Wednesday, April 8, 2015

the only thing of importance was to radiate beauty

The Baron took not the slightest notice of anything his wife said or did, while the Baroness, oblivious to her effect on others, kept up a ceaseless outpouring of words. This was their customary behavior, whether at home or in public. Despite his abstracted manner, the Baron was perfectly capable on occasion of mercilessly nailing a person's character with a single, incisive, pithy observation, on which, however, he never deigned to elaborate. His wife, on the other hand, no matter what torrent of words she might expend on that same individual, never succeeded in bringing him to life.

They owned a Rolls Royce, the second ever purchased in Japan; it was a distinction they treasured as evidence of their social position. It was the Baron's custom to don a silk smoking jacket after dinner and, thus attired, to spend the rest of the evening ignoring his wife's inexhaustible flood of chatter.
(pg 117)
His eye was caught by the iridescent back of a beetle that had been standing on the windowsill but was now advancing steadily into his room. Two reddish purple stripes ran the length of its brilliant oval shell of green and gold. Now it waved its antennae cautiously as it began to inch its way forward on its tiny hacksaw legs, which reminded Kiyoaki of minuscule jeweler's blades. In the midst of time's dissolving whirlpool, how absurd that this tiny dot of richly concentrated brilliance should endure in a secure world of its own. As he watched, he gradually became fascinated. Little by little the beetle kept edging its glittering body closer to him as if its pointless progress were a lesson that when traversing a world of unceasing flux, the only thing of importance was to radiate beauty. Suppose he were to assess his protective armor of sentiment in such terms. Was it aesthetically as naturally striking as that of this beetle? And was it tough enough to be as good a shield as the beetles?

At that moment, he almost persuaded himself that all its surroundings--leafy trees, blue sky, clouds, tiled roofs--were there purely to serve this beetle which in itself was the very hub, the very nucleus of the universe.
(pg 157)
He had never taken so close a look at each blade of grass. For nothing less than the most painstaking care would do, because despite the ring's gold setting, its large emerald would be next to invisible in the grass. The drizzle became raindrops on the back of his neck, finally slid under his tight collar and rolled down his back, a sensation that aroused a yearning for the warm monsoons of Siam. The light green at the roots of the grass gave the illusion that a ray of sunshine had broken through, but the sky remained overcast. Here and there, there were small white wildflowers in the grass, their heads drooping under the weight of the rain, but the powdery whiteness of their petals remained as bright as ever. Once Prince Pattanadid's eye was caught by a bright glittering spot under a saw-tooth leaf of a tall weed. Sure that his ring could not have lodged there, he nevertheless turned the leaf over to find a small, brilliantly colored beetle clinging to the underside to escape the rain.
(pg 204)
Anger was useless against the Count, who was neither acquainted with logic nor remotely inclined to initiate any course of action.
(pg 318)
"What's that you're always reading?" asked the Marquis' son who was beautiful.

"Nothing...," replied the Marquis' son who was ugly. He thrust the book behind him, but not before Kiyoaki's eye caught the name Leopardi printed on the spine. The gilt lettering cast a faint reflection that flashed over the dry grass and was gone.
(pg 338)

All of this from Michael Gallagher's 1972 translation of Yukio Mishima's 1968 novel Spring Snow. Mishima is making an argument against the weakening of the Japanese Imperial house, a weakening brought on by the post-World War II Constitution and the influence of Western commercial culture. I am not sure that I understand the argument at all, even if I see the conflicts acted out in this novel. Mishima believed that restoring honor to the holy throne of the Emperor was a cause worth killing and dying for. He did not overthrow the Emperor. His suicide did not inspire a rebellion against Western values. Perhaps if he'd been a worse writer, a Chernyshekvsky, for example.


  1. I've read this. I did not understand the argument either. Part of it is about Buddhist reincarnation.

    Leopardi, that is thrilling. I must not have noticed that when I read it. One of my hidden goals when writing about Leopardi was not only to not attribute his philosophical pessimism to his personal disfigurement, but to not mention his appearance at all. I succeeded, until now.

    1. Oh, spine, I get it now. The Leopardi quote is for you, yes. I was going to put it into a comment on your latest Leopardi post but I got lazy tonight.

      Mishima's young life in many ways mirrors that of Leopardi. Both were born into money, both were sickly and had domineering parents who kept them separated from the world. Leopardi did not try to create his own army, though, as far as I can tell.