The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask (1949)

 

‘The long quotation from Dostoevsky that Yukio Mishima uses as the epigraph for Confessions of a Mask is appropriate in two ways. It is appropriate for what it actually says—the notion of two diametrically opposed ideals burning with equal fervour in a man’s heart. It is also appropriate because Dostoevsky was one of the first writers to portray a person who is crippled by his thoughts, unable to move for the mind-forg’d manacles that he himself has shackled himself in. The narrator of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, for example, is a good specimen: totally immobilised by the circular and self-deceptive melancholy that infects his brain.

‘Mishima’s Kochan is the same sort of character. From an early age, we see him being unable to conduct his life on a frank and honest level; every action he undertakes and every experience he undergoes is filtered through the twisted and inverted stew of his mind. The real world acts only as stimulus for the narrator’s self-deception, and because he is unable to avoid deceiving himself, he necessarily deceives everyone else, from the doctors to whom he lies about his health, to Sonoko, the girl he imagines himself not to love.

‘Kochan’s inability to relate to the world except after it has been processed by his own eccentric way of perceiving it, is seen early in the novel. Indeed, his first memory is probably a created one: “No matter how they explained, no matter how they laughed me away, I could not but believe I remembered my own birth.” Here we see for the first time the attitude which drives the novel: life, the universe, and everything for the narrator are products of his own mind. “Reality” as he perceives it has its roots in real events—he was, in fact, born; his existence is not just his own fantasy—but the event is twisted and mangled until it fits his own concept.

‘We can see the same sort of modification of reality in his “earliest [unquestionable] memory.” He sees “a night-soil man, a ladler of excrement” coming down a hill. Reading the novel in English we miss out on some of the cultural context that a Japanese reader would know unthinkingly. Dealers in human waste were at the bottom of Japan’s “untouchable” class, the burakumin, which also included tanners and slaughterers. Even in the late 1990s being of burakumin ancestry can mean prejudice and closed social and employment doors; in pre-war Japan the discrimination was much stronger and more apparent. Mishima’s narrator comes from aristocratic stock; even after a social decline involving “huge debts, foreclosure, and sale of the family estate,” his family would have viewed members of the underclass as almost inhuman. Yet Kochan, “in the same way that other children, as soon as they attain the faculty of memory, want to become generals, … became possessed with the ambition to become a night-soil man.” Here again, the reality of 1930s Japan is inverted, and Kochan makes his decisions based on the products of his own mind.

‘At this early stage, Kochan’s perversion of reality, and inability to function except by digesting and rationalising situations in his own mind, is fairly innocuous. But as he grows older, his ability to keep the world from getting in by means of twisted inversions, and his ability to keep himself from revealing his true nature to either the outside world or himself, through layers of self-deception, grows stronger.

‘An example of this is his warped sexuality. Instead of normal, healthy chasing after girls, or conversely, normal, healthy lusting after young men, Mishima’s narrator creates bizarre blood-soaked fantasies involving torture, mass slaughter and cannibalism: “I thrust the fork upright into the heart. A fountain of blood struck me full in the face. Holding the knife in my hand, I began carving the flesh of the breast, gently, thinly at first….” Once again, the narrator’s inner character (his homosexuality) and his external circumstances (the fact that his sexuality can only find expression in his “bad habit”) cannot be reconciled, and he seeks the “middle ground” of complicated, sadistic imagination. And because he is self-aware, even in his self-delusion, he concocts elaborate justifications and explanations for himself, to give some validity to the thoughts that at least part of him knows are strange and terrible.

‘Like a character from Dostoevsky, Mishima’s narrator thinks himself in circles, locked in a cycle of recrimination and regret from which there seems no escape. Even in his high-school days this is the case. He is incapable of acting naturally. An example can be found in his remark about the bus conductresses’ uniforms: “They fit so tight to their bodies!” For all that Kochan proclaims himself entirely uninterested in females of any persuasion, he does go on to fall in love with Sonoko, and there is at least the possibility, in this earlier remark, that he is expressing a genuine, if unconscious, lusty admiration for the bus conductresses. But Kochan will not even entertain the possibility. As soon as he has said it he begins to explain his remark to himself, eventually coming to consider himself “a step ahead of mankind” because he could play the role of a typical adolescent boy while possessing the mind of a character in a Russian novel. Once again a perfectly simple remark becomes obscured with layers of thought. Kochan himself recognizes this fact, noticing that “the other boys, having no need for self-awareness, could dispense with introspection.” Introspection, for Kochan, is more important than oxygen.

‘The tendency to over intellectualising is seen clearly in the narrator’s relationship with Sonoko. Although he seems able to recognise and enjoy the pleasure he gets from his relationship with her—“I was in ecstasy over having received the first love letter of my life.”—he always manages to think himself into unhappiness in short order. Even while he goes with her and her family to visit Kusano, he is conscious of “the feeling that was growing deep within my heart, a feeling like the guilty conscience of a fugitive from justice.”

‘If Kochan had been able to simply accept his feelings for Sonoko, things would have been comparatively simple, but he is unable to go more than an instant without throwing up walls of thought to insulate himself and ensure that his feelings and the real world never touch.

‘One of the largest problems in the narrator’s relationship with Sonoko is that he is unable to look on women as a class with any sort of sexual desire. But even when the time comes when he can—“Without the slightest feeling of shame … I stared at those white thighs,”—even when the longed-for moment of sexual revelation arrives, Kochan intellectualises it away. Instead of saying to himself “Good heavens, so I can look at a woman sexually after all,” he turns his lust into “astringent pain,” thinking: “You’re not human. You’re a being who is incapable of social intercourse. You’re nothing but a creature, non-human and somehow strangely pathetic.”

‘The narrator of Confessions of a Mask remains throughout the novel, a person who simply thinks too much. He is unable to deal forthrightly and directly with any situation: instead he creates justifications and excuses to hide his emotions, and cloaks genuine feeling in swathes of artifice. Simple, honest urges, even something as basic as sexuality, are over intellectualised and entombed in dark cathedrals of thought and perverse fantasy.’ — PhDify

 

___
Further

Yukio Mishima: The strange tale of Japan’s infamous novelist
YM @ goodreads
YUKIO MISHIMA: JAPANESE LITERATURE’S SAMURAI KURT COBAIN
Yukio Mishima: The Turbulent Life Of A Conflicted Martyr
Mishima Yukio: Everyone’s Favorite Homofascist
Yukio Mishima: Dialectics of Mind and Body
The time Japan’s bestselling author staged a coup and committed seppuku
Mishima in 1958
Yukio Mishima’s dark fantasies of imperial Japan
The Death of Yukio Mishima, 50 Years On
When the Emperor Is a Void: Yukio Mishima and Fascism Today
Yukio Mishima Muses About the Samurai Code
Overcoming Modernity in Yukio Mishima
Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist
Man of Masks: The Strange Life of Mishima Yukio
Yukio Mishima on the Beautiful Death of James Dean
Night and Blood and Death
THE RELEVANT QUEER: Yukio Mishima
Buy ‘Confessions of a Mask’

 

____
Extras


Yukio Mishima Speaking In English


YUKOKU (Patriotism), by Yukio Mishima – Complete Film


The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima (BBC 1985)


Yukio ‘my wife is asian’ Mishima, Confessions of a Mask – The Book Club Reupload

 

___
Covers

 

______
Interview

 

Mishima, it is said of you that you are an exhibitionist, is that true, and if yes, what of you are you showing?

Inevitably, all writers are exhibitionists now. As for myself, I practice physical exhibitionism because I’m shy. Behind that mask (of physical exhibitionism) I can hide.

Mishima who are you then, really?

I’m a Japanese author, a representative, I don’t like literature, it’s a bit like a Don Juan not liking women.

Mishima are you aware of what you are and what you represent for the youth of Japan? There’s a Mishima myth much like there was a myth of Cocteau in France. They tell stories of your worst extravagances, and they think that with you anything is possible. Mishima you live here in a Bourgeois house. Are you a bourgeois?

There’s no such thing as a Japanese bourgeoisie. There are three classes in our society. The descendants of the Samurai, the descendants of the farmers and the descendants of the merchants. As for me I belong to descendants of the samurai and descendants of farmers. I have worked as a farmer but I retain the art of the samurai.

Do you consider yourself a political author?

I’m not a political writer, like a cat or a lion, I don’t force a task upon myself.

Do you consider that a problem as it did to Camus? Do you have solidarity or merely solitary? Is there a term between those two extremes that doesn’t spell out mediocrity to you?

A person with solidarity and a solitary person are never diametrically opposed. I don’t believe in solidarity coming from an author when it could have come from a solitary person. We are bound together like a crystal rosary, a bead of crystal in a row remains a crystal nonetheless. There’s no term in between the rosary and the crystal bead. The crystal bead can exist independently and become a rosary and with the rosary each bead remains independent.

What do you think of democracy that implicitly contains the idea of solidarity?

Democracy is a politically conceived idea and can therefore, in a technical way, be considered an imported idea to this country from foreign countries. I prefer, to have it in a technical way, I therefore feel obliged to support democracy.

In the world of Mishima, where would you place the importance of justice and charity?

In order to be fair one must be angry at everything/everyone but the anger isn’t good for the stomach. In order to be charitable one must always smile, but the smile spoils the mind. I view society as chaos that I decline to take responsibility for.

Your latest book After the Banquet was recently translated to French, what were your sources of inspiration?

I drew my inspiration from my Eros, more specifically from the Eros of our cultural traditions, that can be found inside my Eros like a sacred serpent hidden at the bottom of a spring (well).

What of Japan do you adhere to?

Noh theatre of the 15th century

If you weren’t Japanese, what type of culture would you chose as your own?

I would, without any doubt, chose French culture, especially with its greco-roman traditions.

What sense do you have of your past, and of your future?

None. What I’m interested in is the present.

One could see children as a symbol of life. Do you like children?

Yes and since I have children of my own, generally speaking, I’m interested in them.

What’s the value of life?

I don’t think the value of life is that high.

Would you care if you died?

No, I’m afraid to die but I’d very much like to die in a peaceful way. I’d consider that the most considerate way for the ones that have to live on after I’m gone.

Looking at you from the outside you might look like a revolutionary yet most of your actions, marriage etc. remain within the traditions.

Yes, in Japan, the revolutionary must act under the aegis of tradition.

Are you faithful to your wife?

Yes, I’m faithful to my wife. I think that’s a good way to hold on to a marriage. But it’s not the way to become wiser.

What do you think of homosexuality?

It’s an ancient feeling, more natural in Japan, than the love between the two sexes. But this long tradition has been broken because of the criticism coming from the American missionaries that settled in this country in the 19th century.

You’ve told us that you are a serious writer, so I’d like to ask you if you take seriously or feel close to Salvador Dalí?

I can take anything seriously and perhaps it a fault of mine and I may loose myself to the ridiculous sometimes. Dalí, however, is never ridiculous. He is sublime.

Suicide for the Japanese, is an important act. Is there a justification for suicide in your eyes?

We have two kinds of suicide in Japan. One for the weak or vanquished. From the profoundest depth of oneself, so the Japanese believe, a yearning for the cruel ecstasy of death exists, of the ritual suicide and especially for the granting of voluntary sacrifice for the sacred justice.

 

___
Book

Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask
New Directions

Confessions of a Mask tells the story of Kochan, an adolescent boy tormented by his burgeoning attraction to men: he wants to be “normal.” Kochan is meek-bodied, and unable to participate in the more athletic activities of his classmates. He begins to notice his growing attraction to some of the boys in his class, particularly the pubescent body of his friend Omi. To hide his homosexuality, he courts a woman, Sonoko, but this exacerbates his feelings for men. As news of the War reaches Tokyo, Kochan considers the fate of Japan and his place within its deeply rooted propriety.

Confessions of a Mask reflects Mishima’s own coming of age in post-war Japan. Its publication in English―praised by Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and Christopher Isherwood― propelled the young Yukio Mishima to international fame.’ — New Directions

Excerpt

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Steve Finbow, Hi! Great to have you here! My one visit so far to Kappabashi-dōri was mind boggling. I wanted to buy something but it was like looking in a treasure chest and trying to pick the best doubloon. Thank you! ** David Ehrenstein, Ah, then you should go to Tokyo some time. You’ll lose your mind. Yes, please finish ‘Raised by Hand Puppets!’ I like Salinger. As a fellow film rights denying author, I high five his ashes or rotting corpse. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yeah, they’ve gotten really good at the ‘moist’ illusion. It’s nuts, even in person. Paul’s great. It’s funny because when we were making the film, he was already modelling but he was really ‘meh’ about it and said it was boring and a waste of time. And then … wham! He also has a small part in Gaspar Noe’s very meh ‘Lux Aeterna’. Well, that’s the problem, right? I mean that you would be forced to say everything too. But then I guess that could be exciting. Like playing ‘Truth or Dare’ on crystal meth or something. It’s, like, two degrees less hot today, so I guess my love tossed me a bone at least. Ha ha, I had to look up what a Flixbus toilet is. That’s still a fate too good for that fucker. Love turning Elon Musk into a saint who’s obsessed with low budget films about home haunts, G. ** Tosh Berman, I know that very walk you described, although I’ve only taken it once. Also, wandering just a little further to that cool little Tokyo zoo that has the panda and the monorail. ** Bill, The only thing I really remember about Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ is that you could really tell that Keanu Reeves was strung out on heroin when they filmed it. ** ANGUSRAZE (twunk era), Hello, Raze of Angus. I’m anxious and overly heated but otherwise okay. I hate heat and heatwaves with a violent freezing passion, but do enjoy your portion it. The Twitter link worked finally. You look totally believable as a football player who’s begging to get gaybashed, ha ha. Ace, I’ll imbibe your single today! Everyone, ANGUSRAZE (twunk era) is, as you may know, an exciting recording and performing artist of high note who has just unleashed his new single ‘Touch My Side’ which you can get stuck your noggin via the simple act of pushing down on these words then choosing your preferred listening platform. Well, I’m most curious to see the visual/audio results your performance, sir. And enjoy the backstage spoils. I’d hug you back but that would increase my body temperature, and that’s the last thing on earth I want, so I’ll blow you a kiss. ** Nightcrawler, Exactly, yeah, right? So simple but so exciting! Nice to see you! ** Okay. A short while back someone here asked if I had done a Mishima post, which made me realise I haven’t, inexplicably, so I made one, and I chose the first book of his that I ever read, and the one that most impacted me – and I think lots of others as well — and that’s the post’s story. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. tomk

    hey man,

    This was such a seminal book for me. I don’t think about Mishima much these days, maybe because I’ve had to work so hard to expunge his influence from my own writing, but he was the first writer I was properly into. I read everything of his I could find.
    I’ve also bookmarked the revolution day to help with something i’m writing.
    Damn, thank you so much for this blog. I feel like I have so little time to seek new things out and this place is just the best damn short cut to culture there is. I hope you know how appreciated this all this.

    hope you’re well!

  2. Dominik

    Hi!!

    I mean, modeling might feel boring or like a waste of time, but if it suddenly starts bringing in tons of money… There’re definitely fates worse than that, haha. I haven’t seen “Lux Aeterna.” When it came out, most of my friends said it wasn’t too good, so I just… pushed it to the bottom of my to-watch list. It’s still on there, though.

    Playing truth or dare on meth sounds like a pretty accurate comparison, yeah, haha.

    Eh, I can’t say your love was extremely generous with you, but… it’s something, I guess, right? And you’re so right. My love was still a softie. He deserves way worse.

    Elon Musk could save a few lives (or passion projects at the very least) that way. It’d definitely ease the stress surrounding your new film’s funding. How’s it coming along? Love going back in time and telling me not to turn on the light in my bedroom because the lightbulb will explode, and I’ll need to call an electrician, Od.

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Mishima was beautiful, brilliant and deeply fucked-up. Gore Vidal said he was “fun to cruise with”

    Irving’s Dead! My friend jeremy told me about this today He passed away in May. The NYT said he was 91, but he was a lot older than that. He’s with Hibiscus now.

  4. Tosh Berman

    Yukio Mishima was an incredible performer. He is someone I would have loved to meet. And the interview with him in your post is really fascinating. I got into him as a teenager, and how can one not be seduced by the spectacle that Mishima was? He had his private army, the suicide, and his ability to keep up a standard of work that’s pretty good. He is also funny. A mixture of taking himself seriously as well as being funny. I think he understood the absurdity of his life/world. He is one of the great performance artists. As well as a great stylist as a writer. Lun*na told me that his writing (in Japanese) is exquisite.

  5. Sypha

    Ah, the first Mishima I ever read. I still love it a lot, though my favorites by him I would say are FORBIDDEN COLORS and his SEA OF FERTILITY series (the latter of which I finally read in 2020, mostly during the Covid lockdown). I pretty much have him as one of my Top Ten favorite novelists now.

    Love the video of him speaking English…

  6. Steve Erickson

    Your phase about recent politically themed art being too well-behaved stuck with me. I wrote a review of a film about a Black trans teenager yesterday and ended with “the price of its optimism is remaining too well-behaved.” The frustration with pessimistic narratives about queer and trans people is understandable, but to stick with today’s subject, I’ve seen too many people completely write off Mishima as an artist because he was on the far right.

    Have you read any of the Mishima novels published in English for the first time over the past few years?

    I’m seeing a neurologist this afternoon. I don’t know what to expect, but I hope she may have some answers about my vertigo, or at least give a second order for an MRI.

  7. Nightcrawler

    I have been hoping that you would do a post on Mishima for a while now, as he is one of my favorite authors. I just came off of a period of reading several of his novels, including “Confessions of a Mask” and his last, “The Decay of the Angel.”

    I think I enjoyed “Confessions of a Mask” in and of itself more than the other novels of his that I read, but I think it became more interesting after I had also read “Sun and Steel.” They almost feel like two extremes, going from compartmentalization to total self-integration.

    Have you watched Paul Schrader’s biographical movie about Mishima’s life and works? I have, unfortunately, only seen the first half, but it is a very artistic film.

    I hop you have been well!

  8. Happy Prince

    Dennis & Mishima in the same space? Too hot to handle! I recently learnt Mishima was bisexual, not gay… Did you know? Anyway, I’ll be coming here, staring & reading every day this post for the te being. Sending princely kisses your way xoxo

  9. Gus Cali Girls

    Hi Dennis !

    I’ve got COVID right now, so keeping up with the blog has brought some light in my stuffy lockdown, ESPECIALLY so today with my (probably) unhealthy object of obsession; Mishima. Sounds like everyone is pretty unified in liking his writing in the comments. The first I read was The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea and I’ve never since got over the gang of youths who wish to destroy all old people and ascend so they can fuck the Milky Way. Great stuff.

    Otherwise, pleased recently to see you enjoyed We’re All Going To The World’s Fair and Benning’s United States of America, which were two films I really enjoyed seeing of late. Also, loved the recommendation of Josiah’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which will be my immediate purchase on payday.

    I’ve been going well, playing a few gigs and hoping to have more music out soon ! For now though just trying to rest and get rid of this virus

    Sending all my best,
    Gus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2022 DC's

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑