A Sartrean Perspective on Inertia and Alienation in The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
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The aim of this thesis is to investigate how Sartre’s philosophy can contribute to understanding the way in which the characters experience and deal with inertia and alienation in The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Ōe and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Accordingly, I will first discuss the way in which philosophy can contribute to the understanding of literature, then explain the concepts inertia and alienation in the context of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and subsequently, use my analysis of Sartre to shed light on these issues as they occur in the two novels. Reading the novels from a Sartrean perspective shows the important role that imagination and taking the time to imagine alternatives have for making the right choices and acting in an engaged way. In the investigation about how philosophy and literature can be discussed together while avoiding the mistakes that are often made in doing so, it turned out that literature can help to envisage a future that is truly different from (and not just more of) the present and that it can help to overcome the limitations in everyday thinking. Sartre’s philosophy shows that, in order to improve the situation it is necessary to imagine alternatives, but imagination does not necessarily lead to action, it can remain a self-enclosed exercise or its translation into action can be indirect. The importance of imagination, but also the possibility to become stuck in the imagination, turned out to be an important theme in the novels. In both novels contemplation and imagination are symbolized by abidance in enclosed underground spaces. In the investigation of how the characters become engaged and involved, timing appeared to be a more important factor than Sartre’s existentialist theory suggested. This is closely related to the importance of the imagination, because in order to take the right actions, it is necessary to take the time to imagine to what future they contribute and to take time to contemplate in order to disrupt habits of bad faith and overcome the limitations of everyday life thinking. One of Nussbaums reasons for considering academic philosophical writing insufficient for contemplating the good life is that it lacks the element of time that only occurs in narrative. The difference between Ōe’s post-war and Murakami’s postmodern commitment can be found in the relation between storytelling and action. Whereas in The Silent Cry, the best option appears acting in spite of one’s uncertainties, construction through destruction, in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, gaining deeper understanding and imagining alternatives to the system seems valuable as such and communicating these seems enough. In postmodern theory, becoming engaged and involved has by no means lost relevance, but the focus is on the overwhelming pervasiveness of inertia and alienation and a sense of powerlessness in a world that seems too large and fields of knowledge too specialized for people to understand enough to make the right choices. Using the framework of existentialist philosophy to understand the works of Ōe and Murakami reveals that Murakami's writing is not a turn away from concern with making morally responsible choices but rather an increased awareness in the contradictions that arise in the attempt to do so. Many postmodern thinkers consider knowledge and power, simulation and reality increasingly hard to separate. From this point of view, being able to imagine alternatives to the seemingly all encompassing and ever globalizing (economic)system and sharing these alternatives with others is already engagement. However, perceiving the world as overwhelming and too difficult to understand is also a choice. The advantage of the active engagement and involvement of the characters in The Silent Cry is that they have much more impact on their surroundings, the disadvantage is that this impact is sometimes also negative and construction often only seems possible though destruction. Toru’s engagement in the form of storytelling in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle on the other hand makes it more difficult for him to come to action in reality, but he also does not do any harm. The novels show the advantages and disadvantages of different ways in which to balance imagination and action.