ON THE FRAGILE DYNAMICS OF IDENTITY

AND THE BENEFITS OF JOURNALS

Books lead to other books. Read one and you’re reminded of something you read the other day. New material refers to past releases, either directly or in roundabout ways. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in the name of compelling art. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.

Welcome to Connection Degree Three …

Kafka On The Shore… The Face Of Another… The White Castle. Three outlandish stories on the process of writing and the effect it has on one’s sense of self.

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami is a story that deals with the past and how one reconciles with it. Miss Saeki, a side character, waits patiently for a person to help her make amends for the things she’s done; she wants to undo some of the damage, put things right and move on. Until the catalyst appears (Murakami loves using the Deus ex Machina, inspired by the ancient Greek tragedies) Miss Saeki writes down the story of her broken life, a meaningless account with no deeper point, she admits, but what’s important, she says, is the process of writing – having written things down, processed what happened, assembled all past events and actions in a grand narrative – which she’s done with diligence, her journal now consisting of three folders, reminiscent of

The Face Of Another by Kobo Abe, the story of a plastics scientist whose face was burned in a chemical accident. The scientist – who remains nameless throughout the story – chronicles the events following his accident in three notebooks, which he leaves to his wife so she can understand what happened. His account is reflective and convoluted, confusing at times, and riddled with contradictions. He describes his disfigurement, the identity crisis it led to and his eventual casting-out of society. Desperate to be accepted again, he explains, he sought a way to restore his face, transforming himself from a man with a hideous face to someone with no face (covered in bandages) to a man with an artificial face (a high-tech realistic mask of his own design), all of which exacerbate his identity crisis rather that resolve it, which is reminiscent of

The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk, a story about an Italian who is taken as a slave in the Ottoman Empire by a man named Hoja. As it turns out, the Italian and Hoja are dead ringers, a resemblance that Hoja manipulates to convince those around him that he is extremely knowledgeable. (The trick: appropriate the Italian’s extensive knowledge to dazzle the imperial Court and make an impression on the Sultan so that he may rise up the Ottoman ladder.) The ruse works. Hoja uses the Italian as a sounding board for his ideas, which he peddles around to make an impression and gain an advantage. At the same time, he taunts and ridicules his Italian slave in an effort to compensate for his inferiority complex. The Italian in turn, shrewd in his own right, uses Hoja to disseminate scientific ideas in the Ottoman empire, eager to mold a reality more suited to the world he left behind – at least that’s his intention. The two doppelgangers become entangled in a game of cat and mouse (more like twin vs. twin) that brings about an identity crisis, which is addressed by note-taking and transcripts, written-down events and anecdotes (the accounts of one’s frustrating and eventful life, which, as Hoja points out, makes little sense until a person writes everything down) which lead us back to

Kafka On The Shore and Miss Saeki’s attempt to come to terms with her questionable past through the act of keeping a journal.

And here we are. Kafka On The Shore… The Face Of Another… The White Castle: three outlandish novels that shed light on the fragile dynamics of identity and the benefits of writing about one’s life.

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