Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mishima and Overidentification

This just in from Shirley "Little Bird" Boednest:
Dear Sally Suzuki,

I've been reading quite a bit of Mishima Yukio lately, but I'm not sure what to make of his politics. Are we to take his ultra-right-wing shenanigans seriously? Or was it all a stunt—a sort of parody of politics itself? But is it still parody if the object of parody (e.g., the emperor system, national mythology, etc.) is also that for which one sacrifices one's life? In other words, doesn't Mishima's final statement—his suicide—prove his sincerity? Or should the suicide too be seen as part of the act? Please help. I'm very confused. —Shirley "Little Bird" Boednest
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Shirley "Little Bird" Boednest,

Thank you for your query. I've often wondered about this myself. Mishima is certainly a hard one to figure out.

To understand Mishima's politics, we might turn again to Slavoj Žižek. In his book The Plague of Fantasies, Žižek develops the concept of "overidentification," a psychoanalytic term and potential political strategy by which the malign nature—or "hidden reverse"—of an ideology is exposed through one's total identification with that ideology. For example, someone who "identifies" with capitalism believes in the possibility of upward social mobility, the "American dream," etc. Someone who "overidentifies" with capitalism—say, Ayn Rand—however, embraces not only the ideology's talking points but its negative implications as well, namely, the selfishness, greed, alienation, inequality, commodity fetishism, etc. that go along with it. Similarly, the person who "identifies" with a fascist politics supports commonplace bourgeois notions such as the nation, a strong defense, corporate-capitalism, etc. Yet he is to be differentiated from the "overidentifying" fascist, who, like Mishima, openly embraces from the start all of the radical implications of that ideology—including those that the ideology itself would rather conceal.

Mishima's fascist histrionics, it seems, are precisely an example of such "overidentification." From his essays "Does Fascism Exist?" (Fashizumu ha sonzai suru ka?),"New Theory of Fascism" (Shinfashizumu-ron), and "On the Defense of Culture" (Bunka bōeiron) to his short-story and film Patriotism (Yūkoku), what we see over and over again is an unbridled advocacy for an emperorism and militarism that very few, if any, in the postwar world would ever subscribe to. So to answer your question, then, Shirley "Little Bird" Boednest, I think Mishima's politics are not to be taken at face value; in fact, it seems that he intentionally sought to undermine that which he was ostensibly advocating. (At the same time, I should warn against dismissing his politics in toto, for his criticism of the postwar geopolitical situation Japan found itself in, particularly regarding its relation to the U.S., is often quite incisive.)

Much has been said about the homoerotic dimension to the fascist aesthetic. Nazi ideology, for example, was rife with such imagery and innuendo, though it was always just beneath the surface. With Mishima, however, all of this is brought to the fore. Exterior and interior are reversed. Mishima's bizarre aestheticism held little appeal for Japan's disenfranchised right-wing youth in the 1960s, and Mishima was certainly aware that his homofascist exhibitionist displays had limited recruiting potential.

Then what are we to make of his suicide in the emperor's name, you ask? Was it not the ultimate proof of the sincerity of his convictions? Well, the short answer is, according to Susan Napier, no. "Mishima's treatment [of the emperor]," she explains, "is abstract, in some ways simply an elaborate excuse for his suicide. Mishima used the emperor as a powerful cultural image to suggest what Japanese culture had lost and also to give his own death a more impressive backdrop, but as a fictional image the emperor's attraction is a largely aesthetic one." (Napier, 85)

I hope this answers your questions.

Sally Suzuki

Oh, and this for the blind:


Ian Hogarth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ian Hogarth said...

Not enough has been said about the homoerotic dimension within this collaborative web journal.

Mother said...


Victor Dictupe said...

What is duh?

Mother said...

Victor Dictupe,

I was referring to this: "So to answer your question, then, Shirley "Little Bird" Boednest, I think Mishima's politics are not to be taken at face value; in fact, it seems that he intentionally sought to undermine that which he was ostensibly advocating."

It seems like this has been the standard view among western scholars for the past several decades.

ssp said...

Overidentification can be a strategy to undermine what is ostensibly advocated as you say, but needn't be so. Mishima took fascism to its radical gay, self-destructive vanishing point, but i think this is more the result of his wanting to undermine himself, the genuine fascist, than of some hidden wish to undermine fascism as such. It is not as simple as someone who secretly identifies as a leftist, but seeks to undermine the right by portraying it as a ridiculous farce. Mishima, like Laibach, probably truly enjoyed and believed in the fascist aesthetic he developed, but was only able to do so through a prism of selfhatred.

Anonymous said...

To identify his politics as either sincere or insincere I think misses the point. His homoerotic fascism seems more an outward manifestation of the torturous mimetism that defined his life, and so is in many ways more honest than traditional political formulations. His suicide(ultimately completed by the kind of man he idolized) was intended to demonstrate the transcendency of his models through their violent rejection of his existence. But of course, the moment he dies, his gods disappear, because they were only men transfigured by his desire to seem like gods. It's a failed project in the sense that neither he or his models were divinized, but one which exposes a more fundamental truth about function of politics in modernity. I think he always doubted his own faith because of a cognisance of this reality (as is evident in his purposeful avoidance of military service in WWII), but wished to will it into reality through his own death.