AbstractMy analysis shows that it is the desire for ecstasy which finally determines the action and psychology of the main characters of Mare Foecunditatis (The Sea of Fertility), the last work of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). It is a quad-rilogy consisting of Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and Five Signs of a God's Decay. Soon after the completion of the work but before the publication of the last volume, the author killed himself by imitating the action of one of these fictional characters. As a result, the reaction to this last work of Mishima's is tinged with a sense of impurity which mars its artistic effect. A cold and quiet conviction was crushed: one can no longer assume that an artistic work is concerned solely with a fictional and imaginative world, complete in itself, independent of reality and of the artist's actual life. In looking over his literary output, including many essays, we find almost every one of them suggesting to a greater or lesser extent his consciousness of death, yet no critics here ever predicted his suicide. It is of course because they were firmly convinced that literary creation belonged to a fictional time and space and that this would never govern the actions of the author himself in his actual life. But we must remember that, since the age of Plato, who, pointing out the dangerous side of human imagination, insisted on banishing poets from the country, art has often been subject to strict censorship. Nevertheless, cries have been raised in defense of art, perhaps because it has always had something precious to add to human consciousness and perception. When we have analysed Mare Foecunditatis as an objective text, rather than as an explanation of the author's suicide, we find that the first volume (Spring Snow) and the second (Runaway Horses) are both continuous and integrated, whereas the third (The Temple of Dawn) and the last (Five Signs of a God's Decay) show a pitiable disorder. The first volume and the second are composed in a well-controlled style, but in the third and the last the intrusion of the author's natural voice creates an irritating dissonance. And the Samara (metempsychosis) of the heroes, a literary device apparently intended to bring continuity to the action of the quadrilogy, although very clear-cut in the first two volumes, becomes ambiguous in the latter two. Kiyoaki (the hero of Spring Snow) and Isao (the hero of Runaway Horses) are very clearly apposite in their personalities, which convinces us of their continuity and relationship. Jim Jan (The Temple of Dawn) and Toru (Five Signs of a God's Decay), however, have little substantial connection with the first two heroes and, furthermore, play only secondary roles in their respective volumes. There is no doubt that the hero of both of these volumes is Honda the bystander who appears from the first page of the quadrilogy, explaining and interpreting the action and psychology of Kiyoaki and Isao. If we suppose Honda to be the transmigrated image of Kiyoaki and Isao, then we are open enough to conviction, but such a supposition is contradictory to the structure of the sequence as a whole. Kyoko's House (1959) was a bold attempt to get at the kernel of life in Japan's post-war era, but it was judged a failure by every critic, in spite of the ardor and enthusiasm with which Mishima had worked on the novel. This failure is due to the lack of that continuous and solid structure so essential to the novel in general. The characters of Kyoko's House are each of them isolated in their own inner worlds and scarcely communicate or mix with each other. Generally speaking, the characters of Mishima's heroes are determined a priori and the development of personality is of little consequence in most of his works. The marionette-like protagonists are manipulated toward an end arranged in advance. That is why Mishima was always successful in short stories while often unsuccessful in novels. Mishima's use of Samara as a literary device, intended to make the quadrilogy continuous and solid, and on which he must have struck in reflecting the failure of Kyoko's House, proved to be ill-fitted for his purpose. Perhaps, simply, the concept was not yet ripe enough in his imagination; for he held no belief in Buddhistic metempsychosis and was, in any case, not a writer capable of delineating varied characters with ease and skill. Samara holds that a person is born again and again, appearing each time in a different image. The writer must therefore be well-versed in many types of personality in order to use this image successfully. But as I see it, the protagonists hitherto created by Mishima may be classified into only two or three large groups. My impression is that he got short of breath when he had finished Runaway Horses, the second volume. Besides, Samara, adopted only as a novelistic form, cannot be a successful device if the writer does not believe in it in his actual life; and, Mishima being a modern atheist, nothing was more remote from his beliefs than the idea of transmigration. If he won success in The Golden Pavilion (1957), it was because he could identify himself with that pyromaniac who set fire to the shrine, a national treasure, in Kyoto in 1950. Through this identification, the subjective and the objective were well-balanced in this work. The same thing may be said about After the Banquet (1960). Having followed his artistic development from his earliest works through to The Golden Pavilion, we are impressed by his battle for identification which seems to have been given up in his later writing. It was because the images of his actual and ideal selves were at war in his imagination that he could show a new aspect of characterization in each of a series of his earlier works, including The Golden Pavilion. It should be stressed that his imaginative faculty was originally based upon an early infirmity and poor physique that were overcome in his middle-age by the practice of body-building. But what happened to him then? I think that this conquest of physical delicacy was fatal to him as a writer, whose only weapon is the power of the imagination. By setting out to realize his image of himself in reality, rather than in art as he had hitherto done, his imagination became impoverished. In A Sailor Who Has Fallen From Grace With the Sea (1963), Ryuji once dreamed of dying a glorious death. Having at last decided to marry a window and to conform to daily commonplace living, he is despised and, ironically, killed, soon after marriage, by a group of demon-like boys who refuse to grow up, hating to be involved in the humdrum reality of the adult world. The characters involved here do not go beyond the prototypes Mishima has hitherto created and no new characters are to be found; no will for moulding that was once the key-note of his creations is discernible. What attracts our attention here is the author's inner conflict in deciding whether he should kill himself or not and that is all. It becomes clear that, that imagination derived from a keen consciousness of bodily weakness is after all the limiting factor in his literature, for imagination of this kind is fatally lacking in social consciousness, unlike, for instance, that imaginative faculty of the Negroes or the Jews which springs from social estrangement. Mare Foecunditatis is, in a sense, a failed roman social; his imagination could not cope with the demands of such a novel. Worse still, the bankrupcy of his comments on politics and culture, which were both illogical and out of date, is clearly apparent when brought into the quadrilogy. These views met with justifiably severe criticism from all sides. Though masquerading in excessive ornamentation, the novel, by reflecting too directly the structure of the anther's actual existence fails to achieve universality as a work of art. It may be interesting if regarded as material for interpreting the mentality of Mishima as a psychiatric patient: as an objective text it is insufficiently organised. In the long run, Mishima unfortunately failed to create another version of The Golden Pavilion, which remains the greatest of his masterpieces; good luck does not always repeat itself! In A Sailor Who Has Fallen From Grace With the Sea, Mishima sang a triumphal tune to infantilism, to which he was obstinately attached all through his life, and this infantilism is precisely what deprives his works of human depth. The idea of Samara was too abstruse to be easily digested by such a mentality. That the enthusiasm and illiberality of infantilism may otherwise have some antithetic value, especially in this cold and mature age, may be pointed out to Mishima's credit. At the very end of the quadrilogy we are confronted with a sudden reversal: what are we to understand by the denial of Samara by the nun of the Gesshuji Temple, once Kiyoaki's lover? This denial will remain the greatest enigma of Mare Foecunditatis. Such a denouement may be considered to be the reflection of the author's despair. Or it may be the negation, by the author himself, of the world to which he has devoted his whole mind. We cannot deny that it has a very moving effect, perhaps because it expresses unexpectedly something other than the author's own bitter realization that his life has after all been a pure fiction, like that of Honda, perturbed at being confronted, in the evening of his life, with the utter denial of what he has believed to exist. However, another theory does hold, at the same time, that the author has declared the bankrupcy of his own literary device at the very end of the novel. I think both theories hod true; that is why Mare Foeconditatis is barely saved from being a mere failure.
TypeDepartmental Bulletin Paper
横浜国立大学人文紀要. 第二類, 語学・文学, 20, 50-67(1973-10-31)