From a new journal on aesthetics and protest: Metaphysics, Protest, and the Politics of Spectacular Failure
by Colin Dickey
"In the wake of World War One, though, a new generation of writers emerges, writers who no longer accept the possibility of any direct correlation between words and experience. The high modernism of Faulkner, Joyce, Kafka and Mann, of The Sound and the Fury or Ulysses, is characterized by the way language comes to represent its own inability to represent the thing-in-itself, the world of things which are put forever out of reach of the world of words.
In and of itself, then, there is nothing new in Mishima’s point of view. What separates him is his response to this dilemma. Despite having the same suspicion of words, Mishima, writing in the wake of World War II, doesn’t adopt the same formal aesthetic. Though he cited Thomas Mann as his favorite Western author, his writings are hardly modernist, and bear closer resemblance to nineteenth-century realism than Mann or Joyce. Faced with the irrevocable separation of words and things, Mishima does not, as modernist authors had, seek to document this schism; his move to action is motivated by a need to overcome it. “Somewhere within me,” he wrote in 1969, “I was beginning to plan a union of art and life, of style and the ethos of action. 5”
Just as it seems necessary to differentiate Mishima from WTO protesters who are not motivated by aesthetics, it also seems necessary to set him apart from those writers who took, for various reasons, political action. The turn to action is, after all, not particularly new among writers or intellectuals. Foucault and Sartre protested along with everyone else in the May 1968 riots, Derrida has written letters to Bill Clinton to get Mumia Abu-Jamal released, and Jean Genet’s life among the Palestinians is well documented. Edward Said’s act of throwing stones at an Israeli bulldozer on the Lebanon border is probably one of the most recognized events in recent times that blurred intellectual and political action. Mishima stands apart from these writers in two respects. First, the actions of Foucault or Said run parallel to their writings, and may be applications of their writings. Mishima’s suicide, however, seems to be above all else an act of protest as a solution to a literary and metaphysical dilemma. It is a text, in and of itself."