Hermetic Haruki Murakami and The Map of the Psyche


Now, now, let’s not jump to conclusions. First, let me give you a quick rundown on my theories. There’s one given about codes, and that is there’s no such thing as a code that can’t be cracked. The reason bein’ that codes are composed accordin’ to certain basic principles. And these principles, it doesn’t matter how complicated or how exactin’, ultimately come down to commonalities intelligible to more than one person. Understand the principle and you can crack the code. Even the most reliable book-to-book codes, where two people exchange messages denotin’ words by page and line number in two copies of the same edition of the same book—even then, if someone discovers the right book, the game is up.” [Murakami, Haruki, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, pg 255 of First Vintage International Edition, 1993]

My life has, by and large, been an experiment in cross-cultural artistic influence. Though born and raised in America and decidedly of European descent, I have, like so many people on the Internet (and reading this article) had for most of my life a sincere appreciation for Japanese art. Their cartoons are fantastic, their opera uncanny, and their films— well, spotty, but that’s because the themes usually covered in Japanese stories do not often lend themselves well to the two-hour format. But one of the most under-appreciated aspects of Japanese culture is, by far, its literature, and even though some of its most popular authors are celebrated in the states, they are not celebrated nearly enough, nor given a hard enough look for the wealth of psychic and spiritual truths they illustrate. The West has a very specific form of cultural programming as compared to the East, after all, and so while it is true that many Americans have an affection for Buddhism, Shintoism and other Eastern faiths and practices, the fact of the matter is that the Western mind (and ego) requires a certain form of approach after a lifetime of programming at the hands of the Church and society at large. One Japanese author in particular understands this better than any author, Eastern or Western, that I have ever read— Haruki Murakami, whose Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of the World, published in 1985 and released in English translation in 1991, provides us with a most thoroughly fine example of what a bridge between East and West looks like, and shows us why a balance of Eastern and Western mindset is necessary in order for the living mind to begin to conceptualize a model of eternity.

As per usual, this is a book whose true depths can only be plumbed by reading it, so if you haven’t, you should strongly consider it; it is a fantastic case study, of sorts, of the psyche, and attempts to unfurl it here are little more than thought experiments designed to get you thinking about the symbols being used by the author and the meaning behind them. We are trying to find the right line on the right page of the right book to align our codes, you and I; and when we do, assuming we have not already, we will be shocked by the ease of our communication.


Alchemists, chaos magicians, psychiatrists and psychonauts have all probably, at one point or another, bumped into the phrase “The map is not the territory”. That is to say, the symbol of the thing is distinct from the thing in itself: I have touched on this issue previously to limited extent, providing the example of the dwelling-space in which you reside: is it a house, a haus, or a casa? None of the above, technically, and yet all of the above. In much the same way I may have three different maps of the United States, each giving me slightly different pictures, or perhaps even providing different kinds of statistical information: I may have one map for weather patterns, another map for election results, another map for a linguistic spread demonstrating regional slang. Does the fact that I have one map of the United States which shows me the weather mean that the weather is the only valid overlay for interpreting the shape of the country, thus invalidating the information given to us by the electoral and language maps? Does the fact that, in my weather map, ‘cold’ is represented by blue mean that the election results map is rendered somehow invalid because it uses the same color to illustrate the counties voting Democrat? Of course not. The three maps are three different ways of viewing the United States, and no more true to the actual United States than could be said of looking at a map with nothing but land information, for when we look at a map, we do not look at the true country. When we look at a map of our country, we look at a model of the country which utilizes symbols discernible by a key, and in so doing we are able to utilize the model to help us better understand the elements of the country being represented by that model. That is why, even though maps are not the thing they represent, and even though maps are not ever perfect, nor fully thorough, we still make maps: we make maps to understand the territory they illustrate, to utilize the resources of that territory and communicate that territory to others who may find themselves in it.

What good does a map of the psyche do, then, when such a thing is to begin with beyond encompassing, and also individual to a person? Well, for one thing, a person who makes a map of their own psyche has a better grasp and understanding of themselves as a person, and they are also more likely, I think, to be highly conscious. By working as cartographers of our own psyches, we encourage others to do the same; and the more maps we have as a culture, the more thoroughly we are able to understand the thing being mapped. The works of many religions, philosophies and psychiatry as a whole all amount to various maps of the psyche which endeavor to be wholly universal, but literature in particular is full of far more discrete maps which manage, by virtue of their discretion, to be personal maps with universal implications, which is often far more effective than any so-called ‘true’ universal map. Previously I have discussed how in The Master and Margarita, Moscow and a particular apartment within serve as a map of Bulgakov’s psyche; for Shirley Jackson, it was New York. It has appeared as Israel’s Jerusalem, Wonderland’s Castle, Oz’s Emerald City and much else besides. For myself, my upcoming novel Albedo features a City; and, in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Murakami’s protagonist finds himself tasked with mapping out a Town. But let us not get ahead of ourselves.

The ultimate distinguishing feature between Eastern and Western culture is one’s starting position relative to one’s own ego, as it were. It is easier from an Eastern background to perceive what is described as a falsity of the ego; and yet this phrase for many Westerners summons a kind of shuddering disdain, enrages and insults the Westerner for whom the thought was posited only as a harmless suggestion. The idea that one’s ego is in some way false, or that attachment is undesirable, or that one could eventually be some-one else, strikes a nerve in a certain type of egocentric Westerner— which brings one to another cause of the distinction between East and West, language. Do you see the linguistic trick hidden in there, that word, ‘someone’? English is a language of clues, the finest knife of the Logos ever-dedicated to specificity, wanting to divide ‘this’ from ‘that’ again and again until true understanding is attained, the true representation of the thing is found. It is a language permanently evolving towards that satisfying ‘a-ha’ moment which washes over us as we find the perfect word for a particular circumstance. It is a very left-brained language in that regard, where as the Japanese language, logographic in nature, is less precise. One does not even have to look so far as Asia to find this imprecision of language, nor turn away from alphabets: in studying the romance languages one finds a peculiar kind of ambiguity common in speech, and the same is true of Germanic languages, as well. English itself is rife with context-specific ambguities, but as it swallows other languages like a black hole absorbing matter, it broadens in its specificity, making use of loan-words to unearth concepts unfamiliar to the English speaker, like schadenfreude or mono no aware. As it grasps ever towards the perfect metaphor, it also swallows other languages at an escalating pace. In that sense, the English language, this tool of the Logos which is used to define and discriminate, functions by means of consumption, envelopment and combination— of Eros. The Western mind should seek to be like its most powerful language: it should seek to absorb the ideas of other cultures and consider them wholeheartedly and yet discriminate, thresh the wheat from the chaff and use that wheat to bake our bread.


To be fair, it is mostly for writers in that I am viewing all of these things from the standpoint of a literary background. I having been writing fiction in a conscious and dedicated way for ten years now and I find the therapeutic benefits to be vast—and that does not consider the benefits to one’s life as a whole, springing from the positive changes in the psyche. Active imagination, as touched on briefly in the Shirley Jackson essay, is a useful tool for both psychiatrist and magician, and it is dead necessary for the artist. All disciplines involving the mind are after a certain point indistinguishable from one another— I look at Jung’s Red Book and cannot tell you if the illuminated manuscript is a piece of art, an opus of psychiatry or a profound spiritual experience, for it is all three. What is important is not so much what the thing is, but an understanding of the thing, and that understanding goes beyond all and any definition. That is what ‘gnosis’ is, ‘enlightenment’. It is a kind of ever-increasing, ever-unfolding understanding of the symbols littering not just art, but reality, and how to utilize those symbols in both art and reality to benefit one’s own mind and self. If I live in a messy house, how can my psyche be anything but cluttered and oppressed, whether or not I admit it, and especially if I do not admit it? If I tell myself each day that I am a failure and I can do better, if I am hyper-critical and cruel to myself, then who can I expect to treat me with kindness?

“Man, know thyself,” commands the Lord. It is the duty of every human being to know himself, his own psyche. Knowing oneself enables one to live one’s life to the fullest regardless of occupation, and may help one improve one’s occupation. It certainly helps improve one’s interpersonal relationships, although it may not seem like it all the time— indeed, a certain isolation can come with study of the mind, and yet at the same time one feels less alone than one has ever felt— less alone, and less like one’s efforts are so meaningless and futile as they once were. The most embittered nihilist can be revived, colored in by the kind of understanding I describe, and suddenly what is bad about religion still remains bad (the indoctrination of large sects, abuses of power, entitlement to money, etc) but there is a new kind of beauty and light which shines from their texts, and from all other texts as well. One reads the Bible with new eyes for the first time asking “How does everyone keep missing this,” and then turns and finds the same thing depicted again and again in Hinduism, Shintoism, ancient Egyptian cults, art and literature and music and anything one could possibly name. One becomes a fountain for the universe, a tower, a column; one sees the game in everything and is able to fulfill one’s fullest potential in the world.

There are many people, particularly in Western society but certainly also in Japan where the average worker is driven to suicide by miserable hours and impossible expectations or forced to go into hiding in his apartment at government cost, who are unable to fulfill their potential. It may often be a matter of circumstance preventing them— a gifted child born into intense poverty in a third world country, for instance— but many times people who are perfectly gifted by circumstance still fail to find fulfillment or to reach their true potential. It is true that all those who are meant to reach their true potential in their life do reach their true potential in their life, but humanity as a species should be working eagerly towards the day when all humans are meant to reach their true potential in life because all humans are being born into loving homes in societies which will care for them without taking advantage of them. Only then will all humans realize they are not human at all, but rather consciousness having a human experience— and yet, is such a thing possible, or even desirable?

There are two forms of evolution: genetic (physical), and memetic (consciousness). Just as physical evolution moves forward, the evolution of consciousness moves upwards. Consciousness, that great white light of being, must gain an upwards perspective, slightly outside of and above everything else, in order to see the whole picture— it must realize it is viewing a map, and not a territory. Consequently there is always the possibility that consciousness, once achieved, will be lost; that everything will lose its distinction; that understanding will be rendered ultimately meaningless and we will be put to sleep by reality, society, the dance of Maya which keeps us distracted. But what is the good of being awake if it all ends the same? Does it end the same if one is awake? Or is there a kind of liberation, a catharsis possible— a life after the End of the World? If heaven as portrayed by Christianity is eternal, are we not there already? Why do we not perceive it?

If only we could chart it with a map.



As one might guess from the title, this is a two-sided novel. It contains but one story, which itself is divided into two concurrent experiences: a conscious experience, and an unconscious experience. The conscious experience, Hard-Boiled Wonderland, is not quite sci-fi, and the unconscious experience, The End of the World, is not quite fantasy, or even fabulism. Their themes and tones seem completely different, and yet much echoes between them and both are richly filled with symbols— though The End of the World is, compared to Hard-Boiled Wonderland, up to its ears in them. What Murakami gives us with these two entwined stories is a map of how the two different levels of consciousness experience existence differently: the conscious ‘left’ brain rationalizes, models and tries to explain what the unconscious ‘right’ brain accepts as self-explanatory symbols. Thus we will see that there is much more in-story explanation in the conscious section; the unconscious section relies mostly on the reader’s intuition.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland, the conscious problem, is the story of an unnamed protagonist who works as a “Calcutec”, a career choice which serves as an important symbol throughout the book. His duty, as illustrated in the excerpt below, is to serve as a kind of human encryption device, the ultimate impenetrable black box: data input into his conscious brain is scrambled in his unconscious and the resulting encoded data is given to the client, though the process is a far longer multi-step one of input, encryption and resulting output. As a Calcutec, our protagonist works for the System, the shady and ambiguous organization currently in control of things and working against the shady and ambiguous organization working in the shadows, the Semiotics. Later it will be roundly theorized that the same entity is the head of both the System and the Semiotics, which, of course, cannot help but be true in a meta-sense, for Haruki Murakami is but one man.


In case the title was not a tip-off that this story would be an exploration deep into the unconscious, our protagonist opens the story by following a chubby woman dressed in pink into a closet, where she shows him a secret door. On the other side of this door is a ladder down into total darkness, the realm of the INKlings (Infra-Nocturnal Kappa) which our protagonist must navigate to a waterfall. On the other side of the waterfall is the laboratory of his client, an old scientist called the Professor (the grandfather of the chubby girl) who, in typical Wise Old Man fashion, sets the plot into motion by asking our main character to “do the laundry,” System slang for Calcutec encryption work. One would do well to consider the symbolic meaning of laundry, which is a recurring theme in the book: when we air someone’s dirty laundry we are airing their shame, and clothes in and of themselves tend to represent either a persona or a true attitude. Doing the laundry is then a form of processing and internalizing external experiences and objects, rendering them clean and functional.

To better understand what a Calcutec does, one need only realize that being a Calcutec is a metaphor for being a writer: the writer or artist absorbs information from all sources, reading ravenously and observing all things, and then, after shuffling the data into a new arrangement, produces a work of art which is essentially an encoded data set from one or more sources, including but not limited to personal experiences, things read about in books and newspapers, or symbol sets provided by religions across the globe. This is not always a fun process. Internalizing lessons is painful and for some people downright impossible, and trauma can likewise be difficult if not impossible to overcome. But from that trauma comes a higher self, just as from dirty laundry comes clean laundry.

Our conscious narrative continues with the scientist (who studies, for the record, “sound-removal” and claims that sound is unnecessary to human evolution) giving our protagonist a gift on his way out, our protagonist being expected to return with the encrypted data by a seemingly arbitrary date— “or else it would be the end of the world,” he is warned. When at home the gift turns out to be a strange animal skull, a particularly perplexing one which cannot be identified but which has an impression in its forehead, as if a singular horn had been long-since broken off, our protagonist sets out to identify it and meets a cute librarian who helps him out with resources, though hesitantly at first: very soon, however, she brings unicorn-themed books to his apartment and they have sex, though the narrator is unable to ‘get it up’, for lack of a less crass expression. After a few tender moments between them, our protagonist next faces down an assault at the hands of a pair of men working with the Semiotics, one giant, the other short, and their visit moves the plot along: all these things are qualities of manifestations of the Wise Old Man, and remember too the theory that Semiotics and System are one in the same. We will not see them again except offhandedly when the librarian-anima, after having tidied our protagonist’s apartment, mentions scaring them off. His apartment is ransacked and his stomach is split, and only after all of this does he learn that the scientist has disappeared and that the chubby girl needs his help to find him. After a watery descent and the very interesting discovery that INKlings worship a pair of blind fish chasing each other’s tails with three clawed feet (some very distinct symbolism in that), they do locate the chubby girl’s grandfather, and it is then that our narrator learns that he has a day and a half until his consciousness leaves reality and descends into a world created by his unconscious mind and utilized by the scientist in the process of making a Calcutec.

Phew. Follow me still? Hopefully you’ve read the book and you remember all of this anyway, but just to refresh your memory, after another soggy journey, this time back to the surface, the chubby girl and the Calcutec narrator emerge in the Tokyo subway and, after getting a hard time from the gatekeeper at the turnstile (think of all the symbolism of gatekeepers and death being particularly finicky, especially about money matters) they at last are able to return to the main character’s apartment, which has been miraculously cleaned up and re-organized after the terrorism of Big Boy and Junior—this, of course, we will discover to have been done by the librarian. In the meantime, our main character does the chubby girl’s laundry (literally, he goes to a laundromat where he is seen doing the all-pink girlie laundry of the scientist’s granddaughter by three female figures, a housewife and two young women). When at last the main character is able to meet the librarian for dinner he rents a car (we have previously discussed the car as being symbolic of a character’s sense of self, though not taken the time to elaborate on the point that this is the character’s sense of self, as opposed to the author’s sense of self or ego being represented by domiciles), brings her the unicorn skull, and successfully sleeps with her. After they have had sex and fallen asleep, they awake to the unicorn skull glowing strangely, which has a a very direct tie to the events in the unconscious story presented in The End of the World. The next day he spends the rest of the morning with the librarian and parts from her with the excuse of his having to leave. After making contact with the chubby girl the next morning and telling her where she can find his body, which she declares she intends to freeze, the narrator parks his car and goes to sleep.

None of this, of course, begins to cover the elegant beauty of the novel. I expect its most famous—certainly most poignant quote, is: “Once, when I was younger, I thought I could be someone else. I’d move to Casablanca, open a bar, and I’d meet Ingrid Bergman. Or more realistically – whether actually more realistic or not – I’d tune in on a better life, something more suited to my true self. Toward that end, I had to undergo training. I read The Greening of America, and I saw Easy Rider three times. But like a boat with a twisted rudder, I kept coming back to the same place. I wasn’t anywhere. I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.”

There is much elegant symbolism here, and elegant depiction of the human experience as that boat, that chariot, rushing ever towards our final destination, our eternal selves, our final selves. The end of the world which our narrator has been warned about is not the end of our world, but the end of his world, as any death is the end of a world, in a sense; and yet there is a kind of cyclical nature depicted at work here, a cycle as elegant as the turning of the seasons. This cyclical theme is one made all the more apparent in the section which represents the unconscious of the narrator, the world into which he slips as he goes to sleep at the end of the novel: a town called The End of the World.



Here, our narrator, in these scenes somehow more intimate and yet more passive and helplessly colorless, finds himself in a Town. At the Gate of the Town he was separated from his Shadow by the Gatekeeper. His eyes are then penetrated by one of the many blades the Gatekeeper makes so that he can be a Dreamreader, which, we will be told later on, is the first job everyone new to the town preforms. The job of the Dreamreader is to go to the library and read old dreams, which he does by passing his hands over the skulls of unicorns, the likes of which populate the town. As the season grows later, the unicorns’ fur turns to soft gold, though in winter many of them die, weighed down by the mind they collect from the town residences. This is not ‘mind’ in the sense of nous so much and more ‘mind’ in the sense of ‘ego’, as when we say we are ‘losing our minds’ we mean that we are losing our sense of self and stability. This keeps the townspeople Townspeople; those with mind must live in the Wilderness, wandering, pondering eternally, but the Townspeople are unconscious, in a sense. They are lulled into patterns of work and doing, they hypnotize themselves and work for work’s sake, a group of old men at one point digging a hole simply because it is what they do. The Gatekeeper’s job, outside of keeping the Gate and keeping Shadows hostage until they perish and are buried, is to collected dead unicorns, behead them, burn their bodies and boil their skulls so they can be added to the library and the old dreams, traces of mind collected from the Townspeople, may be read by the Dreamreader.

In the Library there is, naturally, a Librarian, an obscure anima figure with a face our protagonist cannot quite make out, which should be a clue to us very early on that this is a world of the unconscious. The Librarian has been waiting for him; there is only one Librarian per Dreamreader. As we get to know the Librarian we learn that she has no mind, but that her mother had mind and for that she was condemned to the Woods. Her mother, we learn, used to sing in her room; in the Town, music is a vital symbol of mind, itself symbolizing the act of creation. Our narrator cannot remember any songs at the outset.

Close readers and good writers know there is a distinction between story and plot; the actual plot of The End of the World is the narrator’s efforts to rescue his shadow, which is slowly dying in the Gatekeeper’s prison, forced in the meantime to assist him with the unicorns and various other activities around the impassible Gate. The town, incidentally, is surrounded by an impassible wall; only birds can fly over it, and there was once an East Gate, but it was blocked up long ago. A river runs through town and that river leads to a Pool with a terrifying but hypnotic gurgle, a place into which criminals were once thrown to drown. Our narrator is forced to explore these and other places, often with the advice of the benevolent-and-benign Colonel, in his quest to fulfill the request of his Shadow: that he make a map of the Town before the coming of winter. The map functions both as a literal map and, a we will see, a symbol for the novel, itself, which itself is a map of its author’s psyche. This task, a task at which our narrator is ultimately unsuccessful—he delivers the map, but late, after the onset of winter, when escape is made more difficult—is vivid foreshadowing, and perhaps the hidden cause of the equally hidden tragedy of the novel: it is a failure to fully integrate the unconscious, an act which is, to be fair, impossible to do in a complete manner— and yet, there are principles, aspects which can be made conscious to varying degrees depending on context. While our narrator will be unsuccessful, we as readers will not be: we have the opportunity to achieve a higher state of consciousness by viewing and meditating on the failures of our narrator.

To continue along our plot, over which I am truly grazing for the sake of brevity and time (a more thorough version of this essay will appear in the forthcoming essay collection, I am certain), the narrator becomes keenly interested in not only keeping his own mind, but in restoring the mind of the Librarian, whom he is undeniably coming to love. He loves her— in part, he admits, because it is what the Town wants from him, in order to keep him there and hypnotized. Jung drew a distinct connection between the anima and the concept of Maya, and it is not difficult to understand why: human beings are very easily motivated and driven astray, generally speaking, by the sex drive. Entire cultures have been built and wars fought over it, people subjugated and tortured and used because of it, and of course it perpetuates the species, so it is by necessity that it causes all of these things. The Librarian, then, is a kind of unconscious motivating factor in our narrator’s conscious actions represented in Hard-Boiled Wonderland—he opens the novel following and thinking of the chubby girl, his encounters with the real-life Librarian (often paired with unicorn imagery, as when Murakami mentions the beasts laying their heads in the laps of virgins and the accompanying scene where the narrator rests his face upon the stomach of the Librarian who he has not been able to make himself hard to penetrate), his journey with the chubby girl into the waters in pursuit of her grandfather—insofar as his actions are driven and guided throughout the novel by helpful women.

The Librarian of The End of the World, like her conscious emanations, is helpful to our narrator in that she provides him with an externalization of his thoughts and also a drive for him, something to work towards, to rescue outside of his shadow: she also accompanies him when he goes in pursuit of a musical instrument, a journey which leads him on the advising of the Colonel to the edge of the Woods, to the Power Station, which is attended by the book’s Luciferian figure, the Caretaker. Like all such figures, he is suspended between the eternity of the Town and the chaos of the Woods, where those with mind wander in contemplation for all time in a circumstance not dissimilar, one would say, to purgatory. In that sense, the Caretaker is the keeper, not of the Gate of the unconscious (that, in Murakami’s map, is death) but rather of eternal order. Like the Spirit Mercurius, he is associated with air:

My eyes are nocturnal creatures. I soon discern a figure in the middle of the darkness. A man, slight of build, faces what appears to be an enormous column. Apart from this central shaft of perhaps three yards width, extending from floor to ceiling, there is no generator. No geared machinery block, no whirring drive shafts. The building could well be an indoor riding stable. Or a gigantic kiln, the floor laid with the same brick as the walls.

I am halfway to the column, before the man finally notices me. Unmoving, he turns his head to watch my approach. He is young, his years number perhaps fewer than my own. His appearance and manner are antithetical to the Gatekeeper in every way. Lanky and pale of complexion, he has smooth skin, with hardly a trace of beard. His hair recedes to the top of his broad forehead; his clothes are neat and well pressed.

“Good-day,” I raise my voice over the noise.

He looks at me, lips tight, then gives a perfunctory nod.

“Am I bothering you?” I shout again.

The man shakes his head, then points to a panel bolted next to the column that has occupied his attention. I look through a glass peephole in the panel and see a huge fan mounted parallel to the ground, the blades driven by some great force. What fury is tamed here to generate power for the Town?

“Wind power?” I can barely hear myself ask.

The man nods, then takes me by the arm and conducts me back toward the portal. We walk shoulder to shoulder, he a half-head shorter than I. We find the Librarian standing outside, anxiously waiting my re-emerence. The Caretaker greets her with the same perfunctory nod.

“Good-day,” she says.

“Good-day,” the man answers quietly.

He leads us both to where the nosie is less intense, behind the small house, to a cleared acre in the Woods. There we seat ourselves on crop stubble scythed close to the ground.

“Excuse me. I cannot speak loud,” apologizes the young Caretaker. “You are from Town, I suppose?”

“That is right,” I tell him.

“The Town is lighted by wind,” he says. “There is a powerful cry in the earth here. We harness it to turn the works.” [pg 279-280]

Though we are hard-pressed to strictly speaking call the Caretaker the puer eternis to the Gatekeeper’s senex, that is rather the comparison one is forced to make when comparing the Devil to Yahweh or Prometheus to Chronos; they have very different duties which are yet reflections of one another, irrevocably tied. One maintains life, the Spirit Mercurius lighting the Town with air; the other takes it in a symbolic sense, the Saturnine aspect cleaving citizens from their shadows with his finely-honed blades. And, as in most other appearances of the Mercurial Spirit, the Caretaker is also the source of creativity: he has many musical instruments collected in his house, but cannot play them, much as he is suspended between the Town and the Woods. The Librarian posits this place in the Power Station is because he was not able to completely get rid of his shadow and mind, but yet he is not welcome to wander in the Woods, either. Like the Luciferian figure trapped in matter, so too is the Caretaker immobile.

As an interesting aside which furthers the Caretaker as Spirit Mercurius symbolism, the Caretaker cultivates a plant, which is made into a tea.

The young Caretaker of the Power Station invites us into his modest quarters. He checks the fire in the stove, then takes the boiling kettle in to the kitchen to make tea. It is good to drink the hot infusion; we are cold from our day in the Woods. The wind-cry does not subside.

“I pick this herb in the Woods,” the Caretaker tells us. “I dry it in the shade all summer, and in winter I have it for tea. It stimulates and warms the body.”

The drink is fragrant, with an unassuming sweetness.

“What is the plant called?” I ask.

“The name? I have no idea,” he says. “It grows in the Woods, it smells good, so I make tea with it. It has green stalks about yea high, blooms midsummer, I pick the young leaves…The beasts like to eat the flowers.” [pg 291]

One thinks rather of the Spirit Mercurius’ tendency towards gardening, his close ties to a spiritual plant from which one extracts the aqua permanens or various other synonyms for the stone, and the relation of the great work of alchemy to works of creativity— the unicorns, symbols of the self, like to eat the flowers of the creative works which the Caretaker collects and brews as tea. At any rate— ultimately, the Caretaker, who cannot himself play instruments but only likes looking at their shapes, allows the narrator to take with him an accordion; as the novel begins to close, the narrator will at last remember the song ‘Danny Boy’, which moves him in in the conscious world of Hard-Boiled Wonderland to cry, and which in the unconscious End of the World is the cause of the glowing unicorn skulls. The skulls which glow at the sound of the song indicate the presence of the Librarian’s mind, and it is those skulls which the narrator spends the night reading. At last, having collected her mind in a symbolic albedo, a combination of the male and female, he leaves her with the accordion and goes to help his shadow escape. The shadow insists they go to the Southern Pool, which the narrator believes would be suicide, because he has been told as much by the Librarian; however, the shadow has concluded that logically the Town has everything needed, even a way out, and with all other exits excluded, the only way out is the Southern Pool. In leaving the narrator will return to the conscious world, what the shadow emphasizes is their world, their home, and in so doing the shadow will be able to survive; but the narrator decides not to go, himself, opting to stay in the Woods with the Librarian, wandering forever with her. The shadow leaves alone; we have previously seen a symbol of two birds sitting together, and now, after the shadow leaves alone, we will see a single bird fly over the Wall, to freedom.

To understand the ending, one must consider what the narrator is in The End of the World versus the conscious narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Generally, when we are viewing things from the conscious perspective, the shadow represents the unconscious perspective; however, that means that when we take the unconscious perspective, our shadow represents the conscious perspective. What this means is that, from a psychological standpoint, the narrator of The End of the World is what we would consider the shadow of the narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland— but it works both ways, because the shadow of my shadow is me. Thus, when the narrator of The End of the World describes his shadow, what he is really describing is his conscious personality, his mind, his ego, as we discussed before; and the eternal unconscious, rather than suffering itself to be made conscious and become a fully-realized, waking archetype of pure consciousness, opts to wander the Woods while, separated from him forever, his ego wanders in the waking world.


The character of The Professor is of particular interest; the chubby girl’s grandfather, we discover, is not just interested in sound removal. He is also the genius behind the concept of shuffling to begin with. In the continuation of the quote with which we opened our essay, the Professor goes on:

“That got me t’thinkin’. There’s only one true crack-proof method: you pass information through a ‘black box’ and r’scramble it and then you pass the processed information back through the same black box t’unscramble it. Not even the agent holdin’ the black box would know its contents or principle. An agent could use it, but he’d have no understanding of how it worked. If that agent didn’t know how it worked, no one could steal the information. Perfect.”

“So the black box is the subconscious.”

“Yes, that’s correct. Each individual behaves on the basis of his individual mnemonic makeup. No two human beings are alike; it’s a question of identity. And what is identity? The cognitive system arisin’ from the aggregate memories of that individual’s past experiences. The layman’s word for this is the mind. No two human beings have the same mind. At the same time, human beings have almost no grasp of their own cognitive systems. I don’t, you don’t, nobody does. All we know—or think we know—is but a fraction of the whole cake. A mere tip of the icing.” [pg 255]

I will note to you now as has been noted by others: the book misuses ‘subconscious’ in regions where it means ‘unconscious’. To better illustrate this notion please see the below diagram:


Another way of thinking of it is: the subconscious is like your computer’s local harddrive, containing everything that you have personally experienced, seen, said or done; the unconscious is all the data which is stored on the cloud, but also the potential data, all potential formations of data, and all of you, yourself. But I digress. The Professor is a noteworthy character because, as the Wise Old Man, he is the bridge between the conscious and unconscious, but also what keeps them separated, and also the cause of what will mean the narrator’s death. He is benevolent and mischievous but also Saturnine, and so for that reason he is like the Jungian appearance of the Wise Old Man before he becomes further differentiated by the unconscious into further subsets of the archetype represented by Saturn and Mercury. So, while it is true that the conscious narrator is unable to reconcile his unconscious and bring it into conscious awareness, but it is not his fault that this is true: it is the fault of the Wise Old Man, who used to work for the System but who now functions as an independent scientist, hidden in the dark, among the INKlings, his lab beneath a waterfall.



Murakami’s clocktower is of particular symbolic interest in that it represents a connection between above and below, specifically a striving upwards: it represents a desire of the unconscious contents to be unified with conscious contents as much as it represents the desire of Mankind to know the divine, as it does the resonance recorded in the Hermetic principle “As above, so below”. This can be represented by clocktowers, towers in general, ladders, ropes, pillars, columns, also palm trees and arguably other types of trees, although trees have a meaning of their own.


As our narrator drives in pursuit of his destiny he sees in a car next to him a woman with two silver bracelets on her right arm, glinting in the moonlight, and he becomes fascinated by the imagery of this, concocting a story about her in the depths of his mind.

The tie of this woman to the moon is made explicit in her proximity to it, but also in her choice of metal— silver, which possesses as strong an alchemical tie to the feminine Luna as the gold of the unicorns’ fur is a symbol of the masculine Sol. The pair of bracelets on her arm brings to mind the two conscious emanations of the feminine who our narrator encounters in his waking life, that is, the very forward but ultimately unsuccessful chubby girl and the more reticent but most assuredly sexual Librarian. This woman is fascinating to our narrator because she is a glimpse of a pure feminine principle, driven in her car by a man, silent consciousness, practically invisible in the backgroud.


The unicorns, as previously mentioned, are associated with the color gold and we are told explicitly by the scientist that they represent self; but as we have seen the Western concept of ‘ego’ represented as ‘mind’, it is perhaps more helpful and accurate to think of the unicorns as consciousness. This is consistent with the color of their fur and they fact that they wander through the Town, collecting old dreams. They die in the winter and are reborn in the spring, and though this reminds us of the death-rebirth pattern of Christ or of the idea that the universe is perepetually destroyed and re-created or the idea that it has never been created or destroyed, that it is a cycle of time generated by the expanding and shrinking of the cosmos, what is important is to think of what is meant by the experience, and what the self encompasses. The Self is more than simply yourself, your ego: the Self is a combination of eternal consciousness and human mind (and the resulting construct/archetype, ‘the ego’). This is why we see the unicorns paired consistently with the feminine, as the concepts of femininity and masculinity represent matter and consciousness, respectively; it is also a significance worth considering in the narrator’s choice to give the Librarian the unicorn skull, and in the Town-Librarian’s duty of caring for the unicorn skulls: the flesh is the carrier of the psyche, the vehicle of the self.


We will significantly note throughout the book the appearance of what is essentially an appropriated sign of the fishes (Pisces, twin fish chasing one another’s tails) and, as previously briefly mentioned, a pair of birds. This dual figure is one described by Jung in-depth in Aion and has a great many variations of meaning. The pair of fish worshiped by the Kappa brings to mind Leviathan and its bride, Christ and the Devil, and the general cycle of shifting archetypes represented by religion. The birds, however, bring to mind more clearly the image of the soul and spirit; and as the soul returns to the real world, the spirit is left behind, unintegrated, left to wander with the anima while its shadow operates with what is essentially waking unconsciousness in perpetuity. Thus, at the end, the incredible book which is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World taken together represents an alchemical operation which was not quite successful: the masculine and feminine have been integrated in an albedo, but the rubedo integration of the conscious and unconscious (or matter and unconscious, the more pressing and universal desire) is aborted by the unconscious, which realizes it is living in a Town which it itself has created. So while our narrator in the waking world repeatedly lives his life, a ‘boat with a twisted rudder’ always going back to the same place, his consciousness will continue to wander ever forward in what was described by the Professor as a dilation of time upon death, a kind of infinite dividing done by the human brain. As far as our narrator is considered, he will be forever in the Town, wandering the Woods; however, as far as we are considered, we can see the whole picture. We can see both the cyclical forward motion of this literary character’s life caused by our reading of the book, and the perpetual upward-spiraling motion of his wandering consciousness, separated from his material body; from his perspective, he is only living this once, but from our perspective, the reader’s perspective, he is living it again and again. Our viewpoint is like that of consciousness: perpetual, impartial, above and beyond and yet within, moving events by observing them, and observing events by moving them. And so we, like the light of eternal consciousness, have the opportunity to learn: to bring together two halves of the whole mind, which are never truly separated, and to make the unconscious contents conscious— to use our artwork to draw a map of the psyche, of the Town we have made for ourselves without ever having once realized it.


Finally, I would like to point out that it is not the conscious narrator who draws a map of the psyche; rather, it is the unconscious narrator who draws a map of the psyche at the behest of the conscious one, now relegated to shadow, and provides it to him. This symbolism is comparable to a revelation which makes the creative process as easy as breathing, for we realize as creators that we have little if nothing to do with it: what we see is the left brain prompting the right brain to write the story in which they both exist, and the right brain obliging, albeit belatedly. The problem, then, is one of not so much connecting with, but motivating the right brain; too easily do we find ourselves distracted, do we reach a height of knowledge and believe here is the place to settle without considering the far higher peaks just beyond. What might our narrator have achieved had he been able to make conscious the unconscious creator of the Town, what perspective might he have had had he lived his life with awareness of the Town? When he does finally attain some semblance of conscious awareness of the Town, it is only insofar as he learns he will find himself there after what is essentially death. The Town, then, does not eliminate or resolve or soothe in any particular fashion the problem of death; there is still a differentiation between life and death, still a Wall around the Town which keeps its contents greedily contained. And yet, when we look at the book as a whole, it is a singular thing consisting of two components: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of the World. Thus, ultimately, only from our elevated three-dimensional perspective are we able to see that the two conditions are concurrent, eternal; only we are able to completely reconcile them into a totality, and even then, how completely we are able to do so depends vastly on the individual person. One can understand the meaning of a thing without feeling the meaning of a thing; one may enjoy looking at instruments without playing them. But when we make the music ourselves, hear the tune which pulls at us, we are connecting to something greater than ourselves: something we can come close to gracing through art.

M. F Sullivan is the author of DELILAH, MY WOMAN, which in twenty or so years will be roundly recognized as the best novel of last year. Its psychedelic follow-up, ALBEDO, is completed and awaits editing; check back every two weeks in the meantime for more essays, and click here to buy DELILAH, MY WOMAN, or leave a review if you’ve already finished it.

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