Nothing can be known or controlled, Zen training teaches; the only thing you can do is scrub floors and do your rounds and perhaps clear your head in the process. Enlightenment comes nowhere but in the everyday; self-realization arrives only when you throw self—and any idea of realization—out the window. Accept life and what it gives you and then you become a part of it.
It may seem strange that Japan’s favorite novelist was an anxious, passive, haunted character writing about nervous disorders and falling asleep and paralysis (even the dog at the vet’s is suffering from a “nervous ailment”). But it speaks for an inner world—and again this is evident in Murakami—that sits in a different dimension from the smooth-running, flawlessly attentive, and all but anonymous machine that keeps the public order moving so efficiently forward in Japan. Perhaps the novel has always been one way in which a person can get his own back at the world; perhaps this is even one of the more useful souvenirs Soseki brought back from his life-changing stay in England. One of his most celebrated essays, the text of a lecture delivered two years before his death, was called “My Individualism” and in it he spoke out against a “nationalism” that, only a generation later, would indeed become poisonous.
Nothing is happening on the surface of his characters’ lives even as so much in the public domain seems a whirlwind of movement and perpetual self-reinvention. But each of these may be as deceiving as the other, as evidenced by the fact that, after a century of turmoil and convulsive change, Japan seems not so different, in its questions, from where it was in Soseki’s time. In Soseki, as in Japan, it’s the fact of nothing happening that makes for a tingle of expectation, a sense of imminent passion, and, in the end, the kind of privacy that stings.
Japan: ‘Emotions Under the Surface’ July 11, 2013