To all those wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends and family I wanted to show you why I’ve been utterly absent physically and emotionally for a while…this Producing Culture essay. I’ve still got three more pieces of assessment to hand in so I’m not in the clear yet…basically…see you at my 30th for a catch beer!
WARNING: This essay may make you ask ‘what is the point of going to uni’ please don’t ask me that question…you don’t really care what my answer is, you’ll still think uni is pointless and this will essay most likely WILL give you a head ache 🙂
An examination of the way identity and otherness theory and the idea of the conscious/unconscious mind operates in Hard Boiled Wonderland/The End of the World specifically the story of the Shadow and Narrator character.
Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World weaves a tale told through dual narratives of identity, otherness and an examination of the loss of self. While both narratives examine these themes and ideas I will focus solely on the End of the World story involving the narrator and his shadow character.
The End of the World is the story of a man and his shadow who have entered a mysterious town, surrounded by a large formidable wall that is controlled by the Gatekeeper. The town is populated with a disparate array of characters such as the retired Colonel and the librarian. The town is also populated by unicorns, or beasts, whose sole function is to “siphon off the minds of inhabitants shorn of their shadows” (Vasile p.126). To enter the Town the inhabitants must relinquish their shadows which removes the “grounding of the self” (Murakami, F p.132) and begins the process of the individual losing their mind. This process will leave the individual “immortal but emotionally sterile” (Vasile p.126).
There are a number of meanings and ideas being expressed in The End of the World with the loss of personal identity at the forefront. One way I understand this meaning is through the slow death of the shadow character. The loss of the man’s mind is directly related to the near death and eventual escape of the shadow and this loss is a requirement if you want to live in the Town. The loss of the mind is more than just intellectual but also emotional in its ramifications. Once someone has lost their mind they also lose the ability to think, love and feel as well as losing all memories collected throughout their life (Murakami, H 1985 p.123).
It is only after this self sacrifice of the necessities to maintain your sense of identity; your shadow, acceptance of a life without love or memories, independent critical thinking, essentially your conscious mind, can you be truly free. Once you have thrown off life’s “sharpest and most resistant questions” (Warner p.360) asking what it means to be me and what is this inside of me and your shadow dies can you truly accept yourself to Murakami’s postmodern version of utopia (Murakami, F p.132) and finally be free. An acceptance of the emptiness of life without a sense of self or mind is a peaceful and pleasant experience.
The idea of loss of personal identity is also created throughout the book by the representation of ‘slave culture’ in the context of the mind. I understand these meanings in a number of ways. The characters that appear zombie like are a direct representation of the ‘slave’ whether it’s physically or of the mind. This idea of the ‘slave’ is directly related to a total loss of personal selfhood and identity (Warner 359). In The End of the World the representation of the slave is apparent in both of these instances. The characters are forced to remove their shadows if they wish to live in the Town. The act of discarding their shadow leaves them “…a body which has been hollowed out, emptied of selfhood” (Warner p.357).
The theme of zombies is very strong in the The End of the World when you understand clearly what a zombie is and where the original idea came from. I use the term zombie in a more traditional sense, rather than the current personification of zombies as the cannibalistic risen dead which we now know. As Marina Warner said in 2006 “the word ‘zombie’ has dramatically and significantly fallen from grace.” (p.359)
The zombie was once a key figure of slave culture, a tool for those condemned to a life of bondage to represent the loss of freedom they experience/d. The original definition of a zombie was someone whose soul or essence had been stolen by someone with powers, often magical, who uses it for their own benefit (Warner 2006 p.367). Once this meaning has been understood it is much clearer how deeply rooted in slave culture the idea of a ‘zombie’ is and how this translates to a modern context of theoretical slavery. Being a slave to technology, your work, money etc.
Slave culture formed the concept, out of Africa and in the Caribbean, to describe the way in which slavery strips someone of personhood. The invention has since grown to describe individuals in a world of wealth and power that, to say the least, offers each of us a very different horizon of possibilities, yet for all its insistence on choice and access and enablement strategies and empowerment, manages to communicate to many of its members a feeling of numbing and volitionless vacancy. (Warner p.357)
I understand the ‘zombie’ identity theory in a number of ways throughout The End of the World. The shadow is an entity that has been considered throughout history to be deeply significant to the individual and their identity as J. C. Lavatar said in Victor Stoichita’s Short History of the Shadow “the shadow of the face, not the face itself, that was the soul’s true reflection.” (p.1) Throughout history the Greeks have “symbolically linked shadow, soul and a person’s double.” (Stoichita 1997 p.18)
The removal of your shadow is akin to removing all individual thoughts and feelings that make us humans, the ability to love, feel, analyse and think, leaving behind an empty shell thus removing our identity (Warner, p.359). I understand the separation of the shadow and the man also as a tool for personifying the theory of otherness, of being different and not fitting in. The man struggles with feelings of loneliness, confusion and isolation during their separation in the lead up to the shadow’s escape.
There are a number of representations of the other in The End of the World but I will focus specifically on the Man and his Shadow. Their representation of ‘the other’ can be understood in many different forms throughout the novel. They are the other to themselves, their physical, psychological and emotional environment and to those around them. In The End of the World the Shadow is a representation of the man’s otherness within this strange town he finds himself. Research has lead me to believe that the shadow is itself a key self-representation of otherness (Stoichita 1997 p. 1). As Kevin Robins points out in New Keywords the theory of otherness is “the shadow theme in contemporary discourses on identity” (p.249). With this in mind the meanings created through the use of the shadow character is deeply representative of the self and what it means to be human. “The question of the other is, integrally related to that of identity” (Robins p.249) and without his other can the man truly exist? The End of the World offers a complicated response to this question. The man can exist but it is only a half life, he will never be whole again. He, along with all the others who have relinquished their shadow, the other half of their soul, it could be argued are halfway to death (Stoichita 1997 p.16).
The man is considered the other because he still has the ability to think and feel, the shadow can be considered the other because of his refusal to accept his inevitable death and they can both be considered others by the townspeople because of their continuation to communicate with each other and work together. I also believe the man is a representation of the other for the townspeople because he symbolises what they once had or were. Even if they can’t specifically remember what that even was. The man is representative of the other for those who have had their shadows removed so young they have never known what it is to have a mind. The man is the other to the shadow just as he is to the man. The man’s choice to remove his shadow directly affects the shadow’s identity as he knows they cannot exist without each other. All these different and conflicting relationships of otherness can exist within the same set of relationships.
I understand the wall to be a significant representation of the other in The End of the World as an omnipresent powerful object that affects every character in the novel. The other is created by the idea of insiders and outsiders in the town, those we share a common identity with and those we do not (Murakami, F p.129). The beasts, shadows and woodsfolk are the ultimate outsiders, a symbol of life outside of the wall. Their presence when inside the wall of the town as a representation of the other “may be a source of menace and disquiet, there is also the dimension in which the other is a source – and a necessary source – of possibility” (Robins p.250). The woodsfolk are those who are left within the town who had incomplete separations from their shadows and they still have part of it attached or they haven’t died. These people are the most pitiful of all and they are representations of the other that we are glad not to be. The woodsfolk don’t have their minds nor are they completely free of it either, leaving them not only without feelings of love, memories or free thought but they are then rejected by the town and forced to live in seclusion in the woods. Interestingly though, while they are absolute outsiders, the town allows them to stay, even if hidden, and supplies rations for their survival.
This conflicting sense of disquiet and possibility highlights the duality of identity and otherness theory and is reminiscent of the Sassure’s semiotic theory, that nothing can exist without an opposing meaning or representation (Berger, p.7). There are a number of representations of Sassure’s theory throughout The End of the World including the importance placed on light and dark and the correlation of this with the conscious and unconscious mind The shadow character directly references this theory as the story is nearing its end when he explains why the man cannot possibly stay in the town. He points out that while the town doesn’t suffer negatives such as “fighting, hatred or desire” it “also means the opposites do not exist either” (Murakami, H p.245) he notes “without the despair of loss, there is no hope” (Murakami, H p.245). The shadow also makes a direct reference to the woodsfolk being akin to zombies calling them “those with undead shadows” (Murakami, H p.245). It is also necessary to keep Sassure’s theory in mind when considering slave identity theory because I believe for the zombie to exist it must have some realisation of what is missing – its freedom. For this reason the Librarian character is not in fact a zombie, even though she appears for sense and purposes as a classic zombie, because she has never experienced her own mind and the freedom this brings. I don’t know how to classify the Librarian and perhaps she presents an opportunity for a new area of thought in zombie/identity theory?
The town and specifically the wall offer a number of interesting representations not only of death and the afterlife but also of the mind. Reading the novel I am left with many conflicting conclusions about what this place might be. Is it representative of some sort of purgatory? Are the characters all dead and the man just hasn’t come to that realisation yet that he is in fact dead? Or is this place a physical manifestation of the mind and its workings and we are sorting through this individual’s identity and how he fits into the world?
This need to know more about the mind, represented by the town, is brokered by the urgent request from the man’s shadow to create a map of the town, initially to plan an escape but this becomes an opportunity for the man to explore his creation, perhaps his own mind, much more deeply. The creation of the map is driven by the human need to know who we are, what makes us us and why we act the way we do (Warner p.360). The map is a representation of the need to cover the full terrain of one’s own mind, no matter how dark and menacing it may be.
Murakami leaves no doubt that the town is the creation of the man but what that actual creation might be is never made clear. He accepts that he has created this place and feels a certain responsibility not only to stay but to better understand the town and why it was created. Even when he is given the opportunity to escape he chooses to stay. “‘This is my world. The Wall is here to hold me in, the River flows through me, the smoke is me burning. I must know why’” (Murakami, H p.399). Allowing his shadow to escape and facing a life as one of the woodsfolk, as one of those with an undead shadow, is not even enough to persuade the man to leave his own creation.
Consciousness is another theme that is covered throughout The End of the World and what it is or means to individuals. Each character in the novel has a different relationship with their own consciousness or ‘mind’ as it’s known in the book. Some have lingering memories of another existence, others are steadfast in their denial of its need, others are happily resigned to their situation and there are those who have never known a life with a conscious mind. Consciousness is difficult to define but there are recurring ideas in its explanation. It involves an experience of awareness and an ability to think. Ted Honderich said in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy in 2005 “all thinking is conscious; conscious thought is the essence of mind; humans have privileged and incorrigible access to their own conscious states; and the mind is a non-physical substance”. (p.181)
There are many representations of the conscious mind throughout The End of the World. The representation of light and dark is also a recurring theme throughout the book. This theme is represented in a number of ways including the Gatekeeper damaging the man’s eyesight to fulfill his role within the town, resigning him to a period of darkness, the dark and sinister unknown reaches of the woods and an overwhelming sense of emptiness are central to this theme. The Shadow is also an obvious representation of the light/dark theme because shadows (darkness) are created by light.
There are many correlations that can be made between the theme of darkness and the unconscious mind. Adelina Vasile noted in Subjectivity and Space in Haruki Murakami’s Fictional World “the unconscious mind is as much defined by its darkness as darkness is required by the unconscious” (2012 p.127). The is also a Taoist proclamation that “the truest yang is the yang that is in the yin” (Vasile p.125). The yin being the dark or passive and the yang is the light or active side of a person. With this affirmation in mind the darkness in The End of the World could be a representation that the darker the yin then the brighter the nugget of light within with the yang might be (Vasile p.125). There is an element of hope even in the bleakest landscape of the town.
The Gatekeeper damaging the man’s eyes is also a significant act and it is because of this that he is able to read dreams. He’s assured that the procedure won’t hurt and his sight will return once his stint as the Dreamreader is complete. The man being resigned to occupying darkened spaces and avoiding natural light for the sake of his eyes could be described as a meditation on the unknowable and dark subjects relating to the unconscious. The darkness that is a direct result of the loss of the man’s sight can be directly linked to the unconscious as Adelina Vasile noted “darkness is a defining feature of the unconscious” (p.127). This forced seclusion allows the man to examine and discover an emptiness at the centre of his soul, which can be linked to the loss of his shadow, realising that he is little more than an empty vessel of his original self, whomever that may be (Vasile p.117).
The End of the World makes many representations throughout it to identity, otherness and the conscious and unconscious mind. These themes are amplified when read in conjunction with the dual narrative but it is not necessary to read both narratives to make meaning from these representations. Upon finishing The End of the World I have a renewed respect for my shadow, my other half, the other side of my soul, for without it I would only have access to half of my conscious mind and if The End of the World has taught me anything, it is the importance of a complete and healthy conscious and unconscious mind.
Berger, Arthur Asa (2005): “Semiotic Analysis” in Media Analysis Techniques. Thousand Oaks, London & New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp.2-36
Flanagan, Owen “Consciousness” from Honderich, Ted (ed) Oxford Companion to Philosophy.Oxford GBR: Oxford University Press pp.160-1
Murakami, Fuminobu (2002): “Murakami Hauki’s Postmodern World”, Japan Forum, vol. 14, no. 1, pp.127-41
Murakami, Haruki (1985): Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World. Tokyo: Shinchosha
Robins, Kevin (2005): “Other” from Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg & Meaghan Morris (eds) New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Maiden, MA & Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. pp.249-51
Stoichita, Victor I (1997): Short History of the Shadow. London, GBR: Reaktion Books
Vasile, Adelina (2012): “Subjectivity and Space in Haruki Murakami’s Fictional World”, Euromentor Journal, vol. 3, no.1, pp.112-30
Warner, Marina (2006): “Our Zombies, Our Selves” from Phantasmagoria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 357-68″