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For those of you who haven't heard this shtick yet, I'll repeat, in broad generalities, the basic concepts that inform my Unified Theory of Human Existence.  Essentially, it holds that there are really just two competing impulses and ideas that govern all of humanity, there's the, generally female, predilection for Security and the, largely male, desire for Freedom. Take any issue or epoch and you will find that battle lines drew up along these lines.  Now, while I, of course, favor the forces of Freedom in this drama, I respect those who favor Security and understand the natural impulses that lead folks to yearn for it.

But, these are only the healthy impulses, there are a couple of other omnipresent ideas and desires that animate human affairs--to dominate and to be dominated--and I do not respect them; they are malignant pathologies afflicting the human body politic.  These malevolent motivations arise at both ends of the political spectrum and are best illustrated in the theories of Fascism, on the right, and Communism, on the Left.  Despite the perceived antipathy between the two systems, both are in fact based on the desire of some members in society to dominate their neighbors.  In the case of Communism, the desire stems from the fear of the naturally unequal distribution of talent and capabilities to humans.  Communism seeks to dominate the gifted in order to favor the weak.  Fascism, on the other hand, presupposes that a certain group in society has special merit, typically a racial group, and then seeks to dominate that group or even opposing nation, for the benefit of the chosen group.

All of which brings us to Yukio Mishima's novel, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, which along with Robert Musil's Young Torless (see Orrin's review), is perhaps the best fictional effort to depict the rise of Fascist tendencies in the individual.  Mishima was an extraordinarily troubled fellow.  Raised by his domineering grandmother, he determined at an early age that he was a homosexual.  He became obsessed with sadomasochism, the body, martial arts, bodybuilding and the fascist militarism of Japan's past.  In 1968 he founded the Shield Society, a kind of private Bushido-based army.  On November 25, 1970, he tried to inspire a national uprising by taking over a military complex.  When this failed miserably, he committed ritual suicide, seppuku.

In Sailor, he tells the story of Noboru, a teenage boy who spends his days roaming around with a gang of vicious boys and his nights hiding in a wardrobe in order to spy on his widowed mother as she has sex with her lover, the sailor Ryuji.  As he and the gang become more psychotic (at one point they kill and skin a cat) and his mother and Ryuji announce their plans to marry, Noboru draws up a list of charges against Ryuji.    When Noboru is discovered spying and Ryuji decides not to punish him, the boys decide to execute him because he has become "a father."

What precisely is the nature of this crime--being a father--as the boys see it?:

    There is no such thing as a good father because the role itself is bad.  Strict fathers, soft fathers,
    nice moderate fathers--one's as bad as another.  They stand in the way of our progress while they
    try to burden us with their inferiority complexes, and their unrealized aspirations, and their
    resentments, and their ideals, and the weaknesses they've never told anyone about, and their sins,
    and their sweeter-than-honey dreams, and the maxims they've never had the courage to live
    by--they's like to unload all that silly crap on us, all of it!

Now, I don't know how much of this Mishima intended and how much of it his subconscious spewed forth, but this father hatred is central to understanding his pathologies.  In a fundamental sense, morality is a male construct; just as laws and regulations are fundamentally expressions of the female.  Legalism presupposes a willingness to yield freedom.  Each law and regulation represents another chip struck from the tree of liberty.  But when the entire skein of regulation is put in place, those whose central concern is for security can rest easy.  Permissible behaviors are strictly delineated and a powerful security state necessarily exists to enforce them.  Thus, the boys in Noboru's gang, determine that they must commit a murder now, before they are adults, because the law will essentially allow them to get away with it.

Freedom, on the other hand, requires a rigid personal moral system in order to function.  For only if we can be confident that others will be restrained by an internalized understanding of right and wrong will we be willing to grant each other the freedom that we ourselves desire.  Fear is the enemy of freedom, morality its ally.  The father figure, representing as he does the imposition of internalized moral inhibitions, is a threat to the boys.  Ryuji, in refusing to punish the boy, is confident that the lesson can be learned and internalized without external punishment.  But it is this very attempt to transmute the boy's values that guarantees the gang's enmity and results in his death sentence.

This is an extremely creepy story.  It offers a pretty disturbing glance into the psyche of a troubled genius and seems likely to remain the pinnacle of gay, fascist, Japanese literature.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Asian Literature
Book-related and General Links:
    -Yukio Mishima (1925-1970)(kijasto)
    -Mishima Gallery
    -The Yukio Mishima Cyber Museum
    -Yukio Mishima (Fringeware, Inc.)
    -Yukio Mishima: A 20th Century Warrior (New Dawn Magazine)
    -The Suicide of Yukio Mishima (Mimi Hanaoka)
    -MISHIMA, Yukio (Comptons encyclopedia)
    -ESSAY: Seppuku and Jisatsu in Modern Japanese Literature (Daniel Brown)
    -SPEECH: YUKIO MISHIMA: The Harmony of Pen and Sword  (Ceremony commemorating the 70. Birthday Anniversary January 14, 1995 - - Clarence, N.Y.  Address delivered by B. J. Zavrel)
    -REVIEW: of Acts of Worship Seven Stories By Yukio Mishima Translated by John Bester (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: SILK AND INSIGHT By Yukio Mishima. Edited by Frank Gibney. Translated by Hiroaki Sato (Mark Morris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: D.J. Enright: Peasants and Poets, NY Review of Books
        Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima and translated by Alfred H. Marks
        Sensei and His People by Yoshie Sugihara and David W. Plath
        Japanese Poetic Diaries selected and translated by Earl Miner
    -REVIEW: Gore Vidal: Mr. Japan, NY Review of Books
        Sun and Steel by Yukio Mishima
    -REVIEW: Hidé Ishiguro: Writer, Rightist or Freak?, NY Review of Books
        Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan
        The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by Henry Scott Stokes
    -REVIEW: Ian Buruma: 'Rabu' Conquers All, NY Review of Books
        Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era Vol. I: Fiction by Donald Keene
        Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era Vol. II: Poetry, Drama, Criticism by Donald Keene
    -REVIEW: of MISHIMA A Vision of the Void. By Marguerite Yourcenar. Translated by Alberto     Manguel with the author (Michael Wood, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Ian Buruma: Rambo-san, NY Review of Books
        Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters a film written by Paul Schrader, Leonard Schrader, and directed by Paul Schrader
        Barakei: Ordeal by Roses photographs of Yukio Mishima by Eikoh Hosoe
        Mishima ou la vision du vide by Marguerite Yourcenar


Well, i dont think you did this book justice in your review. Bad review. shame on you.

- Arnie

- Apr-26-2006, 11:55


Those poor oppressed bastards, stuck being doctors and teachers and Microsoft founders--oh the humanities...

- oj

- Nov-12-2003, 07:53


Hard to reconcile the writer of Sailor and that of Spring Snow, an exquisite and sensitive tale. This is the real dichotomy you should investigate. I don't get your preamble: given your freedom-security dichotomy, how is democracy different from other political systems. Don't the rich seek security through money? To make money, don't they need cheap labor? The rich talk about democracy as if it were a system that applies equally to all American. But for the wealthiest, democracy is about power over others and the democracy sold to the common man/woman is only the "freedom" of ordinary people to become a teacher or judge or engineer or doctor. I.E., there is no such thing as democracy as an exact term or philosophy applicable to all. The tension in Michima is not female/male; it is heterosexual/homosexual. And that has been the stuff and strife of political systems and rulers almost without exception.

- Portia Jeffries

- Nov-12-2003, 03:25