Star's Mishima - rev, Mishima

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//-->The Society for Japanese StudiesReviewAuthor(s): Irmela Hijiya-KirschnereitReview by: Irmela Hijiya-KirschnereitSource:Journal of Japanese Studies,Vol. 22, No. 1 (Winter, 1996), pp. 177-182Published by: The Society for Japanese StudiesAccessed: 27-05-2015 10:57 UTCinfo/about/policies/terms.jspJSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of contentin a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.For more information about JSTOR, please contact Society for Japanese Studiesis collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toJournal of JapaneseStudies.This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 May 2015 10:57:18 UTCAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and ConditionsReviewSection177Osaku, Osho, Ogin, Omasu, and Oshima finally emerge from the literarycritical, and historical, obscurity into which they have been unjustly cast.As he intimatesin the title of his book and assertshere and therewithinbelieves thatthe shominand shomincultureaboutwhich Shuseiit, Torrancewrote so revealinglyare closely relatedto the "new middle class" of post-warJapan.I supposethis is plausiblein an abstractor archetypic,as opposedto an actual,sense. Thatis, it wasn'tthe same people who createdthe urbansarariimancultureof more recent vintage but a similar wave of migrationfrom the provincesand a similarunleashingof energy and ambition.Formypart,as a social historian,I wish he had stuck with the more literally accu-rate, albeit less eye-catching title of the dissertationfrom which his bookderives, "TokudaShuiseiand the Representationof Shomin Life," merelyadding a chronological tag of some sort. This is, however, a fairly minorcriticism of a book I found extremelyinterestingand edifying.Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence and Nihilism in the Worldof YukioMi-shima. By Roy Starrs.Universityof Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1994. ii,252 pages. $30.00, cloth; $17.95, paper.ReviewedbyIRMELAHIJIYA-KIRSCHNEREITFree University,BerlinIn a questionnairefeatured in the magazine Bungei in December 1963,presumablymodeled after Marcel Proust's famous salon game, Mishimaanswers "Wagner"when asked for his favorite composer and "ThomasMann" for his favorite novelist. When asked who he would like to be, herespondswith "Elvis Presley."IWhich answershouldwe take at face value,or should we dismiss them altogether as a masquerade,to use a well-establishednotion in Mishimacriticism?To the authorof the presentstudy, this question hardlyarises, first, be-cause he seems to have made up his mind never to question a statementbyMishima, and second, because he generally chooses to make his argumentwithout resortingto any discursivetext by Mishima himself. But how canthis possibly work, the irritatedreaderwill surely ask. It works by the au-thor's basing his argumentalmost completely on the conventional under-standing of Mishima and his works as it developed in the late 1960s and1. The questionnaireis reprintedin Mishima Yukiozenshu hokan I (Tokyo: Shinchosha,1976), pp. 723-24.This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 May 2015 10:57:18 UTCAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions178Journalof Japanese Studies22:1 (1996)1970s, and,whereunavoidable, quotingMishimamainlyfrom secondarybysources in English such as John Nathan,Henry Scott Stokes, and DonaldKeene.Starrswould, however, undoubtedlywelcome Mishima's first two an-swers as furtherproof for his centralthesis:it is his aim to show the Japaneseauthor'sindebtednessto Nietzsche's philosophy and to a special type ofnovel he sees embodiedmainlyin the Germantradition,i.e., the philosophicnovelaila Goethe and Mann. "Mishima'smost original contributiontomodernJapaneseliterature," writes in his Conclusion, "was to introduceheinto it a genre of novel which seemed antitheticalto Japanese aesthetictastes:the German-stylephilosophicnovel, a novel structuredupon the in-terplayof dialecticallyopposed ideas" (p. 191).inMishimamay not have producedoutstandingliterature its own right,Starrs contends, although he repeatedly speaks of Mishima's "masterfulquality of prose style" (p. 10). Curiously,what accounts for the interna-tional prominenceand popularityof this authorwhom Starrscalls, at theoutset of his Introduction,"the first modern Japanese novelist to have(p.reputation" 4)-namely, thathis novelsgained a genuinelyinternationalare "a veritablecircus of color and excitement, and well-organizedcircustoo" (p. 5) and have a "clearer structure"than other Japanese works(p. 5)-seems to have countedlittle as a "masterfulqualityof prose style"to Japanesereadersandcritics. Starrsflatly states:"Mishimahas neverbeenwidely acceptedas a really first-ratenovelist" (p. 61). How does he know,not giving any evidence? (The obvious differencesin the reception,whichare, by the way, enormouseven among neighboringreading communitiessuch as France and Germany,could have been a worthwhiletopic in theofandthecontext of determining attraction [differing]reputations Mishimaliteraturein Japan and other countries.) From Starrs' point of view, wewould probablyfare best in ascribingMishima'sweaknessesas a novelist tohis heavy indebtednessto novels in the Germanvein, for, as Starrsinformsus by way of quoting a "distinguishedBritish authorityon Germanlitera-ture," "Germany... has been notoriouslyless successful in the sphereofthe novel than France, England or Russia" (p. 17). But why should poorMishimahave chosen such inferiormodels?The answer to be gained from Starrs'book is that the Germanmodelwas best suited as the means of expression for his basically nihilistic dis-position. Mishima was a born nihilist, Starrsreads from his novel Confes-sions of a Mask,hence his affinityfor FriedrichNietzsche. He was an arch-conservative,hence his predilectionfor ThomasMann'sold-fashionedstyle(p. 14), and, like all those whom Starrslabels "Nietzscheanwriters,"hewas a sadomasochist.It may not be "necessary to be a death-obsessed,sadomasochistichomosexual to become a successful Nietzschean writer,"Starrscontendsgenerously,"butit does seem to help" (p. 145).This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 May 2015 10:57:18 UTCAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and ConditionsReviewSection179As these few central statementsmay show, the argumentativestructureof this book is overwhelminglycircular.And, what is worse for a study of aandliteraryauthor,there is no distinction made between author,narrator,Mishima'snovels are regardedas one of his innermostfeelings- "therecan be no doubtthatIsao's sentimentshere were also the author'sown" (p. 156) is a typical statement-and weare again confrontedwith thatdear old commonplacein Mishimacriticismthat the characters his novels are alteregos of himself (p. 65). In a modeinthat forms a perfect short circuit, the work is "explained"by the author'smental disposition, while at the same time his psyche is exemplified in re-ferringto his fiction, an observation,by the way, thatheld equally truecon-cerning the bulk of Mishimaresearchup to the mid-1970s.2There are certain problems with the central notions in this study, firstand foremost with the concept of nihilism, particularlybecause the bookintends to offer a "systematic study of Mishima's nihilism" (p. 8). Onemight wonder why Starrsdecided to focus on works that are definitely notcentralto his centralconcern.He limits his discussionof Mishima'snihilismand Nietzscheanismto Confessions of a Mask, The Templeof the GoldenPavilion, and the tetralogy TheSea of Fertility.For a discussion of nihilism,Mishima's self-declared "study in nihilism," the novel in two volumesKyokono ie (1958-59; Ky6ko's house) as well as the later Gogo no eiko(1963; The Sailor WhoFellfrom Grace with the Sea) would have offeredthemselves as logical choices, but both works are only mentioned in pass-ing, without alertingthe readerto the prominentstatus they deserve in thiscontext. The importanceof these works was recognized as early as 1961 byEto Jun in his essay "MishimaYukio no ie" with respectto the former,andmost recently by Mishima Ken'ichi in his article on Mishima in the Nietz-sche dictionaryconcerning the latter.3In a study focusing on "Mishima'sintroductionof the German-stylephilosophicnovel" (p. 63), one would ex-pect at least an outline of Mishima'sreceptionof, say, Nietzsche and Mannwho are constantlymentionedas his two main points of orientation.Whendid Mishima firstget to know them, what interestedhim in which phase ofhis life and career as an author,what did he have to say about them? Re-grettably,we learn almost nothing of that sort, and what we learn is mostlytakenfrom a small numberof secondarysources.Starrsneitherconsults the more than a dozen books, essays, and inter-views in which Mishima elaborateson themes such as nihilism and Nietz-2. See the chapterson biographicalreductionismand psychoanalyticorientationin theMishimaresearchreportin my Mishima Yukios"Kyoko-noie": Versucheiner intratextuellenAnalyse (Wiesbaden:Harrassowitz,1976), pp. 17-20.3. Cf. Gunzo, June 1961, reprintedin Eto Jun chosaku shu, Vol. 2 (Tokyo: Kodansha,1967) and numerousreprintsin essay collections on Mishima, and Oishi Kiichir6et al., eds.,NIchejiten (Tokyo:K6bund6, 1995).This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 May 2015 10:57:18 UTCAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions180Journalof JapaneseStudies22:1 (1996)sche, among them well-knowntexts such as Kodogakunyumonor Watashino henrekijidai, nor taps readily available research on earlier stages ofNietzsche reception in Japan,4on Mishima and Mann,5or on Mishimaand Nietzsche,6althoughall could have helped him make more informed,less contradictory,and more precise statements.As to the notion of nihil-ism, Starrs alternatesbetween attributingto Mishima a genuinely West-ern and a vaguely Japanese one, calling him a "cynic and despiser ofhumanity" (p. 172) on the one hand, while contending on the other thathe was, "after all, a man of some intellectual and aesthetic refinements,and thus could never be a total nihilist in his moraljudgments" (p. 166).What, then, is the readerof this study to make of a notion of nihilism thatin the end more or less applies to "the whole of serious modernJapaneseliterature" 64)?(p.A similar problem is connected with the other central concept of thestudy,the genre of the philosophicnovel. Not being a technicalterm in themannerof Bildungsroman,psychological novel, shishosetsu,or the like-in none of the handful of standardGermandictionariesof literarytermsconsulted could I find an entry-it turns out to be a somewhat slipperyconstructfor what Starrsprefersto see as a mainly "Germanic"strain,rep-resentedby GoetheandMannon the one andFranzKafkaon the otherhand,althoughat times Jean-PaulSartre,Jorge Luis Borges, and Milan Kundera(and why not othercontemporaryauthors?)are included.The problemwiththis concept is that it regards "philosophy"as a kind of alien substancetobe implantedinto the novel, the standardsof which, by the way, at leastaccording to Starrs,are "still basically Victorian" (p. 12). Consequently,"philosophiccontent"alwaysrunsthe dangerof being regarded"as merelya greatbore" (p. 11).It goes without saying that such an infelicitous choice of a static andcentralnotion cannotproducean enlightenedfundamentallyunoperationalargument,althoughone notes that in one case, Starrssucceeds in solvinginthe aporiaof marryingphilosophy and literature an original manner.Heshifts the problemto a psychological level: it is the readers'lack of under-standingthataccountsfor (in his view unjustified)criticism. "At any rate,"4. E.g., Hans-JoachimBecker, Die fruhe Nietzsche-Rezeptionin Japan (1893-1903):imEin Beitrag zur Individualismusproblematik Modernisierungsprozefi(Wiesbaden:Steiner,1983), or RandolphS. Petralia, "Nietzsche in Meiji Japan:CultureCriticism, Individualismand Reactionin the 'AestheticLife' Debate of 1901-1903" (Ph.D. diss., WashingtonUniver-sity, 1981).kaishaku5. E.g., FukudaHirotoshi, "TomasuMan to Mishima Yukio," Kokubungaku:"ThomasMann'sto ky6zaino kenkyu,May 1970, pp. 145-49, or IrmelaHijiya-Kirschnereit,ShortNovel Der Todin Venedigand MishimaYukio's Novel Kinjiki:A Comparison,"in IanPaul Norbury, 1979),Nish and CharlesDunn, eds., European Studies on Japan (Tenterden:pp. 312-17.6. E.g., Seikai Ken, Mishima Yukioto NTche(Tokyo:Seikyusha, 1992).This content downloaded from on Wed, 27 May 2015 10:57:18 UTCAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]