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BOOKPOODAH Looks at Mishima




Yukio Mishima is a hard guy to get a handle on. Was he a fanatic, a militarist, a poet, a genius, a reactionary? All of the above, I guess. He lamented the decline of the Samurai Way and "bushido". He deplored the Westernization of Japan. He had a coterie of followers, but I don't think it quite amounted to a cult. His novels are a paean to the way it used to be and a dirge for its loss. A few years ago, in a second-floor display window of a commercial establishment, he offered his final protest by committing sepuku, one of his disciples administering the coup-de-grace. (It looks like I may be all wet on this. See this note for what is probably the real poodah.) Was he insane or committed (unfortunate word choice, I guess). In my opinion, he was bereft, but I can't claim to have more insight into his situation than that which I can glean from my limited reading of his books - a sense of consuming sadness and longing and regret and loss, and an almost unseen bitterness.

Whatever Mishima was, he could write with an astounding mixture of insight, delicacy and impact. He could build subtle, intricate pictures of exqusite detail and beauty, one on top of another, somehow, magically, leaving the reader (at least this reader) with a feeling of having been impaled with a butterfly's sword. It is as if Mishima translated the precepts of the Eastern martial arts into literature. Speaking of translations, I wonder to what extent my unabashedly rapturous review can be attributed to the translator, Michael Gallagher? Is there some added value in the translation? It is beyond my ability to answer that question, but I find it hard to believe that he lost anything.

Some passages from "Runaway Horses" are, to me, pinnacles of the craft of writing and thought. The progression of his thoughts, for example, in just three paragraphs (beginning at the bottom of pg. 150 in my copy) exhibit his genius:

As Mishima contrasts the ephemeral beauty and repose of nature with the precision and stress of military endeavors, his thought progresses from "distant, dreamlike clouds, oblivious to the thick and lovely shade cast by the trees [now catch this!] bordering the drill field..."; to "finely tuned engine" to "moved by a giant, unseen hand", to "the blazing sun", and, finally to "choreography of death". A gamut of images in just one short paragraph - 15 lines of poetic prose, containing not only the imagery limned above, but concepts such as the minimization of the finely tuned engine by the power of the unseen hand; a blazing sun dealing death "whenever it wished"; and culminating with a reversal of attribution:

"Here was the power of the Emperor himself."

After this internal climax, there is a synthesis of images. In the next paragraph, the mood is intensified and there is an artistic combining of the images and concepts that came before: Now the sun, previously part of the nature contrasted with military order is "working with mathematical clarity and precision". The "choreography of death", mentioned above, is "beautiful, sweaty, intricate".

He ends this passage with a two-sentence paragraph:

"And elsewhere? Elsewhere throughout Japan the rays of the sun were blocked."

There are other passages from "Runaway Horses" which engage my fascination and which I hope to extoll at some future date. In my copy, they are on the following pages: 168-169; 187; 199-200; 240-241; 245; 249-250.

For more on Mishima, check out his Cyber Museum.

By the way; eager for more Mishima, I read "Temple of Dawn", another in the "Sea of Fertility" cycle. It was really bad. What a disappointment. A confused mishmash.

Anyone interested in my thoughts on Japan in general might have a look at my Kyoto Trip Report

I get my jollies trying to emulate famous authors. Anyone interested in my try at Mishima can read Rising Sun

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