reading notes from “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami

Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color. The only real interest he had was train stations

When he wasn’t thinking about death, his mind was blank. It wasn’t hard to keep from thinking. He didn’t read any newspapers, didn’t listen to music, and had no sexual desire to speak of. Events occurring in the outside world were, to him, inconsequential. When he grew tired of his room, he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood or went to the station, where he sat on a bench and watched the trains arriving and departing, over and over again.

“Having set, specific goals makes life easier,” Sara said.

“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

“Some people write string quartets, some grow lettuce and tomatoes. There have to be a few who build railroad stations, too,” Tsukuru said. “And I wouldn’t say I have a passion for it, exactly. I just have an interest in one specific thing.”

When it came to which Chinese character he would choose to write out “Tsukuru,” however—the character that meant “create,” or the simpler one that meant “make” or “build”—his father couldn’t make up his mind for the longest time. The characters might read the same way, but the nuances were very different. His mother had assumed it would be written with the character that meant “create,” but in the end his father had opted for the more basic meaning

“Franz Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s from his Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland.’ ”

“ ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately.”

Lazar Berman.

“Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you also should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries. What’s really important in life is always the things that are secondary.

“So you don’t much like anything that’s at odds with logic?” “Apart from whether I like it or not, I don’t reject thinking about things that aren’t logical. It’s not like I have some deep faith in logic. I think it’s important to find the point of intersection between what is logical and what is not.”

“The only way you know if it’s real or not, the only way to prove it, is by actually making the deal. Isn’t that how it works?” Midorikawa nodded. “Exactly. Unless you take the leap, you can’t prove it. And once you actually make the leap, there’s no need to prove it anymore. There’s no middle ground. You either take the leap, or you don’t. One or the other.” “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”

“Well, we’re speaking in hypotheticals here. If we wanted to pursue this further, we’d need some concrete examples. Like a bridge needs girders. The further you go with a hypothesis, the more slippery it gets. Any conclusions you draw from it become more fallacious.”

“I don’t believe in anything. Not in logic, or illogic. Not in God, or the devil. No extension of a hypothesis, nothing like a leap. I just silently accept everything as it is. That’s my basic problem, really. I can’t erect a decent barrier between subject and object.”

“At the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity. A special power, you could call it. Perceiving the colors that people emit is merely one function of that power, but at the root of it all is an ability to expand your consciousness. You’re able to push open what Aldous Huxley calls ‘the doors of perception.’ Your perception becomes pure and unadulterated. Everything around you becomes clear, like the fog lifting. You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you’ve never seen before.”

Perception is complete in and of itself; it doesn’t reveal itself in an outward, concrete manifestation. There are no tangible benefits to it, either. It’s not easy to explain in words. You have to experience it to understand. One thing I can say, though, is that once you see that true sight with your own eyes, the world you’ve lived in up till now will look flat and insipid. There’s no logic or illogic in that scene. No good or evil. Everything is merged into one. And you are one part of that merging. You leave the boundary of your physical body behind to become a metaphysical being. You become intuition.

“It’s a waste of time to think about things you can’t know, and things you can’t confirm even if you know them. In the final analysis, that’s no different from the slippery slope of hypotheses you were talking about.”

Gray is a mixture of white and black. Change its shade, and it can easily melt into various gradations of darkness.

How much of this is real? he wondered. This wasn’t a dream, or an illusion. It had to be real. But it lacked the weight you’d expect from reality.

a mystery, another unanswered question to stuff deep inside the “Pending” drawer in his unconscious.

“It’s sort of weird if you think about it,” Sara said. “We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather that information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people.”

brainwashing course to educate your typical corporate warriors. They use a training manual instead of sacred scriptures, with promotion and a high salary as their equivalent of enlightenment and paradise. A new religion for a pragmatic age. No transcendent elements like in a religion, though, and everything is theorized and digitalized. Very transparent and easy to grasp. And quite a few people get positive encouragement from this. But the fact remains that it’s nothing more than an infusion of the hypnotic into a system of thought that suits their goal, a conglomeration of only those theories and statistics that line up with their ultimate objectives

“Cell phones are so convenient that they’re an inconvenience,”

“You’ve assessed the tasks that you don’t like to do, or the things that you don’t like to have done to you, analyzed them, and used this to launch your business. That was the starting point?” Aka nodded. “Exactly. It’s not hard to think about what you don’t want to do or have done to you. Just like it’s not hard to think about what you would like to do. It’s a difference between the positive and the negative. A question of emphasis.”

“One other thing I learned from working in a company was that the majority of people in the world have no problem following orders. They’re actually happy to be told what to do. They might complain, but that’s not how they really feel. They just grumble out of habit. If you told them to think for themselves, and make their own decisions and take responsibility for them, they’d be clueless. So I decided I could turn that into a business. It’s simple. I hope this makes sense?”

“I compiled a list of things I dislike, things I don’t like to do, and things I don’t want others to do. And based on that list, I came up with a program to train people who follow orders from above, so that they could work more systematically. I guess you could call it an original idea, but in part I ripped off elements from elsewhere. The experience I had myself, the training I received as a newly hired bank clerk, was extremely valuable. I added methods taken from religious cults and personal development seminars, to spice things up. I researched companies in the U.S. that had been successful in the same sort of business. I read a lot of books on psychology as well. I included elements from manuals for new recruits in the Nazi SS and the Marines. In the half year after I quit my job, I literally immersed myself in developing this program. I’ve always been good at focusing on one particular task.”

We’re not aiming at producing zombies. We want to create a workforce that does what their company wants them to do, yet still believes they’re independent thinkers.

“Once you get the knack, this kind of business isn’t so hard. Just print up a glossy pamphlet, string together some high-blown self-advertising language, and get some smart office space in a high-end part of town. Purchase attractive furnishings, hire capable, sophisticated staff members, and pay them very well. Image is everything

“The truth sometimes reminds me of a city buried in sand,” Aka said. “As time passes, the sand piles up even thicker, and occasionally it’s blown away and what’s below is revealed.

“I know you’re aware of this,” Aka said, “but although Nagoya’s one of the largest cities in Japan, in a way it’s not all that big. The population’s large, industries are doing well, and people are affluent, yet the choices you have are unexpectedly limited. It’s not easy for people like us to live here and still be honest with ourselves and free.… Kind of a major paradox, wouldn’t you say? As we go through life we gradually discover who we are, but the more we discover, the more we lose ourselves.”

“It’s the first thing I always say at our new employee training seminars. I gaze around the room, pick one person, and have him stand up. And this is what I say: I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We’re going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I’m sorry, but it’s already decided. It can’t be changed. I pull out a huge, scary pair of pliers from my briefcase and show them to everybody. Slowly, making sure everybody gets a good look. And then I say: Here’s the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it’s going to be—your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be? You have ten seconds to make up your mind. If you’re unable to decide, we’ll rip off both your fingernails and your toenails. I start the count. At about eight seconds most people say, ‘The toes.’ Okay, I say, toenails it is. I’ll use these pliers to rip them off. But before I do, I’d like you to tell me something. Why did you choose your toes and not your fingers? The person[…]

This is personal conjecture, but I think six fingers are too many for human beings. For what the hand has to do, five fingers are all that are necessary, and the most efficient number. So even if having six fingers is a dominant gene, in the real world it only manifests in a tiny minority. In other words, the law of selection trumps the dominant gene.” After holding forth at such length, Sakamoto stepped back into silence. “That makes sense,” Tsukuru said. “I get the feeling it’s connected with the process of how the world’s counting systems have mainly standardized, moving from the duodecimal system to the decimal system.”

The topic turned to lost property, more specifically to the huge amount of lost-and-found items left behind on trains and in stations, and the unusual, strange items among them—the ashes of cremated people, wigs, prosthetic legs, the manuscript of a novel (the stationmaster read a little bit of it and found it dull), a neatly wrapped, bloodstained shirt in a box, a live pit viper, forty color photos of women’s vaginas, a large wooden gong, the kind Buddhist priests strike as they chant sutras …

“Sibelius, Aki Kaurismäki films, Marimekko, Nokia, Moomin.”

Just like you don’t build a railway station on a hunch.

All sorts of sounds mixed together into a sharp, terrible static deep within his ears, the kind of noise that could only be perceived in the deepest possible silence. Not something you can hear from without, but a silence generated from your own internal organs. Everyone has their own special sound they live with, though they seldom have the chance to actually hear it.

One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.

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