Humanities (2018-03-01)

The Self without Character: Melville’s The Confidence-Man and Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

  • Jason M. Wirth

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 1
p. 25


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This essay explores the gap between character, that is, the habitual persona or mask that can be consistently recognized and represented, and the underlying self. If the self is conflated with the persona, the latter rings hollow. If the self emerges in the gap between itself and its persona, it is no longer hollow but rather empty in the positive Mahāyāna Buddha Dharma sense of śūnyatā (lack of a self-same self or identity). This essay disambiguates the hollowness of character from the emptiness of the self through a study of Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) and Murakami’s contemporary classic, Kafka on the Shore (2002). Bringing Murakami into proximity with Melville not only highlights the originality of both but also affords a co-illuminating confrontation that brings Buddhist and Shinto insights to bear upon the problem of the self.