I was slightly scared going into this one. Not only was I aware that the translator had changed, but I also heard that it was really boring, with Honda just being indolent, visiting shrines, and rambling existentially the entire time. While it’s true that Honda, as a character, may not be the most exciting person in the world, and that I struggled through his touring of India (and the majority of part 1 in general) I can’t stress enough how this book picked up the thematic power of the series an
There’s so much reflection on Buddhism and the nature of spiritual transmigration that it could almost function as a textbook on the material. At times, it even read like one. But it’s understandable. The main focus has undoubtedly shifted to the central theme of reincarnation, and Honda, who is all but convinced of it’s potency and truth, has to confront this new bizarre apparition of his friend, Kiyoaki, manifested in the form of a Thai princess.
With every book, the concept of beauty has evolved, but through the same lens. At the end of the previous book, Runaway Horses, the paradigm of beauty seemed to have been set as ‘death’, but now, in a more theoretical sense, beauty has been restructured as something that can only be held in memory, and is in itself not real. At the beginning of The Temple of Dawn, in the very first chapter, when Honda is being talked to by a failed artist (who is functioning as his tour guide in Thailand), he is surprised by how “beautiful” the eponymous Temple of Dawn is in the evening sky. His tour guide, flapping his lips in an irritating fashion, touches upon (in my opinion) the very soul of this book by describing the horizon in nostalgic terms:
“The numerous bits of logic which people have so stubbornly cherished during the day are all drawn into the vast emotional explosion of the heavens and the spectacular release of passions, and people realize the futility of all systems. In other words, everything is expressed for at most ten or fifteen minutes and then it’s all over.”
Honda, who is our prime Mr. Reason, furthers his development as a human being, emotional and spontaneous throughout the course of this book. As both literary and character development, Mishima is recentering the work on Honda, the viewer, the voyeur, the one who is watching all of life transpire. He has always been what the work is about, but never has he been so integral to the arc of the plot itself. “What’s beginning? Nothing. Everything is ending.” Mishima, as we know from his life, was thoroughly against the concept of reincarnation and Buddhism. But it is a fascinating subject, and judging by the way he’s writing this series, I can’t help but think he agrees and disagrees with it all at the same time.