The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

The Temple of Dawn

Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of Dawn is the third novel in his masterful tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. Here, Shigekuni Honda continues his pursuit of the successive reincarnations of Kiyoaki Matsugae, his childhood friend.
 
Travelling in Thailand in the early 1940s, Shigekuni Honda, now a brilliant lawyer, is granted an audience with a young Thai princess—an encounter th


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    William1

    Oct 07, 2017

    rated it
    really liked it

     · 
    review of another edition

    This third Volume of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy moves toward travelogue more than its predecessors. Honda, now a blue-chip attorney, goes to Siam (now Thailand) in the year 1940. At the start we are well into the Japanese occupation of Manchuria but before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Honda is in Bangkok representing a Japanese firm in their dispute with a Siamese concern. It’s very hot. It’s surprising how good Mishima is at conveying the sense of a broiling sun.

    Honda’s royal Siamese acqua

    Honda’s royal Siamese acquaintances—from back in his and and Miyoaki’s youth in Volume 1, Spring Snow, see my review—are not in the country, but a little princess of some six years of age is. The little princess is believed by the royal family to be mad since she claims not to be Siamese at all but to be Japanese with a home and loved ones in that distant land. Honda, a dignitary, believing the princess may be another of Miyoaki’s incarnations, is able to arrange a series of audiences with her under the scrutiny of her elderly female attendants. The royal getaway Bang Pa In is richly described. Honda plays games with the little princess.

    Then, his case won, Honda’s work in Bangkok is done. As a gift, his grateful employers send him on a pleasure trip to India. He goes to Calcutta (Kolkata) and thence to Benares (Varanasi). The novel here reminds me very much of Shūsaku Endō’s Deep River, See my review. And I wonder if Endo took any cues from Mishima here? They are, after all, both writing about the ghats along the Ganges in Varanasi.

    I think another of Mishima’s models was E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, see my review. I felt there was a vague semblance when Honda went to India, but when he goes to the Buddhist caves in Ajanta, the similarities with the trip to the Marabar Caves in Passage became too marked to ignore. Honda even has an epiphany in the caves, not unlike that of Miss Quested, though he doesn’t confuse it with an assault on his person.

    Standing alone in the cool of the cave, Honda felt as though the darkness around him suddenly began to whisper. The emptiness of the undecorated, colorless caves awakened in him a feeling of some miraculous existence, probably for the first time since he came to India. (p. 78)

    Isao’s death in Volume 2—Runaway Horses—is described here as both glorious and futile. The author uses this theme of dualism with regard to Iaso and, later, Honda. I know that dualism, the body and soul schism, is a concept opposed by some forms of Buddhism, but don’t know if that’s the connection the writer is referencing here. Sometimes you just have to press on with Mishima. This seems to be one of those times.

    During the war Honda studies Greek religion as part of his investigations into samsara and reincarnation. The author’s summing up of Honda’s investigations seem oblique. Someday a scholar will probably figure out the lineage of Mishima’s thinking, perhaps even the books he read to develop it, and produce a fat annotated edition. Right now to my knowledge no such exegesis exists in English. One problem for me lies in the passage:

    The immortal soul, originally holy, must traverse such a dark passage because of the original sin of the flesh: namely the Titan’s murder of Zagreus. (p. 106)

    But original sin, I had learned, was a concept invented by Augustine of Hippo as an interpretation of the Expulsion from Paradise, which was later incorporated into early Christian teachings by the Church fathers where it eventually petrified into dogma. See Elaine Pagels’s Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity. I looked to see how the term could have been used in relation to pre-Christian, pagan myth and have been assured that none of the ancients viewed it as such; that, in fact, it is a kind of back formation created by modern scholars. See Tearing Apart the Zagreus Myth: A Few Disparaging Remarks on Orphism and Original Sin by R. G. Edmonds. Mishima died by his own hand in 1970 and Professor Edmonds essay did not appear until 1999. So Mishima’s reading of the Zagreus myth was probably the most current scholarly version available to him at the time.

    The upside of the is the omnireligious and utterly confusing tapestry the author seeks to weave together. There are bits on Shintoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Mahayana and Theraveda Buddhism, Greek mystery rites, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. I can’t say I understand it all, but puzzling over it does set the synapses to salubriously firing. If anything I think it will demand a serious reread. Given the author’s suicide in 1970, the year this volume was published, one wonders to what extent these meditations were personal, perhaps even part of his final preparations?

    Then around p. 220 something happens. Now suddenly, under the influence of the young princess from Thailand, Ying Chan, 17, Honda goes sex wild. Well, I suppose it’s not unlikely. Japan has just been relinquished to civilian control by the departing American occupiers. The communists are rioting. It’s as if the parents are out of the house for the weekend and the kids run amok. Suddenly we find Honda in a park, hiding behind some trees with others nearby, watching youngsters fuck amid the shrubberies. Absolutely nothing in his past prepares us for this.

    A conspiracy is then entered into by Honda, his neighbor Keiko, and her twenty year old nephew, Katsumi, which seeks the despoliation of Ying Chan. The conspiracy against this young innocent reminds me very much of certain aspects of Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The plan is for Katsumi is to sexually initiate Ying Chan, who then will turn to her old family friend, Honda, for consolation. It’s hard to imagine what’s going through Honda’s mind. Especially after the recent period of study into samsara and reincarnation. After all, he believes, or once believed, that Ying Chan is the latest incarnation of his friend Miyoaki (Vol. 1), who was subsequently reincarnated as Isao (Vol. 2). And now he wants to bang the third incarnation, Ying Chan? Is this so the fourth incarnation might be his own son? The guy has really gone off his rocker.

    Many of Anita Brookner’s characters share a disappointment that they’ve let life pass them by. Honda, coming sexually alive for the first time in his 57 years, reminds me of Brookner’s characters with this exception. Brookner’s characters each possess a detailed narrative surrounding their loss, Honda doesn’t seem have one. Moreover, he doesn’t seem capable of articulating one. He suffers no depression like the Brits. He’s just suddenly overwhelmed by lust. Ying Chan has apparently driven his celibate nature out of him, but we’re never sure why. Is it lost in translation?

    Ah, then on p. 263 he comes to see his lust as an abomination. He resolves not to commit the violation, for then “beauty could no longer exist in this world.” Then “He was waiting for madness to take complete possession of him.” Finally, we come to what for Honda might be called his Brooknerian moment. “If Honda’s imagination let him dream that he would have been of this or that personality were he only young and thus served to protect him through the years at every dangerous emotional point, then his reluctance to recognize his present emotional condition was probably the result of such self-denial in youth. At any rate, it was impossible for him to cry. . . as he walked—not when he was young and not now.” (p.283)

    Overall the book comes apart in the second half. The coherence comes and goes. There are some beautiful passages but you’ll have to wait for them. The abstractions surrounding Honda’s shift toward the flesh are far less interesting than his earlier spiritual investigations, or his travels abroad. He has no position in society anymore. That is, no pull or influence as he had when he was a judge and then a lawyer. He is made filthy rich by a propitious windfall. With the loss of his vocation and the easy money has come the loss of his raison d’être. He drifts through lustful scenarios with Yang Chin that he knows are impossible. He consorts with artists and royalty but in post war Japan they seem an oddball lot, a lost generation almost completely devoid of young men.

    That said, this is for me the most fascinating Mishima novel of the ten or so I’ve read. I always have trouble with this author’s work and I’ve come to believe that much of this has so do with the translations. Reading Mishima is always to some degree a patient slog. But I’ll take what I can get. Recommended with reservations.
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