Breaking our Brains (The Elephant Vanishes)

In the short story “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami, our nameless narrator’s world is rocked by the absurdity of an elephant vanishing with no trace. He fixates on this event especially because he was the last person to see the elephant and his caretaker. In this time, he saw the elephant and caretaker impossible shifting sizes, possibly leading to the elephant’s escape.

The narrator’s regimented world of breakfast routines, reading the paper front to back, and selling monotonous kitchen supplies is entirely changed by this absurd, inexplicable occurrence. The rest of the world seems to follow suit. Newspapers cover the disappearance of the elephant and try to propose reasonable solutions to the event. However, no hypothesis makes sense, and people eventually lose interest in the story.

This story mimics our own news cycle. A terrible, most often complex, event will occur, the public will react, attention will gradually shift away, and the issue is left unsolved. Issues that require great critical thinking will be left untouched as people do not want to or cannot think outside of the binaries that the world has set into place. If an easy, readily available solution was given in response to the issue, the public’s unease would be solved. Because this is not the case, public attention wanes, news publications grow less and less involved with the story, and the issue is left untouched by those who are not dedicated to solving it.

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