un certain regard

In North America, to even mention to name Yukio Mishima in conversation is taken by certain people, themselves among a select few who have even heard of Mishima, as an admission that a reader is suicidal and/or LGBT. Sometimes, Mishima may be recognized as an esteemed novelist by certain people who have no idea that Mishima was an even more accomplished playwright than a novelist. While this hardly the case in Europe or Japan, though, however, North American readers of Mishima are a certain type of readers who were and still are limited to an abbreviated oeuvre of the man as published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Is Mishima considered a suicidal and LGBT artist outside of North America? Yes, but not exclusively. In France, Mishima was esteemed as a psychological novelist. In Japan, where all of Mishima’s works were published, Mishima was, long before the extreme right-wing of Japanese politics adopted him, a darling of housewives for his romantic comedy novels (like Too Long a Spring) and among college students for his unusual, provocative, and satirical writings. He was, Nicholas Sparks before Nicholas Sparks was even born. Even then, when he was alive Mishima cultivated a persona of a young, garish, Westernized bon vivant playboy in the Japanese press and that was how most Japanese people thought of Mishima when he was still alive.

Unfortunately, none of these nuances of the man and his various masks have survived the voyage across the Pacific intact. Instead, to give meaning behind his provocative writings and later his sensational suicide, Mishima’s North American publishing contacts concocted the false public persona of a samurai who, once estranged from his body, succeeded in mastering his life and destroyed himself. And, all of this could be glimpsed if one bought the so-called but not completely autobiographic works of Mishima in English translation, from Confessions of a Mask to Sun and Steel. No, if we have to understand anything about a person, we must start at the beginning, and with Mishima we must start from “Sorrel” and end with the final page of The Decay of the Angel.

In the future, however, when the entire oeuvre of Mishima’s writings becomes available in all languages, everywhere, I know more readers than there are today will realize that which made Mishima’s writings captivating, that here was a truly singular human being.

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