I have come to a piece of Japanese literature I don’t like very much. Mishima has long been praised as a beloved author, but I wonder what I’m missing…
The Temple of The Golden Pavilion “won an important literary prize in Japan, sold over 300,000 copies, and was made into a successful modern play.” (from the introduction by Nancy Ross) It tells the story of a young man’s obsession with The Golden Temple and his consequent destruction of it.
Mishima points out interesting ideas on the concept of beauty along the way, while also writing about the pathology of someone who is ugly and outcast. Our protagonist has a terrible stutter, his closest friend has club feet, neither are physically strong let alone emotionally. I respect them not at all, nor do I feel much compassion for their plight. They are too cynical, too self-absorbed, too destructive to warrant much worth.
These quotes are the ones which struck me most forcibly. They give me something to ponder while I’m wondering at the fame of this novel:
When people concentrate on the idea of beauty, they are, without realizing it, confronted with the darkest thoughts that exist in this world. That, I suppose, is how human beings are made. (p. 48)
To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It’s never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it’s on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. (p. 106)
I was there alone, and the Golden Temple-the absolute, positive Golden Temple-had enveloped me. Did I possess the temple, or was I possessed by it? Or would it not be more correct to say that a strange balance had come into being at that moment, a balance which would allow me to be the Golden Temple and the Golden Temple to be me? (p. 131)
Later when I came to know Kashiwagi more intimately, I understood that he disliked lasting beauty. His likings were limited to things such as music, which vanished instantly, or flower arrangements, which faded in a matter of days; he loathed architecture and literature. Clearly he would never think of visiting the Golden Temple except on a moonlit night like this. (p. 139)
Perhaps it is because I know so little of Japan’s culture, of the conformity which I understand is almost required of its citizens, that I cannot fully appreciate this novel. To me, it was simply a sad story of a stutterer who could not find peace within himself or the world, who could not live in the shadow of the temple’s great beauty.
I read this novel as a read-along with Tanabata of In Spring It Is The Dawn.