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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
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Chapter 18: The Strange Man’S Strange Tale Goes On
ust a while ago, I made reference to mediocrity,” said the man. “This was by no means a criticism of you. Or to put it more simply, it is because the world itself is so mediocre that you are mediocre as such. Do you not agree?”
“Excuse me?”
“The world is mediocre. About that there is no mistake. Well then, has the world been mediocre since time immemorial? No. In the beginning, the world was chaos, and chaos is not mediocre. The mediocratization began when people separated the means of production from daily life. For when Karl Marx posited the proletariat, he thereby cemented their mediocrity. And precisely because of this, Stalinism forms a direct link with Marxism. I affirm Marx. He was one of those rare geniuses whose memory extended back to primal chaos. And by the same token, I have high regard for Dostoyevsky. Nonetheless, I do not hold with Marxism. It is far too mediocre.”
The man forced back a low sound in the back of his throat.
“I am, right now, speaking with extreme honesty. I mean this as a gesture of gratitude for your previous honesty. Furthermore, I will agree to clarify whatever so-called honest doubts you might have. But know that by the time I am through talking, the options left open to you will have become extremely limited. Please understand this in advance. Quite simply, you are raising the stakes. Are we agreed?”
“What choice have I?” I said.
“Right now, an old man lies dying within this estate,” he began. “The cause is clear. It is a giant blood cyst in his brain. A cyst big enough to distort the very shape of his brain. How much do you know about neurology?”
“Next to nothing.”
“To put it simply then, it is a blood bomb. A blockage of circulation causing an irregular swelling. Like a snake that has swallowed a golf ball. If it explodes, the brain will cease to function. Yet an operation is out of the question. The slightest stimulus might cause it to explode. Realistically speaking, we can only wait and watch him die. He might die in another week, or it might be another month. No one can say.”
The man pursed his lips and let out a slow breath.
“There is nothing odd about him dying. He is an old man, his ailment pinpointed. What is odd is that he has lived this long.”
I hadn’t the foggiest notion what he was trying to say.
“The fact is, there would have been nothing amiss had he died thirty-two years ago,” the man continued. “Or even forty-two years ago. That blood cyst was first discovered by U.S. Army doctors conducting health examinations on Class A war criminals. This was back in the autumn of 1946, before the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. The doctor who discovered it was rather alarmed when he saw the X rays. To have such an enormous cyst in one’s brain and still be alive—and more active than the average person at that—challenged all medical common sense. He was transferred from Sugamo to the then-army hospital, St. Luke’s, for special tests.
“The tests went on for a year, though ultimately they learned nothing. Only that his death would come as no surprise to anyone, since the fact that he was alive at all was a total mystery. Still he showed no signs of disability thereafter; he kept on living with singular vitality. All brain activities were, moreover, exceedingly normal. They were at a loss for explanations. A dead end. Here was a man who theoretically should have been dead, yet was alive and walking about.
“Certainly they shed light on a number of specific symptoms. He had three-day headaches that came and went on a forty-day cycle. By his own account, these headaches began in 1936, which they conjectured was around the time his blood cyst first appeared. His headaches were so intolerable that he required painkillers. In short, narcotics. The narcotics eased the pain all right, but they also resulted in hallucinations. Highly compressed hallucinations. Only he himself knows what exactly he experienced, but it seems they were far from pleasant. The U.S. Army still retains the detailed accounts of these hallucinatory experiences. The doctors apparently made meticulous observations. I obtained these by special means and have read them through several times, and in spite of their clinical language they describe a rather grueling series of events. I doubt there are many who could take such regular punishment as those hallucinatory experiences.
“No one has any idea why these hallucinations occurred. Perhaps the cyst gave off some periodic energy and the headaches were the body’s reaction. So that when that reactive buffer was removed, the energy directly stimulated specific parts of the brain, resulting in hallucinations. Of course, this is only one hypothesis, but it is a hypothesis that interested the Americans. Enough that they initiated thorough tests. Top-secret tests by Intelligence. Even now it is not clear why American Intelligence should have jumped into investigations of one man’s blood cyst; however, we can imagine several possibilities.
“As the first possibility, might they not have conducted certain more delicate interrogations under the cover of medical tests? To wit, the securing of spying routes and opium routes on the Chinese mainland. Remember, Chiang Kai-shek’s eventual defeat meant the loss of the Chinese connection for the U.S. But needless to say, these inquiries could not be made public. In fact, after this series of tests, the Boss was released without having to stand trial. It is conceivable that an arrangement was made behind the scenes. An exchange of information for freedom, shall we say.
“The second possibility was to lay bare an interrelationship between his marked eccentricity as the leader of the right wing and the blood cyst. I will go more into this with you later, but it is a more bemusing turn of thought. Though I doubt they ever learned anything. Did they really imagine they could uncover something of that order when the more basic fact of his living remained a mystery? Short of an autopsy, there was no way they would find anything out. Here, then, another dead end.
“The third possibility concerns brainwashing. The idea being that, perhaps, by sending one predetermined set of stimulus waves into the brain they might elicit a particular reaction. They were doing that kind of experimentation in those days. It has come to light that there was, in fact, such a brainwashing research group at the time.
“It is not clear which of these three lines of thought represented the main Intelligence directive. Nor is it clear whether their efforts, shall we call them, bore any fruit. Everything is buried in history. The only ones who know the facts are a handful of the U.S. Army elite at the time and the Boss himself. So far, the Boss has never spoken a word about this to anyone, myself included, and it is doubtful he ever will.”
When he finished talking, the man cleared his throat. I had lost all track of how much time had passed since entering the room.
“In the winter of 1932, the Boss was imprisoned on charges of complicity in a plot to assassinate a key figure. His imprisonment lasted until June 1936. The official prison records and medical register still exist, and he on occasion has touched upon the subject. These glimpses tell us this: that for virtually the entire length of his stay in prison, the Boss suffered from severe insomnia. Or perhaps it was more than simple insomnia. This was insomnia raised to an exceedingly dangerous level. For three days, four days at a time, sometimes close to a week, he would not close his eyes once. In those days, the police forced confessions out of political criminals by depriving them of sleep. So the Boss must have undergone especially punishing interrogations, implicated as he was with the resistance to the Imperial rule and the controlling faction. If the prisoner tried to sleep, they would throw water on him or beat him with bamboo sticks or shine strong lights on him, anything to dash the sleeping patterns to pieces. Most humans break down if such a regimen is kept up for several months. Their sleeping mind is effectively destroyed. They die or they go crazy or they become extreme insomniacs. The Boss went the last route. It was the spring of 1936 before he had completely recovered from his insomnia. That is, around the same time as the blood cyst appeared. What do you make of that?”
“Extreme lack of sleep for some reason disrupted the flow of blood in his brain, thereby creating the cyst, is that it?”
“That would seem the most plausible, commonsense hypothesis. And since a nonprofessional can think that far, you can be sure that it occurred to the U.S. Army doctors as well. Still, that explanation alone is not quite adequate. There is something missing here. I cannot help thinking that the phenomenon of the blood cyst was the secondary manifestation of a more significant factor. Consider, for example, that among the several other people known to have had such blood cysts, not one displayed the same symptoms. Nor, furthermore, does the explanation offer sufficient reason why the Boss went on living.”
Undoubtedly, there was a logic to what the man was saying.
“One more curious fact about the blood cyst. Starting from the spring of 1936, the Boss was proverbially born again, a new man. Up to that point the Boss had been, in a word, a mediocre right-wing activist. Born the third son of a poor farming household in Hokkaido, he left home when he was twelve and went to Korea, but he found no place there either so he returned to his homeland and joined a right-wing group. An angry young man, it seems, who was forever brandishing his samurai sword. Very probably he could barely read. Yet by the summer of 1936, when he was released from prison, he had risen to the top, in every sense of the word, of the right wing. He had charisma, a solid ideology, powers of speech making to command a passionate response, political savvy, decisiveness, and above all the ability to steer society by using the weaknesses of the masses for leverage.”
The man took a breath and cleared his throat again.
“Of course, as a right-wing thinker his theories and conception of the world were rather silly. Still, that scarcely mattered. The real question was how far he could organize his ranks behind them. Look at the way that Hitler took half-baked notions of lebensraum and racial superiority and organized them on the national level. The Boss, however, did not take that path. The path he chose was more covert—a shadow path. Never out in the open, his was to be a presence that manipulated society from behind the scenes. And for that reason, in 1937 he headed over to the Chinese mainland. But even so—well, let us leave it at that. To return to the cyst, what I mean to say is that the period in which the cyst appeared coincided precisely with the period in which he underwent a miraculous self-transformation.”
“In your hypothesis,” I said, “there was no causal relationship between the cyst and the self-transformation; instead the two were governed in parallel by some mysterious overriding factor.”
“You catch on quickly,” said the man. “Precise and to the point.”
“So when does the sheep appear in your story?”
The man removed a second cigarette from the tabletop case and flicked it with his fingernail before putting it to his lips. He did not light it. “Let us take things in order,” he said.
A weighty silence ensued.
“We built a kingdom,” the man began again. “A powerful underground kingdom. We pulled everything into the picture. Politics, finance, mass communications, the bureaucracy, culture, all sorts of things you would never dream of. We even subsumed elements that were hostile to us. From the establishment to the anti-establishment, everything. Very few if any of them even noticed they had been co-opted. In other words, we had ourselves a tremendously sophisticated organization. All of which the Boss built single-handedly after the war. It is as if the Boss commandeered the hull of a giant ship of state. If he pulls out the plug, the ship goes down. Passengers and all, lost at sea, and surely before anyone becomes aware of that fact.”
At that the man lit his cigarette.
“Nonetheless, this organization has its limits. Namely, the king’s death. When the king dies, the kingdom crumbles. The kingdom, you see, was built and maintained on this one man’s genius. Which in my estimation is to say it was built and sustained by that mysterious factor. If the Boss dies, it means the end of everything, inasmuch as our organization was not a bureaucracy, but a perfectly tuned machine with one mind at its apex. Herein is the strength and weakness of our organization. Or rather, was. The death of the Boss will sooner or later bring a splintering of the organization, and like a Valhalla consumed by flames, it will plunge into a sea of mediocrity. There is no one to take over after the Boss. The organization will fall apart—a magnificent palace razed to make way for a public housing complex. A world of uniformity and certainty. Though perhaps you would think it fitting and proper. Fair allotment and all that. But think about it. The whole of Japan, leveled of mountains, coastlines or lakes, sprawling with uniform rows of public housing. Would that be the right thing?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “I don’t even know if the question itself makes sense.”
“An intelligent answer,” said the man, folding his fingers together on his lap. The tips of the fingers tapped out a slow rhythm. “All this talk of public housing is, as you know, merely for the sake of argument. More precisely, our organization can be divided into two elements. The part that moves ahead and the part that drives it ahead. Naturally, there are other parts managing other functions. Still, roughly divided, our organization is made up of these two parts. The other parts hardly amount to anything. The part at the forefront is the Will, and the part that backs up the forefront is the Gains. When people talk about the Boss, they make an issue only out of his Gains. And after the Boss dies, it will be only his Gains that people will clamor for a share of. Nobody wants the Will, because no one understands it. Herein we see the true meaning of what can and cannot be shared. The Will cannot be shared. It is either passed on in toto, or lost in toto.”
The man’s fingers kept drumming out that same slow rhythm on his lap. Other than that, everything about him had remained unchanged from the beginning. Same stare, same cold pupils, same smooth, expressionless face. That face had stayed turned toward me at the exact same angle the whole time.
“What is this Will?” I asked.
“A concept that governs time, governs space, and governs possibility.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Of course. Few can. Only the Boss had a virtually instinctual understanding of it. One might even go so far as to say he negated self-cognition, thereupon realizing in its place something entirely revolutionary. To put it in simple terms for you, his was a revolution of labor incorporating capital and capital incorporating labor.”
“A fantasy.”
“Quite the contrary. It is cognition that is the fantasy.” The man paused. “Granted, everything I tell you now is mere words. Arrange them and rearrange them as I might, I will never be able to explain to you the form of Will the Boss possesses. My explanation would only show the correlation between myself and that Will by means of a correlation on the verbal level. The negation of cognition thus correlates to the negation of language. For when those two pillars of Western humanism, individual cognition and evolutionary continuity, lose their meaning, language loses meaning. Existence ceases for the individuum as we know it, and all becomes chaos. You cease to be a unique entity unto yourself, but exist simply as chaos. And not just the chaos that is you; your chaos is also my chaos. To wit, existence is communication, and communication, existence.”
All of a sudden the room grew cold, and I had the inexplicable feeling that a nice warm bed had been readied for me there off to one side. Someone was beckoning me under the covers.
An illusion, of course. It was still September. Outside, countless thousands of cicadas were screeching away.
“The expansion of consciousness your generation underwent or at least sought to undergo at the end of the sixties ended in complete and utter failure because it was still rooted in the individual. That is, the attempt to expand consciousness alone, without any quantitative or qualitative change in the individual, was ultimately doomed. This is what I mean by mediocrity. How can I make you understand this? Not that I particularly expect you to understand. I am merely endeavoring to speak honestly.
“About that picture I handed you earlier,” said the man. “It is a copy of a picture from the U.S. Army hospital medical records. It is dated July 27, 1946. The picture was drawn by the Boss himself at the request of the doctors. As one link in the process of documenting his hallucinatory experiences. In fact, according to the medical records, this sheep appeared with remarkably high frequency in the Boss’s hallucinations. To put it in numerical terms, sheep figured in approximately eighty percent of his hallucinations, or in four out of five hallucinations. And not just any sheep. It was this chestnut-colored sheep with the star on its back.
“So it was that the Boss came to use this sheep, that is engraved on the lighter, as his own personal crest from 1936 on. I believe you will have noticed that this sheep is one and the same as the sheep in the medical records. Which is again the same as the one in your photograph. Most curious, do you not think?”
“Mere coincidence,” I tossed out. I had meant to sound cool, but it didn’t quite come off.
“There is more,” the man continued. “The Boss was an avid collector of all available reference materials on sheep, domestic and foreign. Once a week he reviewed at length clippings concerning sheep gleaned from every newspaper and magazine published that week in Japan. I always lent him a hand in this. The Boss was emphatic about his sheep clippings. It was as if he were looking for some one thing. And ever since the Boss took ill, I’ve continued this effort on a personal level. I have actually taken an interest in this pursuit. Who knows what might come to light? That is how you came into the picture. You and your sheep. Any way one looks at it, this is no coincidence.”
I balanced the lighter in my hand. It had an excellent feel to it. Not too heavy, not too light. To think that there was such perfect heft in the world.
“And why do you suppose the Boss was so intent on finding that sheep? Any ideas?”
“None whatsoever,” I said. “It would be quicker to ask the Boss.”
“If I could ask him, I would. The Boss has been in a coma for two weeks now. Very probably he will never regain consciousness. And if the Boss dies, the mystery of the sheep with the star on its back will be buried with him forever. I, for one, am not about to stand by and let that happen. Not for reasons of my own personal loss, but for the greater good of all.”
I cocked open the lid of the lighter, struck the flint to light the flame, then closed the lid.
“I am sure you think that all I am saying is a load of nonsense. And perhaps it is. It might well turn out to be total nonsense. But just consider, this may be the sum total of all that is left to us. The Boss will die. That one Will shall die. Then everything around that Will shall perish. All that shall remain will be what can be counted in numbers. Nothing else will be left. That is why I want to find that sheep.”
He closed his eyes a few seconds for the first time, saying nothing for a moment. Then: “If I might offer my hypothesis—a hypothesis and nothing more, forget I ever said a thing if it does nothing for you—I cannot help but feel that our sheep here formed the basic mold of the Boss’s Will.”
“Sounds like animal crackers,” I said.
The man ignored my comment.
“Very probably the sheep found its way into the Boss. That would have been in 1936. And for the next forty years or so, the sheep remained lodged in the Boss. There inside, it must have found a pasture, a birch forest. Like the one in that photograph. What think you?”
“An extremely interesting hypothesis,” I said.
“It is a special sheep. A v-e-r-y special sheep. I want to find it and for that I will need your help.”
“And what do you plan to do with it once you find it?”
“Nothing at all. There is probably nothing I could do. The scale of things is far too vast for me to do much of anything. My only wish is to see it all out at last with my own eyes. And if that sheep should wish anything, I shall do all in my power to comply. Once the Boss dies, my life will have lost almost all meaning anyway.”
At that he fell silent. I too was silent. Only the cicadas kept at it. They and the trees in the garden rustling their leaves in the near-dusk breeze. The house itself was agonizingly quiet. As if spores of death were drifting about in some unpreventable contagion. I tried to picture the pasture in the Boss’s head. A pasture forlorn and forsaken, the grass withered, the sheep all gone.
“I will ask you one more time: tell me by what route you obtained the photograph,” the man said.
“I cannot say,” I said.
The man heaved a sigh. “I have attempted to talk to you honestly. Therefore I had hoped that you would talk to me honestly as well.”
“I am not in a position to talk. If I were to talk, it might pose problems for the person who provided it.”
“Which is to say,” interposed the man, “that you have some reasonable grounds to believe that some problems might come to this person in connection with the sheep.”
“No grounds whatsoever. I’m playing my hunches. There’s got to be a catch. I’ve felt that the whole time I’ve been talking to you. Like there’s a hook somewhere. Call it sixth sense.”
“And therefore you cannot speak.”
“Correct,” I said. Giving the situation further thought, I went on: “I’m something of an authority on troublemaking. I can claim to be second to none in the ways and means of creating problems for others. I live my life trying my best to avoid things ever coming to that. Which ultimately only creates more problems. It’s all the same. That’s the way things go down. Yet, no matter that I know it’s all the same, it doesn’t change anything. Nothing gets that way from the start. It’s only a pretext.”
“I am not sure I follow you.”
“What I am saying is, mediocrity takes many forms.”
I put a cigarette to my lips, lit it with the lighter in my hand, and took a puff. I felt ever so slightly more at ease.
“You do not have to speak if you do not want to,” said the man. “Instead, I will send you out in search of the sheep. These are our final terms. If within two months from now you succeed in finding the sheep, we are prepared to reward you however you would care to request. But if you should fail to find it, it will be the end of you and your company. Agreed?”
“Do I have any choice?” I asked. “And what if no such sheep with a star on its back ever existed in the first place?”
“It is still the same. For you and for me, there is only whether you find the sheep or not. There are no in-betweens. I am sorry to have to put it this way, but as I have already said, we are taking you up on your proposition. You hold the ball, you had better run for the goal. Even if there turns out not to have been any goal.”
“So that’s how it stands?”
The man took a fat envelope out of his pocket and placed it before me. “Use this for expenses. If you run out, give us a call. There is more where this came from. Any questions?”
“No questions, but one comment.”
“Which is?”
“This all has got to be, patently, the most unbelievable, the most ridiculous story I have ever heard. Somehow coming from your mouth, it has the ring of truth, but I doubt anyone would believe me if I told them what happened today.”
Almost imperceptibly, the man curled his lip. He conceivably could have been smiling. “From tomorrow, you’re on the case. As I said, you have two months from today.”
“It’s a tough job. Two months might not be enough. I mean you’re asking me to seek out one sheep from the entire countryside.”
The man stared me straight in the face and said nothing. Making me feel like an empty pool. A filthy, cracked, empty pool that might never see another year’s use. He looked at me a full thirty seconds without blinking. Then slowly he opened his mouth.
“It is time for you to be going,” he said.
It sure seemed that way.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel