conclusion not really fleshed out yet; but was going to mention that because i was able to understand the characters (‘diagnose’ them) the work grew more meaningful for me
will–as i was about to post this i saw your old essay and realized i used the same essay and work, but i don’t think they’re too similar, i focus specifically on miyake and we come to different conclusions. but i’m planning on talking to prof. francomano just to make sure. thanks!
When reading Landscape with Flatiron, I found “The Black Hole of Trauma” by Kolk and McFarlane to be an extremely useful tool in understanding the character of Miyake. When first introduced he seems benignly ordinary, an average man with a predisposition for lighting bonfires, but as the narrative progresses, we start to see the inherent abnormality in his words, actions, and habits that betray his deep-rooted suffering. Applying the model of post-traumatic stress disorder to his behavior sheds light on the motives behind them. His psyche has been altered by some traumatic event that he is continually afflicted by.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by the “developing of specific patterns of avoidance” caused by the afflicted individual’s “inability to integrate the awful experience” into their lives. We first receive hints of Miyake’s awful experience in his short conversation with Keisuke by the bonfire. Keisuke asks, “But seriously, though, did anybody get hurt? You must have somebody you know in Kobe”, to which Miyake responds curtly, “Let’s change the subject.” Miyake clearly does not wish to talk about the earthquake in Kobe, or the people he knew there. He avoids the subject perhaps because it reminds him of his awful experience. We later learn that Miyake did, in fact, know people in Kobi. He tells Junko about his wife and four kids there, and claims, “I can’t call him an idiot. I don’t have the right. I’m not using my brain any more than he is, I’m the idiot king.” This sudden bout of self-deprecation, though ambiguous, reveals a bit more about Miyake’s distress. He is clearly tortured by some choice he made or some event that has happened to him. Kobi was the site of his trauma. And when asked if he would like to share more by Junki, Miyake responds, “No, I really don’t”. Again, he avoids any reference or possible further discussion about his past trauma.
Another symptom of post-traumatic disorder that Miyake exhibits is that he “organizes his life around the trauma.” He used to live with his family in Kobi, but now lives alone in Ibaraki. His life consists of habitual trips to Junko’s convenience store, casual painting, and, of course, bonfires, his only source of pleasure. He explains, “It’s almost a sickness with me. Why do you think I came to live in this navel-lint nothing of a town? It’s because this place gets more driftwood than any other beach I know. That’s the only reason. I came all the way out here to make bonfires. Kind of pointless, huh?” Miyake completely uprooted his life in Kobi and created a new existence for himself that is devoid of both point and meaning because his past trauma has affected him so severely. He has organized, or rather, reorganized his life around this awful experience that he has had. His “overall functioning” has become affected by his PTSD and his “interpersonal and occupational problems” can be seen in his relatively solitary life (he does not seem to have any other friends besides Junko and perhaps Keisuke), and his lack of a designated job or career.
PTSD also involves the “repetitive replaying of the trauma in images, behaviors, feelings, and psychological states”. Though the narrative is largely told in the third person limited perspective and does not delve into the minds of the characters, Miyake informs us about his recurrent dreams and thoughts on how he will die in a refrigerator. He says, “I think about it all the time…I’m in this tight space, in total darkness, and I die little by little…I scream but nobody can hear me. And nobody notices I’m missing…I have the same dream over and over again.” The dream is both disturbing and distressing, and a manifestation of his trauma. The fact that this dream recurs constantly reveals the maladaptive preoccupation Miyake has with the event it represents. He frequently replays his trauma because it has affected him so severely.
In PTSD, the traumatic experience is not only replayed, but conserved. It is not “accepted as a part of one’s personal past; instead, it comes to exist independently of previous schemata (i.e. it is dissociated).” The traumatic event becomes another entity, held separate from the rest of the individual’s life. And it is able to be separate and other because it is not integrated or changed in anyway to fit the form of reality. This is the case in Miyake’s dream. He says, “That’s my dream. It’s always the same. Always. Every little detail. And every time I have it, it’s just as scary as the last.” His dream is perfectly conserved and because it has not been diluted or changed through integration, the impact and severity of the event remains intact. He is faced with the full force of its impact every time he falls into his dream.