Wednesday 28 May 2008

Bad habits

How can I say that Yukio Mishima was a genius of a perfect and unique kind, which never existed before and I doubt can exist again, without sounding either sentimental or sycophantic (if one can be a sycophant to the dead)?

I don't know if I can say it properly; I doubt it. All I know is, when I read Mishima, but especially when I was reading Confessions of a Mask, I kept asking myself, really asking, "How could this book ever have been written? How is this possible?" There aren't that many books about which I've asked such breathless questions - Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, King Lear, and Cloud Atlas are the only other ones that come to mind at the moment.

It's well known that Mishima's genius was a pained one, one which preyed ruthlessly upon itself. Confessions of a Mask is a painstaking and even masochistic look inward by the narrator at his own attempts to deny his homosexuality in late-40s/early-50s Japan. The narrator carefully and cruelly constructs his multi-layered deceptions of the world and of himself, and then just as cruelly de-constructs them. This process becomes part of the pleasure he experiences as he faces his sexuality, pleasure which here (and in all of Mishima's books that I've read, actually) becomes indistinguishable from pain.

In Confessions of a Mask, the narrator frequently mentions his "bad habit" of masturbating while thinking of men in some kind of physical pain (including St. Sebastian, who Mishima posed as in photographs) but more subtle and painful bad habits abound in this young man's emotions and behaviours. In particular, "the bad habit of regarding even a little happiness as a big favor, which we would have to repay" permeates his every action and makes both comfortable decision-making and cessation from self-dissection impossible (p. 146).

This book was so good, and painful, and inspired while also being coolly but beautifully and perfectly constructed that I'm going to try to get my hands on John Nathan's so-called definitive biography of Mishima. I never read author biographies, ever; I don't think I've ever read one its entirety. I've read parts of biographies of Shakespeare and Jonson and Raleigh for school, but I've never picked one up just for my own curiosity. But I need to know more about the brilliant and doomed Mishima.

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