• Kerry Chambers

'The Chaos of Existence': Mishima, Me and My Escape from Reality

Sometimes I write. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes, I can't remember if I've done either. Greetings, all and welcome to the turmoil of a life I am imprinting half-heartedly on a spooling rusty reel within my decaying mind. Twenties are a funny age in which time has far too much meaning and one desires to deny it as much as possible, yet feels it in every pore, creak and wheezy sigh. What of it? Not much. Fuel crisis, am I right?


“I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line...” - Yukio Mishima

Have I been inspired? It’s all been rather an internal struggle that seems about as eventful as the few minutes Alice spent in her head foreseeing a violent future moments before them… you know her that’s-so-raven moment as they all waited for the Volturi to get across the field. A finale of meagre importance. So what do I do as I try to suppress the continuing disappointment in humanity (Gerry Can’s for all, not just the greedy!) and hope that I am not losing my drive entirely with these lacklustre internal struggles? I read, I guess.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader, 1985 - Criterion)

Books make wonderful bedfellows. Keep me up all night some of them (It’s not insomnia when most six times out of seven you manage a thirteen hour slumber?) Funny that I can take that all in but if I think past a sentence in a story I imagine I could write, I strike a brick wall of familiarity, of predictability, of simple tedium that I can’t knock down. I know every crack, decay and yet I long for more from this wall. I can’t go back, nor side to side. Over? Is over even an option? I have no upper body strength! Maybe I can find a weakness pitiful enough for even my weak mind to penetrate, erode it from within; a little wishful thinking and heaps of magic. Until then, a book at my side is all I have to comfort me. It’s bindings envelope me, the ink on the pages pillow my weary head, the author soothes me with thoughts too great for my little brain to form, in prose eloquent and luscious (sometimes I do read some crap when I need it but we ain’t going there people…)


“Nobody even imagines how well one can lie about the state of one’s own heart.” - Yukio Mishima, Thirst for Love

Reading is something I seem capable of recalling; much else is lost to me at the moment, my past times becoming like the flakes of skin falling from me of all hours and, as supposedly rumoured, making up most of the dust I later inhale with such vehemence. The circles of life. Whether its escapism, inspiration or an act of inhabiting another’s life though a sense of lazy denial that to have any experiences of one’s own one must get off their arse, I have always turned to books in all my most grievous times. Even to this day I have a book with me at any bar, social event or ramble in the countryside, just in case I’m stranded, lost and desperate. I can’t go shopping for new accessories without checking if the book fits the purse and then looking for a new book to enhance the challenge greater.

Norwegian Wood (Tran, 2010 - Soda Pictures)

I like having them with me. They’re a comfort. If I suddenly died and they had to search my belongings for I.D, I would be more concerned floating above my lifeless corpse by where they’d find my bookmark in than my date of birth or donor card. Authors become our friends. All writers in some way are reaching out to be heard, to connect to others. Perhaps these unions are all the more enticing though the anonymity; we are all just faceless, lonely beating hearts after all, joining through the words our souls speak to one another in the dark. My favourite writers are at my side. The words of Daphne du Maurier, Haruki Murakami (he’s had a shout out before – check out me crying about Norwegian Wood for a few minutes here) and Yukio Mishima feeling like home in a world I don’t recognize.


If I could make sense of this world maybe, I could write better. Get past the first paragraph. More likely, it’s myself that I can’t make sense of. She is the me I have become, and the me within her is all but mute to her agonizing complacency. She can’t see reason. She can’t see ability. Time has dried her up of all true sentiment and emotion. Forgotten are the memories of youth, the delights and heartache that could, in some frivolous way, form a story. But she refuses to dig these up. Searches for a better life than the one she led. Sometimes the best comfort is in the dreams of the writers who weave their heartache into her own melancholy hurt.

Patriotism (Mishima, 1966 - Criterion)

It’s funny, that I find Yukio Mishima’s novels so engagingly reassuring at this time, more so than even I expected. Mishima and I do not agree, on lots of things. He was, to many, just a right wing patriot obsessed with outdated forms of masculinity, of the Empire. He’s archaic in ideology, reactionary, a strong follower of Bushido despite living in a Japan that had long since left the days of samurai sensibilities behind. He was also an actor, a performer. Mishima lived, breathed, thought and spoke big. He would push the extremes of the Japanese consciousness. All these things made him controversial in his time; considered insane, even. For many Japanese of that time (I can’t say as much for now) they followed Confucius’ teachings which with regard to him, boiled down to ‘when there is a stink put a lid on it’.


He sliced his belly open in 1970 after a failed coup attempt, believed to be an elaborate set up for his desire to commit seppuku as the samurai of old did; “We live in an age in which there is no heroic death”, he said once. He struggled with his sexuality and identity, believed that writing was a feminine practice, engaging in extreme body-building and other physical and political activities in order to satisfy his masculine craving and reflecting his vanity. His love is very much mirrored in his writings, his semi-autobiographical novel capturing his early shame surrounding his homosexuality. Perfection was what he sought after.

#32 - Barakei by Eikoh Hosoe (1961-62)

He was a radical. Especially in post-war Japan. Mishima’s suicide was patriotic, wildly political, made a statement and brought shame to the nation that desired to encourage it economic growth and relations globally. In his actions, he captured in the old ways, a mentality they fought hard to leave behind them, that even to this day they bury. But he put on a show. Despite all of this, it was equally a personal satisfaction for himself. He chose a death, to some perceived heroic, and left this world as he wished to.


I have all this in mind when I read him. Much I am ill-informed on, and as a creature that identifies as a fairly liberal being, am often overwhelmed, yet fascinated by his viewpoint. And then I come across a passage such as this in one of his novels such as The Sailor Who fell From Grace with the Sea. That he a makes sing in my grasp:


It was the sea that made me begin thinking secretly about love more than anything else; you know, a love worth dying for, or a love that consumes you. To a man locked up in a steel ship all the time, the sea is too much like a woman. Things like her lulls and storms, or her caprice, or the beauty of her breast reflecting the setting sun, are all obvious. More than that, you’re in a ship that mounts the sea and rides her and yet is constantly denied her. It’s the old saw about miles and miles of lovely water and you can’t quench your thirst. Nature surrounds a sailor with all these elements so like a woman and yet he is kept as far as a man can be from her warm, living body. That’s where the problem begins, right there—I’m sure of it.”


You just have to look at the photographs by Eikoh Hosoe (probably one of my favourite photographers), the infamous photo-shoot Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses between 1961 and 1962, and you see the tender poet beneath all his fastidiousness. Articulate and thoughtful, in interviews he comes across pleasant despite the contradictions. A man of great curiosity, a true debater, he was not often as wild as he is painted in the history books. Soft spoken, well-read often comes to mind most of all. Mishima wore many masks. The true one was unknown to all. What makes him so violently powerful to me? What is it that when I open one of his books, I step into his words and feel I understand that part of him better than I know myself? Where does this leave me as he struggles in violence, in beauty, splashed and dashed upon each page, a result of a powerful mind churning over his very existence? Each word bleeds from him. Yet I am all but dried up. It’s that he lives in each turn of phrase. His icon is overlooked, peeled away layer by layer to reveal the fragility of a human heart.

#12 - Barakei by Eikoh Hosoe (1961-62)

Our lives are so very different. I am fortunate that I know all the boxes to tick on the application forms; single, female, heterosexual, white British… all things that do not define me, that do not define anyone and in this day and age, mean less and less. That is fine. It’s background noise. But me, what I want, what I say, what I do, who I truly am; it’s so far from my grasp, as though my soul and personality has been exorcised from me leaving a suspicious, terminal metallic taste on my now withered lips. I feel blocked. Mishima was far from clogged. Equally burning from within, drowning from without, frostbite nipping at the tendrils of intimacy... But he was lost just the same. As I suppose we all are, but where is the comfort in that when no one admits it but the authors who struggle upon each page of their books. Entwine humanity with the tips of their pens and eradicate the division of being into a mass of feeling.


In the novels I love, I am safe in their words. If du Maurier moves and Murakmi soothes, then Mishima riles me up. Politically, socially in every way in which I believe I find little in common with him. But he feels deeply; he is a man who can wear it with a badge of honour. Lives by the pen and sword. It is his character, his propriety, his image that conflicts with the powerful words that fall from his lips, the violent passion that bled onto every page as though each line was gash upon his wrists, the veins gaping for all to see, deeper with each publication. He gave himself to all he wrote. Each word alive with him.

“Beauty is something that burns the hand when you touch it.” - Yukio Mishima, Forbidden Colours

Why does it matter? That’s what I keep thinking. Why? Any of this. The planet is still crumbling beneath our feet, and isolation is so rampant I feel close to buying a body pillow and being done with it all, work is scarce and the world, the media and society is saturated by opinions and voices but no one can be heard. Why does any of it matter? That sits like a pair cheap 3D glasses at the tip of my nose. But then I open a book and I see that it troubled them all the same. Months, years, decades and centuries pass but we still all feel utterly confused by this existence. Mishima speaks of a point in a pointless world, somehow through all his melancholy describes the beauty in that world – equally monstrous and enrapturing – but does not entirely drown himself in the doom of the eventual decay. I find in his pessimism, of this disgust at the passage of time, someone desperately searching for a reason to transcend it.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader, 1985 - Criterion)

When I think about my life, I feel like I took off on the runway. Made quite a bit of air, impressed that my first flight was running though mild turbulence, but otherwise, easy-going. And then the engine light comes on, and the controls malfunction, the pilot passes out and it is only then that like a toddle playing in at the wheel of the car, that they’d humoured me into believing I was anything other than a Learner Co-pilot. Airlines would be sued for eternity after such a scandal. There I was, just fumbling with buttons and still uncertain of what to do. In fact, I slept through the pilot school, blagged my way through and managed to pass with flying colours, yet in the sky these become shades of grey. I do not even have the decency to crash upon land, end in a fiery inferno. Or land somewhere I can find help, or by some miracle take another bash at take-off. Instead, I descend into the sea. The jets are waterlogged, the hold is all but sodden but the plane still floats. Impossible. Clogged with the bodies of all the passengers I’ve taken down with me. I am the last survivor, and now there is nothing I can do. Not at all.


When Murakami reminds me of the storm I must pass through, (‘You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over… When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.’), when du Maurier tells me that what I love best is still okay, in fact best of all, (‘…I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands.’), this is where I feel found. That book in my pocket helps me feel seen, heard. Not in the sense that I want to be noticed, but to know that somewhere out there, people can read the same words I do, all over the world, and find a thread to their hearts. All the silvery trails across the sky, connecting us all. None of us will ever meet, but there’s still a comfort in it. Those threads will always be there; even after the world has come tumbling down, even as my jet plane bobs in the ocean, even as my page remains blank.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader, 1985 - Criterion)
 

“Time is what matters. As time goes by, you and I will be carried inexorably into the mainstream of our period, even though we’re unaware of what it is. And later, when they say that young men in the early Taisho era thought, dressed, talked, in such and such a way, they’ll be talking about you and me. We’ll all be lumped together…. In a few decades, people will see you and the people you despise as one and the same, a single entity.” - Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow

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