Adaptating Stories

Although The God of Small Things primarily details the tragedy and resolution of Estha and Rahel’s family, it is also about Ayemenem as a whole and how it changes alongside the focal characters. As Roy recounts the daily life in Ayemenem both in the past and present, she includes kathakali performances prominently in two sections.

In the first, she tells of how a five-star hotel chain had bought the Heart of Darkness. As a five-star hotel chain would do, they renovate everything about the area (except the smell) and even incorporate elements of the local history. Of course, these snippets of history are primarily used to sell the hotel to the guests, with “Traditional Kerala Umbrella,” “Traditional Bridal Dowry-box,” and the hotel’s name itself, “Heritage,” serving as the primary examples of the commodification of history and culture (120). Of course, the selling off of culture doesn’t end there, as the hotel even incorporates kathakali performances; however, the hotel itself takes liberates to slash “six-hour classics” to “twenty-minute cameos” (121). To add insult to injury, the performances are staged by the swimming pool, wherein the guests seem to give little attention to the already lobotomized performances; Kunti revealing her secret to Karna is truncated to less than a sentence. Roy’s depiction of “Heritage” seems to demonstrate the commodification of stories and culture that ultimately trades any substance or meaning for shallow excitement.

In contrast, Roy later presents us with performers from the Heart of Darkness. They recognize “their turning to tourism to stave of starvation” and as a result, “they stopped at the temple to ask the pardon of their gods” (218). As their performance’s purpose changes from mere survival to self-actualization. As just one example, Roy sums up the Kathakali Man as “the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument” (219). Although Roy then recounts the increasing unwantedness of the Kathakali Man as “He becomes a Regional Flavor” just to survive, she then expands what was once a fragment of a sentence into nearly three pages of story. Karna’s despair, comfort, shock, and resolution and Kunti’s identity and purpose is brought to life while the Love Laws once again play a major role. The performance, now done justice, lends insight both into culture and into our principle character’s past.

Karna and Kunti

Over time, all stories are adaptable. Whether that be through simple translation or through massive shifts like a different media, all stories change. The Bible has been adapted into movies, television, vegetable cartoons, etc. (not even mentioning the thousands of translations), the story of Buddha has been made into movies, and even modern stories like “Forrest Gump” and “The Office” receive adaptations. For all these adaptations, something about the story must change. Whether that be a phrase that now becomes lost in translation or a theme that no longer resonates, adaptations often lose substance.

Such is the case with the kathakali performances. Their adaptation into mere hotel entertainment achieves a purpose, it certainly adds value to the hotel and garners the performers their livelihood, but it loses the emotional weight and magic that made the original performances matter. As such, the hotel acts are horrible adaptations because in their hollow pursuit of the appearance of seeming cultured, they’ve lost cultre.

Better than the original?

However, not all adaptations are bad adaptations. Adaptations are created for a reason, that being a new purpose: for foreigners who can’t read in another language, for younger audiences, for more bombastic special effects and acting, etc. Adaptations are necessary because originals are often too rigid to allow for what the author or audience wants.

This sentiment leads me to Roy’s adaptation of Kunti and Karna by the riverside. While Rahel and Estha watch the original performance, we read Roy’s adapted version. In this case, Roy adapts the performance because it’s a simple necessity of an author to condense things down until nothing but what’s necessary is told. Of course, Roy’s telling of the story doesn’t explain the lore, voices, etc. of the performance, but it brings what Roy needs. Parallel to Rahel and Estha’s story, Roy’s version of Kunti and Karna tells of despair, familial connection and conflict, and the Love Laws that both conveys the emotion of the original story and ties it together with the overall story. Roy’s adaptation is a good (or at least better) adaptation because it cuts down the story while still keeping the original themes intact and connecting those themes back to her story.

The two adaptations, at the hotel and at the temple, demonstrate how we ought to tell and retell stories. Often, we must retell stories — in Roy’s case she can’t literally show us the six-hour performance — however, we must take care so that whatever adaptation we create, watch, and/or read is something that’s both faithful enough to the original and different enough to serve a distinct purpose lest we, like tourists, merely produce and consume rather than tinker, re-imagine, and learn.

Orientalism and Asianness

If it’s not already abundantly clear from my name and appearance, I’m not actually Midwestern.

I’m actually … Southern!

Well, in name only anyways, I moved out of Arkansas when I still had all of my baby teeth, and I’ve lived in Oak Park ever since. But, this answer isn’t satisfactory right? To cut to the chase, I’m also Chinese, my parents were Chinese immigrants, and on the weekends (and if I’m lucky the weekdays too) we eat store-bought dumplings and pickled vegetables. However, I’ve always resisted being “Asian”.

After reading and watching about Said and Orientalism, the point I took home was the pervasiveness and strength of the Orient. While now, I doubt anyone regularly uses such antiquated terms, I feel like it’s undeniable that the idea persists even to this day. And, consequently, I believe we can most clearly see its effects in the nebulous concepts of Asia and Asianness.

Ah yes, Aisa, constituting ~60% of the world’s population and culturally distinct nations from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan, Taiwan, India and Myanmar.

I don’t like Asia, but that’s mostly because I feel like the term is ever specific enough to warrant its use. However, for most people, I don’t think that this Asia, the geographical Asia, is the Asia that people refer to. Just in daily dialogue, people would likely never talk about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. as though they were Asian nations but rather Middle Eastern. This example only serves to illustrate how Asia is rarely a useful descriptor for regular use. That being said, Asia still exists a continent and an idea that still exists, despite the fact that Asian nations hold little similarities besides their being colonized by Europeans (specifically mostly the English and French) and different than Europe.

As Said stated, the Orient and Occident are constructs created by Europe to, among many things, define themselves in contrast to the Other. I hope that I’m not taking too many liberties when I say that Asia is just the modern version of this construct. And following the doctrine of Orientalism, it still lives not as just a stereotype or myth but in academia. Although I’m sure there are other examples, the most poignant one to me is the race questions on the SAT. On the SAT, race (ethnicity is also used, but only to distinguish Latino, Spanish, or Hispanic origin) is separated into:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines origin)*
  • Black or African American
  • White (including Middle Eastern origin)
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

Although I can understand the desire to limit categorization to a meaningful few options, I still don’t feel like label of Asian is specific enough to hold any worth. They may also be using the Asian category also due to the similarity in test score range in order to give their scores some context for colleges (e.g. those in the Asian test category tend to test higher than those in another); however, the fact the Asian label is still being used illustrates the commonality of Asia and Asianness.

For all these observations, I feel like I should summarize why the label of Asia and Asianness matters.

For one, in daily life, Asia and Asian just doesn’t really work that well as labels. Although Europe and European are also labels, I don’t think I’m going too far when if I say that Europe is much more homogenous than Asia. I’m not trying to ignore the nuances between nations, it’s only that I find that regions like the Middle East and East Asia are just as distinct with each other as they are with Europe.

Second, Asian is too vague of label to be useful for people. No disrespect to you Mr. Heidkamp if you’re reading this, but when I heard that his “Asian-American” friends had faced discrimination due to the coronavirus, I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, etc. His friends are most likely East-Asian, probably Chinese, considering the origin of the coronavirus, but I only understood that from context and the connotation that Asian has with East-Asian. But why should I rely on the connotation? Why not just say East-Asian?

Third, and probably most importantly, the Asia and Asian carry a lot of baggage with them. To say someone is Asian likely brings to mind the usual stereotypes: having immigrant tiger parents, focusing heavily on school (the STEM and medical fields specifically), and being an overachieving model-minority. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that all stereotypes hold a little bit of truth, in fact, I myself have immigrant parents, care probably too much about school (and STEM), and have relatively well-off parents. However, it should be obvious that stereotypes, even positive ones, are limiting. The Asian-American stereotype in particular is harmful because it, to some extent, takes hard-work for granted. I’m sure everyone’s heard at some point that all Asians are good at math. But what this phrase ignores is the passion and work that’s needed for such aptitude. This effect unfortunately leaks into academics and specifically college admissions.

Some supporters of the lawsuit

The lawsuit against Harvard, to put reductively, was focused on how Harvard consciously discriminated against Asian-Americans in their admissions process. Harvard won, but the case demonstrated an undeniable implicit bias against Asian-Americans who were generally given much worse personality scores.

There are many things to take away from the lawsuit, but the easiest one for me to talk about is how the model of the Asian-American not only over-generalizes a sizeable chunk of people, it adversely affects those unfortunate enough to be saddled with the Asian-American label. In turn, anyone stuck with the label is also isolated from other minorities who seem to benefit from such race-conscious decisions. Whether this distinction is a good thing or a bad thing is for debate; however it should be noted that while this lawsuit finished the admissions scandals came out, demonstrating a more serious issue of wealth and legacy in college admissions.

In short, from small annoyances to life-changing decisions, the baggage of Asia and Asian is simply unacceptable.

While I bring up all my issues with Asia and Asian, I only hope to demonstrate an issue that I felt Orientalism fit in perfectly. As such, any solution to the problem of Asia(n) should stem from Orientalist theory. The take-away from Orientalism is that Asia, as a label, stems too greatly from colonist-colonized and us-them to be an accurate, nuanced descriptor. So, I propose that instead of Asia and Asian, we should just use Eurasia and Eurasian! That way, continents make sense and the label is now complete in its uselessness. More seriously, we should strive to find new borders and terms that better convey the distinctive cultures and experiences of the people known now only as Asian. I think that Middle-East, East-Asian, and Indian-subcontinent work alright now, but really, I just hope that in the future there’s no need to make a distinction. I just dream of a world in which people are just a name, and if it’s helpful, and a first language.

Thanks for reading, and hope you’re doing well during this quarantine. 再见!

New Person, Same Old Mistakes

Link to the lyrics

As its name indicates, “Currents,” Tame Impala’s most recent album, is one about change. Tame Impala itself, or rather Kevin Parker, has gone from a relatively underground psychedelic rock band to gold, platinum, and eventually worldwide renown with awards and honors like a Grammy nomination. Reflecting this rapid change in fans, fame, relationships, and style, “Currents” beginning first with moments of change with songs like “Let It Happen” and “The Moment,” realization of change with the aptly titled “Yes I’m Changing” and “Reality in Motion,” and a moment of introspection with the final song, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”.

As the conclusion to a thematically dense album,”New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” in addition to having a killer bassline and dream-like vocals, offers a response to how to deal with change. Through questions, contrasts, and multiple perspectives, Tame Impala conveys the theme that although one will naturally be conflicted over whether or not their change was correct, change is still worthwhile because one desires to change and can learn from it.

“New Person, Same Old Mistakes” begins with the narrator asserting how they’ve found something new that’s changing their tastes. However, after this admission of change, the narrator raises the first contrast,

Two sides of me can’t agree,

that’s swiftly met with the question:

Will I be in too deep?

The contrast of sides introduces the theme that change brings internal conflict with it. The question then vocalizes the internal disagreements over the change. This doubt is then met with the response,

Going with what I always longed for,

that demonstrates the contrast between one’s doubts and longing. The first verse ends on this note, demonstrating that change causes internal conflict, although maybe conflict worth going for, as change may be what’s needed for fulfillment.

Tame Impala then uses constant shifts in perspectives from the chorus to articulate the doubts one has with change, biggest of all being whether or not one can and/or should change. The chorus begins with one voice repeating phrases like,

Feel like a brand new person

I don’t care, I’m in love

I finally know what it’s like

that Tame Impala interweaves with a more doubtful voice,

But you’ll make the same old mistakes

You don’t have what it takes

There’s too much at stake

These two parallel perspectives demonstrate both the ecstasy and self-doubt that change inspires: one feels both renewal and fear. However, one line from the first voice that stands out is “know what it’s like,” as it demonstrates a fundamental shift in character that unlike the love and feeling of newness, won’t fade.

The second verse then bounces back to the more optimistic voice that reinforces the intellectual and personal worth of change with a contrast:

The point is, I have the right

Not thinking in black and white

The contrast in the last line summarizes the point that even though the change may be frightening, it is ultimately an expression of one’s freedom and wisdom. After these lines, several more lines such as the repeated final line of the first verse reinforces the positives of change: one desire it and one learns from it.

After the repeat of the call-and-response chorus, the songs shifts to the more pessimistic voice, the one who calls the narrator “you,” who demonstrates the naturalness and knowledge gained by change. The voice sings,

But maybe your story ain’t so different from the rest

But you’ve got your demons, and she’s got her regrets

A realization is as good as a guess

These lines demonstrate the ultimate positives of change. The first two lines demonstrate how self-doubt is a part of the process of change while the following one demonstrates how change causes “realizations,” gains from change that can substitute for less-informed guesses.

After the bridge, the two voices return for the outro that reiterates the theme that change comes with self-doubt and the chance to fulfill one’s dreams and learn. The interspersed voices convey similar lines from the chorus, however most noticeably, the outro uses questions in much higher frequency,

So, how will I know it’s right?

So, how will I know if I’ve gone too far?

that Tame Impala mixes with the responding voice,

(Stop thinking that the only option).

These final uses of the dual voice and call-and-response demonstrates how change will always create both self-doubt and growth. The first line specifically illustrates the internal question evident in change. However, the response demonstrates how this doubt demonstrates that change isn’t the only option and that change is multifaceted and grows one’s knowledge to the point that they’ll have another option even if the change isn’t ultimately right.

In “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Tame Impala uses questions and responses, more than one perspective, and contrasts that demonstrate how even though change will cause doubt and internal conflict, it is worth it because one desires it and can grow from it.

The End of Beloved

Finishing any novel is an accomplishment; more so on the writer’s part, but still noteworthy on behalf of the reader. However, when I reached the end of Beloved, along with a sense of accomplishment came a sense of confusion. Suddenly, after Paul D and Sethe find a somewhat hopeful resolution, the novel ends on a rather meta note, echoed by the refrain: “It was not a story to pass on”. Beloved, and in fact, all of the characters’ specificity is lost: the soles references to a specific thing or person are the mentioning of 124 and the last word, “Beloved”. After some equal parts thinking and Google-ing, I believe I can, at least a little, give my thoughts on the end of Beloved.

The Disappearance of Beloved

If anything is clear at the end of the novel, it’s that Beloved is no more, or at least, is no longer Beloved. Beloved becomes “disremembered and unaccounted for,” just a “bad dream” in the lives of those involved (323). In fact, she loses her name, likely indicating that all the love for her has vanished. But what’s interesting is that Beloved never goes away; people deliberately forgot about and never felt inclined to remember her. Although forgotten, Beloved’s presence is still there, even if she’s unacknowledged.

Beloved’s quasi-existence also begs the question of what she is. Throughout the novel, she acts and knows things like Sethe’s past daughter should such as the earrings and the song. However, the characters themselves note that Beloved is not as she seems: she appears fully-clothed and matured, she has seemingly supernatural abilities choking Sethe and moving Paul D, and her story and perspective is riddled with mentions to the Middle Passage of the transatlantic slave trade and bridge that indicates some connection between the living and the un-living. These examples illustrate that Beloved is more than just a daughter, she’s the past, the dead, love, and slavery. So when Beloved stops being remembered, something more is going on than a successful ghost busting.

When Beloved says that “they forgot her,” I believe that “they,” like Beloved, refer to more than the characters in the novel (323). As a symbol of slavery and the past, the forgetting of Beloved represents the collective amnesia surrounding slavery.

Like we learned in class, the stories of slavery haven’t been preserved well. The only documents surrounding the dehumanizing Middle Passage came from the recordings of former captors. So when Morrison writes that, “It was not a story to pass on,” I believe that the “it” of the refers to the history of slavery (323). The statement then demonstrates the failure of our nation to remember the terrifying extent of slavery.

Finally, the line “This is not a story to pass on,” although contradictory, makes sense within the context of slavery. The story of our nation’s forgetfulness of slavery will not continue: we will remember.

I hope my point made some sense, and I hope I could, with my limited understanding of slavery and history, pay respect to Beloved’s legacy. Thanks for reading, and just remember.

Being Moral in a Uncaring World

When Nadia and Saeed come to London, they live in the mansion that they arrived in. While Nadia adjusts without much of a hitch, Saeed feels uncomfortable. When narrating about Saeed’s adjustment to his new existence, Saeed “felt in part guilt that they … were occupying a home that was not their own, and guilty also at the visible deterioration brought on by their presence” and was “the only one to object when people started to take for themselves items of value in the house” (132). This contrast between Nadia’s self-preservation and Saeed’s morality begs the question, how does one be moral in times of crisis?

On one hand, Nadia’s enjoyment and willingness to do whatever she can to do to survive is perfectly reasonable. After all, it’s hard to blame her for using the few liberties she can, e.g. looting laptops from her former workplace, taking a shower, and snatching some valuables from the mansion, because ultimately, it’s nothing compared to the hardships of migration, hostile militants, and sexual assault that she deals with. I doubt anyone would argue that anything Nadia does is unreasonable or even wrong.

In contrast, Saeed abides by his moral code of conduct even as the world around him throws him for a loop. Even as his mother dies and he’s forced out of his hometown without his father, he still remains adamant in his moral code. He still refuses to have sex with Nadia, objects to looting their mansion, and even feels guilt for living in the mansion, even though it gives him a reprieve from the months of hardship before him. His behavior is unquestionably morally upright, but it’s unknown how sustainable or realistic his behavior his. Without the pragmatism of Nadia, Saeed would still be stuck in the Greek camp, completely broke, and without a comfortable place to live. Saeed’s goodness is unpractical and ultimately self-defeating in a world where surviving is a struggle.

I believe that in the end, that one cannot be fully moral in this world, especially not in times of crisis. I don’t mean to say that our moral compass needs to be compromised completely for the sake of getting ahead slightly, but that sometimes one must act less than morally for their own sake. This practically comes at a condition, because only those without a good standing need to act immorally as any privileged enough to not have to act improperly simply shouldn’t. Ultimately, being good in the worst times I believe means doing the most good as you can while living contently.

The Existentialism of Mario Kart Tour

Mario Kart Tour. It’s the talk of town across the world but especially in high school classrooms; it’s nigh impossible to talk to someone without at inkling of what it’s about. On its surface, Mario Kart Tour a pretty neat game: the controls are simple but tight if you can put in the practice, nearly everyone with a phone and stable WiFi connection can play it, and even if you’re bad, you’ll still be able to have fun and compares scores and characters with your friends. However, underneath its friendly exterior lies the crux of why it’s so successful and also horrifying: the gacha system.

The Gacha Mechanic in “Mario Kart Tour” is simple: 5 rubies per pipe or 45 for 10. Each pipe contains a character, kart, flyer that is either normal, super, or the ultra-rare high end.

“Gacha” is a term that specifically relates to a loot crate type mechanic in a game. However, for a gacha game, the entire game must be centered around the gacha/loot crate mechanic because success for a gacha game is nothing but dollars. Thus, to entice players to spend, gacha games will design mechanics to support this gacha structure: they’ll be free to play, the best characters/skins/etc. will be attainable by free-to-play players but much more available to big spenders, the most desirable and valuable items will always be the rarest, and there is always a limited edition item whose rate to get will be temporarily be higher. In turn, all of these features make it so that as soon as free-to-play players hit a wall in their progression, either they want a specific character or want to fulfill a certain goal, they’ll spend. However, gacha games need one specific type of player though: the “whales”. The ones who will drop entire college funds to get their favorite character. In order to capture these whales, the gacha game must not give enough to the free-to-play player to keep the whales satisfied with their purchase and continue playing. This preference is usually demonstrated by low rates of getting the premium currency and premium features that greatly aid whales.

Mario Kart Tour rates. The rarest high-end characters and karts are locked behind a 1% probability. Same goes for the spot-light driver, kart, and glider.

In Mario Kart Tour, one can find all of these features in abundance. The flow of rubies is high initially, but quickly drops off over time. Specific drivers, karts, and gliders are “recommended”, i.e. given more items and bonus points, for each individual level, and all of the high-end items (including drivers, karts, and gliders) come out to a 6% probability. Of course, one’s probability increases and comes 100% if they use 100 pipes, but that comes out to 450 gems at the least, coming out to nearly five $50 of in-game currency. Mario Kart Tour’s most devious feature is it’s gold pass: for the low price of $4.99 a month you can get yourself around $20 of premium currency, “free” items, and even an extra mode — the ultra fast 200cc. And if you’re a free-to-play player, good luck getting those high-end characters or getting enough points on the later levels, you’ll need the items especially suited for that level to get the highest chance. But those items are usually the high-end items, and to get those you can grind — you can get 5 rubies bi-daily, the most consistent method of getting rubies for free, or just save up 12000 coins, although you can only get 300 coins per day from races. Ultimately, once you’ve completed all the tracks, there’s nothing left for you to do except compete with other players to get a higher score. But yet again, to compete with the best players, you’ll need to either grind or spend.

Gacha games in a nutshell.

Most people will grind. Some will spend a couple dollars lying around, maybe they had a leftover iTunes or Google Play gift card burning a hole in their pocket, but once that’s moneys gone, they too will grind. Finally, the whales will spend as they want, but even despite their spending, they too must grind: they have to finish the same levels as everyone else and play their best in order to out-compete those who’ve spent less money but much more time refining their karting technique. But the point of the matter is, no matter how much you spend or play, you must grind and the grind never ends. There will always be another glider, kart, and limited-edition swimsuit Mario left to acquire and another tour to finish. So what’s the point, if you can never get everything, at least, not for long and never taste victory, if never for more than a few fleeting days?

There’s always more road.

Indeed, what’s the point? The game will tell you to get a high-score on each track, but the game is ultimately a vessel for Nintendo’s paycheck. But the for the players, the highest scores only last as long as the tours, two weeks, and the best characters will be out-placed by newer, likely more appealing characters. While they last, those scores don’t necessarily mean anything either, they’re fine as bragging rights but no-ones getting accepted into college based on their Mario Kart Tour score (at least for now). And even if you move past those scores and you genuinely enjoy the characters you have, the game servers could always be taken offline and all your progress, your characters, your scores, your achievements, will cease to be. So again, what’s the point?

Snoopy, ever the bastion of wisdom.

Ultimately, there isn’t any inherent meaning or point for the player. Just like in our real life, nothing in the game inherently matters. That being said, like existentialists would say, that doesn’t mean that there’s meaning to be found in the life or game. Just because your high score doesn’t last doesn’t mean it’s without meaning: you worked for it after all. Ultimately, the game has meaning insofar as you give it meaning. I believe that this self-created meaning is fine, as long as you know what you’re getting in for. Since if you don’t and play the game according to Nintendo’s terms, then you’ll still find enjoyment, but are still confined in the soul-crushingly monetary system that Nintendo have created.

Another ground-breaking Nintendo phenomenon. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m also level 35 and own at least 5 shinies.

So how do you going about giving the game meaning? I believe that the answer to this question lies best in the story of Pokémon Go. For those uninitiated, Pokémon Go was a phenomenon when it come out. People were spending their entire afternoons, weekends, etc. catching virtual Pokémon. People were playing so much and so devotedly that they broke laws and found a dead body. After the initial rush, most people had quit the game, but even now, the most devoted still play the game, maybe alone or maybe with a group of like-minded players, and enjoy themselves.

Ultimately, I believe that from an existentialist point-of-view, both sets of players, the launch players and the current players, both have found their rock. The launch players played enough to find enjoyment by having fun with their friends, strangers, and Pokémon, and when they no longer enjoyed it, stopped. They were happy, and their happiness came solely from their own toil. For those devoted enough to play to this very day, they too are happy. They’ve played the game through the thick and thin, and have likely created their own schedule and checklist for their game. But everything they’ve done, from catching, battling, to walking and driving to special location, have been of their own accord. They’ve derived meaning from their self-imposed routine and must be satisfied with their efforts, since why would they still be playing if they still enjoy it.

Back to Mario Kart Tour. Eventually, I predict that around 95% of the player base will die out. After this launch period, most people will either get fed up or bored with the system. A minority will keep on playing, and a smaller minority will continue to spend big. However, this prediction isn’t to say that anyone who quits or stays is wasting their time, but rather the opposite: they’ve spent their time meaningfully. When they played, they likely played due to other people playing, after all, no-one wants to be left out. But from their efforts, they’ve been able to stand a common ground with many people united by Mario Kart. In essence, through Mario Kart, they’ve been able to bond and connect with people. However, even if they haven’t, they’ve still staved away their boredom for another few days.

Ultimately, there is no deeper meaning to Mario Kart Tour. But just because there’s no inherent point to it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun playing it by yourself or with friends. In the end, we’ll all be dead, our accomplishments will be forgotten, and our name will never be spoken again. Thus, there’s no reason why Mario Kart Tour is any less meaningful than anything else we do. So if you like Mario Kart Tour, then keep playing it, spend money on it if you’d like. If you’ve never played before, either out of rebellion or ignorance, then try it out, it might be fun. But whatever you do, enjoy yourself. Or don’t, just act as you please.

Here’s a “The Stranger” reference. Song is quality. Thanks for reading!

The Pragmatic Meaninglessness of “The Elephant Vanishes”

Hi! First, I loved this story. Even though nothing especially significant happens in it, besides an elephant vanishing of course, I enjoyed a lot about the story: the writing style seemed a bit cozy, if you catch my drift; the characters exuded realness effortlessly, the way the characters interacted felt perfectly nature like not wanting to call someone, not because of outright disinterest, but just because there’s no real reason to; the enrapturing mystery and philosophy of the vanishing elephant; and the meaningless of life.

What I want to touch on are the realness of the story, the elephant, and most of all, the sense of unnaturalness that comes with the vanishing elephant. I enjoy the casual realism that the story has. Even with the elephant, everything seems perfectly logical. In Murakami’s tale, politicians spin every issue to their benefit, events are held for the both the arrival and disappearance of the elephant that seem equally benign, and people are introduced and never find themselves wanting a second meeting. Even the disappearance of the elephant is treated with a realistic touch of apathy: after the search, life strolls on unaffected. In the end, the mystery stays unsolved; there is no neat ending tying everything together but rather a vague sense of anticlimax that I love. Honestly, the ending makes the story for me: the main characters finds no catharsis in his Sherlock Holmesian quest to figure out the mystery but rather a full scrapbook and a dissonant sense of being. At the end of story, one can conclude: this world is just as real than our own.

The Room

Now onto the elephant. So far, I’ve only given my opinion on the realness of the story, which although important, doesn’t get to the meat of the story. Indeed, the titular elephant is one of the most important elements of the story. To answer first answer some burning question, I think the elephant and keeper vanished, although I don’t believe that whether or not they truly vanished matters too much in the long run. To answer why, I think it’s just the rationality that’s used to defend their disappearance. The elephant couldn’t have realistically escaped unnoticed: it would’ve left footprints, it was chained with all of the keys untouched, it was surrounded by a prison of iron bars and a ten-foot fence. Even it had, it’s not as though elephants can just escape like that; they’re huge after all. Thus, the only other viewpoint I could see working out is that the elephant isn’t real or didn’t vanish and the narrator is unreliable. I can understand this point a little bit; I mean why should one believe in an event as ludicrous as an elephant disappearing. However, I disagree if one thinks that the elephant simply didn’t vanish or just isn’t real, mostly because of how realistically the events followed were. In the end though, I don’t believe that the elephant is necessarily that important, because ultimately the point is how it affects both the world and the narrator. Eventually, the world stopped caring even though the narrator didn’t. I think there’s room for some discussion about what the elephant could represent, but I’m more concerned about how it relates to the narrator.

I think the narrator is a initially a bit uninteresting. Although he likes watching elephants, which is a little strange, I don’t think it’s any more weird than playing video games, binge-watching, or gardening. He is a Japanese kitchen advertiser of an unknown age, appearance, and, for the most part, personality. We never see him interact with any friends, or anyone, for that matter, outside of the women he meets at the party. Even then, when they talk, we find about the same about him as the elephant. His most distinguishing trait after being our narrator and keeping up with the elephant is that he says kit-chin on occasion, and even then, it’s for his job. But as we read deeper into the story, I think it’s clear that the narrator is fully cognizant of his unimportance. First, he doesn’t even bother to mention his character traits, as if he himself doesn’t deem himself worth the explanation. Then, near the conclusion of the story, we find out the narrator hasn’t dealt with the disappearance of the elephant very well; he mentions that things around him have “lost their proper balance” and that he “would become incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing [something] and not doing it” (327). To me, it seems like the disappearance and the lack of any care from the world has made the narrator realize his insignificance. I believe the best example of this realization is when the narrator makes a clear divide between the “pragmatic world” and “that world” (327). Here, the narrator clear understands the rational world that he lives in has no time for elephants nor individuals but rather money and unity. The world he, as well as we, live in is one unfettered by the daily life.

I believe that this insignificance that the narrator feels is best encapsulated by his job. He works at the PR arm of an electrical appliance company, which isn’t the most stimulating job: he himself calls his work “not the kind … that takes a great deal of intelligence” (319). There, he’s forced to attend parties between magazine and electrical appliance companies while repeating the corporate language of kit-chin. His job, in essence, seems completely superfluous. No-one would bat an eye if his job disappeared either: he would find work elsewhere doing another banal office job, electrical appliances would still sell (do you really distinguish between the brands on your dishwasher), and life would move on. I believe this meaninglessness in his work is one of the central themes of the novel, since just as the elephant can vanish without consequence, so can his job. This pointless work connects to what David Graeber calls a BS job. The narrators job is what he would call a goon; his only purpose is to make the company’s appliances look good to sell more of them. Ultimately, this type of BS work can only lead to what the narrator experiences: a complete lack of fulfillment. Ironically, by sinking into a more “pragmatic world”, the narrator has only dig himself deeper into the grave of pointless, BS jobs.

The phenomenon that occurs in this story is also encapsulated excellently by the ever-popular TV show, “The Office”. In the office, the workers also partake in BS jobs and try their hardest to find some glimmer of meaning in their pointless work. Some have fun in order to distract themselves like Michael and Jim; others try to assert their authority like Dwight, Michael, and Andy; and all of them do as their job requires, day after day, all being a part of a paper company that doesn’t even make paper. Their jobs too, are superfluous; no-one needs adverting for paper.

I believe that this connection though is useful in determining what the solution is to the narrator’s dilemma of meaningless is. In “The Office”, the characters ultimately conquer the meaningless nature of their job: they quit, they find better jobs, and most of all, they find connections. In the end, their pursuits aren’t significantly more impactful than before, I really doubt bartenders and sports marketers are that much more needed than paper salesmen and even then, they’re only one person, however the characters have come to terms with the meaninglessness of work and have found the solution in finding meaning in others. In the end of it’s public life, the elephant and keeper vanish happily: both have found connection with each other. Even though the world moves on, they at least have the benefit of the other’s company. Ultimately, it’s likely this unity between people that the narrator is missing the most. The narrator lives in a rational corporate world that cares only for dollar signs, and he’s unsatisfied. I argue that the central theme of the story is that this meaningless “pragmatism” can only be solved by attaining what the elephant and the keeper have. They both are satisfied with their existence that brings joy to each other. They have achieved unity with each other. In the end, the tragedy of the story isn’t the disappearance of the elephant and keeper from our pragmatic world, but the ceaseless nonsense that we’ve come to accept in our own that destroys any potential of unity between us and others. I’d love to write more, but it’s nearly 11 and I like getting 8 hours of sleep. Thanks for reading!