Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Absurd: A comparison of Haruki Murakami and David Lynch

Me writing about literature is both new and novel, we'll see how well I manage to tackle the subject before feeling like I'm doing a complete and utter disservice to literary works on the whole. This morning, I made the mistake of watching David Lynch's Blue Velvet. It is a mistake only insofar as the time was concerned. At 9:30 in the morning, most people have just woken up and are most certainly not sitting down in their favorite chair to "enjoy" a David Lynch film. It was a good movie, definitely was very Lynch-esque. Anyways, both Haruki Murakami and David Lynch have something in common: their use of the absurd. The way I understand it, they're both trying to do the same thing, but due to the difference in mediums (between literature and film) the aim appears as different.

Let's first look at Murakami. I'm not going to fill this post with spoilers, although I'm going to need to include a few things from various novels of his. The nature of literature is such: literature requires trust on the part of the reader. The author is presenting the reader with words, however pretty or woven together they may be, they're still words. The reader trusts the author to imbue these words with a special ability which allows them to translate to images in the mind of the reader. In this way, every individual experiences a piece of literature differently - everything from the appearance of the characters to the way they talk, the surrounding environments and the like are conceptualized differently by every reader. In this way, novels and literature are merely guidelines - the true value of a piece of literature is in the ability of the individual to take what they're reading and translate it into compelling pieces. That being said, Haruki Murakami is a master of making the absurd and bizarre seem commonplace. In fact, its so compelling most of the time that you don't realize what was awkward until after you've finished reading one of his novels and are reflecting on it. Take, for example, Kafka on the Shore: one of the central characters has the ability to converse with cats. He also finds himself in several bizarre scenarios that are taken totally on face value simply by the reactions of the characters and the way in which he describes these situations. It can be said that most of his "bizarre" sections are merely metaphors, but even if that's the case, they're presented in such a way that they could pass as non-unusual situations.

I know I said I would talk about David Lynch films, but the only movie that I saw which came close to accomplishing in film what Murakami suggests in writing, although still changed by virtue of it's medium (which I'll mention below) is Terry Gilliam's Tideland. I have to credit the DVD version of this film, however, because it features Gilliam explaining to his audience how to properly "watch" the film. It's quite incredible to watch the film having not heard his intent, because it really is a completely different movie. Anyways, the point I was trying to make is that, when this film is viewed with Gilliam's note, it accomplishes the exact same thing: perfect seamless use of the absurd and making it seem like nothing special, bizarre, or unusual. However, if viewed without the note (and if you don't pick up on it through the course of the movie, which is entirely possible) that is definitely not the case.

The nature of films replaces that inherent "trust" which the reader has for the author for a sort of contempt. For most film viewers, they come into the film experience with a preconceived notion of what they'd like to see based upon the information known about the film. It is for this reason that not everyone watches every movie that comes out; not to mention the sheer quantity of watching that would require is simply untenable, but that's beside the point. This contempt is to be expected, the filmmaker is presenting the audience with a finished piece of work that stands as their interpretation of something. As audience members, we are required to watch, and may make comments about the form and function of ideas throughout the course of the film, but cannot have any role in the creation of the movie. In this sense, it stands to reason that readers really fulfill, at least partially, the role of author and audience in relation because of the need for them to interpret the work. David Lynch movies seem like the film version of what Murakami attempts to accomplish, but this contempt makes it hard to stomach, even for his most avid fans.

I may try to flesh this out some more later, it was a gut-check reaction from Blue Velvet.


Romina Viola said...

I see your point. I also share the "absurd" notion you mention.
Good article.

TheDkjayjay said...

It is not hard to see, that haruki murakami is very inspired by david lynch.

I love him for that.
His Magic Realism is breathtaking.

TheDkjayjay said...

And I still - after carefully reading your text - think that the two, Murakami and Lynch, are from the same breed, when we are talking Magic Realism.

I am a fan of both, but i'm not educated in literature or film. But still I know what I see or read.

Neha Mattoo said...

You know I definitely agree with you comparison here..i have been a Murakami fan for quite a while but i just recently saw a lot of David Lynch's cinema!! And to be honest i found both of them having a surrealistic way of story telling..its like in both the cases u will feel like its part dream and part real..look at mulholland drive, blue velvet, twin peaks, kafka, sputnik sweetheart , norwegian wood etc etc they all are surreal piece of art...just brilliant!! I tried to google and find out if someone else felt the same. It's great to know that we have a same view about this connection between these two amazing creative geniuses:)