Category Archives: Yukio Mishima

72nd Discussion: Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask

Moderator: Raj
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Ivan, Timmy

The biggest complain we had about the book was the way it was written: Dominic felt it was unlike the “Japanese style of writing”, comparing Mishima to Murakami. Raj thought the book was draggy, describing “mundane things in mundane ways.” Alexius did not like the ending and was left disappointed by the book. Timmy found it uninteresting as a whole.

For this discussion, we forewent our usual style and went through the book chapter by chapter.

Chapter One – which we deemed “Resurrection” because of an experience the narrator went through when he was four.

Believability
We started doubting the narrator’s credibility from the start of the book. Timmy thought it was all “fluff and bluff,” while Dominic opined that the book seemed like a semi-autobiography of the writer… a romanticized version of himself as the narrator.

Childhood
Timmy was amazed by how well-read the narrator was, even questioning his accessibility to such literature at that age. Raj added on his penchant for changing the (fairy) tales that he read, which added (and accentuated) his morbid nature from that age onwards.

Donning the mask      
According to Timmy, the turning point was when he started playing dress-up as Tenkatsu. This went on as he started being masculine in front of his cousins.

Obsession with death
“Maybe he finds life hopeless?” Alexius joked.

Joan of Arc
Raj noted the narrator’s disgust of Joan after finding out that the martyr was a she, declaring that incident as the “first disappointment of his life.” (Joan of Arc was Raj’s favourite of the book)

Chapter Two – “Boys with Toys,” because:

“The Toy”
The matter of the narrator referring his penis as “the toy” was brought up. Timmy quipped that the narrator thought his penis had a mind of its own; Raj observed that he was very detached to his member despite being an adolescent in this chapter. Alexius offered that perhaps he was ashamed of his homosexuality.

From St. Joan to St. Sebastian
Raj made mention of the narrator moving on from one historical figure to another, noting his preference for “virile, lean (guys) with muscles and wearing very little,” adding that St. Sebastian may have been the narrator’s role model at that point of time. According to Timmy, this may also be a continuation of the narrator’s sexual awakening. (St. Sebastian was Dominic’s pick as favourite.)

Omi
Was he gay? Raj and Timmy said no, while Alexius said yes. (Both Alexius and Timmy picked Omi as their favourites.)

Delusions of grandeur, S&M, and armpits were also discussed during this chapter. Overall, we felt that this chapter did not make a lot of sense – just like an adolescent’s mind, according to Timmy – and contained “too much fantasizing,” according to Raj.

Chapter Three – for which we termed “Regressed Suppression” as the narrator did not face any pressures from external forces, only internal conflicts.

Raj found this chapter “bizarre,” which probably had to do with the myriad sub-topics we touched on but barely managed to delve deeper into:

  • The narrator acting more of a teenager, which included mimicking his peers (Raj noted his obsession with kissing, which he found interesting) in his attempt to appear straight;
  • His body, which he seemed to be embarrassed about;
  • War and the military (according to Raj, women were front and centre in this chapter because “the men went to fight”);
  • Voyeurism;
  • Dying young.

Chapter Four – “The Beginning of the End”

A continuation from the previous chapter, where the narrator was labelled “the last virgin alive” by Raj and his desperation to have sex (“everybody’s doing [and done] it, so I should too.” – Timmy) despite ending up not doing it. We didn’t get the chance to discuss more about Sonoko and their relationship.

“So when did the mask come off?” asked Raj.
“It didn’t,” Timmy replied.

And that concluded our discussion, followed by an apology from Alexius who regretted recommending the book as well as did not find it as appealing upon second reading.

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Filed under Classics, Coming of Age, Disability, Family, Gay, Japan, Time, War, Yukio Mishima

Alexius’s Top 5 GLBTQ Books

Alexius

Alexius has been a longtime member of the book club and brings much joy to us, coining the phrase “This book is not MRT-friendly” and “the fried chicken theory.” His unique perspective on novels often tickles us and sheds new light. He blogs at Alexius Locker, with the subtitle “Never Think Too Literally”– or, in the case of our book club, never think too literarily.

1. The City and the Pillar (Gore Vidal)

This is the first homosexual book I read when I was about 14-15. The plot follows an idealized handsome youth, his journey around the gay circles and his life till the mid-twenties. He is not dead after that, but it got way depressing; something of which a quick and clean death would probably do some good to the ending. Although the closing is a little too abrupt and disappointing (”why the pillow got watery instead of somewhere else?”), nevertheless Jim Willard achieved his sexual endeavour from coast to coast, crossing between age groups to even different sexual orientations (Bob Ford). Gore Vidal must have a good time fantasizing when writing this novel. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting holiday read for me. [See our book club discussion on the novel.]

DG-10pvb522. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

Yet another book that contains a protagonist with sex appeal. It says a lot that good appearance bring many willing helpers, but can it bring everlasting happiness?

In Wilde’s novel, you can’t. Dorian Gray’s infectious pathological narcissism – a gulling need to consistently maintain his reputation and appearance – ultimately led to his demise, a topic seemingly relevant to today’s camwhoring society.

The unctuous writing style, coupled with random droppings of some philosophical sounding phrases every third line just make you feel more intelligent, even if you didn’t know what were the characters talking most of the time.

3. Confessions of a Mask (Yukio Mishima)

Although the paragraphing is quite cumbersome in modern standard, Yukio Mishima never fails to deliver a good read. Whether is it the sea trilogy or other of his works, you could just expect the sea waves, medical examinations, saltiness and the four seasons.

imgthe_jungle_book44. The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling)

Who could not help but like Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear? Both wild creatures acting as some sort of nanny and tutor to the wolf-boy Mowgli. When Mowgli is in danger, which in this book is more often than not, Bagheera and Baloo would risk their lives in order to whisk him away from danger.

5. Book of Han, chapter on Passions of the Cut Sleeve (Ban Gu)

The historical narrative of Emperor Ai and his lover Dong Xian in 23rd BC is too hard to miss. There is one account whereby King Ai, upon seeing that his boyfriend is still sleeping, decided to cut off part of his own long sleeve (which is stuck on Dong’s back) in order not to disturb him from bed when the King rose to meet the court. I find this an interesting read, and it is a good theme for a LGBT story.

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Filed under Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Top 5, Yukio Mishima

Aaron’s Top 5 GLBTQ Books

Aaron is one-third of the founding members of the book club. He believes that the answer to the meaning of life is to uncover the meaning. He tries to find it in books from serious fiction to frivolous reads.

Aaron’s Top Five GLBTQ Books

foldingstar1. Alan Hollinghurst/ Michael Cunningham/ Virginia Woolf

This is a bit of a cheat of Top 5 but, to me, they are all related in one way or another. Hollinghurst and Cunningham are one of the earliest “serious” openly gay writers, writing about gay themes and gay lives, and winning awards.

I was about 18 (in 1998) when I found out about Hollinghurst. His novel, The Folding Star, was nominated for Booker Prize four years ago (in 1994). This was shocking to me, as a teenager who was coming to terms to my sexuality. All my life, I have been told that being gay is sick, perverse and inferior but this writer actually was nominated for a major award?

I simply had to lay my hands on the book. And not surprisingly, I had a difficult time tracking it down after calling tens of bookshops. When I found the hardcover, probably the only copy in Singapore, it was costly to a student but I bought it. (No Amazon, no booksdepository then.)

Among all Hollinghurst’s books—The Swimming Pool Library has a large following, while Line of Beauty is said to be his magnum opus—Folding Star remains my favorite. It is a re-telling of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice—about an old man lusting for a teenage boy—but there is so much beauty in the novel. Heartbreaking beauty, beauty that pains the reader with every line I read. I can’t remember clearly what it was but I may or may not have reached the conclusion that although moral is relative, beauty is dangerous. Beauty tricks us but does nothing and is, in the end, vacuous.

tumblr_lvbazpomJT1r1akito1_500Cunningham’s The Hours suffers the same fate as The Folding Star in that the novels couldn’t be found in Singapore until they won awards or made into movie. You could hardly find The Hours when it won two major awards (Pulitzer and PEN) in 1999. But when it was made into an Oscar-winning movie in 2002, the novel flooded Singapore bookshops. Like the difficulty I had in finding Folding Star, I come to realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight; as long as you’re good enough, your books will be on the market. Unless you’re so kickass in your job, you’re just another neuter worker-bee in the hive. Nobody cares about your sexuality. You can be anything you want to be.

mrs-dallowayThe Hours is three short stories: an imaginative fiction of Virginia Woolf’s life; a rewriting of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway; and a 1950 American housewife. I remember I finished reading it during a CSO duty. The officer—this sexy Malay boy, tall and sleek, with a taut body, like a panther—was sleeping in the next bed. I finished the novel, set it aside, and cried my eyes out. Very drama.

The essence of The Hours is the same as Mrs Dalloway, that is, nothing wins time. We are puny, we keep waiting for the hours to pass and then we die.

If I were really forced to pick one and kick the rest out of the top 5, I choose The Folding Star as the one. In general, I thought Cunningham isn’t as imaginative or complex as Hollinghurst and Woolf can be dated.

[See book club discussion on Cunningham’s By Nightfall and Woolf’s Orlando.]

dracula-cover2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When I first read this nineteenth-century novel, it caused such a strange sensation in me. I spent the entire night reading it, and then I had nightmares and fever for a few days after it. Like Javin, I find that men sucking men, and men staking men can be very sexciting. The homoeroticism and the misogyny are appalling but attractive. I couldn’t really make sense of the attraction until Talia Schaffer, an academic, traces the history of the writing of the novel. Apparently, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde were wooing the same woman, and there were some homoerotic tension going on between the two. When Wilde’s sodomy case came out, Stoker destroyed almost all the correspondence between them, and Dracula could be read as an expurgation and projection of Stoker’s homoeroticism. Interesting, right?

131813. James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room

I wanted to call my non-existent bookshop in the future “Giovanni’s Room” after the novel until I knew of a famous bookshop in San Francisco with the same name. I couldn’t stand the cacophony of Baldwin’s other novels but Giovanni’s Room is perfect and beautiful and artful. David, whose girlfriend leaves for Spain, has an affair with Giovanni who is executed at the end. There is a bohemian indecisiveness that resonates with me—a desire to be free VS the call to be responsible.

4. Yukio Mishima’s Temple of Golden Pavilion

Mishimi is more known for Confessions of a Mask, with a gay protagonist. But I thought it was facile and puerile. Temple of Golden Pavilion, however, is a complex, philosophical book about life, death, love, beauty and ugliness. The story is about an arson in 1500 that shocked Japan. An ugly acolyte with a stammer and clubfoot, who sleep with women by manipulating their attraction to the grotesque, has a cynical (boy?)friend. Stammering and clubfoot are often symbols of homosexuality in literature. This book mind-fucked me.

3748275. Paul Monette’s West of Yesterday, East of Summer: New and Selected Poems

This is one of the most influential books of my formative years. Paul Monette is better known for his gay autobiographies on HIV such as Borrowed Time, Becoming a Man, and Last Watch of the Night. But his poems move me deeply. Whenever I want a good cry, I’d re-read his poems, eulogies written for his lovers who died of AIDS-related diseases. His incoherent rambling makes sense to me because in the face of grief, who could speak?

“Pain is not a flower pain is a root
and its work is underground where the moldering
proceeds the bones of all our joy winded.”

Even after 15 years of reading the poem, I can still recite it by heart.

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Filed under Alan Hollinghurst, Bram Stoker, James Baldwin, Michael Cunningham, Paul Monette, Top 5, Virginia Woolf, Yukio Mishima