Bookchat Moral Philosophy Politics

Yukio Mishima, The Marquis de Sade and the Doom of Modern Western Civilization — A Personal Testimony

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So said Newton, who must be right because SCIENCE. The action of attempts at world control foment the reaction of revolution, usually led not by people who’ve been crushed, but by an educated elite who see an opportunity for advantage (e.g., Ulianov/Lenin). As increasingly overextended and decadent hegemony unravels the way all empires do, the center will not hold, but there will be efforts to preserve what was best in the face of chaos. The dialectic can also mean pushing the cancerous body into the flames once the patient becomes terminal so that something better can emerge. Ironically, it is often those who are most dedicated to preservation of what they deem best in a culture who most strongly advocate killing it to save it. Yukio Mishima was one of these. Western Critical Theory mostly agrees and so spawned the new fascism of the left, which is little different from the Nazi kind. (Don’t forget, Nazi is an abbreviation of National Socialist German Workers Party.) By contrast, The Marquis de Sade didn’t much care whether traditional values continued to obtain post collapse as he thought them fraudulent and stultifying.

With this in mind, consider first a writer who was nominated for a nobel prize, didn’t win but probably would have eventually had he played the game, who committed seppuku as an act of defiance against what he saw as the degradation of Japan through Westernization. Consider also a French aristocrat who managed to survive the reign of terror by being too crazy for them to kill, or crazy like a fox. Both said the same thing in their books. To wit, life is made rich by the celebration of vitality and especially the erotic as its symbol and expression, the rejection of fear in favor of possibility and the knowledge of the certainty of one’s own death or even the celebration of death itself as a theatrical event.

The Marquis de Sade (Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade 2 June 1740 – 2 December 1814), 

A lot happened to me in high school. From streaking to joining in a mass stone-in where about 1/4 of the students lit up a joint at an agreed upon time, to trying to break the world record for one handed pushups, I tried to live extremely. But this is not a Bildungsroman nor was I Young Werther. Rather it is a beginning context for why two events in my final year were critical to shaping my identity. The first was reading “The Sea of Fertility” by Mishima, and the second was playing de Sade in our school production of Peter Weiss’ “Marat-Sade.” I was quite literally reifying what these authors said even as I was encountering their words. So what follows is born both of action and reflection on the precept that one might do well to make the next thing one does the last thing one would consider doing. However, there were lines I would never cross that Mishima and de Sade had no problem rolling over. As I grew older I became comfortable and complacent. I gradually forgot what living on the edge meant.

It should by now be obvious that we are at an inflection point in the self immolation of Western civilization. Mishima wanted nothing more than to see Westernization halted in Japan back in the 1970’s when it might still have been possible. What I found pardoxical back then was that his writing was such a wonderful synthesis of East and West. It still reminds me of French authors, especially Flaubert and Proust. Of course French Impressionism and Art Nouveau were redolent with tributes to Japanese artistic sensibility, none moreso than the work of Debussy who remains a favorite in Japan. The music goes round and round. There was by Mishima’s time no way to purify Japanese art of foreign elements. It’s arguable that there never was a chance of that as Japanese language and culture has been infused with foreign elements for hundreds of years. Part of Japan’s genius is cultural appropriation. What Mishima meant by halting Westernization was not therefore the complete elimination of all Western influence, but rather the intentional curbing of what for him were its worst aspects, such as junk food, pop music, crass materialism and consumerism. Mishima objected to the rapidly accelerating erosion of the qualities he saw as distinguishing features of what it means to be Japanese. This is a fight which is still playing out, though both sides seem to think all of Western culture can now be summed up as McDonalds hamburgers, Coke, Starbucks, hip hop, Christmas as a merchandising opportunity and Disneyland. This is starting to show up on Japanese waistlines, though they have a ways to go before giving lessons on how great it is to be morbidly obese or pushing young children into having sex change operations.

“The Sea of Fertility” tetrology was Mishima’s last published work of fiction and is viewed as his masterpiece. Here’s a plot summary from Wikipedia:

“The main timeline of the story stretches from 1912 to 1975. The viewpoint of all four books is that of Shigekuni Honda, a law student in Spring Snow who eventually becomes a wealthy retired judge in The Decay of the Angel. Each of the novels depicts what Honda comes to believe are successive reincarnations of his schoolfriend Kiyoaki Matsugae, and Honda’s attempts to save them from the early deaths to which they seem to be condemned by karma. This results in both personal and professional embarrassment for Honda, and eventually destroys him.

The friend’s successive reincarnations are:

  1. Kiyoaki Matsugae, a young aristocrat
  2. Isao Iinuma, a nationalist and violent extremist
  3. Ying Chan, an indolent Thai princess
  4. Tōru Yasunaga, a manipulative and sadistic orphan

Other characters who appear in more than one book include Satoko Ayakura (Kiyoaki’s lover), Tadeshina (Satoko’s maid), Imperial Prince Toin, Shigeyuki Iinuma (Kiyoaki’s servant and Isao’s father), Keiko Hisamatsu, and Rié (Honda’s wife).”

Mishima was famously homosexual and a fascist. I am neither (no matter what the so-called left means by these terms any more). Mishima was for Yamato Damashii (大和魂), including the bushido samurai code and the strengthening of the cult of the emperor. I am for Amerika Damashii (アメリカ魂) of a sort. I don’t mean the Americanism of: Dick Cheney; Ronald Reagan; of Woodrow Wilson; nor of proto-fascist Teddy Roosevelt; nor of his cousin and fellow knickerbocker-establishmentarian cum populist FDR. I revere the Americanism of Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, and even Lysander Spooner and Louis Brandeis. This spirit of old America views imperialism, theirs or ours, as a plague; practices old school liberalism; and sees individual justice founded on natural rights as the only kind there is. America’s original ideas were exceptional, but her Imperium is anything but. Make no mistake, all empires are evil and this one is only different from earlier versions in its destructive capability.

Another book, read a bit earlier, was “The Jerusalem Bible,” ingested cover to cover in one go without external help or interpretation. This went along with doing Christian retreats designed to induce a conversion experience and serious immersion in evangelical Christianity. As Gershom Scholem reports in “On The Mystic Shape of the Godhead,” the original hasids viewed the path of righteousness as a long series of ups and downs. Not a Tsaddik but still trying to improve, I was saved, unsaved, became a seminarian then an atheist, and am now one of those dreaded spiritual-not-religious types. I remain allergic to all orthodoxies, be they Christian, Marxist, Scientistical or what have you, for which I may thank de Sade. However my mystical experience of grace occuring while steeping myself in aesthetic nihilism was a significant juxtaposition. I don’t believe freedom means that everything is permitted and I never have.

One more book I read in my Wunderjahr, 1976-1977 was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert Persig. This book was a bestseller and is now all but forgotten, but it got me into Japanese and Chinese philosophy of the kind government bureaucrats and business pseudo-daimyos would rather forget about. It was a big reason why I took up Aikido and majored in philosophy in college. The result of that was that I learned to ask serious questions and pursue the answers wherever they led and trust my reason and spirit over black robed or white coated authority. I bring this up because I believe this practice, while critical for me, is also badly needed and sorely missed generally.

The relevance of all this today, and hopefully my personal witness to transformation, is what it may signify for what could be the final act of humanity against The Borg. We may already be out of time to do the hard work of deprogramming ourselves. We also need to understand that if we don’t step into the shoes of our forefathers and grow some gonads our children may not get a chance to grow up at all, let alone live and love in a world where their attitudes determine their altitude.

Additionally, while I am clearly no statist, there is a role for extant nation states to play in the dismantling of hegemony and cancellation of any new world order, a.k.a. global dictatorship. This requires a dollop of national identity, pride and cohesiveness, chastened by past errors. Japan can and must be a leader and cannot afford to be self-sabotaged by fear of right wing bogeymen, which Mishima should not have become.

Yukio Mishima  (三島 由紀夫, Mishima Yukio, 14 January 1925 – 25 November 1970)

By vitruvius1

Formerly an integrated marketing and customer experience consultant. Writer on moral philosophy and current affairs.

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