A Tale for the Time Being: East/West

I have so much to talk about from the last portion of our reading, but one of the passages that struck me most was Nao’s father’s suicide note. At first, I didn’t see the difference between the two sentences of the note:

“I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and hugged it when it has no more to offer.

I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and hugged it when I have no more to offer” (283-284).

Then, I saw that “it has,” referring to life, was changed to “I have.” Nao remembers that the first passage is from Socrates, and according to her father, demonstrates the Western Mind. The Western way of approaching life is much more hedonistic, whereas the Eastern manner of living seems to be rooted in the giving of oneself for the benefit of the cosmic order. Haruki #2 seems to subscribe more to the latter mode of living, seeing his suicide as correct because he cannot offer anything productive to the world or his family. The great irony is that simply living is productive to the world, because his life means so much to Nao. Jiko brings this to Haruki #2’s attention with her death poem. I’m left wondering how characters throughout the novel navigate this Eastern/Western binary. Before Haruki #1 dies, he feels closer to Eastern philosophy, though he continues to reference Western philosophers. Nao claims a Western identity and goes on to study French, but becomes increasingly reverent toward Zen Buddhist traditions and notions. Haruki #2 seems to merge East and West with his new job, and this allows him to achieve psychic health.

Is Ozeki putting forth the possibility of a truly hybrid, cosmopolitan identity? Is the only possibility for a happy ending found in merging cultures and overcoming binaries?

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