Monday, December 11

Yukio Mishima – The Aesthete Samurai

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One of the greatest problems of Yukio Mishima’s reception in the contemporary academic world can be found in the one-sided manner in which he is too often analysed. Thus, many critics revere only his literary image, forgetting that for Mishima writing was supposed to be just a vehicle for the transmission of traditional political ideas. His pronounced aestheticism, the calm tragedy of his characters and the quest for perfection, glorious virtue and for the Absolute reflect the modern manifestation of the ancient Samurai code, the one and only code which shaped Mishima’s life. And death. 

A harsh, but refined “nationalist”, always at odds with the lukewarm mainstream patriotism of his age, Mishima founded Tatenokai (the Shield Society), dedicated to a higher type of life, one centered around the classical values of honor, virtue and to the deification of an Emperor that had renounced his sanctity much too easy when confronted with the challenges of post-war modern world. Gathering in the ranks of this group students and young intellectuals that paid tribute to the same Samurai precepts, Mishima underwent an intensive military training, designed to uplift the bodies and spirits of these modern warriors.

Growing dissatisfied with the political and social life in his beloved Japan, Mishima and four of his comrades from Tatenokai attempted a symbolic resurrection of traditional Japan: a coup at the Headquarters of Self-Defense Forces. After seeing that none of the soldiers there proved to be worthy of being called a warrior, after all of them started laughing at his speech in which he asked for the revival of honor, virtue and of the Old Japan, he told them peacefully: “I see that you are not men. You shall do nothing. I no longer have any illusions concerning you. Long live the Emperor!”. Overwhelmed by this sign of decadence Mishima retreated in a room of the Headquarters and committed the traditional Bushido act of virtue: seppuku, the ritual suicide of the warrior. After having lived like a Samurai, he died like one, in a last aestheticist play …

A short review about one of Mishima’s novels here.


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