Amphibiology Lectures: The Third Century (No.4)

Runner Novelist, Haruki Murakami

At the previous lecture, I discussed that the opprtunity to meet Haruki Murakami was brought because he was a runner novelist.

To mention the course of the encounter at the beginning of this fourth lecture, the particular work of him which I have read for the first time was the essay; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. This encounter was triggered when I was recommended the English version of the essay by a friend who is another avid runner here in Sydney a few years ago.

According to the essay, he is never a half-baked runner like me. In 2007 when the original Japanese version of the essay was published he had completed full-marathon for 24 times. Further, according to his talk that he will continue to run full-marathon at a pace of once a year as a general rule, the record number must have reached as high as about 30 times by now.

It is not only be surprised at the number of completion of full-marathon. But, in the essay, also he reported about the struggle with an ultra-marathon of 100km, which is held in every June around the Saloma Lake in Hokkaido of Japan, when he completed it in 1996 by taking 11 hours 42 minutes. He told about his mental state at the completion; “By then running had entered the realm of the metaphysical.”  (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running; translated by Philip Gabriel, Vintage Books, London, p.113.)

According to him, the time when he decided to be a full-time novelist was after he had managed a jazz cafe for seven years, and it was because to maintain own physical condition. Yet he said that most of what he knows about writing fiction he learned by running every day. To keep being a novelist you need talent, focus and endurance. Except for talent, other two are acquired through training. It was running. This is why he has kept running as daily routine, and holds a guide line of 60km a week and 260km a month, he wrote.

He obtained confidence as a novelist when A Wild Sheep Chase (1982, of his 33-year-old) was loved by many readers despite the unenthusiastic response from the literary magazine editors who were looking for more “mainstream literature”. At the same time, it was little by little clear that, when he turned to thirties, his unknown possibility which was still left for himself was found by running. In other words, it is obvious that both awareness are the two sides of the same coin that took place at the same time.

Previously, as to the development of physical and mental effects due to exercise, I cited [in the Japanese version] the comments of Professor Carl Cotman from University of California, who is a world leader in the field. Although it is a question whether Haruki Murakami had enough knowledge about the field when he was early thirties, whether was bright in these medical knowledge, empirically, it was certain that he had begun to realize the effect. So, that he is a “runner novelist” is that running is his infrastructure for creation in terms of mental and physical. At the time a month before the City Marathon in New York, he wrote: 
  I’m not a young person who’s focused totally on breaking records, nor an inorganic mechanical that goes through the motions. I’m nothing more or less than a (most likely honest) professional writer who his who wants to hold on to his ability and vitality for as longer as possible. (ibid, p.121)

I can imagine such a scene that he is producing some long novels by enforcing himself daily routine every day like a cordially craftsman who carves diligently a massive stone.

His debut was like a comet, but his career as a writer seems to be underpinned by really sound attitude which is totally unrelated to a glittering attitude and full of talent. In that sense, as mentioned at the last lecture, one of the two major impression of Haruki Murakami experience was the “scrupulous” for me.

Regarding the “scrupulous” personality of Haruki Murakami such, however, as far as the direct impression from reading of his works, there feels a big difficulty to link such personality.

In other words, his novels, even while showing a deployment of mystery solving in a detective novel style work, however, because of its stage settings of enigmatic religious sect or surreal encounters which leave yourself in dream, if you expect a development into mysterious New Age style world, you may be betrayed by its individual episodes which have full of leaping and wandering. Therefore a reader must be dominated by such an endless indeterminate setting. It demonstrates precisely an unconventional style which is undoubtedly far from the “mainstream literature.”

 Some of his works characterise very detailed descriptions which some time make feel long-winded (this is my view) and unique omnibus-style episodes. Either of them, there is something which attracts an empathy of the today’s sentiment which tends to be solitary. So, his works have potential to make those readers being drawn into the instigation. Nonetheless, their total construction made up by such mosaic configuration, consequently settles them in an unexpected and usual relief.

I, who call the unique deployment of his works “floating”, speculate that the combination of the changefulness and the comfortable settlement in the ending is the secret which engenders his attraction to draw readers’ mind today.



If the above discussion is the case, what does Haruki Murakami himself, which must internalise the heterogeneous combination being difficult to accept both of the “floating” world expressed by his novels and the “scrupulous” world expressed by his essays, mean?

For me, it is a sort of un-integration or a sprit. If it is the real his personality — a “scrupulous” expression rather than a “pretention” for creation — he must be a man of schizophrenic.

If it is true, how deep can a reader project him/herself into his world? I, unless discarding the works as entertainment, will be greatly concerned about inconsistent himself as a reader.

These features in the debut work for example, it was, while unusual, keeping a reality which seems to be a personal history. However,  as he experienced, his works were polish up into elaborated feature stories with multi-dimensional and detailed development, but their reality has increasingly faded out of the sense of togetherness, although not being described as seclusion. In terms of verisimilitude to an ordinal reader who lives in the real world, he/she may be caught by a doubtful feeling which sometimes give him/her a sense of futility or a view for merely comfort.



The above is a view that stands on the balance which sets the side of “not to move” dominant under the allocation of 3 to “to move” and 7 to “not to move” in the earlier discussion about “to move” or “not to move”.

So, if the allocation of the balance is replaced, i.e. 7 to “to move” and 3 to “not to move”, and then it is assumed the “to move” side which considers, as he argues,  such “floating” world as the actual reality to prevail, what sort of conclusion can I find?

If I take such setting, even myself who have had the above views remember that I had spent every day in my 20’s with seeing myself as a “figure of temporary” who tended to keep distanced from the real world.

In that sense, it can be assumed that I and he similarly share the feeling of floating and sense of distance with the real world.

To stand on this assumption, I can see that I have eluded the duality captured myself by the notion of “alienation”; so to speak, by cocooning in an ideological place.

In the case of Haruki Murakami, however, he has seemed to accept the duality as it is without standing on an ideological or formal stance — he who is three years younger found a deception among the idealism of my generation (so called “zenkyoto* generation”).

*: the generation who demonstrated student riots in the late 1960s.

If I think so, for Haruki Murakami who selected to be a professional novelist, it may be a reasonable outcome that he has relied upon the schizophrenic composition of his novels mentioned above in order to show the feeling of “floating” or gap sense with the world without falling in the deception of idealism.

On the contrary, my persistence to the position, namely, the “not to move” is the stance allocating 3 to “to move” and 7 to “not to move” by maintaining the distant feeling with the reality through sticking on the idealism. In other words, I have experienced Haruki Murakami by keeping such a conservative attitude.

However, as the assumption of the above, if I view that he sees the homogenous things in the bottom differently as the expression putting 7 to “to move”, to open the binocular view to target the two and to go together with the “schizophrenic stereo vision” is the product of those who shared the gap among egos through “to move”.

In addition, if it is assumed that the “schizophrenic stereo vision” is the pith the world written by Haruki Murakami, the secret of the popularity of his work also should not unrelated.


This is my view observing the “schizophrenic stereo vision” from the side of 7 to “to move” and 3 to “not to move”. In other words, whereas there must be a gap which separates between this side and that side, by the way, what is it? I am going to think about it at the next lecture.




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