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Dolly Parton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:00pm in

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culture, culture, Music

In this episode, Niki, Neil, and Natalia discuss the enduring popularity of Dolly Parton. Here are some links and references...

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Democrats Seem to Have a Religion Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:00pm in

Photo Credit: Joaquin Corbalan P/Shutterstock.com In a previous essay I demonstrated that Democrats have been consistently losing ground with both people of...

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How Taxpayers are Picking Up the Bill for the Destruction of Local Restaurants

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/11/2020 - 11:00pm in

Photo Credit: Eric Glenn/Shutterstock This past summer, Kroger, one of the nation’s largest grocery store chains, received a 15-year, 75 percent sales...

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Trust a bunch of bankers to give swearing a bad name | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 9:00pm in

Four-letter words were once rebellious and cool, but the denizens of the finance sector have put paid to that

Does Prince Charles ever swear at his plants, I wonder. Somehow I doubt it. We all know he talks to them, of course, because he said so in an interview in 1986 when discussing his garden. “I just come and talk to the plants, really,” he said. “Very important to talk to them. They respond.” This much-mocked revelation was supplemented only last year when the panel show QI tweeted that he also shakes hands with trees. At tree-planting ceremonies, he apparently always gives a branch a bit of a waggle to wish it well.

This all makes perfect sense to me. It’s no surprise that a man in his position, when presented with an array of silent and quivering organisms, automatically starts chatting and shaking limbs. That’s what almost all royal events must be like. The nervous crowd he’s presented with when he gets out of the Bentley to cut a ribbon isn’t going to be significantly more responsive than your average clump of dahlias. He’s been instinctively filling silences with inane chatter all his life and it’s vital for his self-esteem to believe that, on some level, these mute lifeforms appreciate the effort.

There’s less swearing among actors now and much less swearing is permissible on TV. Why is that?

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Invited by Ian McMillan, along with a poet and an archaeologist, to discuss ANOTHER NOW – On BBC Radio 3’s The Verb

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 8:37pm in

What might a zero-growth world mean for writers? The Verb offers this provocation to this week’s guests, and asks how poets in particular can adjust to a world economy that’s changing rapidly under long-down. Is there such a thing as a sustainable poem? Ian McMillan is joined by: Yanis Varoufakis, economist, author and member of the Greek Parliament, Dr Seren Griffiths, an archaeologist and Radio 3 New Generation Thinker (fascinated by time and the taxonomy of soil), by novelist and poet Patrick McGuinness who is intrigued by the idea of a poem that leaves the ‘ordinary’ just as it is, and we welcome Jade Cuttle, (critic and poet) back to the Verb for second time this season – she reads French eco-poetry to her house-plant for us and we listen to its reaction via special technology.

Yanis Varoufakis’ new novel is ‘Another Now’, Jade Cuttle’s album of poem/songs is called ‘Algal Bloom’, and Patrick McGuinness’s most recent publication is the novel ‘Throw me to the Wolves’.

Mishima in the Twenty First Century

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 12:54pm in

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articles, culture

Published in Nikkei Asia 23/11/2020

Can you imagine best-selling novelist Haruki Murakami leading a coup attempt against Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga? Or Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan taking a top general hostage in a British army base and inciting a rebellion against Boris Johnson’s government? Or any of the legions of writers and artists who regularly hammered President Donald Trump on social media choosing to die for their cause?

Probably not, but that would be the modern equivalent of what happened on Nov. 25, 1970, when the brilliant Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima and four accomplices invaded the office of the commander of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, called on his troops to topple the government of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, and then committed seppuku, or ritual disembowelment (vulgarly known as hara-kiri).NARMishima

Mishima had been nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was not just a writer. He was a major celebrity in Japan, the first to be described as a supasuta (superstar) by the media, and one of the best-known Japanese writers abroad. In the late 1960s the magazine Heibon Punch nominated him the “coolest male” in Japan in its “Mr. Dandy” awards, ahead of movie star Toshiro Mifune and baseball hero Shigeo Nagashima.

Since his shocking suicide, establishment Japan has preferred not to dwell on the “Mishima incident,” and only ultra-rightwing groups have seemed happy to mark the various anniversaries of his death. For the 50th anniversary, though, the vibe has been different. A few days ago, I managed to catch Mishima: The Last Debate, a documentary that uses recently discovered footage of a face-off between Mishima and hundreds of radical students during violent street protests in 1969.

The film was released in March, but was still screening in Tokyo’s central Shibuya district. I half-expected the audience to be dominated by elderly rightists in combat gear. I was wrong. There were women in their 20s and 30s wearing designer masks, some students, ordinary looking couples and solitary intellectual types. Although the film was advertised as a tense confrontation between violence-prone right and violence left-wing groups, the debate was mostly respectful on both sides, with Mishima’s wit drawing gales of laughter from the students and, indeed, the cinema audience.

Other films about Mishima have been made this century. The late Koji Wakamatsu, a radical left sympathizer once known as the “Kurosawa of pink [erotic] movies,” directed 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate (2012). This biopic offers a straightforward factual account of Mishima’s last months. There is also a film version of Spring Snow, the first and best volume in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy.

His books are still popular too. Mishima wrote intense, heavyweight novels conveying his philosophical ideas, but also less serious fare as entertainments for the mass market. Interestingly it is the latter that have been doing particularly well these days. A light novel called Yukio Mishima’s Letter Writing Class has consistently ranked in Amazon Japan’s Top 10 for Japanese literature.  Another entertainment called Life for Sale was the top seller of 2016 in the Japanese literature department of Kinokuniya, Japan’s largest bookshop, with total sales topping 250,000.

 Giles Murray) Mishima display at Maruzen bookshop (photo: Giles Murray)

At least 30 novels and essays have been translated into English, including Life for Sale. There are also two more biographies. Persona is a meticulously researched doorstopper by Naoki Inose, novelist and ex-governor of Tokyo, and Hiroaki Sato. Yukio Mishima is by British author Damian Flanagan.

Another British Mishima enthusiast was the rock star David Bowie, who appears to have planned his own death in 2016 with Mishima-like artistic precision. Bowie painted a portrait of Mishima, which he hung on the wall of his Berlin apartment in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, he bought a bronze bust of Mishima by British sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi at Sotheby’s.  More recently, he referred to the opening of Spring Snow in his 2013 album The Next Day: “Then we saw Mishima’s dog / Trapped between the rocks / Blocking the waterfall.”

The accent on the lighter, more humorous side of Mishima may have contributed to what seems to be a subconscious reassessment within Japan. There is also the fact that some of his political stances — on validating the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces, on protecting Japan’s traditional culture — no longer seem extreme.

Another impression came to me forcefully while watching the debate between Mishima and the radical students who were occupying the Tokyo University lecture hall. The cinema audience was agog at the huge moral issues that were being argued in a way that could never happen in today’s world.

Mishima engages with student Masahiko Akuta, now a respected theatrical impresario and actor Mishima engages with student Masahiko Akuta, now a respected theatrical impresario and actor

In his much-misunderstood book, The End of History and the Last Man,  Francis Fukuyama uses the ideas of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to speculate about what kind of landscape the post-historical “last men” will inhabit, once liberal democracy has triumphed everywhere. The answer is a world devoid of great art, struggle, risk, wisdom and self-knowledge. The last men, Fukuyama posits, “will be concerned above all for personal health and safety … content to sit at home congratulating themselves on their own broadmindedness and lack of fanaticism.”

Mishima’s dislike of Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy came from Nietzsche. According to Flanagan, “Mishima’s bond with Nietzsche was described by Mishima’s father after his son’s death as of an intensity beyond imagination.”

Mishima committed seppuku just 25 years after the end of World War II, much too soon for him to escape being dismissed as an unbalanced reactionary throwback to the age of militarism. Fifty years on, the last man is here, placidly enjoying his lockdown thanks to Zoom, Netflix and Uber Eats, totally comfortable with the prospect of a future controlled by artificial intelligence and big data.

Perhaps we need a Mishima to shock us out of our complacency.

The Return of Yukio Mishima

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 22/11/2020 - 5:49pm in

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articles, culture

Published in Japan Forward 22/ 11/2020

On November 25th 1970, novelist Yukio Mishima put the finishing touches to the last instalment of his Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Then, together with four members of his Tate no Kai (“Shield Society”) private army, he drove to the headquarters of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces and asked for an audience with the four star general in charge.

Once in the general’s office, Mishima produced a seventeenth century sword, gagged and bound the man and demanded that troops be gathered in the square below so that he could harangue them from the balcony.

MishJF4

When they answered his call for insurrection against Japan’s democratic government with heckling and jeers, Mishima went back inside and committed seppuku, an agonizing form of ritual suicide which involved disembowelling himself and being decapitated by one of his young comrades.

I’m old enough to have watched the BBC news report about the “Mishima incident”, and young enough not have had a clue what it meant. I seem to remember dark words about “rising Japanese militarism” and a general feeling that such an act was only to be expected from the Japanese.

Some years later, I came to work in Japan and found that both ideas were false. There was no trace of militarism in the air, and seppuku, vulgarly known as “hara-kiri”, had not been practiced since the end of the war. Mishima’s act was a deliberately anachronistic one-off that seemed to bewilder Japanese acquaintances as much as me.

MishJF1

When I asked a business colleague what he thought of it, he answered “crazy,” echoing the word used by Prime Minister Sato when he heard of Mishima’s suicide. It was a convenient way of dismissing the whole disturbing episode from the national consciousness, which as the eighties boom gathered momentum, seemed to be what people wanted.

By this time, I had enjoyed several of Mishima’s novels in translation and had also read biographies by Henry Scott-Stokes and John Nathan, both of whom had known him well. There was no doubt that Mishima was an extraordinarily talented writer who would have been worthy of the Nobel Prize that he was nominated for three times.

He was also extraordinarily active in a wide variety of fields, such as Noh theatre, kabuki, photography, body-building, boxing, karate, kendo, night-clubbing, acting in gangster and samurai films, appearing in a BBC documentary, breaking the sound barrier in a jet-fighter, as well as drilling his paramilitary outfit and planning his own death in minute detail.

All this while maintaining his prolific literary output, divided into serious novels of ideas and entertainments dashed off for the mass market.

Readers of Heibon Punch magazine, the Japanese equivalent of Playboy, crowned him the coolest man in Japan, ahead of actor Toshiro Mifune and baseball hero Shigeo Nagashima. The word the magazine used to describe him was the English “superstar.”

Many famous writers, Japanese and non-Japanese, have committed suicide. Many have strongly held political opinions. Generally, though, writers write and talk and, these days, publicize their opinions on social media. It is impossible to imagine Haruki Murakami or, for that matter, Jonathan Franzen or Margaret Atwood organizing a private army and inciting a coup d’état.

Mishima adhered to a Japanese version of Wang Yangming Confucianism, which holds that “knowing without acting is not knowing.” In other words, you have to walk the talk.

As the events of fifty years ago slip further into the past, they seem more astonishing not less; something that might happen in one of Mishima’s stranger stories, rather than in everyday life.

Indeed, violent death figured prominently in Mishima’s literary production, beginning with his startlingly frank autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Mask, written when he was 24 and replete with masochistic fantasies. In 1965, Mishima wrote, directed and starred in a film called Patriotism (Japanese title: Yukoku, meaning “Grieving for Your Country”), which depicts the act of seppuku in slow, lingering detail.

A scene from "Yukoku." The calligraphy, "supreme sincerity", is by Mishima himself. A scene from “Yukoku.” The calligraphy, “supreme sincerity”, is by Mishima himself.

If Mishima was acting out some dark private desires, he was also making a clear political statement by imploring the soldiers in his last speech to ”protect our emperor-centred Japanese tradition, our history, our culture” by rising up and forcing constitutional change. It is impossible to separate the personal from the political in Mishima’s ultimate piece of performance art.

That’s not to say that he didn’t see the absurd side of his project, which he hinted at in a published conversation with poet-playwright Shuji Terayama five months before his death. “It’s not an accident that Don Quixote encounters strange things,” he mused. “It’s caused by his personality… Don Quixote is a daydreamer. Things that a daydreamer encounters in this world are windmills and suchlike. So I’m a Don Quixote.”

Japan’s 1980s boom has slipped into the past too, and some of Mishima’s ideological positions – on constitutional approval of the Self-Defence Forces, on protecting cultural traditions – no longer seem so extreme. Perhaps it is for this reason that Mishima seems more popular than before.

At time of writing, Amazon Japan ranks one of Mishima’s light novels, Yukio Mishima’s Letter-Writing Class, as number two best-seller in the Japanese language literature section, placing far above works by Beat Takeshi and mystery queen Natsuo Kirino. Not bad for a writer who has been dead for half a century. Another entertaining work, Life for Sale, was turned into a six part Amazon Prime series for Japanese viewers in 2016.

Meanwhile, doing the round of Japanese cinemas is a fascinating documentary called Mishima: The Last Debate. Compiled from recently discovered footage, it shows Mishima’s face-off with 1,000 student radicals, who were occupying a Tokyo University lecture hall during the violent street protests of 1969.

The clash between extreme left and extreme right turns out be nothing of the sort as Mishima disarms the hotheads with his wit and charm. Such is the meeting of minds that he even attempts later to recruit one of the student leaders into his private army!

More of Mishima’s work is becoming available in English, including the aforementioned Life for Sale. There are also two more biographies. Persona is a meticulously researched doorstopper by Naoki Inose, novelist and ex-governor of Tokyo, and Hiroaki Sato. Yukio Mishima in the Critical Lives series is by Britain’s own Damian Flanagan.

Another British Mishima enthusiast was the late David Bowie, who appears to have planned his own death in 2016 with Mishima-like artistic precision. Bowie painted a portrait of Mishima, which he hung on the wall of his Berlin apartment in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, he bought a bronze bust of Mishima by British sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi at Sotheby’s.

Paolozzis Mishima Paolozzi’s Mishima

More recently, Bowie found a place for Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea in his list of 100 favourite books, compiled in 2013. In the same year, he alluded to the opening of Mishima’s novel Spring Snow in his album The Next Day.

Then we saw Mishima’s dog

Trapped between the rocks

Blocking the waterfall

In continental Europe, Mishima never really went away. Marguerite Yourcenar,  the first woman to become a member of the Académie Francaise,  published a highly sympathetic portrait in 1983, describing him as “a true representative of a Japan which was, like Mishima himself, violently Westernized, and yet remained distinguished by certain immutable characteristics.”

In the 1990s, Isabelle Huppert starred in a French adaptation of Mishima’s novel The School of Flesh, and the great Ingmar Bergman directed theatrical and TV versions of Mishima’s play, Madame de Sade.

All this would have been music to the ears of Mishima, who craved international recognition and revelled in his domestic stardom. On the day of his death, he left a note behind declaring “human life is limited, but I want to live forever.”  Immortality is a tall order even for this brilliant and dangerous man, but he seems to be back in the public consciousness in a way that would surely have delighted him.

 

How Should We Commemorate Mary Wollstonecraft?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 11:00pm in

Photo Credit: Richard Rothwell/Wikimedia Commons On Tuesday, November 10, the British sculptor Maggi Hambling’s new monument to Mary Wollstonecraft was...

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Dust in the Wind: The Transformation of University Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 3:00am in

                              Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.

 How that time has fled,
vanished under the helm of night, as if it had never been.

The Wanderer, ll. 95b–96

Nearly forty years ago, in an undergraduate course on the history of the English language, I was introduced to Old English. My exposure to the peculiarities of early English phonology, vocabulary and grammar was a just brief flash, but it was enough. Our instructor recited the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, and the way those antique syllables joined sound with sense left me keen to know them better.

Our instructor kindly agreed to help me learn Old English properly, but later, when I announced my intention to pursue it further as a graduate subject, he was appalled by my folly. ‘A graceful way to starve’, he intoned sadly. ‘There’s no future in it.’ Events would justify his gloomy prognosis in the end, but what did I know then?

I set off with the blind courage of ignorance and, for a time, met with enough success in landing admissions offers, teaching assistantships, and fellowships to see me through a demanding course of further study. Seven years later I emerged, my shiny new PhD in hand and smiling at the memory of my instructor’s misgivings, into the world of professional scholarship à la 1990.

Decades later now, that world no longer exists. I jumped ship some years ago. The changes of weather and fortune that jarred my progress reflect, on a small scale, the larger upheavals that overtook tertiary institutions around the world during the same period. I hope a little summary of what I saw and experienced, at universities on three continents, might afford a more immediate perspective on the debates currently in play about the structure, funding and purpose of higher education.

My undergraduate career got off to a shaky start with failed stabs at studying first physics and then music. Third time lucky, however, when a BA in English literature fell within the ambit of both my desire and my abilities. That I could afford such impulse shopping should tell you something about the lie of the educational landscape in those just-post-baby-boomer years. University campuses were settling down after the cultural and political ballyhoos of the sixties and early seventies. Tuitions were shockingly cheap by today’s standards, and grants and scholarships sometimes went begging from year to year. High costs and the consequent indebtedness they impose now make such butterfly-flits from major to major impossible for most.

As a graduate student I got a closer glimpse of the metabolism of academia at a number of different institutions. What stands out now in retrospect suggests that my memory might be a little selective. Nowhere was perfect, but you often saw senior staff taking responsibility for introductory undergraduate units and performing their teaching duties with the same energy they brought to their research. Staff and students might socialise comfortably, and we shared a sense of participation in a common intellectual enterprise.

Were there authoritarian or time-serving lecturers? Cranky heads of departments? Student slackers? Of course, but these played their games against a broad backdrop of shared assumptions about education and learning as ends in themselves. The pursuit of learning, we imagined, was a self-evident good, whatever vocational prospects might blossom at the end of the process.

There were disquieting shadows. We all knew about the ‘publish or perish’ imperative that yoked the winged-horse élan of free inquiry to the farm-cart of mere opportunism. But as I took up what was to prove my quasi-career as a perennially part-time, short-term university lecturer, the cloud deck lowered and darkened. Funding streams for higher education, largely government-sourced, began to shrink like rivers in drought, as neoliberal ideologues slashed tax bases and forced many universities into business-governance models, touted for their greater ‘efficiency’. Dedicated administrators grew more numerous, on salaries that often rivalled those of full professors. Their policies reflected the demands of cash-flow management, and students became ‘consumers’ of institutional ‘product’. As universities competed to attract student dollars, advertising, once unheard of, consumed progressively larger proportions of stressed budgets. It also adopted the play of illusion and conditioned reflex practised by its forerunners in more commercial quarters, trafficking in fatuous slogans like ‘Dream Large’, ‘I Believe’, and ‘Worldly’ (huh?).

Administrators increasingly meddled in curriculum design and delivery, demanding ‘through-put’ of students in ever-greater numbers, with concomitant inflation of grades and dilution of standards. For the ‘fascist oiks in suits’ (as a feisty colleague called them in 1997), institutional command and control, with an increasingly heavy hand, was the only game worth the candle. They wielded the hammers, while growing numbers of the rest of us got to play the thankless part of nails.

Permanent, full-time academic positions dwindled to hens’-teeth scarcity, as the institutions’ product came to be delivered by increasing numbers of part-time staff on temporary contracts that anticipated the precarious condition of gig-economy workers for Uber, Foodora and Airtasker. ‘Tutorials’ that once involved no more than a dozen students swelled routinely to thirty or thirty-five, with a concomitant uptick in marking loads that has forced harried instructors to resort to inadequate assessment techniques such as multiple-choice quizzes for literature courses. The tyranny of metrics began to weigh on the relationship between teacher and student. Tutors are admonished to spend no more than ten minutes on any one piece of assessed work. Assigning a number grade to an essay on Chaucer or Emily Dickinson has always involved a degree of specious precision. But institutions anxious to deliver accountable transparency (to their managers as much as to their ‘consumers’) have further tangled that process in gridded or bullet-pointed screeds of ‘marking criteria’ that, like ‘key performance indicators’ in job reviews or ‘selection criteria’ in applications, foster a mirage of exactitude that disguises a tick-the-box culture of bureaucratic haste and indifference.

Socrates wept.

I did my best as a snapper-up of trifling contracts that generally demeaned whatever I could bring to the table as a teacher and scholar. In the end my patience snapped. The last advertised position I attempted to apply for required ‘the successful applicant’ to respond (‘in no more than six single-spaced pages’) to a manager’s wish-list of no fewer than twenty-five ‘selection criteria’. I assume these either reassured or pleased someone in HR, but by the time I got to number six, the overwhelming futility of what was clearly a mug’s game pole-axed my desire to persist.

Against the backdrop of the recent pandemic and the eerily correspondent inflammation of American electoral politics, such concerns as my little squawk here raises might appear small matters. But in higher education, as in politics, policy has come to be dominated by a crudely instrumental mindset. Inherently messy human realities must speak a language of quantity rather than nuanced quality. Reduced to numerical scales, the large, unstable ambiguities of educational transactions yield to a mirage of manageable piece-work. Tidy, perhaps, but haunted by larger questions about our culture’s real values, and how resilient those values might prove against the militant ignorance of ill-informed internet yahoo-ism that presses on the shrinking fences of civil discourse from every quarter. There are no easy answers, but the questions lie thick on the ground. Those I have raised here are only a few.


Last Chance for Universities?

Simon Cooper, 5 June, 2020

How bad will it be? Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, international-student revenue for Australian universities had been around 25 per cent across the sector, with many of Australia’s ‘sandstone’ universities relying on international students for at least a third of their income. The loss of much of this revenue for the near to mid-future represents the biggest crisis the sector has faced. …universities will act vigorously to manage their finances.

The Gambler Vs. The Bodybuilder: Shuji Terayama Meets Yukio Mishima

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 11:24pm in

Mishima: You may think I’m an old fashioned classicist, but I don’t trust language without a logical structure.

Terayama: Then you couldn’t put up with a dog sitting on a book by Aristotle. I think it would be erotic if Brigitte Bardot was carrying Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Yukio Mishima’s sensational death by seppuku (ritual suicide, vulgarly known as hara-kiri), it is worth looking back at the conversation he had with Shuji Terayama just five months earlier.

It was originally published in the July 1970 edition of Ushio magazine, and I am grateful to Professor Nobuko Anan of Kansai University for her English translation.

At the time, Mishima was a huge celebrity who had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times. Ten years older than Terayama, he came from a super-privileged background – Gakushuin school, the Eton of Japan, then Tokyo University. Before becoming a full-time-writer, he had joined the Ministry of Finance, the bastion of Japan’s ruling elite.

Terayama, by contrast, came from Aomori Prefecture in the far north of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, and consciously maintained his strong regional accent throughout his life.

From Terayama's autobiographical "To Die in the Country" From Terayama’s autobiographical “To Die in the Country”

His father was a policeman who died of illness after being drafted to South East Asia. His mother sent young Shuji to live with relatives when she went away to work as a cleaner on a distant American military base.

At first sight, Mishima, the fervent nationalist who sought to revive Japan’s martial traditions, would seem to have little in common with Terayama, the pied piper of the Japanese counterculture.

In fact, as the published dialogue demonstrates, these two sacred monsters of  post-war Japan shared several interests. They included writing for theatre, making experimental films, the possibilities of eroticism, mocking mainstream politics, breaking taboos and causing trouble.

Another point of similarity: they both died in early middle age, Mishima at 45, Terayama at 48. Mishima planned his death far in advance. Terayama suffered from an incurable illness. Awareness of their limited lifespans must have influenced their work and thinking.

The dialogue starts with an exchange of compliments. Mishima declares that he has seen several of Terayama’s plays and found them “quite interesting.” Terayama mentions that he sent Mishima a fan letter when he was young, but received no reply. That is quite plausible. Terayama often sent fan mail to writers and other prominent people he admired.

After a brief detour about theatre, Mishima compares the failure of the New Left’s street protests with his own strategy of forming a private army, the Tate no Kai (literally, “Shield Society”).

Mishima’s private army Mishima’s private army

“Theory is not meaningful unless it appears in action,” he asserts. “If theory doesn’t transform into action, it’s like the university teachers they despise…What connects theory and action is training. This is what soldiers do.”

The comment is in line with Mishima’s version of Wang Yangming Confucianism that preaches the unity of action and thought. It is also a hint that Mishima himself would not stop at words and empty gestures.

Terayama could not have had any idea what would happen on November 25th 1970, when Mishima and four Tate no Kai members would take a four star general hostage on a military base and attempt to incite a rebellion against the Japanese government.

But further hints appeared in the discussion about bodybuilding, which was one of Mishima’s obsessions.

Mishima: Here is the principle of bodybuilding. It’s to get rid of the involuntary muscles in your body.

Terayama: In short, getting rid of unpredictability from the body?

Mishima: You’re right. For example, look at my chest. I can move it freely to the music [he moves the muscles in his chest]. Does your chest move?

Terayama: I’m an unpredictable being.

Mishima: It may move all of a sudden one night.

Terayama: I can’t have any enjoyment without the fantasy that an unknown treasure may be hidden in my small body. Mishima-san, if you learn all about the structure of your body, you’ll find that it’s only water and fibre.

Mishima: You’ll live longer than me.

Yukio

Much of the conversation consists of intellectual sparring in which the two participants hop from topic to topic and namedrop Genet, Kant, Poe, Paul Valery, Bertrand Russell, Socrates and others. After several detours, they return to the subject later.

Terayama: Mishima-san, the day will suddenly come when you can’t move your involuntary muscles, even if you throw out your chest.

Mishima: That day won’t come.

Terayama: Yes, it will. Eroticism overflows at a time like that.

Mishima: A day like that won’t come. Never.

The discussion about bodybuilding is a proxy for the larger philosophical differences between the two men. In art, life and politics, Mishima prizes control, predictability and structure and finds flexibility “scary”. He obsesses about the smallest details, such as the design of the uniforms for his private army.

Terayama prizes randomness, chaos and spontaneity and is frightened by the idea of pre-determination. He loves horseracing and writes a column on it for a sports newspaper.

Terayama: Mishima-san, you don’t gamble. Is it because you think it’s not logical?

Mishima: I don’t like accident…

Terayama: Don’t you think we were accidentally thrown into the universe?

Mishima: No. In short, necessity is god.

Strangely enough, it is the approach of the iconoclastic Terayama that seems more in tune with traditional Japanese aesthetics as expressed in calligraphy or Bizen ceramics and cultural practices such as I-Ching divination. All of these leave space for spontaneity and chance. Mishima, the political nativist, has a fixation on structure and control that seems classically Western.

After Mishima committed seppuku, Terayama – who was in hospital at the time – commented that he should have done it in the cherry blossom season.

That is sometimes taken as a sarcastic dig at Mishima’s reverence for tradition, but it may not have been. Terayama could have simply meant that a backdrop of cherry blossoms would have intensified the drama of Mishima’s act. As theatre men, they would have both appreciated that.

Mishima might have preferred a spring death, but he had a book to finish, the last volume in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy. He finished the manuscript in the early morning of November 25th 1970.

Terayama: Mishima-san, have you heard this story? There was a man who said “I’m an Edokko [inhabitant of  pre-modern Tokyo] so I don’t accept the existence of trains” Then a train hit him straight on and ran him over. As he was dying, he said “there was no train.”

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