Culture of Death in Yukio Mishima’s Novels

Portrait of a Japanese eccentric and poet and suicide victim, Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima, photographed by Kishin Shinoyama

Yukio Mishima, photographed by Kishin Shinoyama

In the morning of November 25, 1970, dressed in a theatrical fantasy uniform and accompanied by four cadets of his theatrical fantasy private army, he captured the Commander of Japanese Civil Defense. He ordered that the soldiers of the 32nd Regiment should sit in the yard of the barracks. He appeared – his friend Morita had unrolled a banner with pro-imperial slogans – at 12 noon on the balcony for a speech, of which in the graves of the soldiers only fragments of words like “Get up and die!”, “We have waited long enough!” were to be understood. He tried to get rid of the confusion with the triple “Tenno Heika banzai!” – “Long live the Emperor!” – to drown out. He fell silent like the crowd in the yard. He left the balcony, he stepped into the room, he said, “They did not even listen to me,” he sat down on the floor, unbuttoned his uniform jacket, took the Magoroku short sword, stabbed it in his left side, and slowly drew it Blade right across the body.

His favorite tone sequence is beauty-love-death

Yukio Mishima, Japan’s most famous poet of the modern age, 45 years old, had committed seppuku. After his lover Morita just cut his neck, one of his cadets struck his head, then the Moritas, with a single sword stroke. A life of excess had ended in the chosen excess. “You should have brought red roses for a party,” his mother said at the funeral, “for the first time in his life he has done what he urgently and always wanted to do, be happy for him.” At the beginning of 1970 he told his American friend Donald Keen that he had attended a high school student who did not let the acclaimed writer dismiss The Horse That Had Passed. “I said to him, ‘My time is very tight and I can only answer one question to you. The boy then paused for a while, then looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘When will you kill yourself?’ “And true to the lifelong passion for the ceremonious self-staging of the Oscar Wilde admirers Mishima had four months before his suicide invited the friendly editor of the largest television station to a select dinner and asked his irritation whether his death would come as a main evening news; He insisted on the journalist’s assurance, “If I were to do Seppuku, would you film and broadcast that live?”

Mishima, like his narcissistic osamu in Kyoko’s novel, blurred the line between death as coup de théâtre and death as reality; no: He had crossed it. That is just the fascinating, horrible and often also teasy-flavored of his work.

He is a fond, pale, eternally sick boy fighting a tuberculosis (as many of his fictional characters later on had until his final work, the critically executed The Sea of ​​Fertility , whose feeble Kiyoki is the likeness of his author). The boy sinks to the indignation of the father in the fantasy gloomy artificial dome whose pillared saints Rilke and Radiguet, Gide, Oscar Wilde and Thomas Mann. It was only late when the father was to say: “If you want to become a novelist, then give up the very first of Japan”; Mishima’s answer: “I will,” is narrated.

Father Azusa tore the books out of his hand, shredded them and threw them out of the window of the European-built house; a tear-spattered but traditionally silent mother had nothing but a caress and a cup of tea.But in dumb resistance, the literary addict was not chased out of his domes. At the high-ranking Gakushu-in school, founded in 1870 for children of the imperial family and the aristocracy, which Mishima had visited since 1931, he even ventured, in spite of his shyness, in his inadequate environment with rehearsals of his poems.

He himself chooses the pseudonym Mishima after the “three islands”, from which one can see the snowy Chubu, his Japanese teacher Shimizu advises to the first name Yukio, derived from Yuki = snow. After a first narrative Mishima debuts, he is 24 years old, with the strictly autobiographical novel confession of a mask – a sensational success.Earlier prose, often published in remote, albeit renowned magazines, had largely gone unnoticed; However, Mishima’s theme of life had already resonated in them, as if he knew Platens elegiac who looked at beauty … In fact, one of the most influential critics of the time, Zenmai Hasuda, had issued an aesthetic order with his phrase “dying means having culture”. At least Mishima’s admired Raymond Radiguet seemed to have followed that order; At the age of 20, after completing the novel, he died of typhus in 1923. But even in all of his early works – The Thievesor The Flowering Forest – Mishima, like a pianist who alludes to his leitmotiv, lets the beauty-love-death sequence of his life shine through him; sometimes Akihide stands in The Thieves by the Sea and realizes that his longing for Yoshiko “miraculously transforms into the yearning for death”, and sometimes it ends in the common death of the lovers.

And then in 1949 a confession of a mask appears. The narrow novel is his Werther , his coming-out (to remain in current parlance), his birth as a writer of utterly explosive rigidity, like dissecting coldness. He wanted to expose his aesthetic nihilism. What he revealed was his homosexuality.What began now was one of the most rife of self-actualization stories – and in Mishima’s case that means: self-destruct orgies of modern literature.

With poetic meticulousness Mishima designs in the book, which may be called because of his autobiographical authenticity barely novel, the magnetism, which emanates from male bodies, armpit hair, muscles, sweaty skin, speaks through the laboriously put on mask, with whose help he Love without desire forces: the love for a girl. The book is a black Mass, a ceremony of lust from pain and torment, a song in the tradition of Walt Whitman from beauty to death, yearning and addiction at the same time. What then became the basso continuo of his entire work; of his life, whose black noises and bloodthirsty fantasies he wrote down in novels, poems, no-plays, as it were, like a clef of clefs, everything is already laid out in the furious first act. He opens up the cadenzas of a hymnic flickering Gregorian.

Yukio Mishima was now a star. His books were bestsellers, were filmed, were reprinted as a continuation in high-circulation newspapers. He was rich. He led such an extroverted as extravagant life, appeared in the films of his books. In the early sixties – Mishima was earning the fabulous sum of $ 75,000 a year – after the literary defeat of his novel Kyoko’s House, which was outweighed by the enormous popularity of many other books – soon his name was on 140 book titles – Did he insist on playing a gangster, wiping the director’s concerns, “Do you think you have the face of a movie star?” with a “no question” brushing aside, pointing to his so proudly groomed chest hair. A week later the newspapers reported in bar headlines: “Mishima plays a hairy bandit, Mishima, pistol in hand, shows off his chest hair.” And as before, artist and fictional character mingled: Mishima dressed like a movie star, wearing sunglasses at night, was photographed in Marlon Brando pose and fed his interviewer with freshly received fan mail.

He sprinkles his figures with chest hair and powdered sugar

He scattered his money into the gay scene in Tokyo, stealing his companions on a trip to the US every afternoon to pick up 17-year-old boys from the San Francisco park, sharing nude photos of a heavily muscular man with extensively-fueled bodybuilding showed wild body hair; a man, as Mishima portrayed him over and over again as an ideal of masculine beauty. He had become his own aesthetic idol, creating himself – the portrait of Dorian Gray and Mr. Dorian Gray in one.

He drank the glory out of a hemlock mug. While his literary reputation sank in the sixties – even such a perfectly constructed novel as The Sailor, who betrayed the sea or preferred his favor After the banquet was devalued by the critics – he liked many fashionable poses; as the host of (at that time uncommon in Japan) European elegance in his luxurious home. As if he wanted to vary the Latin persona , which is also a mask, in his life and work refined, he tried to be the mask . Not only did he have the sophisticated attitude of receiving the editors-in-chief of Time or the New York Times like a minister of culture in Tokyo and hosting them in the most expensive establishments, but also a kind of literary balancing act – he saw himself as the preserver and innovator of Japanese tradition. and he incorporated infinite influences of European intellectual life into his texts. Magnus Hirschfeld and Marcel Proust, the Brothers Grimm and de la Motte Fouqué, Stefan Zweig and Andersen speak as casually as a natural mask of the Japanese reader.

We see a writer who, with iron discipline, invents a world at his desk every day for five hours – and who pays homage to the social world in the evening – or twelve at a reception at the British Embassy to the guest of honor, Lady Margot Fonteyn handed over huge white orchids. The artist Mishima has not always mastered the splits. He has been waiting for the world – he has obviously been watching exactly himself. His great biographer John Nathan, to whom many details of this essay are to be thanked, speaks of a wall of ice that isolated him from the environment. Faust Yukio was his own Mephisto Mishima. No one else offered him the diabolical pact; he shut it up to himself alone. As if someone was experimenting with drugs and observing himself exactly, he put each tear-eyelash under the microscope, photographed the preparation; and behold, it was art.

Not always. This introspection makes some of his texts sentimental, feeble, and decorative. The quivering male breast, of course always densely hairy; the tremendous passion of oceanic swells; the sensual shoulders and the beguiling sweetness of their closeness – in careless carelessness, Mishima does not shy away from a cloud of powdered sugar to daintily dust his figures. His erotic sensorium is fixed on the male body – ticking mostly on the hair – and on the psyche of the man.His loneliness, submergence, dark yearning or bamboo-bending mendacity spans his circle. And landscape. It is there, it does not want anything, it does not demand, is size or danger per se; a landscape can not be a partner. Mishima’s landscape paintings have the pastel beauty of Hokusai drawings: “As the darkness deepened, the song of the tree cicadas began to recur, the dusk reflected in the puddles here and there, and a moist breeze in the rice fields to the right and left in the fields with bent ears, the fruit, without the grain-like shimmer of noon, resembled an unmanageable mass of unconscious plant-bodies. ” On the other hand, trying to relate people to one another usually fails.

Reality interested the author, who said in 1955: “It is frightening how much the outer world has ceased to occupy me,” not at all. Therefore, the novel Liebesdurst, which has just been published, became a little masterpiece, an erotic thriller, a legend of greed and murder. It is not about passion, but about decay, an epic alternative to the existentialist idea that man is free in choice and decision. This Etsuko, widow and listless companion of her bony-fingered father-in-law, had as little choice in her fate as the water that always runs down-her lap could not save the young peasant lad in her imaginary glory.

On another occasion, Mishima varies his leitmotif of desire and extinction. It is the hymn over which he hoists his blood-banner, as devout as majestic. In December 1966, when he meets two young people who call themselves “neo-nationalists,” he meets his death messengers – a Cocteau film that has the disadvantage of being a reality.Until recently, perfectly styled silver servants of a perpetual party in the “Hotel Abgrund”, the writer now becomes the hater of this very society;the mask becomes a grimace. He takes a path that decades before him with its rigorous anti-liberalism European writers went – Johannes R. Becher or Gottfried Benn in Germany, Marinetti in Italy.

He was an imperial soldier without an army

It is said that Mishima became a “fascist”. I’m not sure that’s the right category for Mishima’s ecstatic return. Fascism, even National Socialism, had practical counter-offers. both lived essentially from the ideology of war and racism. Both rhythm was the march of the crowd – by no means the death duct of the heroic individual. They had concrete political leaders and precise socio-economic models of society. None of this with Yukio Mishima – he is a death-hungry dreamer beyond reality; he has no plans for a better one because reality does not interest him at all. His finally fanatical emperorship was an idolization of the empire. Mishima personally wanted nothing, he wanted to go under. The asceticism of his time between physical training and mental work was one of a soldier without army: “The day begins at six with morning appeal, cold water massage, a two-mile run, I scratch my plate clean with each meal, and I fall asleep Baby in my iron bed, wrapped in a military blanket … Strange as it may sound, about forty percent of my life is for a soldier’s life. ”

He was not without an army. According to his plan of life, mixing up delusion and real-time, taking the stage for the real and the theatrical act of acting, he created a “Black Army Faction,” a guards of young anti-democratic fanatics in operetta uniforms, who wore their bourgeois weariness in secret training camps , Yukio Mishima became an Oedipus performer, who did not wear black coal on the back of the stage and instead set his eyes out on the open stage.

As every writer of citation lives, even Mishima himself mortgaged his oath to death; In a famous 17th-century Samurai Yamamoto manifesto, “Know that the essence of bushido is dying, which means that a samurai always chooses to die before choosing between life and death, as simple as that. ”

But the poet had once again taken words for truth: Yamamoto did not commit suicide, he became a monk, dictated that manifesto entitled Hagakure and died peacefully at the age of 61. Mishima, on the other hand, who had written a detailed commentary on the Hagakure and stated that this book – “a key to freedom” – was the only one that always lay on his bedside table, wrote a “holy oath” with his followers in February 1968: ” We swear in the spirit of true men of Yamamato to stand with sword in hand against any threat to the culture and historical continuity of our homeland. ” In the gesture of pathetically heated boys, everyone signed with their blood.

A few months later, in a notorious “counterrevolutionary manifesto”, he finally draws the root of aesthetics and politics: “The fight is fought once, until death … We are the embodiment of Japanese beauty.” The apotheosis, to which he had written up many novels and to which he had now lived down, was the death of love. In his friend Morita he had found the lover for whom he had sought his whole life. By cutting off his head, Yukio Mishima had his last great satisfaction.

A selection of available books by Yukio Mishima:

  1. Spring Snow (The Sea of Fertility #1) by Yukio Mishima, Michael Gallagher (Translator) Paperback, 389 pages Published 2000 by Vintage (first published 1968)
  2. Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima Paperback, 224 pages Published October 27th 1998 by Peter Owen (first published 1949)
  3. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima, John Nathan (Translator) Paperback, 181 pages Published May 31st 1994 by Vintage (first published 1963)
  4. Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima, Alfred H. Marks (Translator) Paperback, Vintage International, 403 pages Published February 22nd 1999 by Vintage Books (first published 1951)
  5. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, Ivan Morris (Translation) Hardcover, 304 pages Published 1995 by Everyman’s Library (first published 1956)
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