ON THE DEFENSE OF CULTURE
Yukio Mishima (Translation by Masaki)
The Three Characteristics of National Culture
The Japanese national culture possesses three characteristics. That is: reflexivity, totality, and subjectivity.
The ruins remaining in Greece, in which there are no true Greeks, are for the modern Greeks complete aesthetic objects, in which there is nothing that returns to their subject, and the ability to feel the continuity of the life of culture from the ruins of Greece has conversely become the privilege of Europeans. However, Japanese culture for the Japanese, just as the Tale of Genji has repeatedly been able to return to our contemporary subjects, affirm their continuity, and become the womb of new creations, transcending its aesthetic valuation as an object, and stimulating its continuity and reflexivity. It is this that people call tradition, and in this sense, I hold serious doubts about the view of literary history that isolates modern literary history from the Meiji period onward from classical literary history. The reflexivity of culture is none other than the consciousness that culture is not just a thing “seen,” but also a “seeing” thing that looks back.
Further, the wholesale acceptance of “the chrysanthemum and the sword,” not to judge aesthetics ethically, but to judge ethics aesthetically and accept culture wholesale, is indispensable for a consciousness of the totality of culture, and this opposes all culturalism and the cultural policy ideology of all forms of government. Culture must be wholesale recognized and wholesale maintained. Improvement and progress are impossible in culture, and in the first place, revision is impossible in culture. The delusion that these are possible has obstinately ruled Japan for some time after the war.
Further, culture in its extreme form manifests only in a subjectivity similar to the trinity of the three gods Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva, who create, maintain, and destroy. Concerning this, there is much that should be thoroughly reconsidered, contained within the seemingly extreme ideas of Hasuda Zenmei, who once criticized Fumio Niwa’s Naval Engagement during the war by saying that, rather than continuing to write notes in the middle of a naval battle in order to record it, the attitude that the true man of letters should take would have been to help carry ammunition. As proof of that, Niwa, who immediately after the war wrote the novelistic exposé of the navy Bamboo Grass, at the time had the nature of an exquisite camera, because he himself demonstrated that he was reliant on a subjectless objectivity. Because the subjectivity of literature, on the extension line of the freedom of the cultural creative subject, should offer itself up to the greatest fruits at each moment resulting from works and of modes of action. And because Japanese culture has kept all cultural possibilities [that exist] for that purpose.
The foregoing definition of the concept of culture using reflexivity, totality, and subjectivity of itself surely encourages consideration of how one must be in order to defend culture and what the real enemy of culture is.
Against What Do We Defend Culture?
The concept of culture of the Japanese, in which through the body one learns a mode of action, and there for the first time grasps one’s original form of thought, that unifies culture and action is, under all political forms, viewed as containing a certain degree of danger. An extreme example of control by a political system is wartime controls, but the thought of Confucians, who regarded Genji as a book that teaches licentiousness, persisted continuously from the Edo bakufu. That was always a policy of severing the totality and continuity of culture somewhere and refashioning it. However, if one thinks of culture itself as the corpus of the modes of action of the Japanese, then it would be a problem to sever it somewhere and say that one may go no further. On the contrary, one’s efforts should continually be directed at the regeneration of culture through the total acceptance and restoration of its totality and continuity, but in our time, as a result of the severance of the “sword” in “the chrysanthemum and the sword,” the endless emotional slovenliness that is one characteristic of Japanese culture has emerged, whereas during the war, as a result of the severance of the “chrysanthemum,” deceit and hypocrisy arose in a different direction. That the side of the oppressor habitually plays the role of hysterical hypocrisy has not changed between wartime and the present.
The preservation of culture as an object, excluding extreme examples like that of the Chinese Communist Great Cultural Revolution, can be entrusted without worry to the culturalism of any political form. Culturalism permits all hypocrisies, because Iwanami Library reissues Hagakure. However, in defending the freedom of the creative subject and the continuity of its life, one must choose a system of government. Here begins the problems of action, that is, what to defend and how to defend it.
What does it mean to defend? Culture cannot defend culture, and attempts to defend speech with speech necessarily only either fails, or merely has others overlook it. “To defend” is always the principle of the sword.
The act of defending is thus necessarily accompanied by danger, and self-renunciation is essential for defending oneself. Defending peace always requires preparation for violence, and an eternal paradox exists between the object being defended and the act of defense. One may say that culturalism is something that evades this paradox and covers its own eyes.
That is, culturalism places emphasis on the object being defended, determines the act of defense in accordance with the characteristics of the object being defended, and there seeks a basis of legality. Because they find legality in stipulating that one can only defend peace peacefully, culture culturally, speech with speech, and violence with violence, they conceptually limit the effectiveness of violence, and they ultimately come to assert the ineffectiveness of violence. That, when force is ethically rejected, one is carried away by the necessity of demonstrating the ineffectiveness of force itself. It is, in fact, none but a single chain of psychological processes that fear plays. That culturalism falls from the rejection of violence to the ultimate rejection of the state (Enzensberger, in his Politics and Crime, defines state power as a monopoly on violence and views criminals as competitors who threaten that monopoly) is through this route, and there, “culture” and “self-preservation” operate within the same psychological mechanism. That is, culture and humanistic welfare values become synonyms.
Thus, the fundamental psychological structure of fear and egoism that lurks beneath culturalism results in a hysterical fantasy that attempts to ignore the power of others in order to defend its own powerlessness.
The cold reality is that, in defending culture, force is required just as it is to defend all other things, and that it is the creators and maintainers of culture themselves to whom that force must belong. At the same time, the idea that the actions and methods of “defending peace” must all be peaceful is a general delusion of culturalism and one form of the feminine illogic that is dominating postwar Japan.
Nevertheless, the essence and present state of the object being defended are not necessarily in concord. As the posing of objects based on the ideal images of each respective worldview from both sides, like “defend the peace,” “defend the parliamentary system,” and “defend the people,” mutually uses the same words, one cannot but relativize “defend culture” from the essence of the actions in which friends and enemies exist, and at the same time, the achievement of the absolutization of relative values through death is but the essence of action. Either way what they hold in common is that the value of the act of defense does not lie in the preservation of the status quo.
When the values of the object to be defended are threatened, it consequently includes within it the spontaneity of the transformation of the status quo, and to exercise the act of defense in the direction of this transformation must be the general mode. If the present state of the object to be defended is perfect, if, like a diamond of several hundred carats in a museum, it is a passive being to be only defended, that is, if there exists in the object to be defended, neither the possibility nor the subject of the development of its life, then the act of defending such a thing will surely, just like the surrender of Paris, ultimately end either in defeatism or the destruction of the thing being defended. Consequently, the act of “defending” must further, like culture, have reflexivity. That is, there must be an opportunity for the identification of the ideal image of the defender and the true form of the defended. Going one step further, there must be the possibility of the ultimate realization of the identification of the defender with respect to the defended. Between the diamond in the museum and the guard this sort of identification is impossible, and I think that it is in just this sort of possibility that the basis of the glory of the act of defense lies. The basis of the glory that the state can grant is also based on this psychological structure. Thus, in the act of “defending culture,” the identification of the freedom of the creative subject within the defender with the reflexivity, totality, and subjectivity of culture itself is expected, and here appears the essential character of culture. That is, culture by its essence demands “the act of defense” from the subject of culture (or rather the creative individual that draws on the original subject), and the object that we defend amounts to neither thought nor a political system, but ultimately “culture” in such a sense. By culture itself demanding self-renunciation, it is this site that becomes the transcendental moment of the self.
Consequently, culture necessarily hints at extrication from the egoism that it will defend its own safety. At present, the defense of the peace constitution on one hand becomes the banner of the class struggle, while the fact that it is broadly supported by a base of self-preservationists, such as emotional pacifists, opportunists, the home, and family oriented who dream of self-preservation through the renunciation of all battle, a stratum of women who insist on their visceral repugnance for war, and others who have no connection to the struggle, makes the contradiction that the ideological self-renunciationists are supported by emotional self-preservationists. And these sorts of self-preservationists at times applaud the actions of the Tri-Faction National Federation of Students’ Self-Government Associations out of a kind of pang of conscience. The tendency of the middle stratum of the indifferent, which grows increasingly with urbanization, to direct their more or less faint political interest to dreams of a pleasant pacifism or social revolution in an attempt to preserve the balance of their conscience will surely become ever more clear.
The Unity of Creation and Defense
In contrast to this, the self-consciousness of life in culture, in accordance with the laws of life, spurs men toward the impulse of self-renunciation for the sake of protecting the continuity of life. From the isolation of ego-analysis and embedding in the ego, when culture falls into sterility, only extrication from this is thought to achieve the revival of culture, and revival simultaneously demands the destruction of the self. The sterile self-sufficiency of a culture that does not contain such self-sacrificial moments was what was called “modernity.” And if the fact that the basis of the glory of ego extinction lies not in the dead splendor of the defended, but must lie in the living original power (the power to look back) is sought within the continuity of the life of culture, it is self-evidently clear what it is that we must defend. Thus, it is surely natural for the union of the subject and the object that are creation and defense. The dual path of the pen and the sword is such an idea. Not approval and maintenance of the status quo, but to defend was itself to reform, and simultaneously to “birth” and “become.”
Now, because defense is action, one must possess a certain physical ability by training. I have heard that many of the key figures of the Taiwanese government are versed in Shaolin kung fu, but the lack of physical training of Japan’s modern literati, and their tendency to take interest in the body solely through illness and medicine, has impoverished Japanese literature and limited its themes and horizons. I feel it strange that in so-called belles-lettres since Meiji there appears not a single scene of creation. Innumerable protagonists with sallow and unhealthy bodies run rampant in modern literature, as if it were a storybook of famished devils. Protagonists with tuberculosis have decreased, but it is, as before, a paradise swarming with insomniacs, neurotics, impotents, unsightly bodies sedimented with subcutaneous fat, cancer patients, dyspeptic constitutions, sentimentalists, and the half-mad. Men who can fight are extremely rare. The old fixed idea that endowed illness and bodily ill-health with transcendental significance from Romanticism to the fin de siècle is not only entirely uncured, but this Western European notion at times panders to the trend of the times and appears in folklorist disguise. This has even become the visceral reason of the weak, causing them to unduly despise, regard as dangerous, or undervalue, action.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME I ISSUE III