Modern Literature: Murakami’s Conceptualisation of Time

Time, along with all its wonders, will always remain one of the greatest enigmas. Those who have attempted their own interpretation of it tend to create an individual bubble of spacetime with their own assumptions, relying on the imagination of both author and reader, in hope that it’ll make sense to others. This article will be a focus on the works of Murakami— his take on time, space, and the physical representation of illusion. 

Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance are an experience like no other. They explore and walk the edge of a person’s limits. They push the boundaries between reality and the unknown.

Sensations of everyday life— pulling leaves off of trees, picking at your fingernails, the pain of a bad hangover, feeling yourself change into a different person throughout the same lifetime— are all these what they seem? Does time run forward linearly? Or does it jerk and push and slam into us all?

Corporeality and Existence

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Wild Sheep Chase (source: deviantart)

Corporeality does not always prove a person’s existence. In these books, the transformation of being and the abstraction of chaos fluctuate. We, as readers, start to lose our grasp on reality, along with the narrator. 

“As long as I stared at the clock, at least the world remained in motion. Not a very consequential world, but in motion nonetheless. And as long as I knew the world was still in motion, I knew I existed.” (p. 61, A Wild Sheep Chase)

It is clear that, early on in the book, the narrator frequently struggles with internalised and repressed existential crisis. He stumbles around in darkness alone, reaching for any means of confirmation. His actions and characteristics make him seem tentative. With every move he makes, he is always hesitant, as if he believes he lives in a world of deception. He craves the ability to hold onto time as if it were solid, only to find that it slips through his fingers like sand instead. 

Despite being caught between different realms and unique physical forms, there are still binding restrictions that he cannot break. He is stuck in an infinite void. He interacts with the dead, lives through memories that are not his own, and recognises realities even when they do not take a human form. 

The physical forms in which Murakami starts to represent these shifts of time and reality are through places of abandonment and neglect, a mansion, a summer house in the mountains, a warehouse in the middle of Hawaii. Through these places of longing, a rift forms. The lines between existence and nihility are constantly blurred and pulled at the wrist.

Corporeality and living

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Dance Dance Dance (source: coroflot)

Murakami explores deeply the experiences in both realms of possibility. Corporeality and living do not go hand in hand. When the narrator is unsure about the authenticity of his own reality, he turns to physical touch as a reassurance: 

“It was acting, light flickering on a screen, a shadow slipping between one world and another. It was not reality. Cuck-koo. My real fingers were stroking Yumiyoshi’s real skin … I felt the touch of her nose. I searched out every part of her body.” (p381, Dance Dance Dance) 

In an attempt to ground himself to the reality he believes in, the narrator convinces himself that the touch of another tangible being will prevent him from falling into the void of illusion and inexistence. Murakami, however, is able to pull away from that idea. 

As the story progresses, the inevitable metamorphosis of being reaches a point to which the narrator cannot deny it any further. He surrenders himself as he walks through the rift of time and space: 

“I found myself passing through a transparent pocket of air.

It was cool as water. Time wavered, sequentially twisted, gravity lost its force … The degeneration of my flesh accelerated … The earth expanded, then chilled and contracted … An endless spool of time unraveled across the sky. A void enveloped the phantom figures and was encompassed by a yet greater void. Flesh melted to the bone and blew away like dust … My body decomposed, blew apart – and was whole again.”  (p391, Dance Dance Dance)

Wild Sheep Chase (source: bookishponderings)


The mark of Murakami’s take on time manipulation is through the understanding that existence is not bound by any physical principles that exist in the three dimensional reality we are familiar with. A corporeal and physical being is not the only proof needed when existence is being determined due to the simple fact that time and reality are not always what they seem.

Written by Niamh Flannery