土地を走るのはとても心愉しいことなのだ。まるで買ったばかりのノートの一ページめを開いたときのように。(203)

Just as a certain type of people always go to local bars when they go to an unfamiliar place and another type of people always sleep with women when they go to an unfamiliar place, I always run when I go to an unfamiliar place. Through running, I try to feel what only I can feel. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. But still, I run. If for no other reason, I love running, so it’s pleasant to run in an unfamiliar place. It’s like opening up a fresh notebook to the first page.

This is a nice passage, but there’s that one line that’s a little off, no? The way some people sleep with a woman whenever they go somewhere new? This feels pretty dated.

There’s an earlier passage in the chapter in which Murakami talks about the Italian approach to jogging. He tells a story he heard from someone in Malta: Other than eating, talking, and seducing women, Italians never try to do anything very hard, his Maltan friend says. They’ll never win a war. After an extensive quote from this source, we get back to Murakami’s opinions:

僕も本当にそうだと思う。そういう意味ではイタリアっていい国なのだ。そしてそういう国では人はあまり無意味に走らないのだ。

ドイツでは娼婦でさえ毎朝ランニングをしているのだ。なんだか村上龍の『ニューヨーク・シティ・マラソン』みたいな話だけれど、僕は実際にハンブルクでそういう娼婦と話をしたことがある。彼女は毎朝オルスター湖のまわりを走っているのだと言った。僕も同じコースを走っていたので試しにタイムを訊ねてみたのだが、まあちょっとしたタイムであった。凄いねと僕が言うと、彼女は肩をすくめてだって体が資本でしょうと言った。そう、娼婦も小説家も体が資本なのだ、よ。 (199-200)

I believe this, too. This is one reason Italy is a nice country. And in a country like this, people don’t just run for no reason.

In Germany, even prostitutes go for a morning run. It might sound like something out of Murakami Ryū’s New York City Marathon, but I’ve actually spoken to such a prostitute in Hamburg once. She said she ran around the Alster Lakes every morning. I was running the same path, so I decided to ask how long it took her, and it was a pretty respectable time. That’s amazing, I said, and she shrugged and said, my body is an asset. That’s right—for both prostitutes and novelists, their bodies are an asset.

Murakami continues to show his obsession with physical exertion as a metaphor for writing. This is an odd comparison. And the sociological premise also is somewhat questionable. So maybe not his finest work here. Maybe we can chalk it up to being the 80s and Murakami having some culture shock? But some of this is Murakami through and through.

On a total side note, Murakami Ryū has a pretty cool website with a trailer for the book that gets mentioned, which is apparently about a prostitute who attempts to run the New York City Marathon.

3 thoughts on “Prostitutes and Novelists

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