2002 September 15
Mainichi Shinbun (one of Japan's top four newspapers)
Reviewed by Ôoka Akira*

"THE ANSWER" by G.P.S. (Shinpûsha --- 1400 yen)

What in the world is absolute truth? How about nothingness and being? What is beyond the edge of the known Universe? What is the Universe? What is consciousness? Life? Why is homicide taboo?

Probably, all of us have thought about philosophical problems such as these at some time in our lives. Granted, some young punk will disagree with me: "I'm no brain, but I can tell you I've never wasted a minute on that kind of crap!" He is full of it. Of course he has. He just didn't use the same words to think with, but fit the questions to his own vocabulary and conceptual world. For better or worse, humans hanker to explain the world as soon as they get a kindergarten-level command of language. We can't help ourselves.

"THE ANSWER," according to the author, G.P.S., is "a story about the love, tears and laughter of a man who (thinks he) has really solved all such problems."

"G.P.S.?" Is that the name of a human being? I had better answer that before proceeding further. It is, he says, an acronym for General Problem Solver. The protagonist calls himself that because he claims to have worked back to the spring from which all the contradictions and trouble that plague humanity originate and solved them. At this point, I think the ordinary --- this is itself a vague word --- person may hesitate. This "story," as the author calls his book, is fiction, but it differs ever so slightly from what is generally thought to be a novel, by being a book of ideas, or rather thinking focused on philosophy as process.

The protagonist is a young man with a real bad case of the why's --- Why this? Why that? attacks as persistent as hiccups. He wants to know why so badly that it is literally killing him. So he seeks for an equation by which he can solve problems from those in the nursing home, where he worked, to international conflict, from the beginning of the world to the end. And, as he copes with the lack of understanding of those around him and the temptation of death=nothingness, he discovers the structure of human society.

His philosophical construction --- "hyper-logical bullshit to last a million years," as he puts it in a modest moment --- is built around theories about how mankind came to acquire language. Since the book jacket copy claims it is "like reading a first-class mystery novel," I dare not give away too much lest I be scolded, but let me summarize the book in my own words.

Animals have communicative language. The moment man leaped from that to a symbolic language, where there is no direct relation between the signifier (in this book the spoken word) and the signified (what is referred to), this "world" of ours was born, and with it, time, mind and the endlessly repeated study of the Truth. The Incompleteness Theorem-like futility of the latter endeavor comes from the fact that so long as thought is based on language, we can only decide things and even philosophy and science cannot help us to know, much less understand, anything.

I can go along with the conclusions that G.P.S. draws from Saussurean linguistics readily enough, but if I continue this dry outline, the reader will not imagine the fun chop logic that pervades the book.

In many ways, the substance of the argument approaches the cosmology arrived at by the Buddha, yet the book is in many ways a polemic with some points that may be controversial. As intellectual entertainment, the book sometimes falters, but the author's skill at weaving it into a moving narrative makes this a good book, a challenge for the logic-loving people of the world.

*Ôoka Akira is an award-winning (Akutagawa prize, Mishima Yukio prize) novelist.