Men without Women Review (3) An Independent Organ

November 6, 2021 By mk

*This article includes possible spoiler

The protagonist of the story is a cosmetic plastic surgeon, Tokai, whose story is firstly presented from the point of view of the narrator, Tanimura, and secondly by Tokai’s secretary, Goto.

Tanimura has the same name as the narrator of “Yesterday” and, as described in the final scene of “Yesterday”, he is a writer. However, Tanimura’s friend in this piece, Tokai, is a sophisticated and playful cosmetic surgeon, a different type of person from Kitaru in “Yesterday”.

“I named a cafeteria on a backstreet one street off Aoyama Boulevard.”
This cafe also appeared in Dance Dance Dance.

Tokai’s pain is in parallel wtih other stories

In addition to the presence of Tanimura as narrator, the story contains metaphorical allusions to other stories in this short story collection.

“Exactly. It’s contradictory, I know. Schizophrenic. I’m hoping for two completely opposite things at the same time. That’s not going to work out, no matter how hard I try. But I can’t help it. I just can’t lose her. If that happened, I’d lose myself.”

One day, Tokai fell unexpectedly and deeply in love. He was trying not to fall too deeply for her, but also hoping not to lose her, and Tanimura listened to Tokai’s monologue about “split” as he did with Kitaru.

“So I kinda split myself in two,” Kitaru said. He pulled his hands apart. (Yesterday)

The passion of the direct-hearted Tokai makes sense, unlike Kitaru’s simmering attitude. However, the eccentric Kitaru eventually found his place in Denver, while Tokai ran with his passion and went on to his own destruction.

she started sleeping with me to regain her emotional balance. Revenge is a strong word, but she had some mental adjustment she had to do. It happens a lot.

Tokai even says the same thing that Misaki (the driver girl) says in “Drive My Car” to describe the woman’s behaviour.

“Isn’t it possible that your wife didn’t fall for him at all?” Misaki said simply. “And that’s why she slept with him?” (Drive My Car)

While those insights into women’s behaviour are similar, Tokai does not have the same sense of calm as Kafuku did in Drive My Car. And in An Independent Organ, Tokai, who is very experienced and should understand the inexplicability of women’s behaviour, feels betrayed and devastated.

Just as that woman likely lied to him with her independent organ, Dr. Tokai—in a somewhat different sense—used this independent organ to fall in love. A function beyond his will.

Murakami uses the concept of “an independent organ” to sum up the story. However, there is no denying that the ending of the story is not clear. The key to exploring this incomprehensibility lies in a classic Japanese poem quoted in the story.

Tokai Beauty Clinic is in Roppongi

Why the poem?

Tokai mentioned a poem by a tenth-century poet and expressed his empathy for the poet’s attitude towards love.

“ ‘Having seen my love now / and said farewell / I know how very shallow my heart was of old / as if I had never before known love,’ ” Tokai intoned. “Gonchunagon Atsutada’s poem,” I said. I had no idea why I remembered this.

This famous poem’s author, Gonchunagon Atsutada (906-943) was a court noble and poet of the early to mid-Heian period. He is known for his relationships with many women and for his mysterious anecdotes; He was deeply in love with his wife, but one day he prophesied that he would soon die and that after his death his wife would marry a steward. And it turned out that his words came true.

The quoted poem makes this enigmatic but seemingly undermined story mellow and implies Tokai’s fate and leave a lingering impression on the reader.

Gonchunagon Atsutada (906-943) by Kanō Naonobu in 1648
Gonchunagon Atsutada painted by Kanō Naonobu in 1648

What I felt when I read this story is that it is an answer to a question raised in the Tale of Ise, written around the 10th century.

Once upon a time there was a young man who loved a woman who served his family. But his parents were against it and wanted to kick her out. The man, dependent on his parents, had no power to oppose them. In the meantime, his love for the woman grows deeper and deeper, until suddenly his parents kick her out. The man, weeping tears of blood, composes a poem.

“If she had left of her own free will, it would not be difficult to part with her. But since she did not, I am sadder today than I have ever been.

And then he fainted. His parents panicked and prayed to God and Buddha. It was about dusk when he fainted and he came back to life at about 8pm the next day. The young people of the past were so devoted to love. How can an old man nowadays fall in love like that?

(The Tale of Ise, Ch.40)

Murakami’s answer is “Yes, an old man nowadays can fall in love like that (even more intense)”.

Scenes from the Tales of Ise (part), painted based on the story the first half of the 17th century

There’s one thing I do know, however. Nobody’s ever stopped eating completely and actually died just from being lovesick. Don’t you think so?”

But Tokai did…why not others?

(Added below, 10 November 2021)

What is an independent organ?

Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie.

Just as that woman likely lied to him with her independent organ, Dr. Tokai—in a somewhat different sense—used this independent organ to fall in love. A function beyond his will.

If we think of an independent organ as “an organ independent of a person’s physis (natura)“, then neither the woman’s lies nor the harm that Tokai has done to himself is beyond her or his control.

And while Goto’s grief as secretary is mainly due to his own regret at not being able to save Tokai, it is hard to say that it does not include personal affection. And this grief may have included the sadness that Goto was not able to use his own independent organ.

On 15 February 2009, Murakami received the Jerusalem Prize and gave his famous ‘Egg and Wall’ speech. In the beginning, he introduced himself by saying

I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, who can also be recognized as a professional spinner of lies... by telling skilful lies–which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true–the novelist can bring a truth out to a new place and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form.

Tokai understands that “telling skilful lies” is a part of romance, but he loses sight of himself in the midst of it, gets stuck in the gap between illusion and reality, and ends up destroying himself.

Perhaps this can be the abyss that the author, “a professional spinner of lies“, might have fallen into himself.

<Full Text of the speech>