To preserve the temple, it must be burned!

I'm currently reading Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio - one of my favorite authors. And one who deserves more attention at that.

I first read about Mishima in an article about eating disorders and distorted body images in body building when I was in high school, and I was instantly fascinated. The article focused on Mishima as a model and his morbid fascination for St. Sebastian. To mishima death was very important. He even describes how he had his first orgasm while looking at a black and white depiction of a painting of St. Sebastian's martyrdom. It became a theme in Mishima's life, and an image he gladly reproduced. Tied to a tree, pierced by arrows and radiating of masculine beauty with his well toned muscles. I'm not (very) gay, but I can certainly see the beauty in his body.

There is irony in this image, just as there is irony and ambiguity in his literature. Mishima is of course understood mainly as a Japanese author and the theme of his literature was certainly that of Japanese traditional society - just as the man tied to the tree is certainly Japanese. On the other hand his writing style is mainly inspired by western novels - and the image he copies is that of a christian saint. This kind of ambiguity was a theme in Mishima's life - on many levels. A subject of particular interest to many is his sexuality. Mishima is usually seen as a homosexual, and his semi autobiographical Confessions of a Mask certainly support that image. On the other hand Mishima was married and fathered children. His family maintains that he was not in fact a homosexual, but enjoyed the image it created. I personally find that hard to believe, and if I have to speculate it's quite evident to me that Mishima was either gay or bisexual. It is of little consequence however.

The other ambiguity is that of militant nationalism, and evading the draft by citing poor health in the last days of World War II. Mishima was obsessed with traditional Japanese values, such as bushido, shintoism and the emperor's stature, and it seems he felt more than a little guilt due to not having fought in the war. After the war he became a successful novelist and playwright but also a militia leader operating on the far right of Japanese politics. Calling him a fascist is tempting, though certainly inaccurate. (But that's a discussion I'll leave for another time.)

Mishima's novels are a reflection of an individual with deep traumas, intense anger and also intense compassion. He is able to describe the most sublime beauty while juxtaposing it with nearly grotesque nihilism. It's all very subtle however, to the point of being inhibited. The first novel I read by Mishima was the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a book that describes a young man's deep emotional turmoil while he trains to become a priest, in the eponymous temple. Much of the book is made up of conversations between the main character and his physically deformed nihilist friend, in something of a doppelganger motif, and the entire novel is a discussion of beauty and the ephemeral nature of such - especially on a religious level. I was intensely smitten with how Mishima spoke to me in his descriptions and subdued anger.

Mishima finally managed to subdue himself in the ultimate way. In 1970 he led some of his loyal followers in a coup of sorts. Mishima, in uniform, announced to an army camp that he had restored power to the emperor and consequently withdrew to perform seppuku. The samurai's honorable way out. The coup was hardly designed to be anything but an opportunity for death and Mishima acheived his martyrdom. Typical for his erotic attraction to death and destruction he had rehearsed the ritual on film, and the event itself was also preserved for posterity. Mishima was obsessed with the beauty of decay, and this was his ultimate chance at transcendence.

Unfortunately Mishima has descended into relative obscurity in the west, probably due to the way he chose to end his life and his extreme politics. Hopefully this blog will reach atleast two or three individuals who will pick up one of his books and be as blown away by his raw talent as I was. Mishima was so much more than the stories that surround him. Mishima is dead, but the beauty he produced lives on.


Mad Mullah Hastur said...

Ignoring Mishima for his politics, is like ignoring him for his gay lifestyle. Just poor manners.

He should be celebrated for the fascogay bodybuilding samurai writer that he was.

I just love him.

Thule said...

True true, but his books are good enough to read even if he wasn't fascogay bushidoman. ;)