Yukio Mishima, 1966
We live in an age without heroic death.
Nobody in the world would be happier to know that his life was nearly inseparable from his art than the bodybuilding Japanese power bottom Yukio Mishima, who spent his entire artistic career trying to reconcile the two. Some folks will tell you that you shouldn’t judge a work of art based upon the life of the artist but I’m not one of them. For example, I think it’s really useful to know that Fitzgerald was a hysterical alcoholic. I am of the opinion that context is important to enjoying or understanding anything, and that knowing more about an artist will always make a work of art deeper and richer. I can think of few artists whose lives loom more monolithically over their work than Yukio Mishima. That might be one of the reasons I like him so much, he was so dramatic and over-the-top compared to your average sweater-clad author. Mishima painted on a different, larger canvas than the one upon which some MFA-toting writer might work. His life was his bibliography. What you should know: Mishima was Japan’s most famous writer, and a multiple Nobel nominee, before he and four members of his private army (of a sort, I think of it as more of a boy’s club, like the Boy Scouts mixed with a martial arts organization, where Mishima could watch athletic young men march around in designer uniforms) stormed a Japanese Defense Force base, kidnapped a general, and before the assembled soldiers delivered a speech about power, glory, action, the Emperor, the shape of contemporary Japan, and Westernization, a speech that no one listened to, and then, finally, Mishima committed ritual suicide by disembowelment. Having read many of his books, and read much about him, it’s hard not to think of this all as being planned, manufactured, as some sort of fatal performance art. Harmony of pen and sword. Other things you should know: Mishima was a bodybuilder, and a homosexual, though he had a wife and children. He was a singular, contradictory, individual human being. There’s probably never been a cat quite like Mishima, which is an achievement in and of itself.