A Wild Sheep Chase


Boku, thirty years old, is in many respects an average middle-class citizen who, free from excessive financial worries, enjoys the kind of independence his status bestows. A product of 1960?s, he takes endless pleasure in smoking, drinking, and eating in bars, cafes, and restaurants. He dresses with casual chic and frequents the movies regularly. His tastes in music and reading materials, though predominantly popular, are disarmingly eclectic - from the Beatles to Mozart, from Sherlock Holmes to Nietzsche - in the postmodern way of leveling elite/popular boundaries. Boku is far from gregarious, yet by no means a true loner; he is by all counts a likable, easygoing fellow, devoid of malice and an overbearing aggressiveness. Indeed, endowed with a sense of humor and self-irony, he is engaging in his displays of sensitivity and tenderness, possesses a wry and ready wit, and evinces a bemused air.
Significantly, however, Boku is a member of the advertising world, that symbol of media-dominated and consumer-orientated contemporary Japanese culture, which is revealed to be under the thumb of the right-wing leader by virtue of his financial holdings; it is this man who indirectly draws Boku into the maelstrom of the sheep chase and robs him of his independence. No wonder, then, that there is no core, only vacuity, to Boku's being. He is literally without a past (or a future, for that matter). Victims of erasure, neither his family nor his divorced wife, for instance, impinge much on his consciousness. Paradoxically, he is often filled with a sense of loss, though the content of that loss is not clearly spelled out. There are, at most, references to the style and climate of the 1960s, a past that Boku tends to estheticize into an indulgent, wistful nostalgia.
The thinness of Boku's identity is exposed by the absence of self-examination and in his relations with other people. If, as Jean-Paul Sartre claims, true identity is forged in the crucible of the dialectic between self and other, Boku fails the test. The "other" is a problematic force for the subjective "I" or self, because it too, unlike inanimate objects, is endowed with a consciousness and subjectivity that often clash with those of the self. Consciously or unconsciously, Boku tries to escape the self-other confrontation by viewing others as objects, no doubt because his own subjective self is wanting in depth.
A case in point is his relationship with his former wife. The divorce effectively takes place early on in the novel, in chapter two, when Boku returns to their apartment after attending his old girlfriend's funeral to find his wife ready to move out for the final time. The conversation between the two skirts everything that might be thought of as essential for an understanding of their situation. At one point Boku remarks, "I'm not explaining. I'm just making conversation" - summing up the tenor of their relationship. Boku is dejected over and saddened by the failed marriage; but there is no reflection whatsoever on what might have gone wrong, and the matter is soon erased from his consciousness.
The relationship with his new girlfriend is carried out on no firmer ground than that with his former wife. First attracted to her by her beautiful ears glimpsed in a photograph, Boku regards her, perhaps unknowingly, as an object (her ears), thus depriving her of subjectivity. It is not that Boku is intentionally mean and insensitive, only that he is fundamentally more comfortable with exteriors and averse to the deep probe. Indeed, he is fully adept at displaying affection of the surface variety - a candlelight dinner in the romantic setting of a posh French restaurant, for instance. The chitchat they engage in, often bordering on the ridiculous, produces a delightful humor; but in the end it signifies nothing more than the postmodernist "noisy silence." Most telling is his reaction to her sudden disappearance toward the end of the novel. They have finally reached the site in the mountains of Hokkaido where the picture of the grazing sheep had been taken. As Boku naps in the villa, formerly the property of the Sheep Professor and now owned by Rat's family, she mysteriously vanishes. (The reader is informed shortly thereafter that the Sheep Man, who turns out to be the ghost of the now-dead Rat, had urged her to leave.)
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