Category Archives: Books

Book Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After Dark is a novel by Haruki Murakami, a novel which on the surface seems to be simply a fictional book which does not lend itself easily to analysis of any historical significance. But if one looks in the right places, and with the right mindset, one can draw quite a few comparisons to the history of Japan, and perhaps more broadly that of East Asia.

The novel centers around the main character, a girl whose name is Mari. She is up very late at night at a Denny’s reading, and from this location in the metropolis of Tokyo, a strange series of events unfolds for her that keeps her up till dawn and leads her to very different and interesting parts of the city. Meeting all kinds of people, from silent Chinese gangsters, to prostitutes, hotel owners, and a friend who practices jazz late at night, she experiences the oddness of night and the surrealism of the city.

The main plot for this story does not center on any historical characters, yet the background and experiences of the people in the novel are grounded in historicity and lend itself to historical analysis. Our very first locale in the story strikes us (Americans) as strange and contradictory in what we might imagine as a stereotypical Japan. A Denny’s might remind us of a suburban blue-collar breakfast, not something we can easily transport to Japan. Here is our first clue to the transferability and colonialism of Western, and particularly American culture in East Asia. Our main character wears a Red Sox baseball cap, references to Western writers abounds, and Western music comes up throughout the novel, with nods to musicians such as Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Fuller, and Burt Bacharach. The characters even reference Western fashion with names like Prada and Gucci, and even pay homage to the American painter Edward Hopper with a reference to his painting Loneliness. The characters are Japanese, but the stage is American. One can trace this cultural colonization of Japan as far back as the Meiji period (its famous slogan “Eastern ethics, Western techniques” seems to hold particularly true for this book) and more importantly to post-World War II Japan. During American occupation, MacArthur used the opportunity to remake Japan in America’s image. Economic reforms allowed for the future giant export companies such as Panasonic and Sony. Education was remade to mirror the American model and anti-union policies by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers quelled any dissent among workers. Additionally, an American committee drafted a constitution for Japan that was decided to be the “will of the people”. The Americanization of Japan was total, leading to the massive industrialization and modernization of present-day Japan.

We can see another aspect of colonialism in this novel as well, that of alienation. Soseki’s character in one of his novels could easily find himself in After Dark with the phrase “loneliness is the price we pay for being born in this modern age”. The sister of Mari, the main character, reflects this sentiment well when, “She knows she will end up as a mere convenient conduit used for the passage of external things”. The cultural problem within the rise of Japan in the Meiji and later in post-occupation Japan are mirrored in this novel. The problems that an endangered Japanese culture (and East Asian culture) faces under the shadow of Western imperialism, and later a global Capitalism seem to be a common experience for Japanese novelists and artists, and one that is shared by Murakami. The trend of industrialization started in the Meiji in Japan has led it to be one of the greatest economic powers in the modern world, yet at what cost? The history of East Asia is one of tradition and culture, which turns into one of colonization and eventually economic inequality and individualization. Ultimately Murakami describes this question in surrealistic terms, drawing on Western literature elements and Western philosophy to bring a modern East Asia to light. An East Asia that is global and Western, one that struggles with similar problems, and yet an East Asia that struggles to retain familial ties under the long history of Westernization that has occurred.

Book Review: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

One cannot claim to understand American literature without reading John Steinbeck. He is one of the most well known and best regarded American authors of the last century, alongside figures such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Although most are far more familiar with Steinbeck’s books that end up being required reading in high school (The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men), East of Eden is comparable in terms of literary prowess and meaning.

East of Eden is truly an epic. Coming in at 600 pages long, it recounts the stories of three generations of two families recording their trials and tribulations. The book does not wander however. It follows the character of Adam Trask throughout by telling the stories of the people who end up in his life. East of Eden can be said to have two main themes, that of family and choice. It is familial in that it humanizes those that play a part in Adam Trask’s life by telling their stories. In this way we see all those in the story as essentially family and as knowable as humans. Although Steinbeck hints at some racism in his brief description of Native Americans, he humanizes the Chinese character in the story. This raises questions about the possibility of whether Steinbeck romanticizes the Oriental or is simply prejudiced against Native Americans.

Its second theme is inherently existential. None of the characters can easily be said to be good or bad, Steinbeck instead makes the morality of each character’s decisions about choices between good and evil. It is ultimately up to each person to choose to do right or wrong by each other. The book goes to great length to describe the ramifications that these decisions have on others in the story. The reader is then forced to reflect on the decisions they have made that have impacted others.

This book is at turns moralizing and very personal. By intricately tracing the outlines of the character’s life stories and the very human actions they take, we are easily able to identify with any one character and their actions, whether good or bad. Its overarching references to Genesis bring out these stories as almost mythological in scope and symbolism. Although the book tends to be drawn out and could be more concise, it stands with Steinbeck’s other famous books as worthy of literary praise. Steinbeck summed up this book best in the dedication when he says, “Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts-the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation”.

Book Review: Industrial Culture Handbook

Welcome to my blog and my first review! Today we will be looking at a book that many are not aware of and others fear. A book about technology, alienation, serial killers, and most importantly, art. I think.

Beginning with the title, we must ask what is industrial culture. Well, it doesn’t really mean much outside of the context of this book. There is not much of an industrial culture, but this book takes some important high points in industrial music and performance art that have similar themes, which is attributed in the subculture to the term industrial. But what is industrial? What does it mean to be industrial? This book seeks to answer these questions in a mostly indirect way. Some very interesting themes come to light as one withstands the pummeling this book dishes out and this review will be focused on some of the themes addressed. I’ll leave the details to you readers to discover.

These themes become apparent from the first block of text. We take this important information from our esteemed publisher/editor/agent, V. Vale, “By ‘industrial’ we mean the grim side of post-Industrial Revolution society-the repressed mythology, history, science, technology, and psychopathology.” In other words, this book deals with the artists represented take on the alienated individual(s) after the rise of unfeeling bureaucracy, meaningless and inhuman machines, and the grim facades of decaying factories. The artists include such luminaries as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire (cohorts of the infamous Joy Division), Mark Pauline, and Johanna Went (the latter two being performance artists). We have inspirations here from authors William S. Burroughs and Anthony Burgess to serial killers such as Charles Manson and cult leaders like Jim Jones. The artists take these revised and despised leaders of counter culture, subculture, and deviance to a new high as revered and infamous tokens of rebellion and the dark underbelly of modern Western society and its discontents.

The key word here is rebellion. Rebellion against the restrictions of Western and Eastern music theories, rebellion against the misogynistic attitudes and norms of bourgeoisie society, rebellion against the media, and rebellion against plain good taste as mainstream culture understands it. Each artist uses or has a different specific reason for rebellion. Some have launched a jihad against cultural taboos, some seek to represent the artistry of rebelling against the mask of rebellion, and others simply try to annoy, piss off, or disgust as many people as they can. They attack our sensibilities. And I happen to think this is a vital part of society. Who asks the questions if not the rebels? To attack the institutions of culture, that is the main theme of this book and the theme these artists express. Even if we end up not agreeing with them we can still appreciate their questions. Their abrasive and nonconstructive questions. Why is that beautiful? Why this and not that? This is nothing less than the utter rejection of anything resembling a conservative or static cultural narrative or meaning. Oh, and it also includes flamethrower schematics. Enjoy!