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Sun & Steel Paperback – 1970
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"A key to the novelist's behavior." -- Sunday Telegraph
"Had we [read this before his suicide], the extravagant events surrounding his death would have been more readily comprehensible." -- Sunday Times
"Necessary reading." -- Times Literary Supplement
"One of the twentieth century's outstanding statements of literary and personal purpose." -- Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Text: English, Japanese (translation)
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He writes about the relation between world and word, body and mind or spirit. But to me, the most interesting aspect of this book, and Mishima's whole outlook is something that's often overlooked. It is this, he could not stand ugliness. He shrank from (his own perception of) ugliness as we would from a rabid rat. So then, how did he define beauty and ugliness? You may call it shallow but no matter, this book makes no apologies: beauty or ugliness lie in physical appearance, body and face.
To most of us there are many kinds of beauty, and maybe that multi-perception keeps us going - we see or imagine the beauty of inner virtue, selfless giving, artistic projection, humility or humor and so on. A wide expansive definition.
But there's room on your bookshelf for somebody who takes an uncompromising view: beauty is the beauty of your body and your appearance. While it can be crafted and guided by external method (who knows what Mishima would have thought of the cosmetic surgery craze now sweeping China), ultimately physical beauty to him is the only important projection of the soul.
The insanely monomaniacal American football coach Vince Lombardi once said "Winning isn't everything - it's the only thing". This book, despite all its meandering and subtle threads, is really saying just that, about beauty - it's the only thing. And Mishima, at mid-life, was losing all illusions about attaining or retaining any personal beauty.
Of course what sheds the interesting backlight on this book for most readers is Mishima's dramatic seppuku at Ichigaya Japan self-defense force headquarters. (Reminds me of the wit who stated, when informed of Sylvia Plath's suicide, "Good career move".) People read this book to try to unravel the mystery of it.
But in light of what I've said above, about beauty and Mishima's uniquely narrow definition of it, this book leaves no mystery to his action. Just as Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray slashed the ugliness accumulated on his horribly aging portrait, Mishima, lacking a magic painting, did just the same to his own body - sentenced it to death for the crimes of aging and ugliness.
It is entirely summed up by the following single line from 'Sun and Steel':
"I had already lost the morning face that belongs to youth alone."
Mishima wished to live a proper life, rather than the decadent urban life of the mind he chose early in life. The proper life for a man is that of the hero. Mishima knew that heroism involved having the body of a hero. This book is about his quest for physical perfection, and how it relates to a life of actions. You're probably not going to understand any of this unless you're a philosophical man who has pushed his body to the limits. If you're a smug cube monkey or a college professor, unless you lift weights and get into fights to test your mettle, you have about as much chance of understanding Mishima as I do of understanding the psychological and physiological intricacies of menstruation. Rejoice though, cube monkeys: even though this book will always remain opaque to you, the modern world is yours.
No, this isn't Mishima's best work. It is however, his most personal, and perhaps his most important work. No, he didn't kill himself because he was an aging fairy who wasn't pretty any more, like some numskull said in a review above. That's an object lesson in how one can read and comprehend the words, and not understand anything, because you haven't lived the same kind of life. You certainly don't need to read "confessions of a mask" to understand this book. You just need to be self reflective and have lived to physical extremes.
Who should read this? Weight lifters who like philosophy, anyone who fights for a living, people who Nietzsche was writing for, serious martial artists, political radicals are the types of people who could get something out of this book. Pretty much everyone else might as well try their hands at Swahili poetry, or becoming a Kumis taster.