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  • Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture
  • Matthew C. Strecher (bio)
Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture. By Michael Seats. Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., 2006. xviii, 364 pages. $70.00.

As the so-called "Murakami Haruki Phenomenon" continues to grow, with new translations of the author's work appearing annually in a multitude of languages, it is perhaps inevitable that English-language studies of this intriguing author will also multiply. Michael Seats's Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture is the latest addition to this body of work, following Jay Rubin's Murakami Haruki and the Music of Words (2002) and my own Dances with Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki (2002). In contrast to the comprehensive, introductory nature of these earlier works, however, Seats intentionally limits his discussion to four major texts: Kaze no uta o kike (1979; Hear the wind sing), 1973-nen no pinbo¯ru (1980; Pinball 1973), Hitsuji o meguru bo¯ken (1982; A wild sheep chase), and Nejimakidori kuronikuru (1994–96; The wind-up bird chronicle).

Seats's goals in this ambitious study are manifold, but his primary purpose is to attack the popular notion that Murakami's fiction represents a quest for identity at all; rather, he argues, the author's true project is to cri-tique Japanese modernity as an incomplete process. Murakami accomplishes this critique, according to Seats, by using the structure of the "simulacrum," a term most commonly associated with Jean Baudrillard, referring to second-order representation in which access to the original referent is absent, lost, or repressed. For Seats, this simulacral structure stands irreducibly "at the heart of the discursive construction of modernity" (p. 13) and is thus the key to any meaningful discussion of modernity.

Borrowing the concept of "landscape" (fu¯kei) from the writings of Karatani Ko¯jin, and combining this with various conceptions of the sublime (chiefly those of Immanuel Kant, Jean-François Lyotard, and Julia Kris-teva), Seats provides detailed explication of the transcendent position of Murakami's narrative subject ("Boku"). He suggests that this position permits the author, through metanarratological deployment of parody, pastiche, and historiography, to critique both the notion of Japanese modernity and the elusive subjectivity on which it is ostensibly based, "a particularity and subjectivity perhaps longed for, but not yet fully bestowed or bestowable in its relation to the universal of the West" (p. 67). Murakami's ironical use of pastiche and parody, moreover, is a direct challenge, Seats argues, to the [End Page 221] hegemonic dominance of conventional literary tropes in Japan, particularly realism and the I-novel (watakushi-sho¯setsu). "Murakami's writing . . . clearly represents a new kind of critique. It does so by questioning the essential notion of 'Japaneseness' through the problematization of previously relatively stable and transparent notions of self and language at the heart of the 'I-novel' enterprise" (p. 137).

On its surface, Seats's text may strike some as a variation on themes already dealt with in previous English-language studies of Murakami, particularly parody, pastiche, historiography, metafiction, and psychoanalysis. While most of these earlier analyses have relied on interpretive textual analysis—an admittedly subjective enterprise—however, Seats favors a more structural approach as "a way out of the hermeneutic treadmill" (p. 13) of interpretive criticism, which may explain why he shows little interest in the rich array of symbolism, metaphor, and metonymy that has consistently been such a definitive feature of Murakami's literary world. Dismissive of the "romantic" impulse of interpretive textual analysis—the search for meaning within the text—Seats instead employs a structuralist/formalist approach that yields a number of useful insights about Murakami.

The progression of argument through what he terms the "first trilogy"1 of Kaze, Pinbo¯ru, and Hitsuji is logical enough. Murakami begins in Kaze by parodying the process of writing itself, expands this parodic gesture to include allegory in Pinbo¯ru (thereby denying the possibility of referential meaning), and finally applies to Hitsuji the Karatanian notion of "landscape" on both the national-cultural (macrocosmic) and individual (microcosmic) levels in order to suggest the repressed nature of modern Japanese...


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