Impressions of 1Q84: Murakami meets Brubeck

“(…) (T)he vast majority of the people in this world does not believe in truth but believe, willingly, in that what they wish to be true” (‘1Q84’, Haruki Murakami)

Tokyo Metro, by Stefano Constanzo (
Tokyo Metro, by Stefano Constanzo. (Creative Commons license).

Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ is one of the best novels I have read in the recent weeks. Despite the reference to Orwell’s ‘1984’ (in Japanese the letter “q” and number 9 are homophones) there is not much of the Big Brother/political-critique in this book. Or at least, I do not find it significant enough.

In ‘1Q84’ the main characters, Aomame and Tengo, exchange chapters throughout the book. Aomame is a talented killer who is hired by a rich lady, who protects women who have been victims of abuse, to execute what would be her most dangerous job: Murdering the leader of a sect which used to be a extreme-left wing organization linked to the armed group Japanese Red Army. Tengo, on the other hand, is a teacher in a private school and tries unsuccessfully to write his first book during his spare time. The story of one of the victims of the sect is re-written by Tengo (although is published as written entirely by the young victim) and brings the attention of the media because of her age and the quality of “her” writings. Between Tengo and Aomame, however, there is a connection that we will just find out after the first part of the book is well advanced.

The essence of Japan is well described by Murakami as much as it is depicted musically by Dave Brubeck in his 1964 album ‘Impressions of Japan’. Murakami makes us travel to a parallel universe where nothing is what appears to be, he is also capable of describing the decade of late 70s and early 80s in Tokyo and its surroundings: stressful traffic jams (check the first song in this post), religiosity, politics (capitalism and left-wing attempts to escape from it within isolated communities) and moral values (respect to elders, honour and fidelity), all of it also present in Brubeck’s impressions of Japan.

Furthermore, ‘Impressions of Japan’ might be used for a description of many of the scenes covered in this book. Its intricate passages with melancholic melodies fit with Tengo’s visits to his father, with whom he has not spoken in a while, and with whom he has no easy relationship. The song posted above (‘The city is crying’) is a good example of this. It has a solid piano solo which is a story in itself, ending up in a sad musical conversation between Eugene Wright (bass) and Dave Brubeck (piano). This ending could describe in a few seconds the end of the book, this is, the fusion between both main characters, as it is the fusion of both musicians.

The smooth writing of Murakami makes the reader flow along some horrible crimes and atrocities, as well as intriguing romances. As every chapter brings you to one or another of the main characters, it keeps you focused on each of the stories while also making you anxious to go back to the one that you just abandoned temporarily. Brubeck’s songs bring a westerner’s view of Japan to its fullest expression, and it is another master piece of one of the pioneers who dared to mix American jazz tradition with other musical traditions from around the world. Read ‘1Q84’ while listening to ‘Impressions of Japan’ and travel to another country in another universe without leaving your home.


Imperialism: J. A. Hobson meets Keny Arkana

11 February 2011, Athens. General strike.
11 February 2011, Athens. General strike. (Author: Diego Naranjo).

“Imperialism is a depraved choice of national life, imposed by self-seeking interests which appeal to the lusts of quantitative acquisitiveness and of forceful domination”- J.A. Hobson, `Imperialism: A Study’, 1902 –

“La rage, car l’Occident n’a toujours pas ôté sa tenue de colons – The rage, for the western world still wears it’s colonial dress.” – Keny Arkana, ‘La Rage’, 2006

I cannot thank enough Craig Murray for recommending reading Hobson’s ‘ Imperialism: A Study’. Although written more than a century ago, it is amazingly (or sadly) actual.  Hobson analyses the internal forces of Imperialism tearing off the fancy clothes that the establishment had covered it with. Thus, the chapter about the “parasites of Imperialism” describes the attempt to identify in the social conscience the wealth of the nation with the wealth of the wealthiest of that nation. (1) Furthermore, Hobson goes on and states that with that excuse and the pretext of being a “defensive war” (for XXI century, use “humanitarian war” instead) installed in the public opinion, States can start wars on other nations without the need to worry about the opinion of their own population.

A century later, Keny Arkana, the Argentinian-French rap artist (or as she describes herself, “a militant who sings rap”) is at the front line of anti-imperialism. In her lyrics she denounces imperialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism with rhymes as strong as her beats:

“La rage pour qu’un jour l’engrenage soit brisé
Et la rage car trop lisent “Vérité” sur leur écran télévisé
La rage car ce monde ne nous correspond pas
Nous nourrissent de faux rêves pour placer leurs remparts
La rage car ce monde ne nous correspond pas
Où Babylone s’engraisse pendant qu’on crève en bas

The rage, for one day we break up the chain.
The rage, for too many people think that TV tells the truth.
The rage, for this world does not suit us.
but does feed us with false dreams and true ramparts
The rage, for this world does not fit us.
And Babylon grows fat and starves us to death.” (2)

Both Arkana and Hobson agree that “trade unionism and socialism (note: Keny Arkana would include altermundialists and other movements nowadays) are thus the natural enemy of Imperialism” because they take away from the upper classes “the surplus incomes” which fuel Imperialism (3). They also denounce what the latter wrote as the fallacy of imperialism, this is, that “it is not industrial progress that demands the opening of new markets and areas of investment, but mal-distribution of consuming power which prevents the absorption of commodities and capital within the country” (4). This is, the economic system itself is based on a series of lies orientated towards the disorientation of the majority of the population and that it becomes an “economic waste” because of its very foundation.

But the economic system does not operate alone. It needs the disguise of the political apparatus to hide the “highly centralised autocratic and bureaucratic method of government” (5) which is also “a menace to peace” (6)152. Arkana also mentions this in “ordre mundial” when she states:

“Je suis l’ordre mondial
L’ordre créé par les puissants,
Confréries, chefs de multinationale
Politiques économiques, je suis la conjoncture
Imposée à la planète, j’ai instauré ma dictature.

I am the New World Order
The Order created by the most powerful
Brotherhood, multinational leaders
Economy & politics, I am the circumstances,
Imposed to the world, I installed my dictatorship”

Kenny Arkana, Ordre Mundial, Désobéissance, 2008.

Both authors also call for popular governments and eliminate what Hobson calls “class government” (plutocracy) to eliminate Imperialism (Hobson) and Capitalism (Arkana). In fact, both have a strong sense of democracy as a need to overthrow Imperialism. Hobson states that this is only possible when “the direction of public policy by the people for the people through representatives over whom they exercise a real control”, which is also stated in Arkana’s lyrics across her entire discography.

Furthermore, when Hobson states that the extreme consumption and the creation of new needs are a basic pillar of the system, Keny Arkana talks about the “Exploited populace dedicated to consuming what they’re building – Peuple exploité voué à consommer c’qu’ils construisent” (Réveillez-vous).

The ideas expressed by both authors are a source of inspiration for all of us who work on human rights issues from the academia, trade unions, human rights associations or any other forms of social activism. Reading to Hobson and listening to Arkana should be a must for anyone across the globe interested in social justice and real democracy.


1-The last incident of Spanish multinationals being nationalized in South America was described in the mainstream media (who were already becoming in 1902 an “obedient instrument” according to Hobson) as more or less as a robbery to “Spain”.

2- Keny Arkana, ‘La Rage’, Entre ciment et belle étoile, 2006.

3- J.A. Hobson, `Imperialism: A Study’, Cosimo Inc,., 1902, p. 90.

4- Ibidem, p. 85.

5 – Ibidem, p. 149

6- Ibidem, p. 153.

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