“Marx and Freud are the demon progeny of Western rationalism … Marx in regard to the future, Freud in regard to the past.” So wrote Yukio Mishima in the introduction to his characteristically iconoclastic “A Short History of Japanese Literature,” begun in the summer of 1969 and left tantalizingly unfinished at the time of his suicide in autumn 1970.
Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist, by Andrew Rankin.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS, Nonfiction.
As an intellectual, Mishima set himself up as a second Nietzsche, a Zarathustra visionary of the irrational, capable of delving into the complex interactions between the allure of aesthetic vision, eroticism, art, suffering and imagination. His 1968 essay “The Defense of Culture” was intended as a “The Birth of Tragedy” for modern Japan.
In this erudite, stimulating study, Andrew Rankin takes us to the less-visited corners of Mishima’s complete works, the intellectual essays that were the fount for the ideas that played themselves out in his novels.
There’s an in-depth analysis of his early essay on Oscar Wilde — a pivotal lifelong influence on Mishima — in which Mishima argued that the Irishman had willed his own downfall. In “On Narcissism” Mishima butts heads with Freud and proposes that it is men, not women, who are prone to becoming the truest narcissists.
After discussing the influence of Joris-Karl Huysmans, Georges Bataille, Gabriele D’Annunzio and others, Rankin argues that Mishima’s late works were not so much analyses of “aesthetic terrorism” as written exemplars of it, and assesses that Mishima’s suicide was not a botched coup d’etat, but a spectacular coup de theatre.