Management: While my overall opinion of the Monogatari Series, is quite positive, this essay is, by no means, meant to be a comprehensive review. It is rather an articulation and analysis of what I feel are its most integral and interesting themes. Much of this essay draws from elements of Sigmund Freud’s and especially Friedrich Nietzche’s thoughts. That being said, the inclusion of those elements are not meant to be a total affirmation of everything they believe.
The Truth That Matters
When it comes to epistemology, broken down to its etymological roots as the study of knowledge, we ultimately end up having to ask or being asked some derivative of the question… What is truth?
What is it? It may be useful to inquire first truth’s opposite, namely, falsehood. Falsehood, in layman’s terms, are lies, and lies can be characterized as deceit, deception, and delusion. I’m asked why the sky is blue, and rather than answer “because it’s the oxygen in the atmosphere,” I reply “because it’s an ocean propped up by an invisible dome erected long ago.” That doesn’t work like that, or that never happened, or that is not. It isn’t real. So what does that mean for truth, and how is that meaning relevant to us, no less to a show like Monogatari?
Because what matters to us, boiled down, what we tend to say, what we tend to do, how we tend to lead our lives, is what’s real. It’s what’s is. Whether we are conscious of it or not, people orient themselves to the fulfillment of some meaning or purpose, of how we ought to live our lives. It’s the objective way of living. It’s what we feel will make us happy. It’s what’s natural. It’s what’s proper. It’s what makes us feel whole. In many organized religions, that means obedience and/or communion with some sort of deity or deities, constituting in sum things such as omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience… the highest rungs of what can be considered fulfillment or wholeness. It is the absolute, ultimate truth, and being part of that truth, theoretically, is supposed to make us happy. Philosophy trims the divine aspects of theology, but nevertheless leaves the theological concept, in function and even name, intact. Our absolute, ultimate truth is our god, and there is no god but ours. Truth’s naturally exclusive that way.
The God of Bricks and Girls
If it hasn’t been implied before, truth can be applied in both matters concrete and abstract.
Take a brick, for example. Call it a brick or not if one wills, but regardless of how one labels it (and languages other than English obviously do), it is still a brick by substance. They’re made for construction, to build transportation, residence, commercial, and industry infrastructure. According to reason, that’s the brick’s purpose, the brick’s meaning. The brick’s absolute and ultimate truth. So it goes to follow that that a brick laying fallow in a field, let alone serving under any other capacity, is tantamount to sacrilege.
Take Sengoku Nadeko. She believes herself to be this obsessive, egotistical, cynical… generally awful person whose sole desire is the fulfillment of her love story with the show’s male protagonist, Koyomi Araragi. Too long has she kept up the facade of a cute, timid, and meek girl with long bangs, too long has she suppressed the supposed truth of what she thinks she is, the snake-like depths that reside in the abstract reaches of her heart. When at least, with the concurrent shedding of her bangs, she discarded her phony image, figuratively speaking, she embraced her supposedly awful nature and became a god. Literally speaking, she became a snake deity, determined to have her love story, impossible it may be with Araragi’s already spoken for, by turning it into a stirring tragedy for all romantics to envy for all time. To be a god and kill Araragi. That’s her meaning and purpose. That’s what’s is. That’s what’s real, what’s natural, what’s proper. That’s what’s real. That’s her god, and there is no other god but hers.
Killing a God
To that, Deishu Kaiki declares: There is no god.
“There is no absolute truth.” ~ Kaiki
Take a brick, for example. He would likely assert that bricks have no inherent meaning or purpose.
But that sounds absurd. They were designed for building houses and halls and stuff. By reason, wouldn’t design be indicative of some sort of inherent objective?
That’s an illusion, theoretically easier to shatter and break than bricks through glass and bricks through face. Respectively. Who are you to designate that bricks have to be building material if they can very well shatter glass and break face? I mean, what’s to stop bricks from just lying in a field? They do a fairly decent job just lying there. Extending this train of thought further from bricks breaking face to bricks killing people, and I doubt anyone can argue that bricks have been used in the past to kill people, what stops people from using bricks that way? Because it’s not proper? How does that make the brick any less real, any less than a brick? One can argue it’s not proper because there are other things for that, such as guns. So if one gun was better at killing people than another, would the former gun be less of a gun than the latter? Is it no longer a gun if one just leaves it hanging on their mantle? The gun’s still a gun, and the brick’s still a brick regardless of what kind and to what degree it is used for.
He’d probably assert that. Maybe. Or he might just altogether be dismissive and con everyone out of their money. And the idea of using an example of bricks might be somewhat off, given that bricks aren’t people, let alone sentient.
A Story about Killing a God
But Nadeko is. Take Nadeko, for example. He would and does assert to her that her god is a delusion, just like her considers every supernatural phenomenon in Monogatari.
“There are no monsters, so there are no victims. You think that they exist, so you feel like they are there. Don’t involve me in your delusions.” ~ Kaiki
It’s a product of the mind. The oddities that affect people in Monogatari are akin to neuroses, just supernaturally manifest. They only are able to affect these people as far as these people’s minds allow them to. So there are no apparitions, monsters, or deities, so there are no victims. Or, if there are victims, they also happen to be their own perpetrators.
He questions why Nadeko feels it absolute for her to fulfill her impossible love story, to be a god in both the figurative and literal, and further brings up Araragi and her parents.
Nadeko, would you become worthless if Araragi dumped you?
She stays silent.
Are your parents so worthless to you that you would leave them like this?
No, she admits, they aren’t worthless to her.
And what about aspirations about manga? Earlier, he happened to discover that she’s been drawing manga to the side. Don’t you want to be a manga artist?
No, she exclaims. The thought never even occurred to me. Those drawings I made are just some trashy scribblings and stupid prattle. I can never be a manga artist. Why even ask?
“I hate irreplaceable things. ‘I can’t live without this.’ Or ‘That is the reason why I’m alive.’ Or that is the purpose for which I was born.’ Putting scarcity value on things like that piss me off to no end.” ~ Kaiki
He replies: Why not?
– The thought never occurred to you because you were so busy playing an impossible god that it was impossible for you to conceive. You could never imagine on your heavenly pedestal that that was even an option. But now that I’ve brought you level to my earthly plain of existence, it is.
– They need some polish, but they’re actually pretty good. Quite lewd, in fact.
– That might be true. I’m no bleed heart idealist who believes you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. But that statement you made will always be true, always be god so long as you believe it can never happen.
– Now that I mentioned it, being a manga artist sounds tantalizing, doesn’t it?
Monogatari and the Death of Gods
“So put an end to something that sluggish and do some other sluggish thing. You have all sorts of things you want to try, or to do, right? You had some, right? Am I wrong?” ~ Kaiki
An important thing to understand about Kaiki’s epistemological position is that he isn’t advocating nihilism. Yes, he doesn’t believe in absolute truth, in absolute gods. He doesn’t believe in something like inherent meaning or objective purpose. What he does believe is that people are free to lead whatever lives they want.
The lesson of this Monogatari is this. People are able to live whatever lives they want so long as they can will it. The power to will is something that all individuals possess. People’s truths, people’s gods are dictated by their own will, by themselves, by their own terms.
This isn’t to be confused with something universal like relativism. The existential truths that they make are truths that apply only to them.
So Nadeko doesn’t have to be a snake deity. She can work to become a god of manga instead, if she wants to. Kaiki didn’t kill Nadeko’s god. She killed it herself by her own will, and decided, by her own will, to try out being a god in another field. Kaiki couldn’t force her otherwise. He only helped her realize the possibilities and clarify her priorities.
Could this lesson apply to us? Perhaps, though we’d have to eighty-six the supernatural.