DayMay 22, 2015

Next

The book I will begin next is Oracle Night by Paul Auster:

“Several months into his recovery from a near-fatal illness, novelist Sidney Orr enters a stationery shop in Brooklyn and buys a blue notebook. It is September 18, 1982, and for the next nine days Orr will live under the spell of this blank book, trapped inside a world of eerie premonitions and bewildering events that threaten to destroy his marriage and undermine his faith in reality.

Paul Auster’s mesmerizing eleventh novel reads like an old-fashioned ghost story. But there are no ghosts in this book – only flesh-and-blood human beings, wandering through the haunted realms of everyday life.”

Last Page

This is the end of the novel, and perhaps explains so much better than I possibly ever could, what the Ideal Existence is to me but few would call it existence at all. It just doesn’t seem ideal, especially not to someone as grounded as the Shadow. The Shadow represents the burdens and weights of reality.

‘You yourself created this Town. You made everything here. The Wall, the River, the Woods, the Library, the Gate, everything. Even this Pool. I’ve known all along.’

‘Then why did you not tell me sooner?’

‘Because you’d only have left me here like this. Because your rightful world is there outside.’ My shadow sits down in the snow and shakes his head from side to side. ‘But you won’t listen, will you?’

‘I have responsibilities,’ I say. ‘I cannot forsake the people and places I have created. I know I do you a terrible wrong. And yes, perhaps I wrong myself, too. But I must see out the consequences of my own doings. 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.’

My shadow rises and stares at the calm surface of the Pool. He stands motionless amid the fall snow. Neither of us says a word. White puffs of breath issue from our mouths.

‘I cannot stop you,’ admits my shadow. ‘Maybe you can’t die here, but you will not be living. You will merely exist. There is no “why” in a world that would be perfect in itself. Nor is surviving in the Woods anything like you imagine. You’ll be trapped for all eternity.’

‘I am not so sure,’ I say. ‘Nor can you be. A little by little, I will recall things. People and places from our former world, different qualities of light, different songs. And as I remember, I may find the key to my own creation, and to its undoing.’

‘No, I doubt it. Not as long as you are sealed inside yourself. Search as you might, you will never know the clarity of distance without me. Still, you can’t say I didn’t try,’ my shadow says, then pauses. ‘I loved you.’

‘I will not forget you,’ I reply.

Long after the Pool has swallowed my shadow, I stand staring at the water, until not a ripple remains. The water is as tranquil and blue as the eyes of the beasts. I am alone at the furthest periphery of existence. Here the world expires and is still.

I turn away from the Pool and begin to walk back. On the far side of the Western Hill is the Town. I know she waits for me in the library with the accordion.

Through the driving snow, I see a single white bird take flight. The bird wings over the Wall and into the flurried clouds of the southern sky. All that is left to me is the sound of the snow underfoot.

— Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

It doesn’t feel like much is left. But it’s enough. And the shadow, who loves the character, wants them both to go back to reality together. But the shadow doesn’t know what it means to the character to live in the Town, merely existing. And the two part.

The End of the World

What then remains, but that we still should cry
For being born, or, being born to die?

I finally finished Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World last night after having begun it in January. Admittedly it took me at least 4 times of rereading the first few chapters and I even attempted going the audiobook route. While at first it was hard to get into the novel, by the end I was completely enthralled and I was biting my nails to see if the end would match my hope. I’m not really certain if I am supposed to like the ending but I did, immensely, because I felt some sort of agreement to the end decision by the character.

The novel alternates between two different worlds that for the most part seem entirely unconnected. One takes place in a futuristic sort of place and the other in an isolated island of sorts that is completely enclosed to the reality outside it. The former seems to be the main story while the latter was actually my preferred. I enjoyed the strange ‘basic’ island in which there was no music, no enjoyment, but also no pain, no struggle. In many ways this second world was someone’s version of a stripped down Utopian society.

I’m not sure I have much of note to say about the futuristic world because it was just the driver for moving the plot along and connecting the two worlds together. The connection comes very late in the novel so for some, might be a surprise.

Yet whilst with sorrow here we live opprest,
What life is best?

The two quotes above come from Francis Bacon’s poem, “Life.” I found the first quote scribbled on a scrap piece of paper which prompted me to read the poem again. It presents a similar idea as the novel in my interpretation of it.

Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope.
― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

While this is supposed to be a convincing reason to live, I’m not (convinced). I’m not so sure happiness is worth the trade. I don’t value happiness all that highly to be willing to accept disillusionment, depression, sorrow, despair. Those feel worse than happiness feels good. Or otherwise I have not known such happiness.

Most human activities are predicated on the assumption that life goes on. If you take that premise away, what is there left?”
― Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

It’s true. I feel like the driver for many of my activities depend on the fact that I will still be here tomorrow. I do today what I must only because otherwise I’d be fucking over my tomorrow. It’s not a fantastic way to live, but it does force my hand to act rather than remain inert. But if there were no tomorrow, I feel an alternative is an eternity within our minds with no timeline: a self-containing bubble where nothing you do effects anything else. You just are, in existence. I’ve mentioned many times that that is my ideal. To just be. And nothing more.

Time is too conceptual. Not that it stops us from filling it in. So much so, we can’t even tell whether our experiences belong to time or to the world of physical things.

Honestly so much of this novel is quotable. I’m not even sure where to begin or how many quotes to memorialize in this post.

Now for a good twelve-hour sleep, I told myself. Twelve solid hours. Let birds sing, let people go to work. Somewhere out there, a volcano might blow, Israeli commandos might decimate a Palestinian village. I couldn’t stop it. I was going to sleep.

– – –

But like a boat with a twisted rudder, I kept coming back to the same place. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.

Was that so depressing?

Who knows? Maybe that was ‘despair.’ What Turgenev called ‘disillusionment.’ Or Dostoyevsky, ‘hell.’ Or Somerset Maugham, ‘reality.’ Whatever the label, I figured it was me.

– – –

When microorganisms die, they make oil; when huge timbers fall, they make coal. But everything here was pure, unadulterated rubbish that didn’t make anything.

– – –

And now I feel I must begin a new post just for the cherry on top of the novel. The moment I was waiting for, rooting for, but that perhaps is the ultimate self-made illusion.