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This novel introduces a disturbing paradox: there are many people in this world who, at the very least deserve our empathy yet to actually understand them would actually cause us despise them because how disturbed they are.
I kept thinking of people who commit mass violence, such as school shooters while reading this book. Typically the range of emotion from learning such a tragedy has occurred is first outrage, "Who would do such a thing? Why did they do it? What has the world come to?". When we learn who the culprit was we can then put a face to the crime and we say the person is sick and evil and they should be put to death. We don't see them as human, we see them as monsters who are sick.
But are they monsters? What if we were truly empathetic and tried to get to know these people. What would we discover then?
Unfortunately, I don't think the answer is an easy one because while religious morality tells us to empathize with even the worst people, if we actually could know the minds of such disturbed people we would be even more disgusted and confused. All we might discover is this person who committed such a terrible act is, in fact, a terrible person.
And so how do you empathize for and with a person who is so totally far removed from the rest of humanity, who is so wrapped up in their own delusions, whose point of view on the world is so fractured that you just can't even force yourself to want to care about them?
That's the paradox I discovered because of this book and with the main character Mizoguchi. Mizoguchi is, putting aside his skewed interpretation of humanity, an otherwise rational person. Yet all of his otherwise normal thought processes stems totally from a decayed root that infects the entire tree. His actions, his motives, his opinions seem to make a sort of sense, but only in the context that he is basically a sick person. And everything he decides to do, all his planning and his final actions are because he is sick, because he doesn't care one shred for humanity.
Mizoguchi does not love or does't care about anyone. And so how do we empathize with him? That's a real problem here because it makes for a very difficult novel. On the one hand Yukio Mishima, the author, is giving us an insight into the mind of a person beyond redemption but because Mizoguchi is beyond redemption we have a hard time even liking the novel. This novel is basically a physical manifestation of the character Mizoguchi, or to broaden the scope, the novel is the manifestation of all such people who commit these terrible crimes. And so how can we ever hope to like the book if we hate what the book is showing us? The book shows us true ugliness and so how do we respond to that?
This is a very difficult novel but it is fascinating in that it confronts head on the reality of empathy for another human being and how difficult it really is, or if it's even possible with a person like Mizoguchi.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
Mishima's weirdly oedipal Sailor Who Fell From Grace, this novel will also appeal, although it is more filled with Japanese history and the narrative does not flow as smoothly
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
”My nature, which already tended to be dreamy, became all the more so, and thanks to the war, ordinary life receded even farther from me. For us boys, war was a dreamlike sort of experience lacking any real substance, something like an isolation ward in which one is cut off from the meaning of life.”
”The Temple of the Golden Pavillion” is many things, but above all I was surprised how deeply and, as becomes Mishima, succinctly it described the war, not through presence but absence: for our narrator, Mizoguchi, the war is about staying behind, being pushed into a kind of surreal state of alternate existence.
Naturally, this sense of otherness and not belonging pervades the whole narrative on all levels, and it most certainly is Mishima's forte, something Murakami has, as well. The anxiety of existential meaninglessness, the strong feeling of guilt, freedom through an act of violence, either literal or metaphorical, and life, ultimately, a never-ending, alternating movement of these dark themes.
I have now embarked on a journey through the French invasion of Russia with Leo, so it might take a while, but I'm somewhat glad to keep "Spring Snow" in the queue for the time being. Not that "The Golden Pavillion" isn't good, it's like Mishima, in general: rewarding yet demanding, making one poor before making one abundantly rich. I did like the previous two works a bit more, though, perhaps thanks to their modest length. Here Mishima can be a tad too daunting when he’s in the mood, or when I’m in the mood, or… not in the mood?
Brian Nishii is perfect again. I think it’s a great service for us listening to Mishima and Kawabata that he’s the one doing the narration.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful