Friday, August 2, 2013

Don't Despair of Our Corrupted, Decadent Age. Write About It

By Tim Stanley

On November 25, 1970, writer Yukio Mishima and four of his friends paid a visit to the commandant of the Tokyo camp of Japan's eastern army. After the commandant poured tea, things turned weird. The visitors tied the officer to his chair, took him hostage and demanded that entire camp gather beneath his balcony. When the soldiers were assembled, Mishima exhorted them to hold a coup to restore the authority of the emperor. The audience laughed. Realising that he was getting nowhere, Mishima knelt down on the floor and committed ritual suicide by cutting open his bowels with a knife. Mishima's "second" tried to complete the ritual by cutting off his his head, but lost his nerve and only half hacked it. Another friend finished the job for him.

It's all so extreme, all so very Japanese – think of the lovely Abe Sada who murdered her lover, cut off his genitals and carried them around in her purse (when asked why, she replied, "It was my favourite part of him"). But despite being both a Catholic who thinks suicide is a sin and an Englishman who hates to create a scene, I've always found Mishima's death both fascinating and heroic. In its own perverse way, it's one of the great conservative artistic statements of our time – a kind of Right-wing "happening".

Like many of us traditionalists, Mishima resented modernity. Although his writing career flourished in the 1960s – he was a novelist, as well as a director, body builder and film star – his soul belonged to feudal Japan. It's not that Mishima rejected the physical comforts of the modern world (few would want to return to the poverty or disease of the past), rather he feared that modernity has brought with it a kind of spiritual death. He saw postwar Japan flooded with consumerism, liberalism and sex and feared that what made Japan Japanese was passing away. His greatest distress was that beauty was no longer possible in a world without a concept of the sacred. With beauty gone, there is nothing to live for. Worse: there is nothing worth dying for. And Mishima was obsessed with death, which he believed – done properly – was an act that bonded life and art. In Runaway Horses, a novel about a coup attempt gone awry that ends in a suicide (sound familiar?) Yukio writes, "Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood."

Again, I cannot agree. Suicide is a nihilistic act that communicates not art but despair. But, again, as an Englishman and a Catholic I do share Mishima's instinctive dislike of all things contemporary. At times, it's like living in the ruins of a once great culture. All around you are the bare bones of a civilisation – the cathedrals, the municipal buildings, the art collections, the piers, the hotels, and the palaces. But the heart beats no more and the breath of life is gone.

In the words of Joe Orton, "Cleanse my heart … let me rage correctly.

Read the rest here.

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