A hopeless stutterer, taunted by his schoolmates, Mizoguchi feels utterly alone until he becomes an acolyte at a famous temple in Kyoto. But he quickly becomes obsessed with the temple's beauty, and cannot live in peace as long as it exists.
"An amazing literary feat in its minute delineation of a neurotic personality." (Chicago Tribune)
"Beautifully translated... Mishima re-erects Kyoto, plain and mountain, monastery, temple, town, as Victor Hugo made Paris out of Notre Dame." (The Nation)
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A difficult and disturbing paradox
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.
- Dan Harlow
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