[Murakami] postponed his university studies to open a jazz club in suburban Tokyo, naming it Peter Cat, after one of his pets. In 1977, he and his wife, Yoko, moved the club to Tokyo’s central Sendagaya neighborhood, where he wrote his first two novels, which led to later books whose titles referenced doo-wop like the Dells’ “Dance Dance Dance” and jazz tunes like Fuller’s “Five Spot After Dark.” The music equally influenced his writing style, which he sometimes conceived in terms of jazz rhythm, improvisation, and performance.
While I was planning my first trip to Japan, I decided to visit the site of the club, which closed in 1981. […] Unfortunately, no one seemed to know the club’s address — not Murakami’s translator, Jay Rubin, nor the fan who runs Haruki Murakami Stuff. After comparing Google’s map of central Tokyo with a satellite shot from a Japanese website, I switched to street view and scanned block by block, searching for the corner building depicted in a photo I’d seen on the blog A Geek in Japan and checking off intersections on a hand-drawn map as I went. Finally, there it was: a drab three-story cement building. Outside, a first-floor, a restaurant had set up a sampuru display of plastic foods. Above it, an orange banner advertised dining cafe.
If you like mysteries or Murakami, you should read the whole article. (That means you, Kate.)
It is well-known that Beckett was supportive of a group of prisoners in the German jail of Lüttringhausen who put on a production of Waiting for Godot in 1954, and that he kept in touch with the convict who masterminded it, whom the editors identify as Karl-Franz Lembke. They print an extraordinarily emotional letter from Beckett to Lembke in October 1954:
My dear Prisoner
I read and re-read your letter.
Godot is from 48 or 49, I can’t remember. My last work is from 50. Since then, nothing. That tells you how long I have been without words. I have never regretted it so much as now, when I need them for you.
For a long time now, more or less aware of this extraordinary Lüttringhausen affair, I’ve thought often of the man who, in his cage, read, translated, put on my play. In all my life as man and writer, nothing like this has ever happened to me. To someone moved as I am, phrases come easily, but from a sloppy way of talking, not at all your style, given that I am no longer the same, and will never again be able to be the same, after what you have done, all of you. In the place where I have always found myself, where I will always find myself, turning round and round, falling over, getting up again, it is no longer wholly dark nor wholly silent.
That you should have brought me such comfort is all that I can offer you as comfort. I, who am what is called free to come and go, to gorge myself, to make love, I shall not be fatuous enough to dispense to you words of wisdom. To whatever my play may have brought you, I can add this only: the huge gift you have made me by accepting it.
Two years later Lembke, now released, was trying to put on a production of the play in Frankfurt, and letters to his German publisher show Beckett arranging permissions, sending money to help with the production, and suggesting Lembke as a translator for “a few easy poems.” But a footnote drily adds that these arrangements ended abruptly when it was discovered that Lembke had embezzled the funds of his acting company and absconded; and Cronin’s biography tells of an alarming visit by Lembke to Paris, where he moved in to Blin’s apartment and was kept strictly away from the Rue des Favorites. The story might make a play in itself, from a different kind of playwright.
There are bare winter days when the sea is kin
to mountain country, crouching in grey plumage,
a brief minute blue, long hours with waves like pale
lynxes vainly seeking hold in the beach gravel.
On such a day wrecks might come from the sea searching
for their owners, settling in the town’s din, and drowned
crews blow landward, thinner than pipe smoke.
(The real lynxes are in the north, with sharpened claws
and dreaming eyes. In the north, where day
lives in a mine both day and night.
Where the sole survivor may sit
at the borealis stove and listen
to the music of those frozen to death.)
But I think there are limits to how safe a progressive society can be when its conception of the individual seems to be shrinking and shrinking. It’s very hard to respect the rights of someone you do not respect. I think that we have almost taught ourselves to have a cynical view of other people. So much of the scientism that I complain about is this reductionist notion that people are really very small and simple. That their motives, if you were truly aware of them, would not bring them any credit. That’s so ugly. And so inimical to the best of everything we’ve tried to do as a civilization and so consistent with the worst of everything we’ve ever done as a civilization.
[…] To the extent that conservatives still defend the drug war (and there are fewer and fewer willing to do so), this is usually the way they go about it. Their argument is that drug use enslaves drug users with addiction, and that were drugs to be made legal, we’d all be robbed of the benefits of living in a populace of responsible citizens. Use and addiction would be common, thus shredding the moral fabric (or some other vague metaphor) that binds us all together. These arguments have been rehashed again since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. (See also Davids Brooks and Frum.)
I think there’s good evidence that this is wrong on its face. Jacob Sullum’s book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, for example, presents compelling empirical evidence that the vast, vast majority of people who use drugs—even hard drugs—do so recreationally, don’t become addicts, and inflict little to no harm on those around them. But even if we accept the argument that legalization could lead to widespread use, significantly more addiction, and whatever itinerant harm comes with both, these arguments almost always fail to acknowledge the catastrophic harm inflicted by drug prohibition itself. If we’re truly concerned about policies that “degrade human nature,” “damage and undermine families,” and “deprive the nation of competent, self-governing citizens,” it seems like we should consider not only the effects of illicit drugs themselves, but also the effects of prohibiting them.
I remember there was that series of catastrophic - that catastrophic time of 9/11, and then going to war and then Katrina, and these things that kept happening. And at that same time, I started to lose - I have several friends that died all at once. And I found myself compelled, like this weird, shameful compulsion to draw cute animals. That was all I could stand to draw. You know, just cry and draw cute animals.
And I’m drawing dancing dogs with crowns on, you know? And, like, really friendly ducks. But I found this monkey, this meditating monkey, and I found that once - when I drew that monkey, it’s not that it fixed the problem. But it did shift it a little bit, or provide me some kind of relief. And that’s when I started to think, maybe that’s what images do, because I believe in all my - with all my heart they have an absolute biological function, that they’re not decoration. They are not an elective, that they have a function.
And when I saw that just making these lines for this monkey over and over again, it reminded me very much of being 12 - about 12 and falling in love with the song that you couldn’t stop playing over and over and over again because it fixed something or it made the difficult time more bearable. So I am starting to look for places in the ways that people do that. And one of the ways people do that is in doodling. You’ll see people do it all the time. And I think what they’re doing is making a very boring meeting, for example, more bearable.
Even just by - just by - it’s just a micro shift, but it’s enough so that it can make it so they - you know, you don’t - you can stand to stay there and you won’t lose your job.
My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wogs,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.
Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.
There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader’s hand in the margin are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books.