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Ryuji Tsukazaki on Mishima
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Following the publication of my review of Yukio Mishima’s guide to Hagakure, Andrew Joyce, a fellow contributor to The Occidental Observer, has published a thorough and highly critical account of the Japanese writer’s life. I was going to draw attention to Joyce’s piece, which has already been republished by The Unz Review.

Here is a partial summary of Joyce’s points:

  1. Despite being married, Mishima had a completely degenerate gay sex life and neglected his children.
  2. Mishima’s right-wing politics were adopted late and were vague, insincere, and ultimately a kind of posing.
  3. Mishima’s spectacular last day, far from being a serious traditionalist/militarist political statement, was merely the ultimate enactment of his perverse and self-destructive psycho-sexual fantasies.

Joyce concludes:

Members of the Dissident Right with an interest in Japanese culture are encouraged to take up one or more of the martial arts, to look into aspects of Zen, or to review the works of some of the other twentieth-century Japanese authors mentioned here. Such endeavors will bear better fruit. Above all, however, there is no comparison with spending time researching the lives of one’s own co-ethnic heroes and one’s own culture. As Europeans, we are so spoiled for choice we needn’t waste time with the rejected, outcast, and badly damaged members of other groups.

I invite you to read Joyce’s piece in full.

All this having been said, I still encourage people to watch Paul Schrader’s film on Mishima and to read Mishima’s guide to Hagakure (or better yet, Hagakure itself). I will myself, when time permits, try to read Mishima’s later more political fiction (e.g. Runaway Horses) and other nonfiction. A work of art is no less compelling, a logical argument no less persuasive, whatever the author’s personal deficiencies or proclivities.

On TOO, Joyce’s piece has received an informative, nuanced, and detailed comment from a certain Ryuji Tsukazaki, who seems to be fluent in Japanese. I reproduce Tsukazaki’s comment in full:

This essay probably needed to be written. But to any readers who think it seems a little unfair aggressively negative – it is.

The assertion that Mishima “seems hardly political at all” is just silly. It’s true that rightists who read his fiction often find it disappointing. Taken as a whole, his literary oeuvre certainly contains more weird homoeroticism than it does right-wing nationalism. But Mishima also wrote a lot of non-fiction, which was mostly explicitly political. Some titles that come to mind right away are “In Defense of Culture”, “For Young Samurai”, and “Lectures on Immorality”. (These are all my unofficial titles. I don’t think any of them are officially translated.) They are treatments of Japanese political culture, identity, and morality in the post-war era. It’s impossible to tie them to gayness or sadomasochism; they’re obviously sincere. Mishima also took part in debates on campuses during the late 60s student riots (he wrote essays about them too).

Despite the assertion that he became political “in the 60s”, perhaps because he was afraid of growing old – his most explicitly political work of fiction, Patriotism, came out in 1961, halfway through his career, when he was 35. “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”, another major midcareer work of fiction, isn’t explicitly political, but very clearly touches on themes of authentic masculinity, loyalty, and patrimony.

“he argued that Japanese right-wingers “did not have to have a systematised worldview,”” I don’t know the context of this quote, or what he said in the original, but it’s actually hard to argue with – especially because Japanese right-wingers have never HAD a systematised worldview. The desire for metaphysical, moral, and/or ideological formal systemization is very European. Prewar Japanese historical figures will often be described as fighting for democracy and human rights in one context and as fierce right-wing militarists in others (Kita Ikki and Toyama Mitsuru come to mind). If Mishima’s assertion bothers you, don’t sweat it – it’s not about you, it’s about the Japanese.

“Mishima is a pale shadow of ultra-nationalist literary contemporaries like Shūmei Ōkawa…” I have to niggle about this. Shumei Okawa is neither literary nor contemporary. He was active in the prewar era only, and I’m unaware of any fiction he wrote. The others you mentioned may be superior to Mishima as ultranationalists but not as men of letters.

As I said, this essay did need to be written – it’s hard to look deeply into Mishima and feel comfortable with Western rightist idolization of him. He was nothing so simple and appealing as le based Japanese samurai man. And it’s true that his life and work was driven greatly by his sexuality. It’s untrue that he was politically insincere or shallow. He was nothing like a European fascist, and he couldn’t be called a traditionalist. Nonetheless, he prioritized the authentically Japanese over the modern or Western; he prioritized the healthy over the sick, and the strong over the weak; and the masculine over the feminine or androgynous. He brought up these themes repeatedly in his writings, fiction and nonfiction.

“Mishima was a profoundly unhealthy and inorganic individual” – this sentence stuck out to me as undeniably true. And I think it’s also true of many other important writers and thinkers. When Nietzsche wrote that wisdom appears on earth as a raven attracted by the scent of carrion, he was doing nothing so simple as attacking wisdom. Blond Beasts rarely write groundbreaking philosophy or provocative fiction; conflicted people who hate themselves and/or the world they were born into do that more. (Nietzsche himself could be described as an unhealthy and inorganic individual, though not to Mishima’s level.) Mishima’s disturbed sexuality and weak, sick childhood were catalysts that forced him to really grapple with masculinity and identity on a personal and intellectual level. When we read about him we should be aware that he was not an ubermensch and that he was a pervert. I don’t see that as reason to dismiss him.

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  1. ia says:

    Right. I’d also repeat what I wrote in response to a commenter concerning Mishima and Pasolini:

    What on Earth could we possibly learn from these figures?

    The technique involved in making compelling images, gestures and sounds in time. You don’t need to reproduce the same content but the form, the style, will be useful. To be honest, people who identify as conservative could use some serious training in form. Content, they’re okay. But form is another matter, and unfortunately for them, it’s more important when it comes to influencing people than content.

  2. Thomasina says:

    “Blond Beasts rarely write groundbreaking philosophy or provocative fiction; conflicted people who hate themselves and/or the world they were born into do that more.”

    Good statement. Hating yourself is an integral part of the “fall”, and most people never allow themselves to get there. Too threatening to the ego, and much too painful, but this is where depth and wisdom reside.

    Mishima was a product of his biology and environment. He learned that in order to survive, he must put himself away. It is in the “putting away” that the twisting occurs.

    I don’t look down on the guy, but I still agree with Dr. Joyce – a better example should be found.

  3. Both Joyce and Durocher seem not to be interested in Mishima himself. Instead, what they seem to want (and are disappointed at not finding) is a simplistic version of the writer as a mere projection of their own respective pet interests, neatly satisfying their own vanities; and perhaps also their weebish penchant for Japanese exotica that defangs it, and allows them to neuter the “other” into the “safe” escapism of shinkansen, sakura, sweetly giggling geisha, and Fujiyama.

    Mishima would have been the first to concede that he did not belong to the “right” or to any one political faction. As I mentioned in another thread, he harshly admonished his friend, the eminent composer Mayuzumi Toshirō, for essentially becoming a talking head for the far right fringe of the LDP. His outlook was, essentially, anti-American (yet bedazzled with American culture) and anti-capitalist (yet profiting enormously as one of Japan’s most famous personages); more or less in accord with the likes of Kita Ikki and the soldiers who led the Ni-ni-roku jiken. Mishima’s aesthetics and beliefs beguile and bedevil the traditional right/left paradigm. He was against the Anpo, yet ardently desired for the communists to instigate a revolution (which he hoped would trigger a rightist counter-revolution that could finally bring about the “Shōwa Restoration” that was the dream of many in the 1930s). He revered the Tennō (very misleadingly translated as “Emperor” in English), yet repeatedly argued that the Shōwa Tennō owed his subjects his abdication and a formal apology for the Pacific War. Anybody who expects this highly original and prodigiously energetic artist to be a lame proto-altrightist will be very disappointed.

    Joyce’s evident chagrin over My Friend Hitler makes plain that he not only missed Mishima’s point entirely, but has only a superficial grasp of his work to begin with.

    Mishima’s right-wing politics were adopted late and were vague, insincere, and ultimately a kind of posing.

    Does Joyce read Japanese? His source materials cited in his essay seem to indicate that he doesn’t. In the event, he doesn’t need to in order to better understand the author. Extensive proof of Mishima’s nationalist beliefs which can be traced back at least to his adolescence is demonstrated in the brilliant, prismatic biography by Inose Naoki and Satō Hiroaki, Persona: A Personal Biography of Mishima Yukio. A number of documents attesting to this fact are reproduced in Mishima Yukio ‘25 – ‘70 by Hiraoka Yōko and Fujita Mitsuo.

    • Replies: @Arilando
    , @Tusk
  4. Arilando says:
    @Nicolás Palacios Navarro

    None of the views you cite are inherently incompatible with being right-wing.

  5. Tusk says:
    @Nicolás Palacios Navarro

    I took Joyce’s piece to be more of an analysis on what use Mishima plays for Westerners. More of how do we perceive Mishima and use him culturally as an icon vs how Mishima was in reality contrasting our own ideals.

    Japanese culture, or Mishima himself, has nothing to do with whether Mishima is a bad example for whites in the West. So when you say “Mishima would have been first to concede that he did not belong to the ‘right’” I think that you’re right, but Joyce didn’t seem, to me at least, to be trying to determine Mishima’s politics in an explicit sense but instead critique the Western Right’s use of him as a symbol of the Right, and show that he is a weak addition to our political thought. You can be right in saying Mishima would say he isn’t Right, and that is exactly what Joyce was saying too. Once again the critique isn’t on Mishima himself but on our perceptions of him.

    So I don’t think it is fair to seemingly imply Joyce or Durocher are treated Mishima unfairly because what they’re talking about has largely nothing to do with Mishima as a person, but instead focusing on using Mishima has a lens to examine other objects. He was very clearly degenerate (in a non-biased sense) so it is certainly practical to separate Mishima as an artist away from Mishima as a pragmatic, political icon.

  6. @Arilando

    Not at all, of course. But though his interests and outlook overlapped with the Japanese right, his overall persona and aesthetic made him an uncomfortable fit. (Likewise, despite his exhibitionist display of his sexual inclinations and his unbuttoned attitudes towards his art—capable of writing everything from emotionally and formally complex novels to throwaway romances for women’s magazines—he never has and never will be embraced by the Japanese left.)

    Rather, he must be understood as a figure that transcended easy political affiliations; as well as a tragic figure representing the broken aspirations of his homeland. In a sense, the “postwar” has never really ended in Japan.

  7. Tusk makes a great point above that the evaluation of a person is a separate matter from the evaluation of the person’s work.

    I hadn’t heard of Mishima before glancing over Durocher’s piece on him. Joyce’s follow-up critique, though, brought to mind the term introduced by Glenn Greenwald, “John Wayne Syndrome” in his 2008 book, Great American Hypocrites, which he explains in this 2008 interview:

    Greenwald: To this day, John Wayne is the prototype of the uber-patriotic, uber-masculine, uber-courageous Moral Republican Warrior. His imagery is the template that pioneered the brand and that the Right uses to this day to build up their political leaders. In 1995—18 years after his death—he remained the most admired film actor in America. The Los Angeles Times said that, even nearly two decades after his death, his image “exemplified the ideal American fighting man.” After 9/11, Peggy Noonan wrote a column hailing the return of “the Duke”—of “real men” who bellow: “Yer in a whole lotta trouble now, Osama-boy.”

    Yet John Wayne was one of America’s biggest and most repugnant frauds—in exactly the way that most modern right-wing leaders are. At a time when virtually nobody avoided combat, Wayne did exactly that, using the most dishonorable means imaginable, throughout all of World War II. Because the most successful male actors, including older ones, went to fight, he was able to stay in Hollywood and become extremely rich playing war heroes. He spent the rest of his life glorifying every American war and accusing war opponents of being cowards, Communists and traitors. He crusaded for traditional American morality, attacking others whom he perceived to deviate, while he engaged in compulsive womanizing and adultery, repeatedly breaking up his own family, and wallowing in pill addictions. Before there was Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, George Bush, Bill Kristol, David Vitter, and even John McCain—there was John Wayne. One finds key parts of Wayne in each of them. To this day, he’s the role model for how the Right conducts itself and the methods they use to swindle the American public.

    • Agree: Tusk
    • Replies: @Stephen Dodge
  8. Frankly, I do not see the point of Europeans bothering with Mishima. Admittedly, I trudged through Sun and Steel when I was younger when I took body building much more seriously, and tried to read one of his classic novels but found both to be quite tedious.

    Unless one has read Omeros’s Iliada and Oddysia back to front and then Isiodos, Irodotos, Pindaros, Platon, Aristotelis, Isokratis, Thukydidis, the Kynikoi, Theokritos, Polyvios, Apollonios Rhodios, the Greek Anthology, Plutarhos, Aelios Aristidis, Philostratos, Nonnos, Plotinos, Proklos, Simplikios, a few Romans, the Wars by Prokopios, Mavrikios’s Strategikon, Digenis Akritas the Byzantine border lord, Ioannis Tzetzes, Laonikos Chalkokonylis, a few Italian Renaissance writers (notably Machiavelli) and a handful of French, German, Spanish and Russians writers, then why bother (please do not bring up the dreadful English). In fact, if one is short of time then Omeros, Thukydidis, Machiavelli (the Discourses on Livy) and Nietzsche will probably suffice. They get straight to the point.

    The rest of ones time should be taken up by building an empire and breeding.

    • Replies: @Tusk
    , @Stephen Dodge
  9. Tusk says:

    One should indeed start with the Greeks.

  10. @John Achterhof

    The odds of being killed as an entertainer who logged tens of thousands of miles near the Pacific War Zone on trips to entertain the troops during WWII was exponentially larger than the odds of being killed as a general in any war zone.

    Among Americans, that is.

    The odds of being killed were pretty much the same for Soviet generals and Soviet entertainers, and I believe that Japanese generals died at a higher rate than Japanese entertainers.

    After you apologize for lying about John Wayne, maybe people will take you seriously again.

  11. @Agathoklis

    … Odyseia …. Aristoteles ….. Polybios …..Plutarkhos ….. (not sure why you used the genitive sometimes and the nominative elsewhere)

  12. Joyce’s article suffers from his facile urge to boil down absolutely everything in Mishima’s life to the quest for more gay sex. Much of it consists of the author going “Hey, did you know Yukio Mishima had gay sex?” Yes, we all know. It’s pretty weak if you know much about Mishima (as Joyce claims he does), who plainly had concerns other than just perfecting his fetish sex techniques.

    Mishima was first and foremost an ARTIST and aesthete – his artistic/aesthetic concerns form a tripod with his politics and sexuality, both of which were clearly influential too, but it’s just as clear that the latter was predominant. Joyce probably should have read the newest literary criticism of Mishima (as in analysis, not negative judgment) by Andrew Rankin, Mishima: Aesthetic Terrorist. The book contains many interesting passages, all of which I won’t quote here, but which make it obvious Mishima had a particular set of decadent aesthetic fixations involving the idea that things are most beautiful in the moment they are ending (which is suicide was in concordance with); if you know something about mono no aware, you might find this familiar… Mishima was preoccupied with violence as a result, but it was hardly exclusively homoerotic/sadomasochistic, see The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion; he was perfectly capable of getting his aesthetic point across without writing with one hand, so to speak.

    Many of Joyce’s specific criticisms fall flat as well. For example, he cites a passage where a character in one of Mishima’s novels rants against the family, apparently being unaware that ideas expressed by characters in fiction often serve artistic purposes and do not track precisely with the author’s own views. Joyce’s assertion that Mishima was a deadbeat dad is further contradicted by a passage in one of his own sources, Henry Scott Stokes’ biography:

    [Mishima] divided his life into distinct compartments: his family life and his public career… in certain circumstances, he regarded his duty to his family as his prime consideration… The separation between public and private life was complete; he never used any other name than Mishima… Mishima the public figure was Mishima the novelist, playwright, and exhibitionist; he was never Mishima the son, husband, and father.

    As for the assertion that Mishima was totally Westernized with no connection to traditional Japanese culture, this is untrue: Mishima was interested in Japanese classics from an early age, and in fact encouraged a despairing classmate at end of the Pacific War that “Ours is the language of the emperors and the gods”, and encouraged him to live for what is “most pure, most noble, and most beautiful”. He frequently discussed texts from the Japanese tradition, as in his debate with communist students at the University of Tokyo in 1969. Of course Mishima was also influenced by the West heavily: so what?

    As Tsukazaki (and Rankin in his book) notes, almost none of Mishima’s non-fiction has been translated, and in fact only 1/4 of his oeuvre overall has been brought into English. Rankin states that in his essays “[Mishima] offers an opinion on almost every subject imaginable”, so discussion of Mishima’s actual political views (as opposed to exegesis of his fiction) in English really suffers from the lack of material.

    Overall, Joyce is correct that if you are a militantly anti-gay white nationalist, you should not bother with Mishima. If you’re anyone else, I would recommend checking his life and works out – a very interesting man with neat artistic fixations.

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