Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Pen and the Sword United

Again, I cannot shake the image of Paul Schrader's haunting film Mishima from my mind, nor can I stop contemplating Mishima's ritual suicide.  This is bordering on obsession.  Was the act a poetic gesture of the unification of pen and sword, an expression of bushido, a strict adherence to ethical behavior in the military way?  Or was it something else entirely?

My set of values and beliefs hold that suicide is immoral and irrational.  Self-sacrifice is something else entirely.  Saving someone else's life and risking your own, even if the attempt is foolhardy, is not necessarily immoral.  For example, on the Titanic several persons gave up their space in the lifeboats for someone else, neither is this immoral.  These acts were done for objectively selfless reasons.  I believe that in a moment of transcendence, one is able to come to peace with one's own fate, and allow the gift of life to be passed on.  These are moments of great spiritual certainty, and a person is fortunate to be able to experience them.

Mishima, however, orchestrated his own shame.  In order to commit Seppuku in the Bushido manner, he had to be vanquished on the field of battle or his leader had to have died.  He also must have experienced shame or loss of face.  In order to generate this state of affairs, Mishima took the garrison commander General Mashita hostage, and presented a speech to the assembled soldiers. 

They jeered and mocked him.  He was, after all, merely playing at bushido.  It was all uniforms and strutting and posing.  He was, after all, an actor and a poet, not a warrior, not in truth.  Maybe in his mind, but not in objective, literal reality.  In reality Mishima got together with his boys on the weekend and played dress-up.  So the soldiers met his judgment of them as being soft and unmanly with derision.  Mishima must have counted on that.

That was the shame that Mishima needed in order to follow through with Seppuku.  However, in the west we have a system of logic which repudiates this line of thinking.  If the tree is poison, then the fruit that falls from it is equally polluted.  The scenario Mishima created was a fantasy.  Thus his response to it was equally fabulous and on the far side of rationality. 

An argument can be made that Mishima misused and exploited the tradition of Bushido to serve subterranean personal desires, not to honor his ancestors but to indulge himself in an obscene public expression of personal agitation.  Perhaps he wanted to see himself as a martyr, to concretize in his mind an image of himself as self-sacrificing.  Here I am disembowling myself so the reasons which led me to this point must be real.  They were not.  They were fiction. 

Unfortunately for Mishima, life is not fiction and fiction is not life.  Fiction is an illusion of life.  If he had reached maturity in the Western tradition he might have understood this profound and unassailable truth passed down the millennia from Aristotle. 

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