Friday, May 15, 2009

The Wind-Up Ceremony And The Humanities

My critical paper is in the mail. Funny, for as much as I hammer keyboards and churn out words, sometimes it's tough to switch gears and slip into critical mode.

I spent the better part of a couple of weeks researching and contemplating Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and their diverse use of magical realism.

We'll see how the paper flies with my advisor, but regardless of the outcome or requests for second drafts, it's been an interesting experience.

The novels harness the incursion of magical elements into realistic settings in quite different ways, though both follow heroes on voyages, postmodern journeys to adopt the patois of academic speech.

Toru, hero of Wind-Up Bird is an unemployed thirty-year-old slacker in '90s Japan, a man out of step with Japanese culture given his laid-back style. When he's faced with finding a missing wife, he isolates himself at the bottom of a dry well and is drawn into a dreamlike world to rescue wife Kumiko, after discovering his marriage is not as mundane as he thought. Ultimately he's faced with breaking curses of many kinds from the past in order to save the present.

The Silko novel is about a different journey. Tayo, a native American veteran, is struggling to recover from his experiences on the Bataan Death March. He must meet with a shaman who has modified and modernized sacred Native American stories to help him heal from the modern witchery of war and loss. Ultimately he's drawn into the stories of his people and meetings with sacred, legendary figures that put him on the path to recovery.

Both books are great, immersive stories, and after reading my paper Christine had observations about the works as well. She'd read an article a while back about the dangers to the humanities in troubled times that quoted Yale professor Anthony T. Kronman:

“...the need for my older view of the humanities is, if anything, more urgent today,” he added, referring to the widespread indictment of greed, irresponsibility and fraud that led to the financial meltdown. In his view this is the time to re-examine “what we care about and what we value,” a problem the humanities “are extremely well-equipped to address.”

In Wind-Up Bird and Ceremony, Christine observed, the authors are looking into the soul and the core of what it means to be human.

It's certainly meritorius effort, and I'm glad to have spent some time working to understand the novels better.

Novels reject the pat answers, the party line, the rhetoric and the pablum of doctrinaires, and they explore the heart of existence, and those explorations should not be shouted down by the shrill voices that fill our universe and refuse contemplation while repeating tired mantras.

Kafka said we should read novels that wound and stab us. It's true, because they seek truth, challenge complacency and take us on quests toward questions that open new understanding.

Wrestling a week with words, I feel a little stronger.

I have come out the other side as I promised, standing perhaps a little straighter.

4 comments:

Christine said...

I've been accused of getting a bit crazed when discussing the virtues of Thoreau's "Walden". I'm challenged every time I read it by the questions of what it means to be human and what it means to live. It reveals something new to me every time I pick it up. I think that's the value of the humanities, and really, that's priceless.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sidney, you should do a post about magical realism and fantasy. Sometimes when I see the phrase magical realism I get this feeling the literary folk are trying to play with the fantasy genre without dirtying themselves. I admit though, that while I am well-versed in fantasy, I only have a passing familiarity with magical realism. And by passing, I mean shooting by at one hundred miles an hour with the windows up. I would be interested in reading your point of view.

Sidney said...

I'll see if I can't come up with a post that contemplates it a little more, Stewart.

Erik Donald France said...

Fantastic! Congratulations, that's great --

I visited Laguna Pueblo last year, right next to Acoma "Sky City" Pueblo. People at Laguna were very nice to meet, and the old mission on the hill is amazing.

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