Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yukio Mishima's "Wild Horses"

Ed.: Actually, I'm nearly done with the third book, so I thought I'd better get this posted. I had originally self censored it for fears that it was the insane ramblings of a madman. But, the only reply I got after sending it to a few people for comments recommended I post it, so here it is:

I've just finished the second of Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetrology, and it did not disappoint. It's a tale of Japan and the social turmoil she experienced in the 1930's. It's protagonist, Isao Iinuma, is the reincarnation of the first book's protagonist Kiyoaki Matusugae. While one might think this is a convenient plot device, it becomes very believable to the reader as it is viewed through the eyes of Honda, Kiyoaki's friend. Honda is a judge, 20 years after the first book ended, and he has become the embodiment of his profession, viewing the world with a cool detachment marked by order and rationality. The evidence of Kiyoaki's rebirth initially fills him with doubt, but his acceptance of the impossible becomes the reader's acceptance as well.

The book has a darker tone than the first, with an almost unnerving obsession with ritual suicide (seppuku). Not the sort of thing to be reading in the cold darkness of February, but, rest assured, I made it through. (It could have been worse, I could have read Ayn Rand.) This is seen most notably in a novella in the book, the history of the "League of the Divine Wind", which tells of an attempted coup by a group of Samurai fiercly loyal to the emperor and their Samurai ethos in the face of the stunning changes brought on by the Meiji Restoration. (The Meiji Restoration sought to modernize Japan in order to protect her from and compete with imperialistic Western nations). This story though not only foreshadows later events in the book, but succeeds, in the opinion of this reviewer, in convincing the reader that such men and their actions are not motivated for personal gain, but through purely altruistic beliefs.

Having finished the second installment, a theme has begun to emerge. This, as is most boldly revealed in the tale of the League of the Divine Wind, is Mishima's idea of purity. In the first book, he dealt with the purity of love; in Runaway Horses, he deals with the purity of loyalty. In realizing this I think I've discovered the personal appeal Mishima holds for me. Something which until now, has been a mystery to this reader. Being a white, liberal Westerner suddenly feeling a kinship with an Asian reactionary who died after commiting ritual suicide, is surely cause for examination, wouldn't you agree?

Mishima's notion of purity is not childish or naive, and neither does he express the anger and self-righteousness of a zealot. Mishima admits that the world, as it is, and even more so, simply the nature of existence, is one that embraces and celebrates diversity and multiplicity, not singularities or purities. But while believing this, he also cannot deny the want, the need people have for pure or singular ideas. In fact, it is this contradiction that drives the action of the book. Mishima acknowledges that searching for such purity, whether it be Love, or Loyalty, or Truth, is an inherently self-destructive pursuit. Still, Mishima considers the desire and pursuit of such notions, though inevitably leading towards the destruction of either the object of pursuit or the pursuer, as a noble and worthwhile endeavor.

Now, leaving all discussion of the book aside, I cannot help but ponder the impasse such conclusions present. Most importantly, why do we, or more specifically, I, seek such purity? I can't deny the fervor with which I feel and argue a point of truth, or the beauty of a song that has spoken to me with its own voice. I can't deny the fire that feel burning deep inside me, one that both scares and exhilates me.

I have admittedly been greatly influenced by my own readings of Buddhist teachings and philosophy which talk of the illusion of duality. Seeing all as one is wisdom to be sought. Being able to see past the illusion of what separates the individual from the world, life from death, positive and negative is the place where true wisdom is kept. The traditional symbol of the yin-yang represents this; two equal forces of white and black, but all held within the same circle.

Or maybe as the great sage, Beavis, has taught us, "You have to stuff that sucks to have stuff that rocks." (paraphrased of course) ;)

Cutting such mental masturbation short, I'm, well, perplexed by what the answer could be. Is this just some way of trying to deny our own mortality? In grasping something pure, do we seek to commune with something timeless, something that cannot die, and in doing so achieve a sort of immortality ourselves? This answer doesn't satisfy me though, and I don't think Mishima would either. If this were one of the many paths to enlightenment, our protagonist would keep being reborn. (Another reincarnation is foreshadowed in the next book, The Temple Of Dawn.) I prefer to think that in trying to attain such purity, we seek to assuage our own inherent, subconscious doubt of our own existence. In achieving something pure, we deny that all is one, and in doing so, we can deny that we are not separate from the world. I think that Mishima would answer that though by saying that the price of achieving such purity is always destruction, for, as ever, all is one, and to deny that is to deny one's self.

All in all, a pretty good book.

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