Murakami Haruki’s Dance, Dance, Dance is significant for one reason: it is a systematic literary exploration on the concepts of modern advanced capitalism, unparalleled in modern literature. Comparing it to Das Kapital would be unfair, because Dance, Dance, Dance supersedes Karl Marx's seminal text in two respects. First, Murakami is speaking about a new, wholly different system from what Marx theorized in the late nineteenth century. Second, Murakami does it with a literary style that imparts his concepts just as effectively as Marx's stereotypically-Germanic logical agglutinations—perhaps even more effectively when posed to a modern cosmopolitan audience in the “advanced capitalist society” that Murakami so deftly critiques.
Murakami's own life story plays a major role in understanding the purpose of his writing. His first novel, Hear the Song of the Wind, was published in 1979, when he was only twenty-nine years old: it won the Gunzo Prize. In 1985, his novel Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World won the Tanizaki Prize. His true rise to stardom came in 1987 with the multi-million-best-seller Norwegian Wood, which generated such overwhelming popularity that Murakami was forced to flee the Japanese media spotlight for several years.
Clearly, the spectacle surrounding Norwegian Wood had a strong influence on Murakami’s views of Japanese capitalism. The country he was writing from differed greatly from the wartime industrial nation of Mishima Yukio, or the fragmented postwar circus of Oe Kenzaburo. In fact, the world in general was moving along the same lines, and making the transition from a “modern” state to an ambiguous “post-modern” one.
While the connotations of “post-modernism” vary from discipline to discipline, the defining factor in the economic definition of “post-modern” is the abandonment of the gold standard in the regulation of national currencies, which occurred on a global scale during the 1970's. The more commonly accepted explanation of Japan's economic rise during the ensuing decades, at least in the realm of secondary education, is that Japanese companies burst forward with fuel-efficient cars during the oil shortages at the same time that they were developing the most advanced semiconductors in the world to run robotic factories and super-fast computers. However, as Doug Henwood argues in Wall Street: How It Works And For Whom, the abandonment of the gold standard played a far more important role in the economic juggernaut of the 1980's, and Murakami's own writing corroborates this idea in spades.
The gold standard, in effect, placed a cap on the amount of capital that could circulate in the world economy by tying the entire concept of capital down to the representation of a fixed commodity—specifically, gold. Marx notes that capital, if continuously reinvested at good returns to accumulate upon itself, has an almost unlimited potential for growth, and most investment planners would agree with him. However, the gold standard kept money—the physical representation of capital—relatively scarce.
Once the gold standard was abandoned, it became possible for money to exist without being in a tactile form, and therefore the modern notion of credit came into existence. Credit, as Henwood puts it, is money of the mind, and its existence today allows 90% of the world's money to exist in a virtual form—as ones and zeroes in financial computers (p. 224-9).
While America was undoubtedly revolutionized by this change, especially in the years between 1982 and 1989, the change in Japan was even more extraordinary. The Japanese embrace of technology, in league with many other factors, allowed its GDP per capita to surpass that of the United States by the mid-1980's, while Tokyo’s land value equaled that of the state of California. Many American analysts, after the fall of the Soviet Union, were speaking in frightened tones about Japan’s unparalleled economic power: at the close of the Gulf War, Dr. Chalmers Johnson of the University of California said that “the Cold War is over, and Japan won.” (PBS Frontline, 19 Nov. 1991)
It is thus unsurprising that the high-finance world of the 1980's found one of its greatest literary rebels in Murakami, a Japanese writer. His recurring rant in Dance, Dance, Dance pertains to “advanced capitalism”—his preferred terminology for describing the massive webwork of relationships and creative financial arrangements that arose from the establishment of the credit-based economy over the dinosaur-like gold-based economy.
In Dance, Dance, Dance, he wastes no time in summing up how credit has changed the world he lives in:
Not to overstate things, financial dealings have practically become a religious activity. The new mysticism. People worship capital, adore its aura, genuflect before Porsches and Tokyo land values. ... Even the standard of right and wrong has been subdivided, made sophisticated. Within good, there’s fashionable good, and ditto for bad. ... It’s the way of the world--philosophy starting to look more and more like business administration. (p. 55)
Henwood states that money in a credit economy is something used for purchase, rather than accumulation (p. 229). Murakami has another word to describe this very phenomenon: waste. He finds waste in every form during the story, in every character’s life, and finds it to be unavoidable—the oil in the advanced capitalist society's cogs. His narrator even characterizes himself as part of this waste:
After wasting so much pulp and ink myself, who was I to complain about waste? We live in an advanced capitalist society, after all. Waste is the name of the game, its greatest virtue. Politicians call it “refinements in domestic consumption.” I call it meaningless waste. A difference of opinion. Which doesn’t change the way we live. If I don’t like it, I can move to Bangladesh or Sudan. I for one am not eager to live in Bangladesh or Sudan. (p. 12)
However, Murakami does not establish that he is against this waste per se. Instead, he defines it as a quality intrinsic to the “advanced capitalist society,” and one that actually abets the emergence of new capital within the system. His narrator enters the following conversation with an engineer:
He was more concerned about the economics of F4 Phantoms. How much fuel they guzzled in one scramble, a terrible waste. “If the Japanese had made them, you can bet they’d be more efficient! ... There’s no reason why we couldn’t build a low-cost fighter if we wanted to.”
The thrusting point of Murakami's argument, and the facet that makes it more powerful than Henwood's, is his use of the word “waste” where Henwood—and most economists trained by an advanced capitalist society—would use a more neutral term such as “spending.” When Murakami calls it “waste,” he evokes a clearly different image—one closely related to the Freudian relation between money and the unclean (found today in, for instance, the English expression “filthy rich,” or the Sino-Japanese expression hojun “wet with wealth”). “Spending,” in a modern social context, is perceived by many as a virtue: “what's the point of money if you can't spend it?” “Waste,” however, is not.
That’s when I proffered my words of wisdom, that waste is the highest virtue one can achieve in an advanced capitalist society. The fact that Japan bought Phantom jets from America and wasted vast quantities of fuel on scrambles put an extra spin in the global economy, and that extra spin lifted capitalism to yet greater heights. If you put an end to the waste, mass panic would ensue and the global economy would go haywire. Waste is the fuel of contradiction, and contradiction activates the economy, and an active economy creates more waste. (p. 19-20)
It would be simple enough to write a novel that wove its way through a lattice of outright social commentary, but Murakami did much more than that—he wrote a story that stands as a lasting prod at “advanced capitalism” even if its snippets of overt political and economic posturing are removed.
One of the most dramatic literary paintbrushes he uses to achieve this is the juxtaposition of nature and man. Dance, Dance, Dance takes place in the spring, and the scenery that Murakami presents, for the most part, is bright, sunny, and entirely cheerful, but the characters, and even moreso the bystanders, seem to have a doldrum of urban depression hanging over their heads. For example:
Before nine and Shibuya was swarming with commuters. Yet despite the spring air, you could count the number of smiles on one hand. (p. 212)
Besides his references to nature, he also makes several comparisons between the advanced capitalist society and a telephone network. Murakami makes a point of villifying and exalting the concepts of telephones and switchboards, exemplified by the following passage:
Spring had surely come, bringing its familiar smells. ... The town was plastered with election posters. Ugly and repugnant. (p. 158)
All those lines coming together. Lines stretching all the way from this very room. Connecting me, in principle, to anyone and everyone. ... But no matter how advanced the system, no matter how precise, unless we have the will to communicate, there’s no connection. ... Actually, the telephone looked rather irritated. It—or let’s call it a “she”—seemed pissed off at being less than pure idea. Angered at the uncertain and imperfect grounds upon which volitional communication must necessarily base itself. (p. 125-126)
He then gives the convoluted telephone network of advanced capitalism a face. This face is called the Sheep Man. Although the Sheep Man is central to the story, his appearances are brief, as he lives in a dimension separate from the narrator's, only coming into contact with the “real world” at certain times and places. He refers to himself in the plural, saying that “Like a switchboard, we connect things. Here’s the knot, and we tie it. ... You seek for it, we connect, you got it.” (p. 84)
The Sheep Man's mystical powers are perhaps overpowered in the average reader's eyes by the unlikely and, perhaps, hilarious idea that a “Sheep Man” would hold the world's fragmented economy together. Why is he a Sheep Man? In 1997, Murakami gave a reading of his book in Pioneer Square, Seattle, and responded to that very question by saying: “When I, myself, think of or write about sheep, I pretty much just think sheep. That's it.” However, the connotations of a sheep as the prototypical pacifist, group-oriented creature indicate that Murakami may have wanted to express something more significant: that advanced capitalism is akin to a flock, where participants are only “along for the ride” and no single source can govern what happens. The Sheep Man's own words, again referring to himself as “we,” support this concept:
“We’ll do what we can. Try to reconnect you, to what you want,” said the Sheep Man. “But we can’t do it alone. You’ve gotta work too. Sitting’s not gonna do it, thinking’s not gonna do it.”
Murakami continues to give faces to advanced capitalism as the story goes on: Gotanda Ryoichi is one of these faces. He turns out to be pure advanced capitalism on the surface: an actor who drives a Maserati and rides in a Mercedes, and who has his own method of describing what has happened to the economy: “It’s not money, it’s expenses.” (p. 147) His niche is in “trust” roles—doctors and teachers, for instance—and his thoughts about that betray his inner contempt for the system:
“So what do I have to do?”
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “You gotta dance. As long as the music plays. You gotta dance. Don’t even think why. Start to think, your feet stop. Your feet stop, we get stuck. We get stuck, you’re stuck.” (p. 85-86)
“I don’t know whether I trust myself. Everybody else trusts me, sure, but, really, I’m nothing but this image. A push of the button and--brrrp!--I’m gone. ... If I really was a doctor or a teacher, no one could switch me off. I’m always there. ... I mean, it’s like which is me and which the role? Where’s the line between me and my shadow?”
The argument Gotanda makes as a character, both verbally and through his own actions, is that the postmodern world has become a world of facades that have entirely replaced their own realities. Divorced, overworked, and tied to his job, he simultaneously represents the highest and lowest points of the advanced capitalist society he lives in. Because he suffers the same problems as the lower class, he is in a unique position to point out how false wealth has become:
“Everybody feels that way, not just you.” (p. 144-5)
“That’s my world. Azabu, European sports car, first-class. Stupid, meaningless, idiotic bullshit. How did all this... this... this total nonsense get started? Well, it’s very, very simple. You just repeat the message and repeat the message and repeat the message. You pound that baby in. Until everybody believes it. Like a mantra. Azabu, BMW, Rolex, Azabu, BMW, Rolex, Azabu, BMW, Rolex... I’m fed up with it. I’m fed up with this life they have me living. I’m their life-size dress-up doll. Sewed together with loans and mortgages. But who wants to hear this grief? After all, I live in a jet-stream condo in Azabu, I drive a Maserati, I have this Patek Philippe watch ... but the worst thing is ... as long as I keep living like this, I can’t get what I really want.”
To make the argument clear, Gotanda trades the Maserati for the narrator’s Subaru (p. 293). Both the narrator and Gotanda agree on several occasions that the Subaru is a better car than the Maserati: Gotanda states outright that he only drives the Maserati because it's what's expected of him as part of the upper class, and that, because it's insured, he could drive it into the bay without incurring a loss. Again, Gotanda proves that overpowering wealth is actually a parlor trick of sorts, carried out through the instruments of advanced capitalism.
“Like, for instance, love?” I said. (p. 290)
The most dramatic and disturbing way that Murakami expresses Gotanda's disjointed existence in the advanced capitalist network comes closer to the end of the story. The narrator's ex-obsession, Kiki, has been killed, and so he has been trying to find out the when, how, and why of her death. After finding somewhat credible evidence that Gotanda may have done it, he meets Gotanda in Shakey’s and asks, “’Why did you kill Kiki?’” (p. 352)
Gotanda begins by saying that he feels as if he buried Kiki in the mountains, but has no hard evidence to prove that he did so. As he thinks about it, the narrator hurriedly tries to convince him that Kiki only disappeared. Gotanda, however, responds by saying “’The sensation of the air going out of her throat is still in my fingers. I can still feel the weight of the dirt in the shovel. In effect, I killed her.’” (p. 355) After some more searching, he says, “’But I wasn’t strangling her, I was strangling my shadow. I remember thinking, if only I could choke my shadow off, I’d get some health. Except it wasn’t my shadow. It was Kiki. It all took place in that dark world. You know what I’m talking about?’” (p. 356)
Gotanda can, under one interpretation, be written off as insane, tortured by the schism between his real self, who “’killed four cats ... used a slingshot and busted the neighbor’s window ... couldn’t stop doing shit like this’” (p. 357), and the fake, cultured, wise self that the media has bestowed upon him. On the other hand, and in a standpoint that is much more plausible in the context of Murakami's beloved “advanced capitalism,” Gotanda's apparent homicidal schizophrenia can be interpreted as the ultimate loss of coordination between himself and his facade. Henwood's analysis of credit notes Brown's assertion that money is akin to guilty revulsion of one's own self, which can be seen linguistically in words like “bond” (p. 228). Gotanda's sense of self, as established above, is almost non-existent, and so his killing of Kiki “in the dark world” can be seen as a clever, if morbid, way of saying that people are ultimately disembodied by advanced capitalism, and lose track of what they are actually doing.
Another face that Murakami creates to personify advanced capitalism is Makimura Hiraku, a writer. Makimura seems to be derived from Murakami himself, illustrating what may have happened if Murakami had welcomed the media spotlight in the late eighties. (Dance, Dance, Dance was released in Japan in 1988, one year after Norwegian Wood.) The narrator says:
Years back I’d read a couple of Makimura’s early novels and a collection of short stories. Pretty good stuff. Fresh prose, fresh viewpoint. Which is what made them best-sellers. He was the darling of the literary community. He appeared on TV, was in all the magazines, expressed an opinion on the full spectrum of social phenomena. ... That was his peak. After that, it was downhill all the way. (p. 118)
The narrator, who is also a writer, establishes himself in the beginning as a freelancer who is producing a commodity, not a work of art. He likens his writing to collecting garbage and shoveling snow, saying “a job's a job.” (p. 7) The metaphor of cheap writing to “shoveling cultural snow” subsequently appears throughout the book. When Makimura hears the narrator's cynical view of writing as “shoveling snow in an advanced capitalist society,” he says:
“Your system may be beside the point these days. It went out with handmade vacuum tube amplifiers. Instead of wasting all your time trying to build your own, you ought to buy a brand-new transistor job. It’s cheaper and it sounds better. ... Nowadays money talks. It’s whatever money will buy. You can buy off the rack and piece it all together. It’s simple. It’s not so bad. Get stuck on your system and you’ll be left behind. You can’t cut tight turns and you get in everybody’s way.” (p. 204)
Makimura's statement does more than support mass-market literature (though, indeed, a sizable amount of genre fiction was being seen as literature by the time Murakami made it onto the scene—Dance, Dance, Dance itself is an excellent example). He overtly says that old ideas and concepts are a waste of time, and that the old has to be abandoned in favor of the new in order for anything to work effectively. The implication of this statement is that advanced capitalism robs the present of the past, putting a new face on a fading reality.
Whether seeing Dance, Dance, Dance as a critique or an attack on the workings of advanced capitalism, it is difficult to deny its historical and cultural significance as a vehicle for exploring the loss of direction among First World urbanites during the economic heyday of the 1980's and 1990's. It continues to stand today as an entertaining discourse on the postmodern economies of the world.