Posts Tagged ‘surplus humanity’

this is a good man.

this is a good man.

Let me begin my first real post by discussing a human being I truly adore: Haruki Murakami.

I was (and still am) a devoted reader of Iris Murdoch, who I plan to rave about later on. Iris Murdoch, for those of you who don’t know, wrote 26 novels. As a young lady I would seek her books out, going from store to store to see which ones they carried. Right next to Iris were Murakami’s novels, which are always an impressive collection as well. Time and again I would pick up a book of his and debate whether it was time to make the plunge. No one I knew had read anything by him, and I had little to go on but my own instincts. I would fall in love with a phrase, then find myself in weird waters and decide to wait. I gave in two years ago and bought Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It was fucking amazing and I entered crazy-devoted mode where I find everything by a certain artist and obsess over it (I do this a lot; with some things like Broken Social Scene it never stops).

So, why is Haruki Murakami so phenomenal? Like his books, it’s not so easy to sum up. He’s dreamy and all over the place. There’s magical realism, there are long digressions on music, and the protagonists love to sit around and cook some pasta while thinking about the world.  His female characters are unlike the mommy-saints or shrews littering so many of the novels and movies made by assholes: these ladies have their own lives and issues which do not resolve around the whims of the men they love. His protagonists are anxious outsiders who try to stay calm but are driven to figure out how to live in the world. That’s a pretty basic plot in literature, but the way Murakami writes it feels timeless.

To read Murakami is to know he is not a man who gets too concrete about things, which is why I highly recommend reading this gorgeous speech he gave in Israel earlier in 2009. In this speech he offers some insight into his own philosophy, specifically a breathtaking metaphor on The System, something his characters run up against in many of his books.  He sums it all up with this statement:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

I think in a world more interested in bailing out Wall Street than people who are losing their homes this is astute. I think in a world where tanks and armies are used to keep down those who want the people to have more control than dictators or corporations this is a sentiment which needs to be heard more often. Every time I walk past a television set to a cable news station I think something like this myself. Every time I listen to someone defending invasions and occupations, or arguing for the death penalty, or telling me why the poor deserve to be poor, or why certain people don’t deserve to govern themselves, I feel what Murakami said there. All of my reading and all of my learning have shown me that there’s not much hope for the poor, lonely and forgotten of the world. We live in a society where some of us have endless opportunities. It’s easy for this group (of which I am very much a part of) to spend their time on self-fulfillment: to travel endlessly, to spend our time seeking out new music, watching new movies and documentaries, making art and reading books and learning to cook and generally developing ourselves. Sometimes we may come up against The System, but generally we’re allowed to navigate our way through this life.

But there’s a whole other group of people in our world who are sometimes referred to as “surplus humanity” or “disposable people”. They live behind the wall in Palestine and they live in Southeast DC. They live in the slums of India and they lived in the ninth ward of New Orleans. They are all over the world, and they don’t get to choose of a life of personal development. Sometimes some of them get to have jobs where they work horrible hours and ruin their bodies so I can own nice jeans. If they’re ‘lucky’ they get paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, or get a bathroom break, or don’t have to work 14 hour days: then we can say they don’t work in sweatshop conditions and feel better about ourselves! It’s an improvement over being forced into prostitution or begging for food, absolutely. But such a lifestyle doesn’t offer a lot of chances to read great books or move on and work at a meaningful job doing something you love.

So while I write here, talking about the music and books I love and the causes I’m passionate about, it’s vital to remember that I was given the opportunity to feel and live this way. My lifestyle is utterly dependent on others who will never be able to pick up and move to a new city, or travel around their country in the summer. Everything we have and everything we do is bound up with those who have no choice but to struggle through their lives. Not so far away from each of us are those who are born into devastating poverty. People for whom college is not an option, people whose early childhood abuse has forever limited their IQs to 50 or 60.  People who mean well and are capable of love are born into drug addictions; as the pitiful opportunities for work present themselves they may turn back to drugs. People who are born behind real and figurative walls who watch their loved ones die in hospitals because medical supplies can’t get through. People who have no interest in politics or literature or great causes but only want to be able to live and love and die with some degree of peace. Our media doesn’t like to remember them, so it’s up to us.

So, as I move on from here and start writing more about all sorts of shit, maybe gathering some readers, here is the end of Murakami’s great speech. I think these are words worth remembering.

“We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong – and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.

That is all I have to say to you.

-Haruki Murakami 2/17/2009


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