This was written in July 2016 for a college course. These were the feelings that I had then and didn’t edit them except for grammar errors I had. I plan on a follow up to the same stories for a comparison how my opinions and positions change.
The works are linked here.
* In what ways are Murakami’s and Tan’s work similar in theme or style?
I enjoyed reading Murakami’s Town of Cats. I am connected with the piece because it reminded me of my own childhood. Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary did not hit the same note for me. As interesting as it can be to read the ramblings of someone who has a mental problem, it is just something I would rather not. After reading both of these pieces, I did see a few common themes that I will discuss.
Madness / Isolation
Madness / Isolation:
The first topic I will discuss is madness. For Tengo, it begins with his train ride, where he begins reading Town of Cats. The story is simply about someone who is trying to discover themselves, and realize that they feel trapped and isolated from the world. The character leaves the train onto a station that no one else departs from. This could be a metaphor for slipping into madness. Which is not a far stretch as the town is abandoned, the character discovers the town is inhabited by cats, who go about the night as humans would. A few nights in, the cat’s notice something is odd from the smell of the character, and begin looking for him, they almost stumble upon him, but they do not see him. From the passage, “He has no idea what terrible fate awaits him if he is discovered, but he is sure that they will not let him leave the town alive,” (Murakami). The next day, the character goes to the train station, but the train never again stops at the station, he has departed into a world that he cannot be rescued from, again slipping into madness and isolation.
In the story, Diary of a Madman, the madness, and isolation are pretty evident. The “madman,” believes that everyone is out to get him, and eventually, they are obsessed with eating him. The beginning of the story says that the madman suffered from “persecution complex.” I was unaware of this, so I researched it a bit, and this is one of the passages I have found out about this.
‘The Persecution Complex’ is one of the most common psychological syndromes of the modern globalized and the globalized world. Being constantly in a hurry and feeling lack of time, the person can easily obtain its syndromes, which are namely the following:
– Permanent illusion of being spied at
– Apparent mistrust towards the rest of the world
– Fear of being caught
Having chosen the modern style of life, the person even does not suspect, what psychological consequences it might lead to, and, notably the acquisition of the ‘Persecution Complex’. The Complex might take different variations; however, it cannot disappear as long as the same pace of life is preserved. (Analytical).
The madman in the story clearly was suffering from this, and since the beginning of the story said that this was from the past, and he has since recovered from this, he must have endured a change in his life to facilitate the change.
In Town of Cats, the reflection for Tengo happened in several stages, mostly for revealing the details of his childhood to the readers. We see that Tengo’s father was very strict and was not capable of providing an environment that fostered his growth. Tengo’s father struggles with his own upbringing and clashes with Tengo often, one notable event is when Tengo asks his father to not take him on business trips during Sunday so he can study, read, and play. Reflecting on his own childhood, Tengo’s father states, “What do you know about a ‘normal life’? (Murakami).
The next reflection period is when Tengo is speaking with his father. Tengo begins to see that his father, while not perfect, did raise him and do what was necessary to provide him with the necessities to survive. Tengo’s reflection period will lead directly to his transformation.
In A Madman’s Diary, the reflection period seems to be the entire piece, as the brother constantly is thinking about all the people he thinks wants to devour his flesh. A key reflection period in his madness is the death of his sister. “My sister was eaten by my brother, but I don’t know whether mother realized it or not” (Xun). Obviously, the chance of his brother killing and eating his sister is unlikely. As he reflects deeper, the brother believes that he had also unknowingly taken part of eating the remains of his sister. “It is possible that I ate several pieces of my sister’s flesh unwittingly, and now it is my turn,”… (Xun).
The final theme I will discuss is the transformation. In A Madman’s Diary, we do not actually witness the transformation, but it occurred due to the beginning of the text stating the brother was cured of his illness. The transformation had to be enough of a change that he was either released back into the world with everyone else or into a different facility, possibly plagued with a lesser version of his complex. We are not given that information in the text.
In Town of Cats, the transformation occurs after Tengo reflects on the history of his relationship with his father, the flight of his mother from his life, and moving from being in a state where he hates his father, to one where he feels the willingness to continue visiting him. Tengo will have a lot to digest on the train ride back home, as well as in the future. He is aware he might never know what happened to his mother. “He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time” (Murakami). Tengo was given a different set of answers than he expected to receive, due to his father’s mental condition. One of the lines that I enjoyed was “That is why I said, ‘If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation’” (Murakami).
I would rather hear your thoughts about in what way is OUR society cannibalistic? Do you think the recent influx of zombie/post-apocalyptic is a reflection of our current state of mind?
Our society is cannibalistic because we believe that we are indeed a higher form of life than anything else on this planet. We have so much potential for our ability to use rational and logical applications of science and thinking. Yet we have waged a constant war that has consumed the lives of billions. Think back to 9/11, just shy of 3,000 people lost their lives, we are still fighting that conflict, with estimates of up to or exceeding one million casualties on the “enemy,” side. Think of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, we dropped nuclear weapons with no care or concern for the lives of innocent civilians. The firebombing of Japanese and German cities, the list goes on and on. We do not care about killing as long as we think it is justified.
Other examples include veterans, the remnants of who fight these wars, are so easily discarded. How many scandals have we seen from the VA? You can look to our prisons, where virtually no form of rehabilitation is conducted, and in many cases the prison system is for-profit. I point to the “Kids for Cash scandal,” for a perfect example.
As far as the zombie craze is concerned. In the first world, we have no problems to deal with. We do not have to worry about starving, or being killed by the elements unless you are poor. We do not fear being eaten by a lion, we are simply going about our lives, purchasing new cell phones every year because the old one is already broken. We still have our primitive side, our animalistic side that allowed us to rise through the ranks of the animal kingdom. We need challenges, we need fear, it is a biological need, just as our need to pass on our DNA, and essentially, living forever through that. Everyone thinks the zombie apocalypse would be just dandy until you realize what that really means. For my family, we would all be dead, plain and simple. My wife and I both have severe medical conditions, I have serious physical limitations.
I really enjoy watching shows that place normal people in situations such as living in an 1800’s style, and it is amusing to see how quickly people break down. Imagine dealing with a disease with no medical care. Not being able to communicate with people. Who still has skills such as building a fire, cooking and creating shelter? What happens to the people living in the cities? Remote deserts? Alaska?
Analytical Psychology. Types of Psychological Complexes. WordPress. 8 April 2011. Web. 20 July 2016.
Murakami, Haruki. Town of Cats. The New Yorker. 5 September 2011. Web. 20 July 2016.
Xun, Lu. A Madman’s Diary. Marxists Internet Archive. April 1918. Web. 20 July 2016.