In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Recently, I started reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and, as always, he doesn’t disappoint.  What I like best about Murakami’s writing is that it is filled with philosophic, historic, artistic, and musical references.  Somehow he is able to take things that have struck a chord with him in his own life and apply them to his writing.  His works are also usually laden with psychology woven into them, and subsequently open to interpretation.  Sometimes his concepts are strange, but he is able to showcase the human experience very well, and in my opinion it is by the open-ended aspects and the non-definitive.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking recently, reflecting on my experiences the past year up till now, and a certain part of the book really resonated with me.  One of the main characters, a boy who calls himself “Kafka,” is staying at his friend’s isolated cabin, which is filled only with survival necessities and books.  Kafka begins to read a book about a Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, who was tasked to find the “final solution” for the Jews.  Eichmann was very systematic about it, considering financial costs, the cheapest methods for the transportation and disposal of human bodies.  He was given a situation and mapped out the best possible, practical way to complete the task.  The shocking part is that Eichmann never questioned the morality of any of it, and when he was tried as a war criminal he was lost and confused.  He was just following orders; he was just being a good officer.  The boy, Kafka, finds a note his friend has penciled in the book.  It reads:

“It’s all a question of imagination.  Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine.  It’s just like Yeats said: In dreams begin responsibilities.  Flip this around and you could say where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise.  Just like we see with Eichmann.”

I thought about this and I realized this concept is a major part of understanding the human condition.  Not everyone shares the same reality.  Our reality is shaped by our own consciousness; this may very well explain the source of all human suffering.  With regard to relationships this can be expressed as: Not everyone views love the same way.  We can beat ourselves up time and time again, we can cling to the past and think of the should’ve-would’ve-could’ves, or we can cut ties with those who have hurt us and accept that the way to heal is to just leave and move on.  Because people experience reality in different ways, we can not expect them to suddenly see and understand our reality.  There are people who will never see things from our point of view.  There are people who will never know how cruel they have been to us.  And it’s not our responsibility to tell them time and time how they hurt us and expect them to magically turn into someone else.

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In Kafka on the Shore, the concepts of God and Karma are very present.  They tie into everything; our relationships included.  Two quotes that have struck me are:

“If you think God’s there, He is. If you don’t, He isn’t. And if that’s what God’s like, I wouldn’t worry about it.” 

“Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.” 

I don’t know if I believe that everything is fated, or even what really exists within the universe, but I know that if we shape our realities from our own consciousness, while I have the faculty to see what would be poor choices for my physical and mental well-being, I am going to try and make the wisest decisions I can.  I am not going to worry about the choices of others.  Maybe my suffering in this life is caused from some karmic debt, maybe not.  Regardless, when it comes to people who treat me poorly, I will do what I know to be the wisest decision in this life I live now:  I will let them go completely.  

If a person treats us poorly, it is their karma, not ours.

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Murakami and a Storm

And because I think right now, Murakami explains everything in this:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

1Q84

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I finally bought 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  When I was younger, I swore off existentialism of any sort.  I was vehemently opposed to it (probably because I had no idea what it even was, at that time I just automatically associated it with Nietzsche, who I assumed was just an overinflated pessimist).  Now, not only do I find myself reading books of that genre, but also writing in that genre.  I think some of the ideas that make up existentialism are just understandings that we reach with the passage of time.  The meanings that we assign things are arbitrary; we have been conditioned to believe that there are patterns or things happen for a reason, when in reality, things just happen.  What we know as “reality” is subjective and we live through what we know (Matrix, anyone?).

1Q84 is Murakami’s modern take on George Orwell’s 1984  (in Japanese, “9” is pronounced the way English speakers say “Q”).  It is a sweeping work with numerous themes; one in particular which interests me.  One of the major characters starts noticing small, subtle changes in the world around her and the question is raised: What is reality?  I remember coming home one afternoon walking up my driveway and seeing my neighbors front porch; it was exactly as it had been, except all the furniture had been shifted to the opposite side.  When I saw this reflected in 1Q84, it was strangely comforting to know that others have thought of this possible “other reality.”  This story is also about connections we make in life; sometimes small and fleeting but strong enough to tie us to something in some way or another.

As I continue reading, I will write a more in-depth review.  Happy reading!