Elephant

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With the Senryu poet I call the Rice Cooker who spawned the O-man, or just plain Dad.

Today’s entry

This fall I’m teaching a course on Readings in Modern Japanese, and we will focus on the works of MURAKAMI Haruki. I am supposed to get a new TA and so I have to figure out how to divide the work. Hmm…

In the course, we will read his short stories, and I have divided them into social commentary and postmodernism. Haruki often uses animals in his social commentary–something he would likely deny, he doesn’t “consciously” use animals to make any kind of statement, nor is he trying to make any kind of statement at all. I believe him–that is the genius of a gifted writer. The following is an example.

What do you think the elephant might represent? Consider how the author characterizes the elephant. What is his reaction to her? How does he describe her?

Note: The translation is mine and is rough. If there are any notable errors, please point them out to me >how embarrassing!<

ハイヒールHigh Heel

村上春樹、『夢で会いましょう』(講談社、1986)より

その象はとても素敵なハイヒールをはいていて地下鉄に乗っていた。左手にはしっかりと切符を握りしめ、右手にはベストセラー小説を二冊も抱えていた。象がベストセラー小説を読むなんてそれまで知らなかったから、僕はとても驚いたものだった。

The elephant was riding the subway, wearing very elegant high heels. In her left hand, she firmly gripped her ticket and in her right she was carrying two best-selling novels. Unitl that moment, I had no idea that elephants could do things like read best-sellers, so I was very surprised indeed.

でもとにかくそれはラッシュ・アワーだったから、乗客はみんな象の存在を迷惑に感じていた。とくに象にハイヒールのかかとで踏みつけられたりしたら、もうたまったものじゃない。おうおう、なんて叫びながら床を転げまわるくらいではとても済まないのだ。だから象のまわりはドーナツみたいな形にぽっかりと空白になっていた。象の方もそれを意識してか、とても申しわけなさそうな顔をしていた。

In any event, it was rush hour, and all the passengers felt inconvenienced by the presence of the elephant. Certainly, if an elephant stepped on you with the heels of its high heels, you wouldn’t be able to stand it. You couldn’t get away with just moaning, “oh, oh,” and rolling around on the floor. So around the elephant, like a doughnut, an empty margin had popped open. Perhaps sensing this, even the elephant betrayed a very apologetic face.

たしかに象がハイヒールをはいてラッシュ・アワーの地下鉄に乗るというのは、いくらなんでも非常識な話である。しかしそれでも、その象にはどことなく憎めないところがあった。だから僕は象にむかってちょっとにっこりと笑いかけたりもしたのだ。べつに象と寝てみたいと思ったわけではない。

To be sure, an elephant riding a subway in high heels during rush hour shows a lack of common sense, no matter how you look at it. And yet, there was something about the elephant you just couldn’t hate. And so, I went as far as to look at her and do something like give her a little smile. It’s not that I wanted to sleep with the elephant or anything.

象は僕が笑いかけたことでずいぶんホッとしたようだった。

The elephant seemed to be quite relieved from the smile I gave her.

「御茶ノ水はずっと先ですか?」と象は僕に訊ねた。

“Is Ochanomizu still very far?” the elephant inquired of me.

「えーと、四つ先ですねえ」と僕は答えた。

“Let’s see. Four more stops, I think.”

「あら、そう」と象は顔をぽっと赤らめた。「どうも、すみません」

“Oh, I see,” the elephant blushed. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

「失礼ですけれど」と僕は思い切って象に訊ねてみた。「そのハイヒールはどこでお買いになったんですか?」

“Excuse me, but…” Throwing caution to the wind, I inquired to see what would happen. “Where did you happen to purchase those high heels?”

象は一瞬唖然とした顔で僕を見た。「どうしてそんなことお訊きになるんですか?」

The elephant looked at me shocked for a moment. “Why would you ask me such a thing?”

「いや、とても素敵なハイヒールだから妹に買ってやろうと思って」もちろん僕には妹なんていない。

“Oh no. They’re so splendid, so I just thought I’d buy some for my sister.” Of course, I don’t have a sister or anything.

象は安心したように微笑んだ。きっとハイヒールのことで何か批難されると思ったのだろう。

The elephant smiled as if relieved. She probably thought that she would certainly be criticized in some way about the high heels.

「これでしたら、銀座のヨシノヤで売っておりましてよ」

“You mean these? They sell them at Yoshinoya in Ginza.”

象は御茶ノ水の駅で地下鉄を降りた。降りる前にドアのところで立ちどまって僕に手を振った。

The elephant got off the subway at the Ochanomizu Station. Before she stepped off, she stopped at the door and waved her hand.

象の姿が見えなくなると僕はあくびっをひとつしてから本の続きを読んだ。象の世界では僕は結構人気があるのだ。

When I could no longer see the figure of the elephant, I yawned once and continued to read the book where I left off. In the world of elephants, I’m quite popular.

So what might the elephant represent? Two ideas come immediately to mind if you consider how the elephant is characterized. The author is surprised to see her on the subway, and surprised to see that she reads books. How do the other passangers view her? With disdain. She is a nuisance, no stands near her, they are afraid of being stepped on by her. Notice anything else?

I initially thought it was about the handicapped, particuarly in a wheelchair: awkward presence, crushing toes, reading books. Others have thought it was foreigners: large, unable to read Japanese, unapproachable. I’m not sure. Interpretation is left to the reader. But the last line kinda makes me wonder if it might actually be a reference to foreigners, since Haruki is actually very popular in translation… Any thoughts?

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