Monthly Archives: October 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day

At the core of every one of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books is a thread of innocence that is on its way to being broken.  Every story is the story of a character whose view is so unknowingly narrow, it is painful to witness.  But they are naive in such diverse ways, the breaking of innocence coming about through such diverse courses, that each Ishiguro story is refreshingly new and surprising.

The Remains of the Day has no big reveals, only an almost imperceptible unraveling.  There are no loud flourishes, no colorful metaphors, not even any passages that are so tangibly heartbreaking.  The beauty in this book is of a diaphanous quality, contained below the reflective surface of a deep, clear pool.  A tiny whisper that I can only hear through absolute silence, almost ungraspable, a filmy wisp of thoughts that have already been caught by the wind and taken flight again, only a few moments after I have closed the last page.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently?  One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way.  In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect.  Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had.  Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding.  There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

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A sea of unknowing

Out in the open ocean, where there isn’t sediment or nutrient input from rivers or currents, the water is deep, inky blue.  Under a cloudy sky, it looks black.  Looking down into it, I try to see below the slightly glistening surface to the light-eating depths.  We lower instruments into the darkness and watch them disappear into the deep.  We collect water samples in little jars that magnify what we know and magnify what we don’t.

Sitting there on a boat with miles of ocean around and hundreds of meters below, being tossed around by powerful waves, it reminds me that my love for the ocean is also a kind of fear, but a fear that makes me love it even more, because the ocean is unknowable.  And it reminds me of other things that are unknowable.  Like the future.  Like the universe.  Like another person’s mind.  It is wonderful to know, but it is also wonderful to sit in a little boat on a vast sea of the unknown, gazing at the obstinate depths and shining down lights that will not be reflected back.

At night we are surrounded by darkness, pitch-black, above and below and all around.  And silence, except for the waves singing little notes as they hit against the metal hull a few inches from my ear.  It is the best sleep, to be a little point of light in the vast darkness, to be a warm, beating heart resting on a sea of unknowing.