dimanche, 04 décembre 2016
Chant de la Tatenokai ( Société du bouclier), fondée par Yukio Mishima
samedi, 23 avril 2016
vendredi, 01 mai 2015
von Jens Strieder
Dieses Jahr wäre Yukio Mishima 90 Jahre alt geworden. Ein Sammelband beleuchtet die verschiedensten Facetten des japanischen Ausnahme-Autors. Zweifelsohne: Mehr als ein Geheimtipp für Mishima-Leser.
Bereits vor fünf Jahren, kurz vor dem 40. Jahrestag seiner öffentlich inszenierten Selbstentleibung, erschien mit Yukio Mishima – Poesie, Performanz und Politik ein Sammelband. Er behandelt zentrale Themenkomplexe in dessen Werk.
Kein starrer, politischer Blick
Die behandelten Themen reichen von Mishimas Ästhetisierung und Poetisierung des Politischen über seine Beziehung zur traditionellen japanischen Dichtung und dem Theater bis hin zum performativen Charakter der eigenen Vita und der philosophischen Selbstkonzeption des Autors. Sämtliche Beiträge des Bandes stammen von Japanologen und ausgewiesenen Kennern der Materie.
Dieser Umstand hat positive und negative Seiten. Zum einen wird so ein allzu starrer Blick auf den politischen Werdegang Mishimas verhindert, zu dem häufig vor allem diejenigen neigen, die ausschließlich aus diesen Gründen mit dem Autor sympathisieren. Auf der anderen Seite führt die größere Distanz der Beiträger jedoch auch zu dem altbekannten akademischen Dünkel, der sich, ganz dem Zeitgeist verpflichtet, auch gern mal in moralisierenden Urteilen erschöpft.
Nichtsdestotrotz weisen die einzelnen Texte auf viele interessante Sachverhalte hin und untersuchen ihren jeweiligen Gegenstand mit großer Akribie. Christoph Held, der sich mit Mishimas kurzer Erzählung Yukoku, zu Deutsch Patriotismus, befasst, legt beispielsweise überzeugend dar, warum die politische Dimension der Geschichte in erster Linie als Teil ihrer ästhetischen Konstruktion zu verstehen ist. Mishima selbst sagte einmal, Yukoku sei keine politische Erzählung. Tatsächlich ging es Mishima wohl eher darum, den derart in Szene gesetzten Tod als höchsten Akt der Reinheit und ästhetischen Vervollkommnung in seinem Sinne darzustellen.
Verbindung von Geist und Tat
Sehr interessant ist auch ein Beitrag von Gerhard Bierwirth, der sich mit Mishimas Streben nach Anerkennung befasst und dabei Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes im Hinterkopf hat. Dabei bestechen besonders seine Thesen zu Mishimas Konzeption der Verbindung von Geist und Tat hervor. Sie waren charakteristisch für den Japaner und er machte sie er auf verschiedene Weise für sich fruchtbar. In dem Beitrag Mishimas Seppuku als performatives Motiv bei Murakami und Shimada von Claudia Wünsche wird vor allem das Verhältnis der späteren japanischen Autorengeneration zu Mishima beleuchtet. Dass ein stark vom Westen geprägter Autor wie Haruki Murakami mit Mishima vergleichsweise wenig anzufangen weiß, dürfte auf der Hand liegen. Umso interessanter ist es zu sehen, wie die beiden Autoren die Person Mishimas in ihr Werk integrieren. Dies geschieht beispielsweise durch eindeutige Anspielungen. Hier wird aber auch deutlich, wie sehr Mishimas gesamtes Schaffen nach wie vor primär vor dem Hintergrund seines Todes und seiner letzten Lebensjahre betrachtet wird.
Nietzsche und Mishima
Zu dieser Zeit entstand seine nicht selten als Hauptwerk bezeichnete Roman-Tetralogie Das Meer der Fruchtbarkeit. Auf den ersten Blick wenig originell mag der Beitrag des japanischen Sozialphilosophen Ken´ichi Mishima wirken. Gegenstand ist hier der Einfluss Nietzsches auf Mishima. Nun gibt es in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts etliche Autoren, die sich mit Nietzsche beschäftigten. Der Text enthält aber einige interessante und wichtige Erkenntnisse zu Mishimas Nietzsche-Rezeption, die unter anderem maßgebend für seinen vitalistisch-ästhetizistischen Heroismus war. Auch die Distanz zum eigenen zeitgenössischen kulturellen Umfeld teilten beide. Etwas trockener wird es bei Rebecca Maks Untersuchung von Die Stimmen der toten Helden, die sich mit der intermedialen Dualstruktur dieser Prosaerzählung befasst und primär Japanologen bzw. Literaturwissenschaftler interessieren dürfte.
Erfreulicherweise befindet sich die Erzählung auch im Anhang, so dass deutschsprachige Leser die Möglichkeit haben, einen weiteren, bisher nicht ins deutsche übertragenen Text Mishimas kennen zu lernen. Ohne Zweifel: Alle in diesem Band versammelten Texte lesenswert. Entscheidend ist dabei wohl, wo der Interessenschwerpunkt des jeweiligen Lesers liegt. Für begeisterte deutsche Mishima-Leser ist der Band jedoch wohl unverzichtbar. Denn die bisher zu diesem Autor erschienene Sekundärliteratur ist kaum oder nur noch antiquarisch erhältlich.
Yukio Mishima – Poesie, Performanz & Politik. Iaponia Insula. Studien zu Kultur und Gesellschaft Japans Bd. 21. Iudicium Verlag 2010. 269 Seiten. 24 Euro.
mercredi, 22 avril 2015
vendredi, 06 mars 2015
The Body As Spirit: Yukio Mishima, Author, Intellectual, And Warrior
“It is… possible for people to use the body as a metaphor for ideas,” Japanese author Yukio Mishima says in Sun and Steel.
Mishima had been a weak and sickly child, doted on by his over-protective grandmother. He wasn’t allowed to play with other boys, and grew up alienated from male culture (as well as from his mother, who was not allowed to look after him unsupervised). For him, Mishima says, “words came first of all; then… came the flesh. It was… already wasted by words.”
For the author the answer to this waste — which he must have seen also in the Japan of post-World War II, defeated by the American atomic bomb — was to take up Kendo (traditional Japanese sword fighting) and bodybuilding, and to transform his thin frame into a powerful vehicle that could compete with his intellect.
The competition was partly one for attention, and partly one for a Way of being. Like aesthetes in the West, flamboyance and sincerity were not alien to each other, but one and the same. Controversially, Mishima formed his own private army, of about 100 members: the Tatenokai or “Shield Society.” He wanted, he said, to create a society for students who couldn’t, because of ideological reasons, join the Marxists on campus — Marxism was all the rage at the time.
One of the issues that divided the author and the Marxists (whom Mishima respected) was devotion to the emperor. Mishima never said it, but another — and perhaps an even more important area — was the body. The Tatenokai, and Mishima’s own “Way” of being was increasingly to the physical. In a flash of insight, Mishima
understood all kinds of things hitherto unclear to me. The exercise of the muscles elucidated the mysteries that words had made. It was similar to the process of acquiring erotic knowledge. Little by little I began to understand the feeling behind existence and action.
Marxism was intellectual. Mishima was increasingly concerned with the physical, precisely as an expression of ideas rooted in a kind of primordial drama. The flash of insight had come as the author considered the nature of tragedy.
Tragedy, says Mishima, “is born when the perfectly average sensibility momentarily takes unto itself a privileged nobility…”
It follows that he who dabbles in words cannot participate in it. It is necessary, moreover, that the “privileged nobility” find its basis strictly in a kind of physical courage… Tragedy calls for an anti-tragic vitality and ignorance, and above all a certain ‘inappropriateness.’
By “ignorance,” of course, Mishima does not mean stupidity, vulgarity, or uncouthness (Mishima was very much concerned with elegance, though not as we might understand it today), but, rather, a move away from the intellect toward instinct.
Inoffensive in the West, “inappropriateness” was perhaps a more shocking idea in Japan of Mishima’s era (and even today), where rules of social etiquette are strict and complex, and understanding ones place in the order of society comes as second nature. But, the tragic hero must, of course, go against the convention of his own time. He is the one that steps forward, taking on the challenge to save society from some existential threat, while everyone else goes about their more mundane business.
It is odd, then, that Mishima suggests that the physical body “is foreign to the spirit,” being closer to ideas. Nevertheless, in criticizing those who allow their bodies to become ugly, he suggests that the body can be a vehicle for the spirit. A bulging belly is a “sign of spiritual sloth”, for example. This and other unattractive traits, says Mishima, is “as though the owner were exposing his spiritual pudenda on the outside of his body.”
The author equates such physical ugliness with “individuality.” “If,” says Mishima cryptically, “the body could achieve perfect, non-individual harmony, then it would be possible to shut individuality up for ever in close confinement.” But the idea of “perfect, non-individual harmony” seems to be key to Mishima’s growing interest in the physical. He could escape from the world of the internally and externally ugly through perfecting the body and making that his guiding spirit.
Angel Millar is an author, blogger, and the editor of People of Shambhala.
lundi, 23 février 2015
Yukio Mishima: nazionalista, genio e morte perfetta
di Lee Jay Walker
Yukio Mishima afferma: “Se valutiamo così altamente la dignità della vita, come possiamo non valutare anche la dignità della morte? Nessuna morte può essere definita futile“. Questo osservazione è scioccante per molte persone che non hanno mai letto Mishima, o letto profondamente il suo lavoro. Poi la sua morte incombe sulla realtà o irrealtà, poiché in ultima analisi si liberò o si dedicò a una mera illusione?
In realtà, da dove iniziare quando si scrive su Mishima? Inoltre, un critico deve affermare che conosce l’argomento dal lavoro interiore dell’individuo di cui scrive? Oppure immagini e riflessioni avrebbero maggiore profondità, grazie alle immagini degli ultimi momenti di Mishima? Dopo tutto, milioni di buddisti e cristiani hanno letto i libri sacri, ma la storia ci dice che il Buddismo Zen ha sostenuto il nazionalismo fino in fondo in Giappone, negli anni 30 e 40. Pertanto, i templi buddisti di Kyoto nel secolo scorso salutarono il massacro di cinesi inermi. Allo stesso modo, gli aborigeni in Australia si chiedono dove siano l’amore e la pace cristiani? Adolf Hitler rispettava l’Islam in quanto Muhammad avviò la schiavizzazione dei non-musulmani nella jihad, imponendo il potere dalla legge islamica Sharia e della dhimmitudine. Secondo Hitler, il cristianesimo era debole, mentre l’Islam era forte perché questa fede giustificava le guerre sante con il Corano e gli Hadith, radicati nella realtà della guerra e della concentrazione del potere. Quindi, forse è meglio guardare le istantanee e poi formulare le idee; perché Mishima certamente fece così. Dopo tutto, il nazionalismo come tutte le ideologie e o modelli di pensiero si basa su miti, ma con elementi di verità. Se la verità esiste veramente. Detto ciò, la mia istantanea di Mishima è la sua morte, perché le istantanee della storia fluivano nel suo sangue, ma finendo con l’arrampicarsi sugli specchi. Dopo tutto, la morte di Mishima non ha mutato il Giappone o riportato il Paese all’età di Edo, quando il senso di un Giappone isolato non esisteva pienamente per via del complesso sistema daimyo. Sì, un Giappone isolato esisteva, in certa misura, ma era un mito perché il daimyo Shimazu commerciò ed invase Ryukyu (Okinawa). Allo stesso tempo, la completa nipponizzazione del nord era in corso e presto gli Ainu si dissolsero nella schiatta e nella realtà coloniale linguistica giapponese. Pertanto, i momenti finali di Mishima furono un dramma totale, perché le sue azioni furono inutili. Tuttavia, dicendo ciò, Mishima morì di morte desiderata, nonostante i momenti finali siano una realtà che non si può pienamente percepire. Presumo che per quei fugaci minuti e secondi prima del decesso autoindotto, mente e spirito di Mishima fossero in estasi perché parte della sua fantasia divenne la realtà desiderata. Ma ben presto un articolato nazionalista non sarebbe stato, al dunque, per nulla impressionato da Mishima. perché l’occidentalizzazione continua a venare la psiche giapponese.
Nella breve memoria di Mishima, “Sole e Acciaio”, è chiara la sua ossessione degli ultimi dieci anni per la scrittura e un culturismo estremo. Questo libro fu pubblicato nel 1968 e riflette la psiche di Mishima che fuse la penna con l’allenamento fisico e i concetti sul “nuovo Giappone” che tradiva il “vecchio e glorificato Giappone”. Sole e Acciaio parla di come Mishima si sbarazza del suo precedente romanzo “Confessioni di una maschera”, perché ora Mishima costruiva l’uomo forte. In altre parole, l'”Ubermensch” di Nietzsche nasceva nell’io e nello spirito di Mishima. Mishima ora puntava ad allontanarsi dal suo genio letterario e a sprofondare nel mondo del “corpo e dell’azione”. Tuttavia se, come sostenuto, desiderava liberarsi e abbandonare il “potere della parola”, formandosi da “guerriero” nella sua visione del mondo, allora non ci riuscì. Gli ultimi giorni struggenti della sua vita si basarono sul “potere delle parole” e delle “idee”, derivanti dalla passione interiore in cui confusione, nazionalismo, ricerca dell’attenzione e uomo d’acciaio si fusero nella morte che l’ha glorificato. Mishima evidenziò anche la dualità con cui costantemente lottò, quando afferma: “Molte persone esprimono incredulità che un simile processo possa già essere al lavoro fin dai primi anni di una persona. Ma, senza ombra di dubbio, è ciò che mi è successo, gettando così le basi di tendenze contraddittorie in me, nella determinazione ad andare avanti lealmente, nella funzione corrosiva delle parole, svolgendo il lavoro della mia vita. E il desiderio d’incontrare la realtà in qualche campo in cui le parole non giochino alcun ruolo”. E’ chiaro che la dualità di Mishima deve avergli causato enorme ansia, insieme allo sviluppo di un forte ego basato su potere e forza. Dopo tutto, se si guarda il filmato della sua “rivolta illusoria”, allora si può vedere una passione e uno spirito difficile da trovare nell’ego altrui. Forse Mishima semplicemente combatteva contro se stesso? O forse l’ego ha superato la realtà o forse “la droga della vita” si fuse nella “droga di una morte glorificata?” Qualunque cosa stesse realmente accadendo nella sua mente, certamente credeva in se stesso, perché la trama nazionalista desiderata veniva ignorata dalle masse. Mishima aveva una natura complessa, perché aveva poco tempo per i cosiddetti intellettuali, venerando gli uomini d’azione. Nella sua mente s’identificava con samurai famosi, forti capi militari e persone che si sacrificarono. Ciò trascinò la sua anima, perché vedeva l’abilità letteraria come debolezza, ma come poteva Mishima esprimersi ed ispirare gli altri senza le “parole della passione?” L’allenamento fisico ossessivo di Mishima indicava la creazione del sé guerriero, ma i guerrieri che si sacrificarono avevano qualcosa da sacrificare. Mishima non aveva nulla da sacrificare, perché le sue azioni non furono solo inutili, ma dovute al mondo illusorio che si era creato. La maggior parte delle cricca letteraria del Giappone, negli anni ’60, era di sinistra, e i suoi libri erano incentrati su modelli di pensiero militaristi e nazionalisti. Mishima quindi si fissò sul Bunburyodo e una morte che facesse appello al suo ego. “Il mare della fertilità”, scritto da Mishima in quel periodo era una raccolta di quattro libri molto intriganti. L’anno successivo iniziò l’addestramento in una base militare e formò il suo esercito privato. Mishima era ormai negli ultimi anni di vita ed era intento alla fine nobile desiderata. Mishima nel 1969 su Runaway Horses affermava: “In che situazione strana tende a ritrovarsi un uomo all’età di trentotto anni! La sua giovinezza appartiene al lontano passato. Tuttavia, il periodo della memoria inizia con la fine della giovinezza e ad oggi non ha una singola vivida impressione. Quindi persiste nel sentire che nulla più che una barriera fragile lo separa dalla giovinezza. Ascoltando sempre con la massima chiarezza i suoni di questo dominio vicino, ma senza poterne penetrare la barriera“.
Mishima, nato nel 1925, era molto giovane durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale ma poté partecipare all’ultimo anno di guerra; era scusato. All’epoca deve esser stato ossessionato dall'”uomo d’acciaio”, perché il suo amico Hasuda, collega scrittore, afferma: “Credo che si debba morire giovani, alla sua età”. Hasuda fu fedele alla parola, perché si suicidò. Sembra che l’omosessualità possa anche aver tormentato Mishima, poiché in Confessioni di una maschera (1949) si occupa di emozioni interiori e passioni. Tuttavia, se Mishima conosceva bene la storia di molti samurai, allora avrebbe creduto che l’omosessualità fosse la forma più pura di sesso. Inoltre, molti leader del Giappone nel periodo pre-Edo ed Edo ebbero concubini maschi. Pertanto, Mishima si vergognò dell’etica cristiana arrivata in Giappone con la Restaurazione Meiji (1868)? Se no, allora molti “uomini d’acciaio” del vecchio Giappone ebbero relazioni omosessuali e questo andava inteso alla luce della realtà. Dopo tutto, la lealtà nel vecchio Giappone era per il sovrano daimyo e i compagni samurai. Pertanto, la compassione era ritenuta cosa per deboli, a causa della natura della vita. Non sorprende che forti legami maschili prendessero piede nella psiche dei samurai e tale realtà culturale sia all’opposto dell’immagine dell’omosessualità nel Giappone moderno, percepita per deboli. Il Wakashudo aveva diversi modi di avviare i ragazzi nel “vecchio Giappone” e nella mentalità dei samurai, le donne venivano viste femminilizzare gli uomini indebolendone lo spirito. Il sistema Wakashudo fu spesso abusato dal clero buddista per proprie gratificazioni sessuali, in passato. Tuttavia, il sistema dei samurai si basava sulla creazione di “un processo di apprendimento secondo un codice etico” impiantando lealtà e forti legami per cui, in tempi di difficoltà, i samurai rimasero attaccati all’istruzione ricevuta. Mishima, gonfiando i muscoli e dalle competenze marziali ben levigate, divenne l'”uomo d’acciaio”. Tuttavia, fu contaminato dalle pose femminili fusesi nel suo martirio. Posò volentieri di fronte alle telecamere e le immagini di San Sebastiano ucciso da molte frecce o del samurai che invoca il suicidio rituale, giocarono la sua psiche e il suo essere. Il mondo di Mishima era reale e surreale, perché potere e forza si fusero, ma avendo una natura femminile seppellita nell’anima. Mishima dichiarò: “Il tipo più appropriato di vita quotidiana, per me, fu la quotidiana distruzione mondiale; la pace è il più duro e anormale modo di vivere”. Pertanto, il 25 novembre 1970, si avverò ciò che Mishima era divenuto. Tale realtà si basava su visioni suicide, quindi il suo mondo illusorio sfociò in un fine violenta. Tuttavia, la verità di Mishima fu la fine violenta e caotica entro una realtà struttura. Dopo tutto, Mishima stilò dei piani successivi alla morte. Inoltre, Mishima si dedicò per tale giorno da anni, ma ora il tempo della recitazione era finito, in parte, perché ancora si agitava nel mondo dell'”ego”. Nel suo mondo illusorio il “sé” avrebbe agito collettivamente con forza, a sua volta generando “uno spirito” tratto dal sogno di Mishima di morte glorificata. Eppure, non era un soldato, dopo tutto aveva mentito, non avendo combattuto per il Giappone; quindi, la retorica nazionalista fu proprio tale e il 25 novembre fu più una”redenzione personale” che pose fine alla “dualità della sua anima”. L’uomo delle parole sarebbe morto nel “paradiso dell’estremo dolore”, perché l’ultima sciabolata che lo decapitò non fu netta, furono necessari diversi tentativi. Dopo tutto, non era un soldato, non era un samurai e lo non erano neanche i suoi fedeli seguaci. L’atto finale è la prova che i “sognatori” sono proprio ciò; quindi, il finale non fu una bella immagine di serenità, ma una scena “infernale stupida e di follia autoindotta”. Il mondo illusorio di Mishima non poteva cambiare nulla, perché non riusciva a riscrivere la storia. Sì, dopo di lui si poté riscrivere la storia e forse questa era cui Mishima anelava?
Nonostante ciò, Mishima è un genio letterario e aveva più spirito ed ego della maggior parte delle persone. Il suo potere poggiava sui “demoni interni con cui lottava” e su una cultura che glorificava il sacrificio di sé. Tuttavia, Mishima non aveva nulla da sacrificare, perché l’ultimo evento della sua vita non scosse il Giappone, essendo più che altro “egoismo” nato dall'”irrealtà”. Eppure, l’opera di Mishima è molto particolare e nel XX secolo affianca i più grandi scrittori internazionali. Pertanto, il ragazzo di Tokyo fu enigmatico e dalla cruda passione. Purtroppo la passione di Mishima manca oggi e forse è qui che il suo “genio risiede”. In Mishima si può immaginare l’energia del passato e il visionario. Pertanto, le mancanze nella sua vita furono le mancanze di tutti; ma ciò va trascurato, perché ignorare gli scritti di Mishima significa ignorare una forza potente nell’energia letteraria del Giappone. Mishima, a differenza della maggior parte degli scrittori, trascese la nazione a cui apparteneva, perché la sua scrittura colpisce un nervo scoperto nell'”animo interiore”.
samedi, 15 novembre 2014
Mishima: "La mer et le couchant" (1955)
Lu par Laurent James
mardi, 23 septembre 2014
Naoko Inose’s Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima
Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima 
Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2013
This is a review of the Japanese edition of Persona, which is available now in English translation. I have read the translation, which appears to be much longer (864 pages) than the Japanese original. It is a treasure trove of information on Mishima. As an aside, the book’s unselfconscious frankness about sex and meticulous cataloging of genealogy and rank give one a sense of the consciousness of pre-Christian European society.
The Japanese version of Persona was originally published in November 1995 by Bungei Shunshu (literally meaning “the Literary Spring and Autumn”), an established and prestigious publishing house in Japan. The author, Mr. Naoki Inose, is a maverick and contentious figure who served as the vice governor of Tokyo municipality for a long time while also being a highly prolific and popular writer, having penned no less than 30 books so far, mostly on political, historical, and cultural themes. He was lately in hot water, being forced to step down from his official post due to alleged involvement in a murky financial scandal. His political and administrative stance, by post-war Japanese standards, is mainstream conservatism (center-Right).
The main body of the book has about 390 pages, including a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue. There is also a brief postscript and an extensive bibliography which together occupy another nine pages. Considering the length of the book, it is surprising that there are only four chapters. The 17-page Prologue is a novel-like start, the main character of which is a former schoolmate of Yukio Mishima, and whose father also happened to be an old acquaintance and old schoolmate of Mishima’s father Azusa Hiraoka (Hiraoka is the real family name of Mishima), both pursuing the careers of elite imperial government officials, but with quite different fates. The author’s intention in starting the book in this way was to highlight Mishima’s family background so as to shed light on the factors, both familial and historical, that shaped and molded the early development of Mishima’s quite unorthodox and eccentric personality.
Indeed, the author goes far further than most would expect, expatiating on the overall political and social picture of Japan in the late Meiji and early Taisho periods at the very beginning of the 20th century, which, in the author’s presumed reckoning, might better disclose and clarify the political, socio-cultural, and family backdrops of Mishima’s childhood, which was characterized by a mixture of docile and rebellious elements. The first chapter, called “The Mystery of the Assassination of Takashi Hara,” lasts almost 80 pages. Here the author talks about the historical background of the time in which Mishima’s grandfather Sadataro Hiraoka saw his career blossom then wither due to larger and uncontrollable political struggles.
Sadataro was a capable functionary favored and appointed by then the Internal Minister and later the Prime Minister of Japan Takashi Hara, nicknamed the “Commoner Prime Minister,” to be the governor of Karabuto (the Southern half of the Sakhalin Island, ceded to Japan by treaty after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and forcibly annexed by Soviet Union at the end of WWII). However, due to some suspicious financial dealing and mishaps which were seized by political foes to attack him, and political sectarian conflicts during the Hara administration and after his assassination, Sadataro was relieved of his governorship, and from then on, Mishima’s family’s fortune started to take an abrupt and sharp downturn.
The second chapter, “The Insulated Childhood,” shifts attention from the rise and fall of the Hiraokas to Mishima himself. Mr. Inose spends 90 pages on Mishima’s complex and seeming contradictory childhood, using narration interspersed by flashbacks, and talks about the family life of the Hiraokas, the inter-relationship of family members, religion, Mishima’s grandparents and parents, especially his fastidious and arbitrary grandmother and his bemused father, against the background of decline of the family’s fortunes as a result of political failures of his grandfather. The author devotes large passages to explaining such matters as Mishima’s poor physical health, his tender, timid, and self-isolating personality as a child molded by the uncannily tense family ambience, and his father’s desperate last-ditch effort that brought about his narrow escape from the military draft in his late teen years near the end of the Second World War.
In this chapter, the author also starts to introduce Mishima’s passion for literature, which developed quite early, and his first attempts at writing, as well as his friendship and literary exchanges with several likeminded youths who gave him encouragement and inspiration. One point meriting emphasis is the influence of Zenmei Hasuda, a young imperial army officer, a steadfast traditionalist and nationalist, and a talented writer who killed a senior officer for cursing the Emperor and then committed suicide near the end of the war.
In the third chapter, that lasts almost 100 pages, the author continues to elaborate on the young Mishima’s literary and private life, culminating in his crowning literary achievement, the novel Kinkakuji translated as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which the author rightfully perceives as a landmark of the first phase of Mishima’s literary life, which is characterized by richly colored, minutely detailed, and often unsettling depictions of the inner lives of men among the ruins of post-war Japan — a formerly proud nation wallowing in nihilism.
It is noteworthy that Mishima’s works at this stage are rather different from the second stage of his literary activities, in which his works display a clearly nationalist and Rightist perspective. While Mishima’s exquisite writing reached its peak (or near peak) quite early in his life, his understanding of and awakening to the Japanese identity and nationalism centered on the monarchist tradition underwent a gradual process of maturation and was still immature and inchoate at his first literary stage, i.e. the time around his writing of Kinkakuji and other non-nationalist works, in contrast to his second literary phase of more virile, robust, and nationalistic works from Sun and Steel to The Sea of Fertility. In addition, Mishima’s dandyesque personal life of drinking, socializing, and mingling with fashion-conscious rich girls as described in this chapter was also indicative of his less than mature literature and personality at his stage of his life.
Chapter four, being the longest of the four chapters at about 110 pages, stands out as a relatively independent account of Mishima’s later years, dealing with both literature and political/ideological developments, leading to his failed coup, featuring his impassioned exhortation to the military servicemen and his ritual suicide by seppuku. This part covers the Mishima most familiar and interesting to Western readers. The chapter covers his body-building practices, his continued literary endeavors, consummated by the masterpiece The Sea of Fertility,his nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his increasingly active socio-political undertakings, including organizing his private militia troop, the Tatenokai (Shield Society), his serious and strenuous military training in Jieitai (Self-Defense Force), the post-war Japanese military — with the rather naïve aim of safeguarding the Emperor in concerted effort with the military in case of domestic unrest or even sedition at the hands of the leftist or communist radicals — and the events of this final day, November 25, 1970.
Although Persona has an overly long and detailed discussion of Mishima’s family history, the book still flows and proves an engaging read on the whole. The last chapter, though a bit overshadowed by the three preceding chapters, is definitely the most pertinent and fascinating of the whole, filled with interesting facts with insightful and trenchant observations.
Mishima’s veneration of the Emperor (Tenno) and ultimately the Imperial bloodline (Kotoh) of Japan, his candid criticism of Emperor Hirohito, and his final urge toward the coup and the subsequent suicide were already implied in his Kinkakuji, albeit symbolically as the impregnable top floor of the Kinkakuji pavilion itself. These themes became explicit in Voice of the Spirits of Martyrs published in 1966, which especially demonstrates Mishima’s mixed feelings if not overtly bitter resentment of Hirohito for his ignoble role in the failed Ni-Ni-Roku (Feb. 26) Coup of 1936 and his abject “I-am-a-human-not-a-god” announcement in 1945. In the book, Mishima speaks through the mouth of a 23-year-old blind man, giving voice to the spirits of the Ni-Ni-Roku rebels and the Kamikaze pilots, i.e., the spirits of martyrs, speaking of the post-war economic boom coupled with the moral decay of Japanese society:
Under the benevolent imperial reign, the society brims with peace and stability. People smile albeit not without conflicts of interest and confusion of friends and foes. Foreign money drives and goads people, and pseudo-humanism becomes a necessity for making a living. The world is shrouded in hypocrisy while physical force and manual labor are despised. Youthful generations feel suffocated by torpor, sloth, drugs, and meaningless fights, yet they all move along the prearranged path of mundanity like meek sheep. People think about making money, even small amounts, for which they degrade their own value. Private cars multiply, whose stupid high speed renders people soulless. Tall buildings mushroom while the righteous cause and moral principles collapse, and the glittering glass windows of those buildings are just like fluorescent lights of implacable desires. Eagles flying high in the sky and break their wings, and the immortal glories are sneered at and derided by termites. In such a time, the Emperor has become a human.
According to Mishima, the daily routines under the rapid economic growth of 1960s is but an ugly and hollow sign of happiness, all attributable to the fact that the Emperor Hirohito has proclaimed himself no longer a divine figure, a sacrosanct “Arahitogami” but a mere human being devoid of sanctity. Mishima expressed this view via the collective voice of the spirits of the martyrs, that the Emperor has assumed a duality of image, one being the last sacred embodiment of the national myth, and the other being one kind smiling grandfather presiding over the economic rationalism of the current age, and it is the latter, the protector of the daily routines of the post-war Japan, that Mishima found intolerable, as the voice of the martyr spirits makes quite clear:
The reign of His Majesty has been dyed in two different colors. The period of the bloody red color ends with the last day of the war, and the period of the ash grey color begins from that day. The period of the authentic red color soaked with blood starts with the day when the utmost sincerity of the brotherly spirits was thrown away, and the period of that pallid grey color starts from the day of the ‘I-am-a-human’ announcement of His Majesty. The immortality of our deaths is thus desecrated.
The “brotherly spirits” here refer to the soldiers of the failed 2.26 coup of 1936, failed by the Emperor Hirohito, by his headstrong refusal to understand and sympathize with their righteous patriotism and pure sincerity. Mishima also believed that the “I-am-a-Human” announcement of Hirohito in the wake of WWII rendered the heroic sacrifices of the lives of the Kamikaze Tokkottai (Special Attack Units) utterly futile and pointless.
According to the author, Mishima’s mother Shizue revealed a little secret about the writing of Voices of the Spirits of Martyrs on the occasion of the commemoration of the seventh anniversary of Mishima’s death, namely, the work was actually written one night. She recollected that Mishima handed the manuscript to her as he had always done and uttered “I wrote this in one stroke last night, and it’s now completed.” She read through it quickly, felt her “blood curdled,” and asked Mishima how he wrote this piece. Mishima answered: “I felt my hand moving naturally and the pen sliding on the paper freely. I simply couldn’t help it even if I wanted to stop my hand. Low voices as if murmuring could be heard across my room in the midnight. The voices seemed to be from a group of men. When I held my breath to listen carefully, I found they were the voices of the dead soldiers who had participated in the 2.26 Incident.” Shizue continued to remark that “I had known the saying about haunting spirits before but didn’t paid attention until that moment when I came to realize that Kimitake (Mishima’s real first name) was perhaps haunted by something, and I felt chills down my spine.”
In the summer of the same year Voices of the Spirits of Martyrs was published, Mishima went to Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu Island, South Japan, and this trip would prove to have a decisively catalyzing effect on the consolidation of the nationalist and traditionalist ideology that guided his later literary and political actions, provided the urge for the writing of his final work The Sea of Fertility, and eventually paved the way for his suicide. The pivot of Mishima’s interest was the local Samurai warrior group Shinpuren (The League of Divine Wind) which was violently opposed to the various policies of westernizing reform enacted by the Meiji regime in the 1870s.
The original driving force of the Meiji Restoration was the idea of “Revering the Emperor and Repelling the Foreign Barbarians” (Sonnojoi), which stipulated that legitimacy came not from the Shogun but from the Emperor and that Western forces, epitomized by the dreaded “Black Ships,” must be decisively expelled. Yet after abolishing the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate by uniting around the rallying call of “Sonnojoi,” the newly-established Meiji regime immediately and drastically changed its course and started to purse a policy of reform: opening Japan to the outside world, imitating Western ways, and curbing or eliminating the traditional customs of Japanese society deemed by the new regime as un-Western and uncivilized. New laws were promulgated by the Meiji government: the former Shizoku (Samurai aristocrats) were prohibited from carrying swords in public places, a sacred and unalienable right in their eyes, marking their distinguished status from the masses. They were also forced to change their hairstyles (cutting off the buns at the back of their heads). These were the direct causes to the Insurrection of Shinpuren in 1876 (the ninth year of the Meiji period).
The members of Shinpuren were so thoroughly alienated and infuriated by the Meiji government that they went to comical lengths to reject modernity. For example, when banknotes replaced traditional metal coins, they refused to touch them with their hands, picking them up with chopsticks instead. They made long detours to avoid walking under electrical wires. If no detour was possible, they would cover their heads with a white paper fan and pass hurriedly under the wires. They cast salt on the ground after meeting anyone dressed in western garb. When they decided to revolt against the Meiji government, they insisted on using only traditional bladed weapons like the sword (Katana), spear (Yari), and cane knife (Naginata), instead of the “dirty weapons of the western barbarians.”
This group, consisting of about 170 men, launched a night-time attack on the Kumamoto garrison. The garrison troops were caught off guard and initially panicked. But they regrouped and started to fire volleys of bullets into the armor-wearing, sword-wielding Shinpuren warriors storming at them. The samurai fell one after another, and altogether 123 warriors died in the battle or committed seppuku after sustaining serious wounds, including a dozen 16- or 17-year-old teenagers.
It was indeed a sad and heart-wrenching story. Why were they willing to die to protect their right to carry samurai swords? It is hard to comprehend it by the commonsense of our de-spiritualized modern age. The rebellion was mocked by newspapers in Tokyo as an anachronism even at the time, let alone in post-War Japan. Nevertheless, the Shinpuren samurai believed they were serving the cause of righteousness and justice, and it was their spotless sincerity and combination of faith and action that deeply impressed Mishima. The following passage his comment on Shinpuren in a dialogue with Fusao Hayashi:
Talk about the thoroughness of thinking, when thinking expresses itself in an action, there are bound to be impurities entering it, tactics entering it, and human betrayals entering it. This is the case with the concept of ideology in which ends always seem to justify means. Yet the Shinpuren was an exception to the mode of ends justifying means, for which ends equal means and means equal ends, both following the will of gods, thus being exempt from the contradiction and deviation of means and ends in all political movements. This is equivalent to the relation between content and style in arts. I believe there also lies the most essential, and in a sense the most fanatical sheer experimentation of the Japanese spirit (Yamatodamashii).
As hinted previously, the trip to Kumamoto and the examination of the historical record of Shinpuren gave Mishima a model and meaning for his future suicide. In fact, three years before his suicide he published a piece in the Yomiuri Shinbun, in which he stated rather wistfully the following words: “I think forty-two is an age that is barely in time for being a hero. I went to Kumamoto recently to investigate the Shinpuren and was moved by many facts pertaining to it. Among those I discovered, one that struck me particularly was that one of the leaders of theirs named Harukata Kaya died a heroic death at the same age as I am now. It seems I am now at the ceiling age of being a hero.” From such clues, which are actually numerous, the author argues that Mishima started at about forty to reflection on his own death and probably settled on terminating his own life upon the completion of his four-volume lifework The Sea of Fertility.
The heavy influence of Shinpuren is manifest in the second volume of The Sea of Fertility, namely Runaway Horses, in which the protagonist Isao Iinuma, a Right-wing youth, holds a pamphlet titled The Historical Story of Shinpuren and was depicted as possessing an burning aspiration of “raising a Shinpuren of the Showa age.” And the full content of the aforementioned book was inserted into Runaway Horses in the form of a minor drama within a major drama. The historical background of the novel was set in early 1930s. The 19-year-old Isao attempts to assassinate a man called Kurahara, known as the king fixer of backdoor financial dealing, who was in Mishima’s eyes the representation of Japanese bureaucrats who considered the “stability of currency” as the ultimate happiness of the people and preached a cool-headedly mechanical if not callous way of crafting economic policies. Kurahara was quoted saying, “Economics is not a philanthropy; you’ve got to treat 10% of the population as expendable, whereby the rest 90% will be saved, or the entire 100% will die” — the self-justifying words of a typical ultra-realist and even a nihilist — a stark contrast to the pre-War ideal of the Emperor as an absolute patriarch, a profoundly benevolent feudal ruler who guarded the identity, history, and destiny of the Japanese people — a metaphysical figure that Mishima embraced, held dear, and vowed to defend and revive regardless of cost.
In sum, Mishima’s spiritual and historical encounter with Shinpuren and his military training can be viewed as elements in the design of his own death, as steps ascending to the grand stage. Shortly after concluding his military training, Mishima wrote a short book, A Guide to Hagakure, on Jocho Yamamoto’ famous summation of Bushido doctrine, Hagakure. Mishima’s Guide also illuminates his final action:
One needs to learn the value of the martial arts to be pure and noble. If one wants to both live and die with a sense of beauty, one must first strive to fulfill necessary conditions. If one prepares longer, one will decide and act swifter. And though one can choose to perform a decisive action oneself, one cannot always choose the timing of such an action. The timing is made by external factors, is beyond a person’s powers, and falls upon him like a sudden assault. And to live is to prepare for such a fateful moment of being chosen by destiny, isn’t it?! Hagakure means to place stress on a prior awareness and a regulation of the actions for such preparations and for such moments that fate chooses you.
It is exactly in such a fashion that Mishima prepared for and embraced his self-conceived and fate-ordained final moment, to serve a noble, beautiful, and righteous cause.
1. Emperor Hirohito was angry at the assassinations of his trusted imperial ministers at the hands of the rebel soldiers. He vehemently refused to lend an ear to the sincere patriotic views of the rebels, refused to side with them, and immediately ordered the suppression of the coup and had the leaders tried and executed quickly.
2. Emperor Hirohito made this announcement partly due to the pressure of the US occupation forces, i.e. the GHQ, and partly willingly, as a cooperative gesture if not an overtly eager attempt to ingratiate himself with the conqueror.
3. Naoki Inose, Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima (Tokyo: Bungei Shunshu Press, 1995), p. 323.
4. Meaning literally “a god appearing in human form,” a highly reverential reference to the Japanese Emperor until the end of WWII.
5. Persona, pp. 323, 324.
6. Persona, p. 324.
7. American naval fleets commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry to force Japan to open itself to the world, which first arrived in 1853 and once again in 1854.
8. A famous and highly accomplished literary figure of contemporary Japan who is known for being flamboyant and highly contentious writer and literary critic. As a young man, he was a Leftist, he turned toward the Right-wing nationalism in the 1930s and remained a staunch and steadfast nationalist during the war and throughout the post-war years until his death.
9. Persona, pp. 327, 328.
10. Persona, p. 333.
11. Persona, p. 341.
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mardi, 26 août 2014
The Immortal Death of Mishima
By Christopher Pankhurst
When Yukio Mishima arose on the morning of November 25th 1970 he knew that it would be his last day on Earth. It was the deadline for completion of his novel, The Decay of the Angel, the fourth book in his tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. He placed the completed manuscript, sealed in an envelope addressed to his publisher, on a table. Mishima had given intimations that the completion of the tetralogy would be the culmination of his life’s work. A month before his death he wrote to his future biographer, “Finishing the long novel (The Sea of Fertility) makes me feel as if it is the end of the world.” The previous night he had left a note on his desk saying, “Human life is limited, but I would like to live forever.”
He had spent some time preparing for his last day. Just the week before, there had been a major exhibition of his life held in Tokyo. One hundred thousand people viewed the exhibition, a token of Mishima’s popularity. Only Mishima, and a few of his most trusted comrades, knew that the exhibition was also a valediction. Prominently on display was Mishima’s 16th-century samurai sword, made by Seki no Magoroku, which he would be taking with him on the morning of November 25th to stage an attempted coup d’etat.
Mishima’s co-conspirators in the plan were four members of his private army, the Tatenokai, or Shield Society. This small corps (about 100 men) was formed with the stated intention of protecting the Emperor and, due to Mishima’s prestige, was allowed to use official military facilities for its training purposes. Mishima had arranged a meeting with General Mashita on the morning of the 25th and the group of five men was escorted to his office in the Ichigaya military base in Tokyo. There they took the general hostage and demanded that all the soldiers present at the garrison be assembled on the parade ground to listen to a speech given by Mishima. Mishima delivered his halting speech to a chorus of jeers from the assembled soldiers. He concluded with the patriotic chant, “Long live the Emperor!”
Retiring back to the general’s office he concluded that, “They did not hear me very well.” He then stripped to the waist and knelt down. Again shouting, “Long live the Emperor!” he stabbed himself in the abdomen with a short sword. This was the ancient samurai form of suicide by disemboweling: hara-kiri or seppuku. He pulled the blade across his stomach spilling blood into his lap until his intestines poked out of the deep cut. His second-in-command, Masakatsu Morita, then attempted to behead Mishima to relieve his agony, as had been agreed beforehand. Morita aimed a blow but missed the neck, cutting deeply into Mishima’s back. Another blow also missed the neck and a third, though on target, failed to sever the head. Another of the Tatenokai, Hiroyasu Koga, then took over and sliced Mishima’s head from his body. Morita then attempted an unsuccessful seppuku, barely penetrating his skin, and Furu-Koga cut his head off.
Mishima’s act of seppuku was the first to take place in Japan since the end of the Second World War, when hundreds of Japanese subjects committed seppuku in the grounds of the Imperial Palace to apologize to the Emperor for having lost the war. Many of the combatants in the Pacific also committed seppuku rather than suffer the dishonor of being captured by the Americans. Mishima’s suicide was radical and atavistic; it was a complex gesture both culturally and individually; and, ultimately, despite the confusion surrounding his act, it ensured that he would make his mark on eternity.
The Japanese Prime Minister, on hearing the news of Mishima’s death commented that, “He must have been kichigai, out of his mind.” This judgement had more to do with the political establishment’s sense of embarrassment at Mishima’s anachronistic act than anything else. The point was expressed more clearly by the writer Nobuko Lady Albery: “It was a political embarrassment as well because just when Japan was on the point of becoming a member of the advanced industrialized nations whom we have copied so doggedly all those years; and then, here comes this writer killing himself as if the clock were put back two centuries.”
In order to understand Mishima’s radical suicide it is necessary to understand the context of suicide in Japanese society, and the specific meaning of seppuku as a form of suicide. It is also necessary to consider Mishima’s own ideas concerning ritual death; ideas which are a complex mix of the traditional and the idiosyncratic.
In Japan suicide has never been the taboo act that it traditionally is in the West. Since the advent of Christianity suicide in the West has been forbidden by the Church and often also by law. This taboo against suicide stems from Augustine who argued that life, being a gift from God, is not to be taken away, even by one’s own hand. This taboo was enshrined in law and continues to cast a dark shadow into modern times. As recently as 1969 a teenager was birched in The Isle of Man for attempting to commit suicide. And it is still the case that official investigations into suicides will try their best to remain euphemistic about the cause of death:
Religious and bureaucratic prejudices, family sensitivity, the vagaries and differences in the proceedings of coroners’ courts and post-mortem examinations, the shadowy distinctions between suicides and accidents – in short, personal, official and traditional unwillingness to recognize the act for what it is – all help to pervert and diminish our knowledge of the extent to which suicide pervades society. . . For suicide to be recognized for what it is, there must be an unequivocal note or a setting so unambiguous as to leave the survivors no alternatives: all the windows sealed and a cushion under the dead head in front of the unlit gas-fire.
In addition to the religious taboo against suicide there are other significant differences in the perception of suicide in Japan and the West. Suicide in the West is now generally seen as a mental health issue, and the potential suicide is treated as a psychological problem. This diagnosis tends to come from a deeper assumption that the problem lies at the level of the individual. In Japan there is a much stronger sense of social belonging so that it is perfectly possible for someone to commit suicide for reasons that have more to do with social standing. There is a specific type of suicide that is seen to represent atonement for a social or legal misdeed (whether real or perceived). This type of suicide is known as inseki-jisatsu.
Suicide after a social scandal is called inseki-jisatsu (suicide to take responsibility for a scandal) in Japan, but the inseki-jisatsu occurs regardless of whether the person is guilty or guiltless. Inseki-jisatsu is caused by a sense of disgrace. Those who commit inseki-jisatsu think that a scandal related to them adversely affects a community which they belong to, and that the scandal disgraces their names regardless of the truth of the scandal. . . Inseki-jisatsu occurs in Japan because the Japanese people tend to possess a strong sense of belonging to their community, and they cannot imagine losing the community which forms their identity. After the inseki-jisatsu, people usually do not blame the people who have committed suicide. . . because blaming the dead is thought to be disrespectful in Japan.
Whereas in the West suicide is a shameful, forbidden act, in Japan there is a long tradition of the honorable suicide. For a Japanese person suicide can be a means of making amends or redeeming himself. Suicide can also serve to make amends for another person. Inseki-jisatsu can sometimes be carried out by employees who wish to cover up for their bosses’ corruption. The suicide will thus remove a key witness whilst at the same time atoning for any sense of scandal. This is considered to be a noble act because it allows for the good name of one’s community to remain intact. The ultimate honor, in this context, is to die for the Emperor. Most famously, the kamikaze pilots in the Second World War were eager to give their lives in service to the Emperor. To be chosen for such a suicide mission was considered a great honor.
This cultural distinction between Japanese and Western attitudes to suicide also extends to “murder-suicides”:
A Japanese mother (in Los Angeles) attempted to drown herself and her two children in the sea in 1985. The mother survived, but her two children died. This mother was prosecuted for murder, and the mother was regarded as an egoistic mother who killed her children without necessity in the USA. However, Japanese society was sympathetic to the mother. The mother and her children were treated as an expression of alteregoism, and it was thought that the children could not live happily without a mother even if they were not killed. Mothers who killed their children and then attempted suicide are usually not punished severely in Japan while in the USA those mothers are severely punished for the murder of their children.
Even though Japanese society has changed rapidly and has become increasingly Westernized it is still affected by its historic attitude towards suicide. According the World Health Authority, Japan has the highest suicide rate of any developed country at almost 26 per 100,000 people. About a quarter of suicides in Japan are motivated by financial concerns, and the number has been increasing since the global financial crisis in 2008 led to a contraction of the Japanese economy. Often, suicide is considered an honorable solution to debt because life insurance payments will cover the amount owing. Thus, social stigma is banished and the person’s good reputation remains unblemished.
It is necessary to bear in mind this important difference of attitude between Western societies and Japan when considering Mishima’s suicide. He came from a tradition that was capable of understanding the sense of honor that could be associated with suicide. Within this culture of honorable suicide, seppuku is considered as a particularly noble act. Seppuku was the traditional form of suicide practiced by the samurai so it is associated with great courage and aristocracy. The degree of courage needed to carry out this act is both immense and self-evident. According to Toyomasa Fusé, a renowned expert on the subject:
Of all types of suicide, seppuku is considered to be the most painful. Since the lower abdomen has heavy muscle linings and fats, even the sharpest blade would not be able to pierce it easily. It is said that the deepest thrust of the sharpest blade could not be more than 7cm deep. A samurai committing seppuku is expected to stab the left side of his abdomen first and then slit it open sideways. In the process he will also cut and slit the internal organs, causing excruciating pain. It usually takes hours before one dies successfully, thereby prolonging the excruciating pain and requiring a superhuman courage and perseverance. It is understandable, then, that this form of suicide had become a way of dying and a badge of courage for a proud warrior class such as the samurai in Japan.
Mishima’s autopsy found that he had a cut five inches long and up to two inches deep across his abdomen. His seppuku was evidently carried out according to the superhuman standards set down by the samurai, and would have required great physical strength as well as courage. If anything, Mishima’s seppuku is even more remarkable for the fact that he was not trained to carry it out. His biographer, Henry Scott Stokes, interviewed two of Mishima’s martial arts teachers who both confirmed that he was not trained to carry out seppuku. One commented that his wrists were stiff and that he was unable to hold his kendo sword correctly, whilst the other said that Mishima had asked him for details of how to carry out seppuku, on the pretext that he was to write something on the subject.
In fact, Mishima had written a description of seppuku in gruesome detail some years earlier. In the short story, Patriotism, he describes a young officer who is unwilling to act against his former comrades who had taken part in the Ni Ni Roku rebellion. In order to maintain his honor, the officer commits seppuku:
The lieutenant aimed to strike deep into the left of his stomach. His sharp cry pierced the silence of the room. Despite the effort he had himself put into the blow, the lieutenant had the impression that someone else had struck the side of his stomach agonizingly with a thick rod of iron. For a second or so his head reeled and he had no idea what had happened. The five or six inches of naked point had vanished completely into his flesh, and the white bandage, gripped in his clenched fist, pressed directly against his stomach. He returned to consciousness. The blade had certainly pierced the wall of the stomach, he thought. . . With only his right hand on the sword the lieutenant began to cut sideways across his stomach. But as the blade became entangled with the entrails it was pushed constantly outward by their soft resilience; and the lieutenant realized that it would be necessary, as he cut, to use both hands to keep the point pressed deep into his stomach. He pulled the blade across. It did not cut as easily as he had expected. . . By the time the lieutenant had at last drawn the sword across to the right side of his stomach, the blade was already cutting shallow and had revealed its naked tip, slippery with blood and grease. But, suddenly stricken by a fit of vomiting, the lieutenant cried out hoarsely. The vomiting made the fierce pain fiercer still, and the stomach, which had thus far remained firm and compact, now abruptly heaved, opening wide its wound, and the entrails burst through, as if the wound too were vomiting. Seemingly ignorant of their master’s suffering, the entrails gave an impression of robust health and almost disagreeable vitality as they slipped smoothly out and spilled over into the crotch. . . Blood was scattered everywhere. The lieutenant was soaked in it to his knees, as he sat now in a crumpled and listless posture, one hand on the floor. . . The blade of the sword, now pushed back by the entrails and exposed to its tip was still in the lieutenant’s right hand. It would be difficult to imagine a more heroic sight than that of the lieutenant at this moment, as he mustered his strength and flung back his head.
Mishima was viscerally aware of the gory reality of seppuku even if he was not formally trained to carry it out. He was not naïve about what seppuku would entail. But at the same time he did have a very romantic view of seppuku, glorifying it as an aesthetically pleasing, divinely sanctioned, and heroic death.
His fascination with the aesthetic aspects of violent death was first presented in his autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask, published when he was 24 years old. In this work, Mishima recounts finding an art reproduction of Guido Reni’s St. Sebastian amongst his father’s books. As he looks at the picture of the male nude penetrated by arrows he becomes overwhelmed with sexual arousal, filled with “pagan joy,” and for the first time in his life he masturbates, ejaculating into his hand. This conflation of homosexual arousal, artistic aestheticism, bloody violence, and youthful death would remain important concerns of Mishima’s throughout his life.
Mishima’s sense of “pagan joy” whilst masturbating over the painting of Sebastian is apt, as Sebastian has long been both an unofficial patron saint of homosexuals and an honorary pagan. It has long been recognised that depictions of Sebastian can attract inappropriate sexual attention. In the early 16th century a particularly lifelike depiction of a nude Sebastian by Fra Bartolommeo had to be removed from the church where it had been on display because women were admitting through the confessional that it was inspiring them to sinful thoughts. More recently Derek Jarman filmed a quasi-pornographic life of Sebastian, which fell foul of the censors due to its graphic content.
The historical Sebastian was a captain in the Praetorian Guard who promulgated Christianity and actively sought to convert others to that faith. He was originally a favourite of the Emperor Diocletian but when he fell from grace due to his religious activities he was ordered to be executed. He was tied up and shot at with arrows. Although the iconography depicting his martyrdom is usually associated with this scene, he did not actually die from his wounds. He was rescued and nursed back to life by a woman, St. Irene. Sebastian then denounced the Emperor and was clubbed to death as a punishment.
The fact that Sebastian was a favourite of Diocletian but then, later in life, denounced him provides an interesting parallel with Mishima’s own life. When he was a boy, Mishima was awarded a silver watch by Emperor Hirohito for his academic achievements. As was customary for the Japanese, Mishima worshipped the Emperor. But following Japan’s defeat in 1945, Hirohito was forced by the Americans to renounce his divinity. In a speech to the nation, he stated that the Emperor was not divine, and that the Japanese were not superior to other races. For many Japanese, particularly Right wing nationalists, this was an unacceptable humiliation. Mishima was later to write a story in which the ghosts of kamikaze pilots return from the dead to berate the Emperor for renouncing his divinity. In Japan, criticism of the Emperor was a severe social taboo. Despite Mishima’s avowed, indeed somewhat extreme, Emperor worship, he became a controversial figure in Japan for this criticism of the Emperor.
Mishima saw the Emperor as a fixed, solar principle in whom was embodied the sacred potential of the Japanese people. Like Sebastian whose denunciation of Emperor Diocletian was motivated by knowledge of a higher principle, allegiance to which was more powerful than allegiance to life, Mishima’s criticism of Hirohito was inspired by the realisation that the Emperor was a divine presence, and that this divinity was the source of ultimate meaning. His allegiance is primarily to this numinous presence and only secondarily to the person of the Emperor. “Why did the Emperor have to become a human being?” he asks in Voices of the Heroic Dead. And, like Sebastian, Mishima was willing to die in service to this ultimate metaphysical allegiance.
Mishima was later to write a sort of aesthetic manifesto, Sun and Steel, in which he described how his role as a writer had become inadequate, and how he sought fulfilment through the cultivation of the body. As Mishima saw it, words had led him towards a certain conception of beauty; but due to the temporal corrosiveness of words which could only reveal beauty by segmenting reality into semantic chunks – and thereby presenting a succession of endings to the continuity and purity of life – the pursuit of literature was no longer sufficient to his ambition. He equates intellectual activity with nocturnal and weak pursuits, and he contrasts this with the practice of physical development which is solar and strong. Through this physical development he is able to aspire to an ideal form, one that can achieve a greater sense of purity than merely spiritual or intellectual development.
Because Mishima has come to see literature as hamstrung in its pursuit of beauty, due to the temporal and subjective constraints that delimit its scope, he turns instead to the body as a means of approaching the ideal. As in Confessions of a Mask, written almost twenty years earlier, he sees the death of the idealised, youthful body as a sort of perfection: “Here lies the mysterious significance of an early death, which the Greeks envied as a sign of the love of the gods.” The ageing process becomes a sort of falsification, as it is a degeneration of youth, beauty and purity. Mishima has come to see youthful death as a means of cheating this degeneration; of retaining purity; and of conferring immortality.
The problem for Mishima was that at the time he was writing Sun and Steel he was no longer a young man. He had missed his opportunity to be conscripted to an early death during the Second World War. In order to achieve an ideal physical form, and so recapture the perfection of youth, Mishima takes up bodybuilding. The weights come to embody the principle of steel: a counterpoint to human flesh that confers a condition of hard immortality. By fashioning his body in this way, he is able to create a form that is somehow an unveiling of a deeper truth: “By its subtle, infinitely varied operation, the steel restored the classical balance that the body had begun to lose, reinstating it in its natural form, the form that it should have had all along.” Like a sculptor, he reveals the perfect form that lies inherent in the uncarved stone. And thus, in diurnal, solar, physical activity, Mishima finally creates the sculpted form that will provide a fitting sacrifice for the Emperor. This sacrifice will allow his form to retain its recreated perfection for eternity.
The attempt to achieve an aestheticisation of the body, and an elevated sense of purity, ran concurrent with Mishima’s lifestyle which was, in many respects, deeply embedded in the Kali Yuga. His homosexuality was notable in Japan at that time, if not for its practice then for his literary depiction of it. Indeed, there was no term for homosexuality in Japanese:
In the modern idiom, one might say he was “outed as gay,” but circa 1950s Japan lacked a conceptual term that linked sexual practice to identity in this capacity. Likely for this reason Mishima felt it necessary to coin the first word of its kind, danshokuka, which translates to the effect of “man lover person.” This neologism, presented in the novel Forbidden Colors (1954), starkly broke away from traditional Japanese notions of sexual orientation in favor of a more Western construction of the self.
In Confessions of a Mask, Mishima describes the masturbation fantasies he had as a teenage boy. These involve a great deal of torture, blood, and cannibalism, always inflicted on young men. The literary expressions of his homosexual desire were always explicit and morbid, and seem to jar with his fanatical pursuit of an idealised purity. Further to this, he posed for a series of somewhat avant garde photographs, collected in the book Torture by Roses. He also posed for photographs as Saint Sebastian, modelled on the Reni painting he described masturbating over in Confessions. And, he starred in a number of downmarket gangster films. His house was very large and styled as a Western colonial house at a time when Japanese houses tended to be small and modest, and of an Eastern character. So, in many respects he was unusual in being very interested in and influenced by contemporary Western tendencies whilst at the same time developing an increasingly extreme view of Japanese purity.
All of this leads many observers to conclude that the right wing nationalism that Mishima adopted in the 1960s, culminating in his formation of the Tatenokai and attempted coup d’etat, was another mask that he wore, one that provided him with a convenient pretext to commit the suicide that he had aestheticised and eroticised for so long. Whilst it would be foolhardy to try to identify the “real” motives of such a complex man, it is still possible to see that this argument is inadequate to the facts. One critic who follows this line of thought declares that Mishima’s suicide was, “the ultimate in literary irony.” A rereading of the extract quoted above concerning the physical effects of performing seppuku should give appropriate context to thoughts of an ironic suicide. A person does not cut out his intestines as an act of literary irony.
Yet, at the same time, Mishima’s embrace of nationalism was somewhat problematic. In Runaway Horses, the second novel of his final tetralogy, he tells the story of Isao, a Right-wing nationalist intent on sparking an Imperial revolution. Isao is a fanatic inspired by a book, The League of the Divine Wind by Tsunanori Yamao. In The League of the Divine Wind, the story is told of a group of nationalist samurai who objected to the reforms of the Meiji restoration, such as commerce with foreigners and the prohibition on wearing a sword. They attempt to instigate a revolution to cleanse Japan of these impurities. When the revolution fails, each of the men commits seppuku. Isao is utterly enchanted with this book and gathers together a group of like-minded nationalists who attempt to follow the example of the League of the Divine Wind. His intent is to carry out a series of assassinations and attacks on infrastructure, then to commit seppuku. His idea of seppuku is utterly romantic: “Before the sun. . . at the top of a cliff at sunrise, while paying reverence to the sun. . . while looking down upon the sparkling sea, beneath a tall noble pine. . . to kill myself.” When the Lieutenant to whom he describes this ideal points out that it is not possible to choose the exact circumstances of one’s death the text continues: “Isao gave no heed to the Lieutenant’s words. Subtle discourse, exegesis, the ‘on the one hand this, on the other that’ approach – all these were foreign to his way of thinking. His ideal was drawn upon pure white paper in fresh black ink. Its text was mysterious, and it excluded not only translation but also every critique and commentary.”
Isao is committed to the purity of the act rather than the contingencies of its enactment or the likelihood of its success. For him, it is essential that there must be the possibility of ultimate meaning in life, and for him this meaning is effected through the figure of the Emperor. What can be seen as a pathological suicidal impulse is, in fact, rather more subtle than that. Isao cannot countenance living in a Japan that has become corrupted through internal venality and imported decadence. For him, the Emperor is the point of singularity around which all else must orbit for life to have meaning. His revolutionary act is exoterically aimed at purifying Japan and resisting the encroachment of the foreign barbarians, but esoterically it is aimed at achieving the realisation, the immanence, of the existence of an ultimate principle:
And the greatest sin is that of a man who, finding himself in a world where the sacred light of His Majesty is obscured, nevertheless determines to go on living without doing anything about it. The only way to purge this grave sin is to make a fiery offering with one’s own hands, even if that itself is a sin, to express one’s loyalty in action, and then to commit seppuku immediately. With death, all is purified. But as long as a man goes on living, he can’t move either right or left, or take any action whatever, without sinning.
As Runaway Horses unfolds, Isao appears more and more as a misguided figure. He is continually coming up against the reality of the contingencies of life that jar with the beautiful ideal he has constructed for his own life. His father betrays him to the police before his group are able to carry out their attacks. His father reasons that Isao is a naïve idealist who lacks pragmatism, “There’s such a thing as the favorable moment. Determination alone counts for nothing. Thus I have to conclude that my son is too young. The necessary discernment is still beyond him. . . Rather than take action, the best course is to achieve results without acting.” This assessment is a fundamental misunderstanding of Isao, and by extension, of Mishima.
The interesting thing about Runaway Horses is that the character of Isao is an exact analogue of Mishima in many respects. At the time of writing the book Mishima himself was in the process of forming a small corps of right wing nationalists who would attempt a similar, albeit less murderous, rebellion. It is also certain that Mishima was already committed to the idea of carrying out seppuku as the climax to this action. Many critics have dismissed Mishima’s politics as silly and suggested that the formation of the Tatenokai and the assault on Ichigaya were merely elaborate pretexts for the performance of Mishima’s seppuku. The characterisation of Isao tends to support this analysis as it shows that Mishima has moved on from the idealised and romantic notions of heroic seppuku that he depicted in Patriotism. Instead, we can read Isao as Mishima’s attempt to detach himself somewhat from the naïve idealism he had previously described. Unlike the officer in Patriotism, Isao is unable to achieve the death that he had envisaged. He exists in a messy world of contingency, and when he finally commits seppuku he must do so hastily, before being captured. This leads some to conclude that Mishima was far too sophisticated to really believe in the ideals of the Tatenokai, and that he simply exploited them for his own narcissistic ends.
There is some plausibility to this view but it is crucial to understand that the Tatenokaiand attempted coup were not incidental to Mishima’s intentions but were the apposite vehicle for them. He was sincere in his Right-wing nationalism and in his wish to re-establish samurai values and he was willing to die for this cause. Yet at the same time he realised that there would be no chance of his miniscule, poorly trained army succeeding in their coup. This disjunction between the purity of his idealised ambition and the pragmatic possibilities open to him also encompasses the various personal and artistic proclivities that seem out of sync with his uncompromising aesthetic of death and Emperor worship, such as his homosexuality and sadism. It would appear that his awareness of weakness, decadence and egotism was no barrier to his grasp of numinous purity. And in death he was able to transcend all of these things and realise perfection. Isao, despite not being able to commit seppuku in the manner he had dreamed of, nonetheless experiences a profound and victorious vision in death: “The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disc of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids.”
Lying behind all of Mishima’s diverse interests was a deeper imperative to establish the reality of an ultimate source of meaning, beyond human contingency. For Mishima this principle was embodied in the Emperor. The siege of Ichigaya was undertaken with a sincere motive but the external, real world, outcome of the event was always going to be a matter of secondary importance. The incidental details of his suicide, including his lifelong preparation, were arranged with a superior artist’s eye for the dramatic. But all of this was in service to a greater idea, one which could only be realised through transcending contingency. With his death he was able to sacramentalize his life and achieve a final victory by touching the face of the divine. As the note read, “Human life is limited, but I would like to live forever.”
1. Henry Scott Stokes, The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima (Peter Owen, 1975), p.235.
2. Ibid., p. 234.
3. Ibid., p. 51.
4. The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima (supplementary documentary on Mishima: A life in Four Chapters), 2008, DVD, The Criterion Collection.
5. A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Penguin Books, 1971), p. 66.
6. Ibid., p. 106.
7. Aya Maeda, “How suicide has been conceived in Japan and in the Western World: Hara-kiri, Martyrdom and Group Suicide,” in Erich A. Berendt (ed.), Facing Finality: Cognitive and Cultural Studies on Death and Dying (University of Louisville Press, 2009), p.100.
8. Ibid., p. 102.
9. Rob Gilhooly, “Inside Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest’,” The Japan Times, June 26, 2011.
10. Toyomase Fusé, “Suicide and Culture in Japan: A Study of Seppuku as an Institutionalized Form Of Suicide,” Social Psychiatry, 1980, 15, pp. 57-63.
11. Scott Stokes, The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, p. 51.
12. Henry Scott Stokes, “Headless in Ichigaya: Yukio Mishima’s Legacy,” 2006, Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
13. Yukio Mishima, Patriotism (New Directions, 1966), pp. 45-51.
14. Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask (Panther Books, 1972), p. 37.
15. Richard A. Kaye, “‘Determined Raptures’: St. Sebastian and the Victorian Discourse of Decadence,” Victorian Literature and Culture, 1999, 27(1), p. 27.
16. Yukio Mishima, Sun & Steel (Secker & Warburg, 1971), p. 68.
17. Ibid., p. 24.
18. Matthew Chozick, “Queering Mishima’s Suicide as a Crisis of Language,” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, 15 October 2007.
19. Peter Abelsen, ‘Irony and Purity: Mishima’, Modern Asian Studies, 30(3), pp. 651-79.
20. Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses (Vintage Classics, 2000), p. 125.
21. Ibid., p. 125.
22. Ibid., p. 188.
23. Ibid., p. 315.
24. Ibid., p. 421.
Source: The original version of this essay was published in a Black Front Press volume on Mishima. This version is to be reprinted in a Ravenshalla Arts compilation of writings by Christopher Pankhurst.
Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com
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jeudi, 29 avril 2010
|Das Geheimnis von Sonne und Stahl: Yukio Mishimas Sun and Steel (1972)|
Yukio Mishima war sicherlich eine der schillerndsten, exzentrischsten und interessantesten Figuren, die je das Licht der literarischen Welt erblickten. Hierzulande erfreuen sich seine Werke wie Geständnis einer Maske, Patriotismus, Schnee im Frühling oder Liebesdurst großer Beliebtheit – dies jedoch zumeist innerhalb eines eher kleinen Zirkels. Man könnte also von einem „Geheimtip“ sprechen. Dabei dürfte dieser Mann bei weitem kein Unbekannter sein. International berühmt und sogar zwischenzeitlich im Gespräch für den Literaturnobelpreis gilt Mishima als einer der Exportschlager aus dem Land der aufgehenden Sonne.
Tod durch traditionelles Selbstmordritual