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January 02, 2006

 

Remorse: Remarks of Interest


No Feelings of Regret
Here is a further discussion of my previous Swarzenegger posting:

If the display of Scwarzenegger's pictures had been motivated simply by purient interests, there indeed would be cause for feelings of remorse. However, his poses in all of those pictures were calculated, perfected to attract the infatuation of those involved in muscle worship, teasing them with the possibility of even more. This was the early, somewhat debased, phase of his pursuit of international notoriety, by any means needed. This necessarily required Swarzenegger to become deeply invested in the worship of his own physique and muscles. His muscular body thus became the shrine for himself that represented total devotion to the Flesh and to Muscles.

This deeper perspective, then, prompted me to think of Mishima's total allegiance to the Flesh and Muscle. There seem to be many similarities between these two men, specifically in terms of their profound worship of Flesh and Muscle, especially their own, as the source of feeling alive. The following discussion of Mishima illustrates this perspective, where the world of words is replaced by the world of flesh.



Schwarzenegger: Through the Lens of Mishima

Preface

Reading Mishima is somehow reminiscent of Scharzenegger's thirst for power and his use of the flesh and Muscle as the vehicles with which he could achieve international notoriety:

In late 1965, near the end of his life, Mishima began Sun and Steel (1968), published in serial form. His conclusion, thus expressed, was that his life had been a quest for "the ultimate verification of existence." He had concluded that words were no longer a substitute for reality and he decided that language and art were to blame for "eating reality away" and thus his sense of being alive-existence, Muscle, as he described, became the "language of the flesh." In Sun and Steel, he conceived of muscle as a proof of existence. Confronted with "lumps of steel" he wrote:

"On that began my close relationship with steel that was to last for ten years to come. Little by little, moreover, the properties of my muscles came increasingly to resemble those of steel. This slow development, I found, was remarkably similar to the process of education, which remodels the brain intellectually by feeding it with progressively more difficult matter...the process closely resembled the classical ideal of education...The steel faithfully taught me the correspondence between the spirit and the body: thus feeble emotions, it seemed to me, corresponded to flaccid muscles, sentimentality to a sagging stomach, and over impressionability to an oversensitive, white skin. Bulging muscles, a taut stomach and a tough skin, I reasoned, would correspond respectively to an intrepid fighting spirit, the power of dispassionate intellectual judgment, and a robust disposition."


Mishima: Mask and Steel

Introduction

Yukio Mishima's field of war was a battlefield without glory, a battlefield where none could display deeds of valor: It was the front line of the spirit. In his finale, what Mishima was about to perform was an act in his public capacity as a soldier, something he had never previously shown his wife. It called for a resolution equal to the courage to enter battle; it was a death of no less degree and quality than death in the front line. It was his conduct on the battlefield that he was now to display (Mishima, "Patriotism").

All art is ultimately about death. In Mishima's case life imitated art. This was true in the intensity and complexity of his daily existence and in his choice of demise. A man with closely cropped hair, the commander of his private army of 100 men, the man with a remarkable physique who went from a weakling to an athlete; a man who could be the life of the party, yet a man who could be angry and hold grudges; a determined goal-directed obsessive man preoccupied with rituals and blood-signing oaths; a man remarkably traditional yet remarkably modern, a cult figure for some; a man who wanted to live forever yet a man who took his life as a martyr of heroic Japan; a man who obeyed an order "that no earthly emperor was ever again going to give"; a man who coveted the possibility of winning the Nobel prize yet in his moment of triumph was preoccupied with the urge to destroy himself-all of this, and more, was Mishima.

In 1965 Yukio Mishima was rumored to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize. In 1968, that honor was bestowed on Yasunari Kawabata who called Mishima "the Japanese Hemingway." Kawabata was the first Japanese novelist to win a Nobel Prize and said of Mishima: "A writer of his caliber appears only once every 200 or 300 years."

In November 1970, after berating a group of soldiers he insisted be assembled, he committed seppuku-a ritual suicide, an act for which he had rehearsed his entire artistic life.

Background Information

Kimitake Hiraoka, better known by his pen name, Yukio Mishima, was born on January 14, 1925. He was 45 years old at the time of his strikingly dramatic death. Mishima produced 40 novels, 18 plays, 20 volumes of short stories and essays, and was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize. He acted in the film version of his story "Patriotism" (1966), plunging a prop sword into his belly in what was to be a rehearsal for his actual suicide years later. His life was a quest for the merging of art and life-writing and action. His life and his death became high theatre. His death was personal, cultural, religious and more. To him, beauty like life is fleeting. Mishima was a patriot and fervent nationalist who mastered the martial arts of karate and swordsmanship and maintained an intense regimen of weight-lifting workouts from 1955 on. It was a quest that he described as "the ultimate verification of existence." This quest was necessary to verify his existence by the "language of the flesh"-"antithetical to words." He experienced doubt about feeling alive and sought proof of his being. He acted-no lived-these parts in daily life as well as on stage, screen, and in his own plays.

Mishima founded his own army, opposed the infiltration of Western culture in Japan, and maintained an erotic fascination with death culminating in his own ritual suicide at a time when he was unrivaled as the outstanding Japanese writer of his generation.

His first book, Forest In Full Flower (1944), written when he was 16 years old, was inspired by the poetic Japan of old-consistent with his scholarly knowledge of classical Japan-an aesthete in traditional culture as well as beauty. At the time of its publication he chose his pseudonym. Mishima is the name of a village at the foot of Mt. Fuji and the name Yukio is said to make one think of snow. Perhaps the "coldness" of this name is reminiscent of maternal loss-he was taken from his mother and reared by a sickly grandmother from his fiftieth day of life. He lived jealously coveted by this woman as a prisoner until he was 12. He learned to conceal his feelings from both mother and grandmother at a substantial emotional cost-the repression of rage and the development of a sadomasochistic fantasy world. His early environment was a dark sick room. Forest In Full Flower gives insight into Mishima's equation of beauty with the "ecstasy of death." He later wrote of "beauty's kamikaze squad," and his adolescent longing brought him into proximity with death as the supreme beauty. His emphasis on self-sacrifice was strikingly clear in the autobiographical work, Confessions of a Mask (1958).

Confessions of a Mask

Before Confessions of a Mask, Mishima had known only critical and not popular success. This novel, published in 1958, is an almost clinical description of the author and represents the "Rebel Without a Cause" of its day. At the same time, Camus had written The Stranger, which contained the same artistic elements. Mishima portrayed himself even at the age of 5 as a child with antipathy for reality and an immersion into sadism as a formidable defense against it. His death was a death in fantasy devoid of the mundane, vulgar, and loathsome aspects of the real battlefield, but nevertheless Confessions of a Mask was a therapeutic effort to attain literary and psychological survival.

He created a surrogate fantasy world in which he lived in reality. In 1948, when he wrote this novel, he had come to understand the dangers his flirtation and eventual entrenchment with fantasies of death and destruction. The suicide of novelist Osamu Dazai in June of 1948 was likely an important incident in this understanding. The spokesman of his age was a popular hero, and Mishima understood his "glorification of despair." He later wrote: "this was due to my immediate sense that Dazai was a writer at pains to expose precisely that which I most wanted to conceal in myself."

Reliving his life in Confessions of a Mask, Mishima arrived at the awareness of his latent homosexuality and his inability to feel alive or experience passion except in his sadomasochistic fantasies. Indeed his first ejaculation at the age of 12 was prompted by Guido Reni's Saint Sebastian. As Mishima wrote: "The arrows have eaten into the tense, fragrant youthful flesh and are about to consume his body from within with flames of supreme agony and ecstasy." Of Sebastian he wrote: "And was not such a beauty as his a thing destined for death?...His was not a fate to be pitied...a fate that might even be called radiant." He spoke of Sebastian's martyrdom as setting him apart from ordinary men of the earth and thus of his own destiny.

The Intropsychic Mask: Sun and Steel

In Confessions of a Mask, his experiences were objectified; they were not just an artistic device. He was attempting to analyze the root source of his "nihilistic estheticism." The mask was not designed to hide, the mask of sexual perversion was an attempt by the Mishima to discover his real face. Near the end of the novel the hero experiences the relief of hopelessness by his experience of heterosexual failure, and Mishima recognized the impossibility of his masquerade and utter hopelessness. What he needed, required, was a definition, a "diagnosis" however hopeless, so that he could, in the most literal sense to live with himself. Mishima spoke of Confessions as a "last testament" to leave behind in the "domain of death"-a "closing of accounts." This process of self-discovery was an opening of accounts and a foretelling of the future, however. This novel is consistent with the intent of Japanese literature-to provide the reader with a means to develop in himself/herself, through an immersion in the text, an ability to intuit the deep realities of life as perceived by the author.

From a psychoanalytic perspective we find that sadism, sexuality, and blood become fused, and that the artistic genius of Mishima expressed his self-perspective and "the martyrdom which lay in wait for him along the way; that this brand which Fate had set upon him was precisely the token of his apartness from all the ordinary men of the earth."

In late 1965, near the end of his life, Mishima began Sun and Steel (1968), published in serial form. His conclusion, thus expressed, was that his life had been a quest for "the ultimate verification of existence." He had concluded that words were no longer a substitute for reality and he decided that language and art were to blame for "eating reality away" and thus his sense of being alive-existence, Muscle, as he described, became the "language of the flesh." In Sun and Steel, he conceived of muscle as a proof of existence. Confronted with "lumps of steel," he wrote:

"On that began my close relationship with steel that was to last for ten years to come. Little by little, moreover, the properties of my muscles came increasingly to resemble those of steel. This slow development, I found, was remarkably similar to the process of education, which remodels the brain intellectually by feeding it with progressively more difficult matter...the process closely resembled the classical ideal of education. The steel faithfully taught me the correspondence between the spirit and the body: thus feeble emotions, it seemed to me, corresponded to flaccid muscles, sentimentality to a sagging stomach, and over impressionability to an oversensitive, white skin. Bulging muscles, a taut stomach and a tough skin, I reasoned, would correspond respectively to an intrepid fighting spirit, the power of dispassionate intellectual judgment and a robust disposition."

In this regard, Mishima saw himself as above and beyond "ordinary people" as words came before the flesh and needed to manifest themselves in the language of the body. He wrote of a "romantif impulse towards death" requiring a strictly classical body as its vehicle and source of attraction.

A powerful, tragic frame and sculpturesque muscles were indispensable in a romantically noble death. In Sun and Steel, he wrote, "Longing at eighteen for an early demise, I felt myself unfitted for it. I lacked, in short, the muscles suitable for a dramatic death." Muscles for Mishima were the existence and works of art...their function was the opposite of words. His dreams became his muscles as he planned a union of art and life and pain became the sole proof of the persistence of consciousness within the flesh, the sole physical expression of consciousness. The positive acceptance of pain and his interest in physical suffering deepened as he acquired more muscle. He consolidated his thinking by stating:

"For the cult of the hero is, ultimately, the basic principle of the body, and in the long run it is intimately involved with the contrast between the robustness of the body and the destruction that is death. The thing that ultimately saves the flesh from being ridiculous is the element of death that resides in the healthy, vigorous body; it is this, I realized, that sustains the dignity of the flesh."

The "reality that stares back at one" is death. The author has accounted for his actions-past, present and future. His "proof of existence" would only come with death. Death was the ultimate endorsement to the proof of his existence. This would be the full expostulation of the "death esthetic" of his adolescence. Mishima yearned to be a hero; this is the key to understanding Sun and Steel as Mishima's definition of tragedy as part of privileged nobility finding its basis in physical courage and keeping the "average" at a distance. By sunbathing and weightlifting he developed the attributes of the warrior and arrived at the romantic death of a samurai. "Thanks to the sun and the steel, I was to learn the language of the flesh, much as one might learn a foreign languageā€¦ an aspect of my spiritual development." Early in life he loathed his body, put all his efforts into literature and sought a second language. This was his alternative to literature. The "true antithesis of words." Art and Action. But he had to die while his body was still beautiful-and he still comparatively young-the definition of his suicide.

The Finale

Mishima had begun to understand the materialistic decay of Japanese civilization. Up until the WW II era, Shinto had been the traditional religious power, superceding all other forms of belief. The Shinto priests were de facto government officials. It was the unity of religion, government and militarism that General MacArthur wished to abolish and that Mishima wished to return to. Beginning with the Sino-Japanese War [1894-1895], the Japanese government had pursued an "expansionist policy" and from that time until the end of World War II State, Shinto was manipulated by the militarists and nationalists as a spiritual weapon for mobilizing the Nation to guard the prosperity of the Throne and the Empire. Mishima advocated the unity of religion and government and emperor worship-an Emperor cult. Psychoanalytic study and developmental information are not enough to understand this man (or any significant figure) in the absence of cultural, political, and religious influence.

Mishima himself was quite critical of Western scholars in the field of Japanese studies. His death in the office of the commanding general of the Eastern Army was the result of careful planning and commitment to intense religious and philosophical ideals. In addition to the hero of "Patriotism," the protagonist in Runaway Horses (1973), a right-wing terrorist also commits hara-kiri. In 1969, in the feature role in the film, Hitogiri, Mishima played the part of the man who rips open his stomach. His death rehearsals were both repetitive and ideological. He had posed for a series of photographs for Kishin Shinoyama in one of which he posed as St. Sebastian-an image that had inspired his first ejaculation. Suspended by a rope, three arrows pierce his body. In Death of a Man there were a number of poses in which he committed hara-kiri.

Mishima's writings, life, and death reflect the fusion of his aggressive and erotic drives. For him, blood was beauty and represented the ultimate orgasm. His suicide was both culturally motivated and idiosyncratic. The Nobel Prize in literature, awarded to Yasunari Kawabata, was a narcissistic defeat for Mishima, who had spent his life compensating for underlying feelings of weakness and femininity. Having spent the first 12 years of his life in his grandmother's sick room he was immersed in sickness and death. She treated him as a girl, and his sexual identity molded by the restrictions that he only play with girls and girls' toys. Even his vocabulary became one expected of females. He appears to have felt guilty masquerading as a male and hiding his underlying feelings of weakness while maintaining his male image with counter phobic (overly-compensatory) behaviors.

His spiritual guide became the Samurai Code of behavior, thus simultaneously controlling his hostility and masking his frailty. His death in a Samurai manner allowed the expression of his hostile and sadomasochistic wishes in a culturally acceptable manner, and he avoided the ultimate body decay that comes with age, the decay he so despised. Some authors have hypothesized that his suicide was an act of restitution, creating a sense of male identity. The latter was complicated by his lack of a close relationship with his father, Azusa. In fact Mishima began and continued writing at night (throughout his entire life) so that his father would not be aware of what he was doing. He showed his manuscripts only to his mother, who saw to it that each night his writing supplies were available. Even after his marriage, he greeted his mother first after returning home and kept his childhood transitional objects in close proximity. He never came to terms with his father, and this is reflected in the patricide of his novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976). The father is destroyed and the mother is kept.

Confessions of a Mask reflected both the repression of true feelings and the idea of leading the life of a "mask," as well as the attempt to be "real" with a resulting intellectualization and creation of the "false self." In Confessions, there was also an attempt to accept his sexual feelings, which had become obsessive. Mishima's many rehearsals for death related to the cultural experiences of Japan and actual incidents, as well as to his innate masochistic needs and desire to die for the internalized father "of old"-the emperor-as well as the simultaneous destruction of the internalized father. The destruction of the father in literary work and in reality also represented the longing for the father-a fantasy from his early childhood. By destroying himself he killed the father inside himself, thus "solving" his Oedipal conflict. His association of beauty-ecstasy-with death is longstanding and sexual in his writings and his life. Eventually he desired the sunlight to replace his romantic penumbra and wrote in Sun and Steel of his need to find expression in ways other than artistic-the "language" of the body. He desired a method of integrating the "words" that he created with the "real" world-an existence of consciousness. His death involved multiple functions: To become a man-a male; to die for a loved father (the emperor); to "kill" the (real) father (internalized); to experience the ecstasy of death with its total representation of blood, pain, sexual excitement, and cultural identification; and to "solve" the oedipal struggle of his life.

Mishima, like Van Gogh, took his life at the height of his artistic achievements. As with Van Gogh, Mishima's art was a means to an end. Van Gogh "had" to paint. Especially in the cases of Van Gogh and Mishima, this need may represent a "psychotic restitution." The artistic product in each case represented a segment of internal psychological functioning that, in Mishima's case, allowed a semblance of reality functioning. While it could be argued that Mishima was megalomaniacally pursuing self-glorification using an anachronistic tradition or that his writing reflects a "paranoid stance," this may be too simplistic an explanation for a writer immersed in traditions thousands of years old living in a culture that is ego-syntonic to behaviors that appear "destructive" or denigrating to Western observers. Such judgments by Westerners are fraught with cultural contamination and value diffusion.

To be sure, even admirers of Mishima's writings, Oriental or Occidental, sense the estrangement they bring to the senses. There is an "unreal" quality to the characters that resonates with experiences of desolation and estrangement. This results in an uncomfortable feeling in the reader, which is, perhaps, one of the author's main accomplishments. His work speaks to a part of the "pathological self" that is, fortunately, not part of the everyday world. Even his reactionary political stance was more symbolic than substantial.

In the last analysis his was a battlefield of the spirit.

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