- Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist: An Intellectual Portrait by Andrew Rankin
Surrounding the numerous achievements involving the life of Mishima Yukio (1925–1970), his gargantuan literary output rests at the pinnacle. Collectively published as a complete works of thirty-six volumes in the 1970s, this compendium was expanded, updated, and linguistically revised to modern Japanese in the early 2000s by Shinchōsha Publishers, ultimately encompassing forty-three thick volumes. The majority of included articles have never been translated into English, thus leaving a voluminous gap between Mishima's thoughts and opinions accessible by scholars who are not and those who are (very fluent) readers of Japanese. As Mishima translator Donald Keene notes, Mishima often wrote in complexly beautiful prose, layered with a multiplicity of meanings. Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist is Andrew Rankin's effort to delve further into the mindscape of Mishima; he achieves this goal by providing progressive analyses involving several of Mishima's previously untranslated and underexamined essays. The result is a groundbreaking advancement in Mishima studies. Similar to Keene, Rankin describes Mishima's early prose as being weighed down by "heavy rhetoric" that "renders the meaning extremely opaque" (19). To extrapolate critical ideas from forty-three volumes of prose, plays, poetry, novels, interviews, correspondence, and unpublished manuscripts by any author is daunting—let alone a body of work written in Mishima's artistic Japanese style. Formulating a cohesive yet flexible methodology for studying the oeuvre demands an ability to articulate and parse diverging literary trajectories into a manageable road map. Rankin's Mishima is just such a monograph: with beautifully crafted prose, Rankin interprets some of the many masks layering Mishima's public and private identities.
Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist is not a biographical publication; however, Rankin's subtitle, "An Intellectual Portrait," does give the impression that biography will be the focal point. The present work is structured in a way that Rankin gives "minimal attention to Mishima's biography [and]. … less attention to Mishima's fiction" (10). Instead, the book engages with ideas present in Mishima's nonfiction, only breaking from this tactic to address the crucial texts of Confessions of a Mask (1949), Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), and "Patriotism" (1960). While Rankin does not include archival research, his translations drawn from the forty-three Japanese volumes provide a vast source of material mostly untouched by English-writing scholars. Additionally, Rankin does not merely retread the Japanese scholarship but is adept at engaging in-depth with the Japanese scholars, often agreeing or firmly disagreeing with their various interpretations of Mishima. Additionally, intertwined with his approach is an occasional critical perspective on [End Page 596] Western interpretations of Mishima, in particular, the books by John Nathan and Henry Scott Stokes (112, 3).
Returning to the topic of Rankin's prose, Mishima represents engaging academic writing at the highest level. Not only is the material masterfully treated, but the presentation of the argument is enhanced through superior employment of the English language. Over the last twenty years, Rankin has been rehearsing and refining his ideas to provide us with the most approachable arrangement of Mishima's rich words and aesthetic concepts. The reading is consistently enjoyable and upholds Rankin's effort to "lift Mishima from the confines of the specialized field of modern Japanese literature and discuss his work within a broad intellectual context" (9). Rankin depends almost solely on his own translations of Mishima, and entirely so when he incorporates the Japanese critics; furthermore, there are multiple sections where Rankin delves into the issues of translating certain words, as in some cases there are no English equivalents for the Japanese phrases. Such discussion further illustrates his dedication to language and the importance of precise presentation of meaning. For example, in a section of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mishima's use of the word kodoku prompts Rankin to inform us that "a lot depends here on the meaning of kodoku. Normally this word means 'loneliness,' but in Mishima's work it often seems to imply something different" (65). He...