A Mysterious Silence of All Their Own  村上春树:《飞机》

The reasonable time you will spend on reading this page is about 25 - 30 minutes. Please think of your plan for the next half-hour. If you are too busy at present, I advise you leave this page, right now, without wasting your precious time (for an unsatisfying stomach, for a crazy and demanding boss, for impatient but good friends awaiting, or for a not-too-bad sex at midnight). The novella itself needs only a period of 15 - 20 minutes for reading, and my comments will rob you of an additional 8-10 minutes from your life. I believe that reading is always an enjoyment, so please do not experience it in a haste.
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最新一期的美国书评文化杂志《纽约客》(The New Yorker)刊载了一部短篇小说:《飞机》(Airplane)。作者是日本的村上春树 (Haruki Murakami)。场景与动作的描写很细致,并用文字表达出人物复杂的内心活动。最有意思的,是构思。

刊登的是英译本,由哈佛大学东亚语言与文明系的高岛座席日本学教授 Jay Rubin 翻译,这个英译本的“村上招牌”——文字词句的精巧构造,详细入微的细节描写—— 并不比长期翻译村上作品的 Alfred Birnbaum 版本逊色。


与长篇小说相比较,对于场景和人物活动所作的细致叙述,于整篇文章情节之丰富具有更重要作用,其所蕴涵也必更精。在短篇小说里出现废话是最大的浪费。罗里罗嗦的介绍也是废话。现在开始(字号调大):TEXT or Printable Version.

If you have finished the reading, please proceed.

Like all other Murakami writings, Airplane presents a characteristic details-developing style, which is undoubtfully of Haruki Murakami.

My friend, Haitao, was the one from whom I first knew that there was a Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. He told me of his novels when we were both in PKU, and what impressed Haitao was exactly that details-developing style. "Murakami's writings are full of details": this was my first indirect impression of his novels. Later, I experienced it myself. Today, Airplane does not fail my expectation, either.

While I was reading the Airplane, starting from the very first paragraph, I saw, in my mind, everything described in the article. A movement I perceived, and a sigh I heard, and even their minds I read. Murakami is a skillful story teller. His way of expression and his selective use of language -- even where the object to be described is of a tender nature -- are powerful.

A powerful and effective detail presentation does not mean necessarily that it to be objective or "descriptive" (in its strict sense). Here is an example: "The two were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table. Aside from the occasional commuter train running on a nearby track, the neighborhood was quiet almost too quiet at times. Tracks without trains passing over them have a mysterious silence all their own". How vital an imagination power should be, in order to think out that last sentence? Speaking truthfully, should not "tracks without trains passing over them" always be silent? However, I did feel that "mysterious silence": it is not merely a blank silence, but a mysterious silence and a special one; it is a silence that exists only because of the very mysterious way that Murakami uses carefully his words to develop the sentence and the mood.

Maybe we can never arrive at a conclusion that what "mysterious silence" of "tracks without trains passing over them" is, but it does not matter. The biggest mystery in Airplane seems to be why this novella is titled "Airplane". Why?

At the end of the article, the airplane was the thing in the deep forest of the hearts of the woman and the young man. Who knows what could be in "the deep forest of the heart"? Anything could be.

"The airplane" was there in the bottom of the two hearts just because that "he" happened to talk to himself of "an airplane" in the bath room. So it does not bother whether it be an airplane or a cat or anything else dwelling down in their deep hearts. What is important, is the mood of the whole story. Murakami just happened to think of "airplane" at the time the writer wanted to find an object for the young man's "self-talk poem" and that word happened to become the title of the novella Airplane.


Quite reasonable, it sounds ... but, really?

Do you really think that he did have a habit of self-talking?  Aha!


If the young man did have a habit of talking to himself and he did spoke out, unconciously, a series of poem-like sentences with "airplane" in it, the above explanation is OK: that whatever he spoke out, Murakami would use that as the title, and therefore it does not matter whether this novella is called Airplane or Cat or Whateveritbe.

What if he did NOT talk to himself?

"Why this novella is called 'Airplane' and why Murakami arranged the young man to speak of 'airplane' to himself in the bath room"? This must be a question all readers would ask themselves at the completion of the reading.

My interpretation is: here the author Murakami was playing a trick with us. Murakami set a "trap", or laid down a hidden slim silver line which operated as the theme of the whole novella, waiting for his readers to figure out by themselves.

The "trap", according to my intepretation, was that the boy SAID NOTHING AT ALL. There was no airplane and no poem because he did not have the habit of self-murmuring at all. That strange "airplane poem" came out totally from the woman's mind; but not from the woman's "imagination".


I believe that every reader, including me, just couldn't let the "commuter train and rail tracks" -- which appeared repetitively in the story -- run away without any notice.

The house was near a commuter train route, and the trains passed by several times every day, and the woman glanced habitually at the clock in the bedroom, nearly "on-time glance" all the time: everytime she looked up the timing, there would be a train passing by the window soon. The woman HAD BEEN USED TO all these surroundings.


Let us putting these three together: 1) commuter trains passing by always on-time; 2) rail tracks lying in the road and never move; 3) and a woman who routinely checks clock always at the very correct time.

These, all combined together, gave me an impression: RESTRAINT.

The time schedule restraints the commuter train: it can never leave off the station as it (or the driver) would like.

The rail tracks restraint the train: it can never go even a slight bit of distance away from the predetermined route set by the tracks.

Such space and the life restraint that poor woman: she has to accept her life "as is": married, having a daughter, stuck forever to the husband she no longer loved and stuck forever to the family. It is just like that she has to accept a life in which she would hear trains passing by everyday at exactly the same time and would expect her daughter coming home everyday at exactly the same time (remember that strange "knock-at-door" and did the woman care at all?).

Routine, habit, rail tracks, scheduled commuters, these are symbols for the woman in Airplane.


The airplane is therefore a sharp contrast to all above. "Airplane flying ... though it flew,  the airplane's the sky". The airplane is free and flying everywhere at will. The airplane does not have a track to follow. The airplane does not have to pass by a certain window, every day at the same time. No matter how faraway the airplane has flown past (though it flew), the airplane is still in the sky; the airplane itself is that boundless sky (the airplane's the sky).

The airplane, is what the woman expects, not to have, but to be.


No wonder the poor young man could not remember he ever talked to himself of an airplane. No wonder the poor woman wet her beautiful lashes with tears while writing down "his poem" in the paper. The man did not utter any airplane to himself at all. The woman imagined all of that, but not from illusion, but from her own life and her own heart. It was the woman who "spoke" the airplane, but quitely and unconciously: because her mother has taught her that "a young lady does not talk to herself". No matter how strongly she hated to be bound by tracks, no matter how dearly she wished to live like an airplane, she did not tell herself and nearly not knowing that. She could only imagine that it was the man who talked to himself now and then of an airplane.

Even at the time she just finished a love-making with a fresh and energetic youth, the woman could not abadon the endless trauma of that "airplane". However, she did not know: it was HER airplane, it was the motor of her airplane that was calling herself all the time.

Here, at the end of the novelle, I felt the coldness. Unbearable coldness? Relentless coldness? No adjectives, it was just that I felt coldness. Absolute coldness.


So what is the thing "somewhere deep in a forest"? It has to be an airplane. That word, has to be the title of this novella.

The woman had been tied to her life and surroundings, to her ritual-like glancing at the clock. The surrounding had swallowed her, and she had become a part of it as well, a part of those commuter trains moving correctly and timely on the tracks. She might have even become a part of the tracks, though it was those tracks that bound and restrained herself in the very beginning.

Now she is those rail tracks lying silently there. Tracks without trains passing over them have a mysterious silence all their own.


Whenever there is no train passing over, the tracks have a mysterious silence all their own -- where it should have an airplane waiting to take off at anytime towards the boundless sky but now only an airplane deadly parking thereon, no more energy, no more sound. Forever, a mysterious silence.


Thus is all of Haruki Murakami: Airplane.