It seems that I had some issues with this novella. And the reasons, as usual, are completely personal and thus, irrelevant to your reading experience.
Beyond tradition, beliefs, fear and indignation at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops, I can’t find a story breathtakingly infused with romanticism. I can’t relate to the concept of patriotism. To a sort of world citizen, the attachment to a portion of land is somewhat feeble. Why I came here, I know not; where I shall go it is useless to inquire, says Lord Byron in his Letters and Journals; something about this made me think of that quote. My connections (abstractions to which I aspire, at least) are with people, not with theories involving nationality, and I’m against any kind of generalization that such notion engenders. Certain values and beliefs, the religion I was raised in – the first origin, a matter of geography. I still can’t feel pride for the doings of chance or let’s say even fate, juggling with the concept of a plan designed by someone else.
The degeneration of patriotism is a debate for another time, so I will refrain from expanding on nationalism and such, a reality that it is being forced on many of us, now more than ever.
In any case, patriotism might be foreign language. I dislike most terms which end in the suffix -ism that don’t involve my favorite writers.
On licking blades and finding it remotely erotic
Another issue – the real theme in this novella – which prevented me from greatly enjoying this story was the excessive fascination for the concept of death, the morbid enchantment by the blade which was juxtaposed to a sense of beauty and sensuality; elements that when combined, I usually fail to identify with. The leitmotifs of this story, and of its creator’s life. I watched a part of a documentary a couple of days ago where the narrator explained how Mishima’s last actions in the form of a coup might have been, above all, an excuse to achieve the aesthetic death he always dreamed of. The last artistic manifestation of will.
It struck him as incredible that, amidst this terrible agony, things which could be seen could still be seen, and existing things existed still.
A brief yet tough read. Despite the lack of connection between the story and me, the beauty of Mishima’s prose remained intact. I’m more and more impressed by the care with which he described the remarkable, the inconsequential, by means of his contemplative and delectable writing. The scenes of love between husband and wife were beautifully portrayed. Regardless of my thoughts on the subject, with the precision of a surgeon, the author associated the concepts of patriotism and death with a sense of eroticism, until they were one single reality. The beauty of skin. The brutality of blood. The rite of love and death.
I failed again.
Thus, so far from seeing any inconsistency or conflict between the urges of his flesh and the sincerity of his patriotism, the lieutenant was even able to regard the two as parts of the same thing.
The red string bringing these characters together.¹ At one point, one is honestly thinking how the sublimity of love actually feels, the act of giving oneself fully. Unreservedly. Sharing perspectives on life. Breathing somebody else’s air. Thinking about words to express feelings. Voicing those words. Not knowing what to do at the thought of the absence of such words. Following the fate of those words. And then, the fear. He who gives himself up like a prisoner of war must give up his weapons as well.² And deprived of any defense, not convinced by the fusion of words, voices and individuality, the fracture of self, the fear of loss, the constant feeling of being another one’s burden, one stops thinking about it, until the next day. I imagine it might be simpler to make decisions when people return their gaze and silence is no longer a wall.
On random thoughts
This novella became even more vivid once I watched Yūkoku, a 1966 short film “produced, directed, acted and written by Yukio Mishima.” I watched it at night. A sleepless night. The night the bell jar broke.³
With regard to Mishima’s works, nothing is ever certain. This is the third book I read by him – apart from two short stories. Fortunately, I don’t know what to expect, but I already look forward to the wonders of the second volume of his tetralogy. I long for another deep contemplation of my reactions to every one of his words.
* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
1. Allusion to a review of Anna Karenina
2. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Part Three: Words Misunderstood
3. I wrote this the same night I wrote something about The Bell Jar
4. Oh, who’s going to read this far.