Yukio Mishima and The Necessity of Anti-Tragic Vitality

“According to my definition of tragedy,” says Yukio Mishima in his Sun and Steel, “the tragic pathos is born when the perfectly average sensibility momentarily takes unto itself a privileged nobility that keeps others at a distance…”

It seems that, for Mishima to participate in a scenario or, indeed, lifestyle that we might consider mythic and archetypal requires developing the particular attitude of heroism. The “noble” cannot be one who observes, or watches on television and merely comments or rants, especially in whatever political rhetoric is en vogue.
Words can create the tragic myth, but “[i]t is necessary… that the ‘privileged nobility’ find its basis strictly in a kind of physical courage,” says Mishima. “The elements of intoxication and superhuman clarity in the tragic are born when the average sensibility, endowed with a given physical strength, encounter that type of privileged moment especially designed for it.”

What does this mean for us?

In a certain sense, we are leaving the political era behind. In Europe, in particular, the average person believes that the political parties (especially those in the mainstream) have failed their countries and their people. The hyper-modernity of the internet, obesity, crass commercialism, and so on, is converging with the more traditional and patriarchal cultures that are being brought with mass immigration.

Europeans themselves are stuck somewhere in the middle — or appear to be — unsure of who they are.

The German philosopher regarded the “World Spirit” or human consciousness as becoming ever more self-aware, elevating itself — like a man waking from a dream to full consciousness — from primitive tribal religion, through the “revealed religion” of Christianity, to the triumph of Rationalism and the utter tediousness of the State.

For Hegel, to represent anything through art, symbolism, and so on, was backward and out of step with the modern era — a reversion to a more primitive state that was, in essence, against the rational.

In my own view, we are seeing something similar in the mainstream, perhaps unsurprisingly since Hegel influenced Marx, and Marx has influenced many areas of the modern university (albeit in a distorted way). The trend I am talking about is an anti-physical attitude.

We distrust beauty in women and muscles in men. Everything must be malleable, and reducible to ideology, especially, perhaps, gender — which can be defined by each individual, according to the latest beliefs — and gender relations — which demands absolute equality of men and women, except when it (or at least mainstream politicians and media) is telling women that they will have to change their behavior and dress to avoid being raped.

Perhaps it is a cycle, and we are, in a sense, entering a period between one politics and another, in which Europeans, in particular, will have to discover a new way to live and a new sense of self. Perhaps this will require what Mishima calls “tragedy.”

“Tragedy,” says Mishima, “calls for an anti-tragic vitality and ignorance, and above all for a certain ‘inappropriateness.’ “

I am uncertain what Mishima meant by “ignorance.” He was, of course, Japan’s most famous author during his lifetime, as well as a man of deep culture, who also acted, conducted an orchestra, and led his own small private army. So, no one would call Mishima ignorant.

I assume he means that we must not be drawn into the zeitgeist, which will not only change in the future, but changes, back and forth, day to day, depending on how the morals of the day can be used or might prove inconvenient. In that sense, we must surely develop an inappropriateness toward the prevailing but fickle ideals, developing an anti-tragic vitality.

This we must do mentally, spiritually, and physically, in the latter case, developing our bodies — refusing junk food and junk politics — learning self-defense, becoming more muscular, more sure of ourselves and making our outer body emblematic of an inner “nobility” that is the safeguard of the primordial and authentic.

Angel Millar is the editor of The Spiritual Survival and the author of several books including The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician (release date: February 2020).

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