It seems it’s not necessary to philosophize about the SOS Brigade to enjoy the clever, absurd comedy of the Haruhi franchise. On the other hand, it may be a lot of fun to do a little philosophizing, so in these coming weeks, I’ll be engaging with some of Koizumi’s theories about everyone and everything. How, and why him? This first installment will attempt to respond to those questions.
A philosophical temperament is something that may give you a very unique perspective on everything. Quite enjoyable in its own right. Dangerous, sometimes. And valuable, I hope. Don’t you think, Itsuki Koizumi? And you, dear reader?
Let’s imagine, for example, that next July 7th you become able to transform into a great sphere of energy. And one uniquely suited to fight giants in self-contained pocket dimensions, at that. Giants that threaten the very stability of reality. Mild spoilers for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
To add more color to our thought experiment, suppose that you discover that this is a power that has awoken in a number of people, more or less at the same time, and accompanied by an infusion of knowledge: in all cases, it has been granted unknowingly by a certain girl.
That girl would be blessed (or cursed) with the power to warp the world around her according to her inner beliefs and desires. She might be eccentric, perhaps, but by no means a celebrity, or even conscious of being special. In fact, she might be quite melancholic about her own lack of importance in this vast universe.
A person you could get to know if you decided to take a train or two.
Well, perhaps you’d go mad, or fear that you already had. Perhaps you’d be terrified. Or perhaps you’d just scoff at the sheer absurdity of it all, refusing to acknowledge it. But perhaps (and I know that this is not the most usual response), you’d attentively consider the consequences for yourself and the Cosmos with a growing sense of amazement, of wonder.
And then, perhaps, you’d run, build, and carefully develop theories concerning the most likely causes, principles, effects and implications of it all. You would rule out this or that explanation, going as far as your reason could take you. If that’s the case, you’re regrettably unfit to protagonize the, shall we say, controversial Haruhi, one of my all-time favorite shows. Too bad.
The Philosophical Temperament of Itsuki Koizumi
Normally, an arc like the one I have just described would instantly make you MC material, both in the action and love interest departments. Not here. The comedy rests in the dumbfounded reactions of the protagonist to the crazy, clever, philosophical plot. Protagonists, even in anime, tend to be more lost-in-the-moment kind of people. Sorry.
But everything has its perks, and you may instead be similar in personality to a certain character called Itsuki Koizumi, and to me. That is, you may have one of the many possible kinds of philosophical temperament.
You may be, by disposition of the heart, a searcher. Able, perhaps, to perceive the radiance, the wonder, the order of true things and of connections. You may be inclined to cultivate the adaptability, the hope and the patience needed to find answers. To find understanding, which is better than silver and gold.
And you’ll find kindred spirits, here and there. For example, some ancient Greeks looking at the starred sky in wonder, like Haruhi in the OP. Pondering why it is that some things change, while others remain. Contemplating the constants of this crazy, meaningful, wondrous story. Water, wind, change, matter, atoms, numbers, being.
For most people, it’s not easy to deal with these philosophical types. Well, Socrates is the archetype of those first philosophers, the man who saw an order of being, of interconnected, deep, eternal truths behind the shadows and appearances. Talkative and courteous, he was nevertheless said to be a very irritating guy. A “horsefly,” specifically.
The dialogues in which his disciple Plato (“broad back”) introduces him to us, though admiring, certainly convey some of that impression of annoyance. Koizumi is somewhat like that. I may be, too. Put me and Koizumi in the same scene and not even those who endured the Endless Eight will be able to watch it.
Normally, one would react to a world-altering surprise with stubborn rebellion, insisting on what they more or less control. Socrates noted that all experts, no matter their specialization—be it vases, poems, weapons, tactics, business, discourses or what have you—tended to do just that. Everyone fights to stand his or her ground.
That’s fair enough. Someone without the urge or the desire of thinking too much about deep or existential questions can nevertheless develop a non-philosophical, practical or intuitive wisdom. Something real and helpful. But there’s something to be said for the universal, deductive, systematic kind of reasoning, too. Done right, it brings clarity.
Perhaps you’ll conclude, against your gut feeling (or two warring gut feelings), that committing an injustice is worse than suffering it. Perhaps you’ll see through a powerful lie. Perhaps you’ll notice that a fearsome giant (there are many around us) has feet of clay, and a good mind can take it down, like Koizumi. Many of our writers have tackled them thus.
How to create your own Closed Space
Some of these giants are created by powerful emotion or poetic metaphors that have gotten out of hand, or partial visions, or deliberate lies, or simple inertia. But many of the worst have been created by… well, philosophers. Sometimes, it’s they who threaten the stability of reality.
The philosophical temperament also has its curses. Take a look at Socrates’ theses in the Hippias Minor, positing that intellectually knowing what’s good equates to being good, and you may feel some uneasiness. Or at Kant’s idea that we will find answers in an examination of our minds, and not the universe around us. Or Hegel’s idea that everything must be understood as a mental process of the Absolute, who is, in part, himself. Lain, anyone?
Perhaps more at hand is the theory that Koizumi presents to the actual protagonist, Kyon, in a taxi. That being equals perception. Human ideas create the world or at least, as far as we’re concerned, it makes no difference to think so. Suzumiya-san, the ultimate quantum observer, is God. Everyone else is to be considered secondary and disposable.
The world Kyon inhabits is thus deemed to be a bunch of unfounded assumptions. They may need to be dismantled to make room for the system where the truths that Koizumi has discovered can shine. Such all-encompassing castles of glass cannot but reveal the flaws and limits and pride of the philosophers themselves.
This one certainly creates a wall between him and the rest of the cast. There is something seriously wrong lurking there, as in Socrates’ (Plato’s?) Republic. Kyon reacts to Koizumi’s contributions harshly—rudely, even. He can see that wrongness in him.
At his worst, Itsuki Koizumi is the yes man who elegantly leaves the room and mutters to himself about the weather as he drinks hot coffee. All while, on the other side of the door, Haruhi hurts others and hurts herself in doing so. Kyon, for all his grunts, sees essential things Koizumi has blinded himself to.
Of Haruhists, Gnostics, and Giants
It makes sense. Do you remember Koizumi’s sympathetic explanation of Gnosticism in episode 22? Here’s my take on this particular giant. Since the time of the Apostles, and from time to time, the Church has fought attempts to dismiss the reality and uniqueness of the Christian faith by certain philosophical groups with some traits in common.
Broadly speaking, Gnostics exchange the concepts of “sin” and “repentance” for “illusion” and “enlightenment,” denying Christ’s bodily resurrection and deeming material existence to be flawed or evil. As that view cannot be reconciled with the Bible, they often posit a hidden God fighting a malevolent lesser Creator, the God of the Old Testament.
The authority of the Apostles is thus denied, and the faith of the simple, scorned. Only those who shared the “gnosis,” the knowledge of the enlightened, know salvation, because the word “salvation” is deemed a cypher for such gnosis. New Gospels are forged. Sometimes, as in the Naj Hammadi writings, the Serpent of Eden is portrayed positively. The end point of Gnosticism is usually the claim that “knowledge of God” is self-knowledge.
As you can see, nothing is left of Christianity in such a view, nothing in Scripture remains to be read with love, humility and acceptance, instead of a clever smirk. It’s just human reflection divinizing itself in quasi-Satanic terms. As Scripture says, the wise in the world are often even more prone to fool themselves that those who live in simplicity.
I’m convinced that, paradoxically, Koizumi’s quasi-Gnostic Haruhism makes his Suzumiya-san less real, their connection less authentic, and he himself less able to help her, even when he really wants to. It blinds him to the true miracle that is slowly uniting their unlikely group.
As he allows a glint of amusement in his eyes, searches for the right explanation with his inventive mind, looks tired or smiles at the absurdity, we get to see the signs that Koizumi suffers under his Haruhism, too. Beyond the comedy and the amusement, his own misconceptions about her and about himself weigh on him at an existential level.
Sometimes, when he finally speaks his mind, we get to see beyond the surface humanity, humility and depth unlike anything we would have associated with him. We get to see the battered, discreet hero who fights for Humanity. The friend who notices, advises and enjoys. Envious, sometimes, yet noble and self-sacrificing. Maybe even in love.
The Curiosity of Justin the Christian
Concerning philosophy, connection and love, I’d like to tell a little story. There was a man called Justinus, Justin, son of Priscus, living in Flavia Neapolis, in the Roman Empire. The date of his birth is uncertain, but it was sometime around the first years of the second century. In his writings, he tells us of his insatiable curiosity, his inclination to philosophy, and his search in the Stoic, Aristotelian, Pythagorean and Platonic schools.
That is, until he met an elderly Christian and they spent all the evening philosophizing (those long, wonderful evenings!). The debate was fruitful. Justin of Flavia Neapolis was convinced, came to know the Church, and became a Christian. He never saw the old man again.
The usual initial reaction to an intellectual finding God is more Kyon-like (and quite amusing), as with C. S. Lewis. But (and I know that it’s not the most usual response) perhaps one would attentively consider the consequences for himself and the Cosmos with a growing sense of amazement, of wonder. As Justin did.
And from there, what might a Christian philosophy look like? Is such a thing even possible?
Justin thought so. He continued trying to square any insights he got from systematic reflection with faithfulness to the gift he had received, while respecting the transcendence of God’s revelation. His thinking was tentative and would need refinement over the next centuries. But it was a beginning.
His fellow Christians, many of them simple-minded people who had access to God’s wisdom in the everyday experience of prayer, life and love, didn’t always considered his systematic musings to be of interest or use, but they allowed them. And he was able to know Christ and pray with them as a child does.
In time, he wrote to defend them from false accusations, to defend the plausibility and the uniqueness of the Revelation, and to explore the Cosmos. And ultimately, he gave his life for Christ side by side with them, as a martyr.
Is there a better way to look at Haruhi than Koizumi’s, something more helpful? I think so. Imagine a search for truth that respects the primacy of love, that allies itself with both the reality and the depth of the world. One that looks and listens, that respects others and takes them into account, that humbly avoids crowning itself.
That’s my philosophical ideal. Consequently, the tradition with which I think is that which—with Aristotle, Plato’s disciple and frequent adversary—finds the right impulse of philosophical activity in amazement, rather than fear, doubt or control. It is a philosophy that considers that there is a wise, deep order of being embedded in a real, solid everyday world.
It’s one that, with St. Augustine, conceives faith and reason as the two great wings of the human spirit. That, through the great synthesis of the Middle Ages, leads to the theology of St. John Paul II, among others—a philosopher by training whose insights on the human condition have helped me so much in understanding myself (and anime).
A Kind Giant’s Thesis
But I’d like to go back to a giant—a gentle one. In the opening, Haruhi looks at the sky. And then a hand reaches out to hers, and the deep and miraculous adventure begins.
I find that very same feeling in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the seven foot tall blond son of an Italian count. Turned, mind you, into a peaceful, extremely humble friar who joined a convent at 14 precisely in the old Flavia Neapolis, by then Naples, against his family’s wishes and memorized the Bible by around Koizumi’s age.
St. Thomas made a synthesis of the best of Neoplatonism, Aristotle and his own original material corrected and deepened by Revelation, question by question. He opens a myriad of doors, windows and stairs to a Cosmos that is bright, lively, clever, deep, dynamic and colorful, just as is Haruhi’s, Tolkien’s or Dante’s. Only, even more so. And real.
All that, in a university where, when professors got mad, they would shoot arrows at the windows to disturb the classes of other professors. Well, anyway.
In gratitude, as a humble disciple of that tradition and a fan of Haruhi, I’d like to engage Koizumi’s arguments and theories about himself and other characters. I feel that there are some Thomistic concepts and ideas that would be very useful to consider in reflecting on Haruhi. And I’ll be using the famous Five Ways as the global structure of this series.
In discussing Justin and the Gnostics, I have explained what I think makes a good and bad Christian philosopher. At some point, rightly ordered reason finds its own limits with regard to God, an abyss it cannot jump by itself. A bat may know that the Sun is there and that it’s warm, and yet be unable to see it. And that’s not because the Sun lacks light.
Only God’s personal revelation, his free gift, can bring us to His deep intimacy. We need faith. But reason may help us in that flight, too. God created our minds, and He created our world. They are connected and both point to Him.
There are many signs of wonder and hope in Haruhi. And I sincerely hope that (once, ahem, the light novels are finished and then adapted), Koizumi, in whom I see so much of myself, will walk the path of sacrificial love side by side with the rest. Five unique people that partake in a miracle, finding their way together.
I hope to see the courteous hero embracing the miracle, after being rescued from his own coldness, his own despair. A valuable member of the team, the wall smashed, God’s good Cosmos shining before them. I hope to see that he may explain something like this to the rest, as they frown, get distracted, look puzzled and keep a poker face, respectively.
That’s the eternal fate of the philosopher. And a good one, too.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can be streamed at Funimation.