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Mishima: A Vision of the Void Paperback – 17 Aug 2001
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From the Inside Flap
On November 25, 1970, Japan's most renowned postwar novelist, Yukio Mishima, stunned the world by committing ritual suicide. Here, Marguerite Yourcenar, a brilliant reader of Mishima and a scholar with an eye for the cultural roles of fiction, unravels the author's life and politics: his affection for Western culture, his family and his homosexuality, his brilliant writings, and his carefully premeditated career and death.
About the Author
Marguerite Yourcenar's (1903-1987) many works include A Coin in Nine Hands, Fires, Two Lives and a Dream, and A Blue Tale, all available from the University of Chicago Press.
Top customer reviews
his taste for both western and typically Japanese
literature. She also provides explanation of the historical background, which is necessary to understand Mishima's political view.
Finally, it is a mere pleasure to read that book because it is clear and accurate at the same time.
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The literary analysis really isn't that good, either. Admittedly, a cursory read may have the effect of helping people see why they like or dislike Mishima's writing, even if Yourcenar's own musings on the matter aren't very inspiring, but it really doesn't say anything. Some of the man's works are barely given a mention - the "discussions" of After the Banquet and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea take up about a page, combined. Others are given whole chapters, but even then, there is little serious attempt at character analysis - for instance, Ying Chan, the doomed beauty of The Temple of Dawn, is described as "careless" or "thoughtless" or something to that effect, with no justification for this whatsoever, and no further attempt is made to understand her. The part dealing with The Decay of the Angel is effective, but only because it makes the reader remember that incredible novel - it is Mishima who is responsible for the effectiveness, and not Yourcenar.
So what's Yourcenar's point? Apparently, that Mishima had a special vision of a "Buddhist Void" unique to him that inscrutably exhorted him to commit suicide. That's about it. To this end, she gives probably a lot more attention than is necessary to some of Mishima's lesser, later political works - but almost none, paradoxically, to his essay Sun and Steel. This is why she glosses over biographical details - because in her opinion, they have little to no bearing on Mishima's life. A few anecdotes, such as the "green snake" incident, are related with much self-conscious weightiness, as if they held some kind of magical key to Mishima's work. All of these anecdotes are also related by either Nathan or Scott-Stokes in their respective biographies with much less sophomoric interpretations. Yourcenar continues with a rhapsodic summary of the story "Patriotism," which has no value to any reader who has read the source material, and only ends up conveying the impression that Yourcenar is far more fond of blood and death than Mishima ever was. She ends with a poetization of Mishima's last day, in which she waxes eloquent and ecstatic on the subject of ritual disembowelment and decapitation. This culminates in the last paragraph of the book, a completely unnecessary and grotesque extended metaphor that says nothing and isn't even worth reading.
When the book doesn't make goofy conclusions from its superficial collection of facts, it resorts to just praising Mishima's work. On this there is no argument from me, as I am a big fan of Mishima and agree wholeheartedly with Yourcenar's praise. However, her book contributes nothing new to the exciting field of praise, either. Truth be told, I have a hard time understanding why this book was even written. At 150 pages, it's barely even a book; it fails as a biography and as literary criticism. Even at its best, it just isn't very good; you'd do much, much better with either of the two primary Mishima biographies.
The first problem is that I don't know exactly what the book is. It begins at the beginning of his life and ends with his death, yet it's not a biography. The author makes some interesting observations and provides some insight to a number of his books, but it's too inconsistently done, with a few sentences used to discuss some books and pages for others, to be considered literary criticism. It's sort of like an essay, ( I noticed after I finished reading it that the dust jacket claims it's an essay) yet it doesn't have a premise, or at least not a firm one, and doesn't end with a conclusion other than Mishima's death. So the result is that I never really felt grounded in this book.
Further, sometimes her writing is annoying, like when she lectures us about fascism in the West, (displaying either a lack of historical education or a skewed interpretation based on political biases) or when she tells us Mishima liked one of her novels.
I won't say I hated it as much as other reviewers, because given the subject, there were points in the book that interested me. But next time when I want to read a biography, I'll go right to the authoritative ones.
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