Much recent ethical criticism theorizes novels as becoming ethically effective through readers’ oscillation between immersion in mimetic worlds and subsequent reflection on that experience. Murakami Haruki, however, presents readers with irreducibly fictional realities that refuse totalizing immersion and that require characters to take responsibility for interacting with manifestly imaginary beings. Each of these realities comprises what I identify as multiple world systems, or narratively constructed semiotic domains such as those of cults or coteries, whose borders with other world systems become the sites of dramatic action and ethical transformation. In essence, Murakami presents us not with single verisimilar realities but with what I call fractal realism, recursively constituted fields of representation wherein characters and readers alike must continually adapt their modes of response to accommodate the differing ethoses established by multiple fictional worlds. This essay identifies some of the ways that theorists of the novel must adjust their models to deal with such quirky, metafictional texts. In addition, to flesh out the immanent ethics of reading at work in Murakami's fiction, I suggest that we might draw from theories of reader response figured in scholarship on “surface reading” and also on the idea of “twofoldness” in aesthetic apprehension theorized by Richard Wollheim.

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