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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Gatekeepers : the emergence of world literature and the 1960s
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Figuring the Gatekeeper

When he wrote Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985), Murakami split the quest function that he had given to boku in his earlier work. There would be two characters in parallel plots, a technique that allows a questing hero to probe the apparent solidarity of the story-world. The first story would be “Japanese” in tone and narrated by the polite first- person watashi, the other “foreign” and narrated by the more chauvinistic boku, who is the “committed” character. There is in bokus world “an increasingly malevolent character” called The Gatekeeper, who is “intent on separating boku from his memories.”23 The “hard-boiled wonderland” of watashis near future is Tokyo, and the man-made “end of the world” in which boku dwells is in watashi’s subconscious. This is plausible because watashi is a cerebral type: in fact he goes to meet a “Professor,” emblematic of academia’s role in the process of literary validation, of which Murakami was becoming aware.

The link between watashi and the professor is again a nubile teenager. There are many pastoral associations that, as Rubin and others have noted, involve wells and vertical links that can connect the two worlds (and prefigure the vertical imaginary of the publishing world in 1Q84). Boku arrives at the dreamlike Town, which is surrounded by a high Wall. Before he can enter, the Gatekeeper cuts away boku’s sentient shadow, which he uses to watch over the Town’s unicorn-1 ike “beasts.” The Gatekeeper assigns boku the task of “Dreamreader.”24 Boku then meets the Librarian, a demure young woman who assists him in his work, which consists of releasing dreams from beast skulls. Finally his shadow, now a prisoner of the Gatekeeper, asks boku to map the Town so that the two of them can escape.

Some critics thought that Murakami had veered into cyborg or cyberpunk fiction.25 That might have been profitable genre-blending, but it misses the larger import. Boku’s map of the town, at the meta-fictional level, is an authenticating “translation” created by an estranged narrator (boku is shadowless, shorn of his customary Japanese-ness). In terms of the Murakami oeuvre, the most important part of the novel is the explicit creation of the “Gatekeeper,” who cuts away Boku’s sentient shadow and uses it to keep watch over the town’s beasts, literal and metaphoric. Murakami focalized the function of gatekeeping. This Gatekeeper has complete control of the System, to which he allows or denies entry. There is nothing outside it, only the Gatekeeper regulating supply and demand like the invisible hand of Adam Smith’s market imaginary. He is possibly a metonym for Japanese zai- batsu, the vertically integrated companies that were much in the news in the 1980s. Japan was an economic superpower, and as Rebecca Suter notes, “references to trade imbalances will occur in almost all reviews of Murakami’s work in this period.”26

Thirty years later, it is hard not to see this Gatekeeper as anticipating the market system in World Literature. But what is more extraordinary is that Murakami settles the task of finding cultural equivalences, the function that he himself was seizing, on gatekeeping. “By refusing social commitment of a traditional kind,” Suter writes, “and accepting the proposition that books are, among other things, commercial objects, that have to appeal to the public to be read, he contests the myth of art as necessarily rebelling against the dominant economic and political system.”27 Gatekeeping may seem to be denaturing, in other words, but its market dynamism works.

 
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