I recently mentioned that I have been reading Kobo Abe's The Woman in the Dunes and I think I also mentioned that I was less than impressed with it.
Kobo Abe is one of Japan's most celebrated modern authors. I can see why. His writing is simple yet it doesn't lack in poetics and philosophy. There's a quiet beauty that breathes between the words. You have to lean down far to hear it. The Woman in the Dunes is one of his most famous works, internationally renowned and critically acclaimed. For me, it's a snoozefest.
The characters are a bit boring, for one. Which I guess is part of the point. The story reeks of existentialism - the absurdity of life, the meaningless acts we take part in to dress it up. There are only two main characters, a man and a woman. The woman, as the title dictates, lives in a sand dune. Well, it's like a giant sand pit and she has a house at the bottom of it. Because of some pseudo scientific reason, the village that she is a part of is haunted by the threat of being buried under the ridiculous sand that accumulates there. So, for some more pseudo scientific reasons, the women and several other families spend their lives pushing the sand so that it doesn't bury the village.
The man, an outsider to the village, is a school teacher and amateur bug collector. He comes to this sandy area in search of bugs that hang out in the sand. The villagers trick him into going into the sand pit that the woman lives in. Then they leave him there with no way of getting out. The point is that he's supposed to help her push this sand and thus help her save the village. But he doesn't go down without a fight. After about a hundred pages of whiny brooding and failed escape attempts, the man's spirit is eventually broken.
So here we have two characters with different lives. But essentially, their lives are the same. The woman's whole life is dedicated to pushing the sand away just so she can live another day. But she lives another day only to push more sand. It's Sisyphus at the beach essentially. Here comes this guy, he sees the way she lives and says, "This is no way to live." And from his world of societal norms and logical boundaries, it probably does look pretty silly. However, I think Abe draws a nice subtle parallel here. The man's life is pretty pointless too. He gets up, goes to work, has a wife that he doesn't really love, collects bugs, and rinse wash repeat. Instead of pushing actual sand, he is pushing the sand of society to save not the village but some greater abstract equivalent (being a contributing member to Japanese society).
Somewhere in the middle of the book, between all the brooding and plotting, we get a glimpse of what these two people could have. The woman seems to recognize it - now that the man is in her life, she can do things other than push sand. Also she can enjoy the comapny of another person. This, to me, seems more like a good life. Sure, she still lives every day to push more and more sand but at least there's an upside. There's someone to love and a chance to do something new.
This isn't quite good enough for man which is both reasonable and not. I mean, he had a nice life back home that consisted of bug collecting and working for a paycheck. Which is where the contradiction lies. These things that the man deems important are of no more consequence than what the woman does with her life. He sees what he does as more important, really, only because society has taught him to believe that. In reality, the things he was living for were just mundane and futile. They are both contributing to the world's that they live in. What he doesn't recognize is that they come from vastly different worlds. He is infuriated by her dedication to the village and the sand but cannot recognize that he too is guilty of an equal, unreasonable dedication - to his blah life in his blah hometown. I mean, seriously, so what. He's an apathetic teacher who collects bugs. What great meaningful contribution has he made to anything? It is arguable that the woman's life, though more tedious, is of greater importance since she is part of a unit that together saves the village on a daily basis. However, she gets no reward other than the gift of living another day. Which makes her either a) stupid or b) entirely more noble than the man could ever wish to be.
However, on the other hand, what is it of anyone's business to decide what makes a life worthy? Honestly, who is anyone to question what it is that makes the man happy? The man has built himself a life and no matter how trivial or stupid it may seem, it is the life that makes him most comfortable. It is the life that he has strived for and it is the life that keeps calling to him. You can say that he is a product of society's rules and norms but so what. We are all creatures of nurture as much as we are of nature. We are all influenced by someone or something and no one can cast the first stone in this.
Anyway, so the characters are boring. But I think that's the point. This crazy event didn't happen to two wildly exciting individuals - because in the end, all people are equally boring and equally exciting. We are all just flesh and oxygen, at some point. And not all great stories happen to great heroes and princesses. I don't know if Abe meant for this specifically, these are my own ruminations.
I take it back, the philosophy is kind of interesting. It gets you thinking without realizing that you're thinking about it. I should stop being a weanie.
Anyway, I'm adding a few more things to my goals of 2010:
1) Open up an etsy account and start selling my homemade crafts. Simple stuff for right now. Jewelry, journals, maybe a few other things like boxes and decorations. One step at a time. I hope to post some pictures of things I have already made to livejournal and facebook so I can get some good old fashioned feedback from friends.
2) Learn an instrument. I have always said I wanted to do this and I have never done it. Zvi taught me how to play one cord on the guitar this weekend and it made me feel like a rock star. So corny. Anyway, I'm thinking of walking into a music store and saying, "I have small hands and a thin wallet, what's a good instrument for me?" I hope it's a harmonica!
3) Learn a little bit of a language. I'm thinking Japanese. Why not.
- Current Location:NYC
- Current Mood: ambitious!