The Deconstruction of Suzumiya Haruhi
Thainen kept talking about various theories explaining what’s really going on in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which prompted the emergence of this one as a long lecture with questions answered along the way and input incorporated into the concept, delivered at the wheel while driving around the city. Might as well write it down.
It only makes any kind of sense to talk about “what’s really going on” if we assume that the text is a more or less faithful eyewitness account of what actually happened, or has, at least, been observed by someone. Without that assumption, literary criticism is rather pointless. However, if we try to treat the Haruhi novels this way, we are faced with numerous problems — they contain various inconsistencies, which either force us to assume that Kyon is an unreliable narrator, which doesn’t really follow from the text itself, or need to be explained away in numerous convoluted plotlines which involve doubting things said by Kyon or other characters.
Meanwhile, the novels were obviously not meant for this sort of scrutiny. They aren’t really deeply intellectual and pose few complex philosophical questions, instead, relying on emotion to drive the point home. This would leave the theory that nothing is really going on a prime contender, however, that would be boring.
Instead, let me describe again what a youkai is, this time in English…
Let’s start with that I use the word ‘youkai’ because I plan to exploit it as a scientific term. I do not mean the mystical creatures that the Japanese call youkai but rather, a specific class of persons,1 which can only be distinguished securely from humans by the way they develop. If we define ‘humans’ as ‘bipedal primates’, youkai will be human too, and will participate noticeably in all forms of human activity, however, they can be readily distinguished from other ‘humans’, hence the need for a specific term.
Imagine the entirety of material world. Failing that,2 just assume it exists. It consists of individual atoms, quarks, quanta and other subdivisions described so well in conventional physics.
However, “human reality”, the subjective world every single human builds, consists not of these things, but of objects, which are assumed to exist in specific relationships to each other. While every human has their own, because essentially it exists only as an interpretation of physical reality in their heads, humans are capable of communication, interpersonal relationship, and in general, each such model posesses a certain predictive power, without which all these things would be impossible. The individual entities within this model are not atoms, but objects, which have properties, and correspond to various assemblies of real atoms. Artificial intelligence seeks to recreate such a representation which every individual human has. One interesting property of such a model is that not all such objects correspond to actual physical objects3 and in fact, quite a lot do not. These commonly end up more important than ones that do.
Every such model is inherently subjective. However, major parts of such model are shared among the majority of people that live, added onto by generations, and preserved as human culture, in a state called intersubjectivity. The intersubjectivity allows humans to interact, coexist and work together, and thus the requirement of acceptance in “human world” is, in IT terms, sharing the code that makes it work. This collection of assumptions about reality, in essence, is the “human world”.
It is extended by specific professional, national, social realities, which are seen from outside as if they were black boxes, with given input, output, and complete unknown inside, only visible by insiders, however, being institutionalised, they are accepted by human reality to exist. Even when they are treated like voodoo and black magic, like computers or physics often are, they are not doubted, and even when they are in conflict, they are still accepted by humans at large and the practitioners themselves as real.
There’s one important quality that “human world” has, and that is the fact that it does not encompass the entirety of all physical entities, let alone all the feasible and useful4 virtual entities that may exist or already exist. It is inherently incomplete, because the capacity of human brain is finite, even if very large. This we shall call the “Otherside”, a large mass of objects which, while not being exploited or accepted as real by humans, are still grounded in material reality and in some roundabout way exist.
The “human world” is not something that is inborn to all persons. In fact, it is continually shifting, developing and altering, and it is learned and internalised by everyone in the process of socialization. The human reality is consensual, built on joint acceptance of those assumptions and models, and is but one of the myriad possible ways to see the worls. This process of learning and readjusting to the shifing “human world” never stops, and continues throughout life, however, it comes in a few stages, symbolically marked in various cultures with initiation rituals, whether marked and understood as such or not.
It follows that the complete acceptance of the common base that allows everyone to coexist at all, the “human world”, is not universal either. Initiation rituals commonly involve the concept of ritual rebirth as a true member of a specific culture. However, not everybody will be reborn as human. Numerous reasons, most of them tied to psychological trauma,5 may cause inability to accept the “human world” and growth in a completely different direction. In essence, a person is reborn not as a human, but as something entirely different.
Each individual human shares a core of very basic assumptions, skills, and those who cannot share them, cannot coexist with humans and will be branded psychotic and incarcerated, which is the normal way humans deal with disruptive elements. While only those who are completely incapable of interaction with humans are branded psychotic, most of those who are not reborn as humans will grow into youkai.
A youkai shares enough of “human world” with humans to coexist with them, however, while humans develop complex low-level neural structures to process common tasks,6 a youkai might not have such low-level neural structures, or may have developed them very differently. However, this does not invariably mean that youkai are in some way disabled7 — they are very literally ‘differently abled’8 — their personal model of the world contains, beyond the normal assumptions of “human world”, a different set, which the “human world” doesn’t encompass.
That different set of beliefs, assumptions and practices is interesting in the way that despite not matching the “human world”, it actually describes objects that are still grounded in material reality, and still have the predictive and explanatory power commonly thought to be reserved to the “human world” and things it accepts as real. While a psychotic simply believes in something that cannot be practically used, and is psychotic specifically because of that, a youkai believes, and is possibly neuromechanically equipped to use, things that normal people cannot use and do not believe.
A youkai has a “human form”, something that is perceptible by others as a normal human, but beyond the objects described by human reality also interacts with other objects which are “anomalously real” — frequently imperceptible by humans at all, but real for this particular youkai, usable meaningfully by this particular youkai, and most importantly, capable of affecting even normal humans as long as that youkai is physically or conceptually present. The ways it can manifest are myriad, just as the “Otherside” is much bigger than “human world”, but the most common would be things that appear to affect probability of events normally considered improbable. While the probability of a die rolling 6 for fifty consecutive rolls is seen in “human world” as improbable, statistically it is just as probable as any other set of fifty consecutive rolls. Various abilities and ways of thinking available to youkai through the virtue of their different world view and internal model of such may be perceived as extrasensory or otherwise mystical, while still not being such in a sense that they don’t really break the laws of physics and don’t even bend them.9 They may appear as completely fantastic while not actually being so, because the perceptual abilities available to the bipedal primates are physically limited and may be affected in numerous ways.
A single youkai, however, is still fundamentally a bipedal primate, and has a finite brain capacity. As such, he is not capable of seeing the entirety of the “Otherside”, just as a human is not capable of acting upon all the professional realities he acknowledges to exist. Youkai are commonly deeply troubled by this, either perceiving themselves as disabled, or the world itself as broken. Since youkai are rather rare10 and similar youkai are not very common either, being a youkai is not particularly easy.
Any youkai, however, has a unique niche in the society, which may take years to find or which might not be found at all, that of enriching the “human world” by parts of the “Otherside” that he can perceive and introduce into human reality for general consumption. This is further facilitated when youkai actually manage to meet, which, with modern communication technologies, is much easier than before.11 It is possible for youkai with very different, but fundamentally compatible worldviews (“youkai worlds”) to join into a social structure, and frequently, these structures crystallize around a single youkai, which, while otherwise possibly appearing a normal human, accepts the reality of their youkai worlds just like a human accepts the reality and practical use of professional realities of science and technology.
With me so far? Here’s how it all maps onto Haruhi Suzumiya.
Haruhi Suzumiya is a youkai of such catalytic type, her worldview, while still grounded in reality, accepts the reality of aliens, time travelers, espers, — or what appears to her as such — as an unshakable truth. It is very possible that Haruhi herself requires reassurance for this worldview to flourish and to leave her “human form”, which Kyon readily provides, willingly or unwillingly, whether being a youkai himself or not. Other principal characters of the novels are other types of youkai, whom the ability of Haruhi to believe all that reassures of their own viability and allows to fully manifest.
As a result, everything that is described in the novels does exist for the characters, and is not merely fiction for them, because it translates to practical real world events, abilities and actions. The characters actually experience everything Kyon describes in first person, and so do the non-youkai innocent bystanders. It can be safely said that Koizumi actually understands, in yet another roundabout way, the theory described above, and actively uses its theses to support his own non-human world view, and by extension, those of the other characters. It’s an illusion, which is nevertheless very, very real, just as money is real for everyone else.
However, less of it is real in the sense of physical science — material — than you would think, and individual “youkai worlds” do not have the unshakability of “human world”, which is not only grounded in reality, but also grounded in mutual acceptance by the majority of humans. All the inconsistencies that result are ignored by the characters because their own views of self and the world are still not firmly set.
In a not so distant future, this may well result in Haruhi making major contributions to human culture,12 or may not result in anything, however, the drama and comedy we see in the text are those of youkai getting to grips with the world they actually live in, and the fantastic events are a glimpse into their personal worldviews, as reflected onto others.
By which term I will from here on designate everyone, all those who can speak and think, whether they call themselves human or not. ↩︎
Most people can’t seriously imagine infinity, and I wouldn’t consider this a handicap really ↩︎
That is, those that posses predictive power and can be used for meaningful structuring of physical entities. ↩︎
But there are numerous others, from genetic predisposition to brain damage. ↩︎
Although some are. ↩︎
I’d be damned if I ever use political correctness, but here these words have real meaning. ↩︎
The biggest achievement of physical science is the knowledge of laws of the material world that will always result in very specific predictions when the situation is rigorously controlled. However, real world situations are rarely, almost never in fact, controlled quite as rigorously. ↩︎
Commonly, no more than one child in fifty results a youkai. ↩︎
It can also produce a highly malicious behavioral antipattern called a ‘metaphorical hole’, which I will describe some other time, since it’s a lecture just about as long as this one. ↩︎
See, for example, book 8, where she starts on this path herself and actually drives most of the school to participate. ↩︎