Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima Book Review

Homofascism par excellence.

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I am rewiriting my review of Confessions because the first time I wrote it I did it under the impression that it was autobiographical but in actuality this is a novel which may or may not be semiautobiographical depending on who you ask..

I tried looking up if Mishima was gay. What I came up with were the following responses: "It's none of your business that he's gay, or not,", "there's no proof he was gay, that is just slander, stop hurting his family", and "Obviously he was gay, deal with it bigot." 

It ended rather abruptly. That was my first thought after reading Confessions of a Mask. Maybe that's why I was fooled that it was Mishima talking about his own life - it felt like he had written an autobiography upto the current point in his life in his early twenties and then stopped. It came to an end with neither a happy or tragic ending, or an epilogue or some such other narrative framing device.

Confessions reminded me of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human, though in this case the "mask" of the protagonist is for a less ambivalent and more particular purpose. It's one of those Japanese "I" novels, basically autobiographies about fictional characters. But Confessions felt a lot less novel like than NLH.

There just weren't many novel-like things happening, no murders, suicides, rapes, bad guys or heroes, no characters making unlikely reappearances or cameos. It all felt a bit too real and ordinary. Characters just move by the protagonist never to return without doing anything much. It's just the protagonist who is oversensitive to the ordinary people and circumstances around him because he is different from them. In retrospect the first novel-like coincidence to happen was when Kotchan, the protagonist, as a boy came across a picture of Saint Sebastian and masturbated to it for the first time in his life. Novels are full of these sort of thematic coincidences.

When I first wrote this review under the impression that this was non-fiction, I said, "The events/incidents, probably yes, because they seem ordinary enough, but the exact thoughts he claims to have had at the time of these events/incidents could be a later invention or a pose.

Mishima himself points out that there's nothing he could say that could convice a doubtful reader about his honesty. Even if he killed himself in a manly way, there are those who think he is still a poser.

Confessions does not reach anywhere near the time of his suicide and peters out while describing events in his mid twenties."

The hardcover copy of Confessions I got from my local library had been stamped a few dozen times in late 80s to to 1990 but then it seems the interest slowly died, there were only a couple of stamps from 1991 onwards till now, and the last time it was stamped before I borrowed it was in 2005, that is 15 years ago.

The shiny jacket of the hardback book sold it to the reader as: "A hauntig story of a boy's homosexual development. It describes his progress from a childhood spent largely in his grandmother's sickroom, through adolescence at a boys' school and at summer resorts, to young manhood during the war, and an abortive love-affair with a class-mate's sister." I wish I was as good at summing up the plot of a book or anime, but there you go, that's what the book covers. It also mentioned that it was a novel but that somehow must have skipped my mind.

A few pages into my copy, there's also the title in Romaji, "Kamen no Kokuhaku."  On the cover there was a pencil drawing of Mishima cosplaying as Saint Sebastian with an arrow in his armpit and an arrow in his abdomen, close to his loins, and next to all this was another pencil drawing of the face of an unnattractive boy with thin eyebrows, a receding hairline and a slightly sociopathic face (a bit like the villain in the Monster manga) which I assumed to be Mishima too.

I have some aquaintainces who are gay men and they appeared as boring and ordinary as most people to me. Kind of like the real person on whom the arsonist monk in Mishima's Temple of the Golden Pavillion novel.

Golden Pavillion is based on an act of arson on a buddhist temple by a disgruntled, ugly young buddhist monk. In the novel he has all these deep thoughts about his act of arson but when Mishima finally met him in prison in real life, it turned out he appeared just a bitter little man. And yet who knows the internal life, the thoughts of this monk, "if only you got to know him," that sort of feeling feeling is unsatisfying doesn't it?

To keep the fire alight a man cannot appear wholly dispassionate and only be passionate on the inside. The protagonist of Pavillion set alight a beautiful temple, and Mishima staged a coup to kill himself but, assuming that Kotchan is not Mishima, what did Kotchan do? He kissed a girl and masturbated while thinking of blood flowing down the graceful torsos of handsome men. Basically as violent as his fantasies are he doesn't in the end act on them which is rather underwhelming. I hoped he would do some last, final hopeless, hopeful act of violence but nothing like that happened.

Mishima himself of course did not let turmoil inside him go to waste and both lived and thought aesthetically - on the opposite side, and more masculine side, of the spectrum Oscar Wilde lived on.

Unlike Pavillion, there wasn't much time spent here on artsy descriptions of locations and surroundings and even those characters which got the attention didn't speak very much. There wasn't much dialogue.

Whether or not Mishima was hiding his homosexuality, that was certainly the case for Kotchan, and I can't help but feel that if this wasn't so, his cause for turmoil would be lightened, and so his story would have been a lot more shallow, dispassionate, and ordinary - certainly even if he had felt any turmoil it would have felt a lot more artificial.

Maybe that's why everybody finds transgendered people more interesting these days and gay's like Mishima (assuming he was gay) are yesterday's news and cultural icons. Opposition breeds vitality and death, at least in Mishima's novels they seem to but then again the events are not very novel-like. I guess what I have been trying to say is that the thoughts of the protagonist are very novel-like but the events and certainly the presentation are not.

I am not going to give this novel a rating out of ten because as I said it didn't feel like a novel and so it would get an unfairly low score if I judged it as a novel. It felt more like a long personal essay, a blog.

As for the depiction of homosexuality, I didn't find the sado-masochism that fresh, though it is rather rarer in today's more feminised and overcivilised form of homosexuality, however the Kotchan did make an interesting remark about what made him give up his first (unrequited) love. It was jealosy for his object of desire beyond his reach. Envy of the beautiful body of that the older boy had which was stronger and larger than his own sickly body. In other words he wanted to inhabit his love interest's body.

A week ago, I read a short story by zerohplovecraft which suggested that a reason for a low status straight man might want to transition to a female might be due to a confusion of his object of desire (i.e. the woman he desired) with the desire to be a object of desire (i.e. the desire to be the woman he desired but can't have because he is low status). Kotchan is kind of similar because he desires to have a stronger more masculine body as a reaction to his unrequited feelings for an older boy.

However this is not Kotchan's interpretation, in his view it was the other way around, he had mistaken his desire to be masculine as love of someone who was masculine.

By Otaking, or The Good Student