Title: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Author: Yukio Mishima.
Genre: Fiction, literature, philosophical fiction, mental health.
Publication Date: 1956.
Summary: Mizoguchi has been mentally troubled since he witnessed his mother's infidelity in the presence of his dying father. Mizoguchi feels utterly abandoned and alone until he becomes a priest at Kinkakuji, a famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Failing in his quest to find the warmth of human companionship in the temple, the young man, tormented by the temple's exquisite beauty, decides to destroy himself and all he loves in fire. He feels he cannot live in peace as long as the temple exists and slowly becomes obsessed with unattainable ideals.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Day and night I wished for Uiko's death. I wished that the witness of my disgrace and would disappear. If only no witnesses remained, my disgrace would be eradicated from the face of the earth. Other people are all witnesses. If no other people exists, shame could never be born in the world. What I had seen in Uiko's visage, behind those eyes of hers which shone like water in the dark, dawn light, was the world of other people - the world, that is, of other people who will never leave us alone, who will stand ready as the partners and witnesses of our crime. Other people must all be destroyed. In order that I might truly face the sun, the world itself must be destroyed...
♥ Until then I had never seen a face so full of rejection. My face, I thought, was one that had been rejected by the world, but Uiko's face was rejecting the world. The moonlight was mercilessly pouring over her forehead, her eyes, the bridge of her nose, her cheeks; but her motionless face was merely washed by the light. If she had moved her eyes or her mouth even a little, the world, which she was striving to reject, would have taken this as a signal to come surging into her.
I gazed at it and held my breath. At the face whose history has been interrupted at just this point, and which would not tell a single thing regarding either the future or the past. Sometimes we see such a face on the stump of a tree that has just been chopped down. Though the cross section of the tree is young and fresh in color, all growth has ceased at this point; it is open to the wind and the sun, to which it should never have been opened; it is exposed suddenly to a world which was not originally its own - and on this cross section, drawn with the beautiful grain of the wood, we see a strange face. A face that is held out to this world just so that it may reject it.
♥ Amid the moon and the stars, amid the clouds of the night, amid the hills which bordered on the sky with their magnificent silhouette of pointed cedars, amid the speckled patches of the moon, amid the temple buildings that emerged sparkling white out of the surrounding darkness - amid all this, I was intoxicated by the pellucid beauty of Uiko's treachery. This girl was qualified to walk alone up those white stairs, proudly throwing out of her chest. Her treachery was the same as the stars and the moon and the pointed cedars. In other words, she was living in the same world as we, the witnesses; and she was accepting the nature that surrounded us all. She was walking up those steps as our representative. And I could not help thinking breathlessly: "By her betrayal she has at last accepted me too. Now she belongs to me!"
At a certain point, what we call events disappear from within our memory. The Uiko who was walking up those one hundred and five moss-covered steps remains before my eyes. It seems to me that she is walking up those steps eternally.
♥ Insensitive people are only upset when they actually see the blood. Yet, by the time that blood has been shed, the tragedy is already completed.
♥ His white-shirted stomach rippled with laughter. The rays of the sun that poured through the swaying branches of the trees made me feel happy. Like the young man's wrinkled shirt, my life was wrinkled. But, wrinkled as it was, how white his shirt shone in the sunlight! Perhaps I too?
♥ As soon as I finished, I was overcome with rage. Ever since I had met Tsurukawa, he had not once tried to tease me about my stuttering.
"Why?" I asked him, pressing for an explanation of his forbearance. As I have so often pointed out, derision and insults pleased me far more than sympathy.
An indescribably tender smile passed over Tsurukawa's face.
"I'm the kind that doesn't care about that sort of thing at all," he said.
I was amazed. Having been raised in the rough environment of the country, I was unfamiliar with this type of gentleness. Tsurukawa's gentleness taught me that, even if stuttering were removed from my existence, I could still remain myself. I thoroughly enjoyed being stripped stark naked. Tsurukawa's eyes, bordered with their long lashes, filtered away my stuttering and accepted the rest of me just as I was. Until then I had been under the strange illusion that to disregard my stuttering was of itself equivalent to annihilating that existence called "me."
♥ There is something that even now strikes me as strange. Originally I was not possessed by gloomy thoughts. My concern, that confronted me with my real problem, was beauty alone. But I do not think that the war affected me by filling my mind with gloomy thoughts. When people concentrate on the idea of beauty, they are, without realizing it, confronted with the darkest thoughts that exist in this world. That, I suppose, is how human beings are made.
♥ But when I felt myself bathed in the snow as it descended mildly from the sky without any interruption, I forgot the kinks in my heart and seemed to return to one more gentle spiritual rhythm, as if I were being bathed in music.
♥ Cripples and lovely women are both tired of being looked at, they are weary of an existence that involves constantly being observed, they feel hemmed in; and they return the gaze by means of that very existence itself. The one who really looks is the one who wins.
♥ "I used to believe that women could never possibly love me. As you probably know yourself, this is a rather more comfortable and peaceful belief than most people imagine. There was no necessarily any contradiction between this belief ad my refusal to be reconciled to the conditions of my existence. You see, if I had believed that women could love me looking as I did, that is to say, in the actual conditions of my existence, then to the extent that I believed it, I'd have been reconciled to those conditions. I realized that the two types of courage - the courage to judge reality exactly as it was, and the courage to fight that judgement - could very easily be reconciled with each other. Without stirring, I could easily get the feeling that I was fighting."
♥ The special quality of hell is to see everything clearly down to the last detail. And to see all that in the pitch darkness!
♥ "How do you suppose they managed to keep peace and order during the war if it wasn't by staging public exhibitions of violent death? The reason that they stopped having public executions was, I gather, because they were afraid it would make people bloodthirsty. Damned stupid if you ask me! The people who cleared away the dead bodies after the air raids all had gentle, cheerful expressions. To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It's never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it's on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. It's at a moment like this, don't you think, while one's vaguely watching the sun as it peeps through the leaves of the trees above a well-mown lawn? Every possible nightmare in the world, every possible nightmare in history, has come into being like this. But as one sits there in the clear daylight, it's the idea of bloodstained figures fainting in agony that gives a clear outline to the nightmare and that helps to materialize the dream into reality. The nightmare is no longer our own agony, but the violent physical suffering of other people. And we are not obliged to feel the pain of others."
♥ "Beautiful scenery is hell, isn't it?" said Kashiwagi.
I felt that when Kashiwagi spoke like this, he was talking at random. Yet I tried to look at that scenery with Kashiwagi's eyes and to recognize that it was, as he said, hell. My effort was not in vain. For now I could see that hell was indeed quivering in that quiet, casual scene that lay before me, wrapped in its fresh foliage. It seemed that hell could appear day or night, at any time, at any place, simply in response to one's thoughts or wishes. It seemed that we could summon it at our pleasure and that instantly it would appear.
♥ I had long since realized that in any form of knowledge, however gloomy, there lurked the intoxication of knowledge itself.
♥ For clearly it is impossible to touch eternity with one hand and life with the other. Assuming that the meaning of those actions which we direct at life is that instant we may pledge devotion to a certain instant and make that instant stand still, then perhaps the Golden Temple was fully aware of this and had for a time suspended its usual attitude of indifference towards me. It seemed as though the temple had assumed the form of a single instant of time and had visited me here in this park so that I might know how empty was my longing for life. In life, an instant that assumes the form of eternity will intoxicate us; but the Golden Temple knew full well that such an instant is insignificant compared with what happens when eternity assumes the form of an instant, as the temple itself had now done. It is at such times that the fact of beauty's eternity can really block our lives and poison our existences. The instantaneous beauty that life lets us glimpse is helpless against such poison. The poison crushes and destroys it at once, and finally exposes life itself under the light-brown glare of ruin.
♥ This sense of individuality robbed my life of its symbolism, that is to say, of its power to serve, like Tsurukawa's, as a metaphor for something outside itself; accordingly, it deprived me of the feelings of life's extensity and solidarity, and it became the source of that sense of solitude which pursued me indefinitely. It was strange. I did not even have any feeling of solidarity with nothingness.
♥ Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of dayflies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music.
♥ Music is like a dream. At the same time it is, on the contrary, like a more distinct form of consciousness than that of our normal waking hours. Which of the two really was music, I used to wonder? Music had the power at times to reverse these two contrary things.
♥ My spirits, which had been so cheerful when I left Kyoto, had now been drawn into memories of dead people. As I recalled Uiko and my father and Tsurukawa, an ineffable tenderness arose within me, and I wondered whether the only human beings whom I was capable of loving were not, in fact, dead people. Be that as it might, how easy dead people were to love compared to those who were still alive!
♥ In general, things that were endowed with life did not, like the Golden Temple, have the rigid quality of existing once and for all. Human beings were merely allotted one part of nature's various attributes and, by an effective method of substitution, they diffused that part and made it multiply. If the purpose of a murder was to destroy the once-and-for-all quality of one's victim, then that murder was based on a permanent miscalculation. Thus my thoughts led me to recognizing more and more clearly that there was a complete contrast between the existence of the Golden Temple and that of human beings. On the one hand, a phantasm of immortality emerged from the apparently destructible aspect of human beings; on the other, the apparently indestructible beauty of the Golden Temple gave rise to the possibility of destroying it. Mortal things like human beings cannot be eradicated; indestructible things like the Golden Temple can be destroyed.
♥ As I gazed at her soft sash, which hung down in the back, I wondered what it was that made Mother so particularly ugly. Then I understood. What made her ugly was - hope. Incurable hope, like an obstinate case of scabies, which lodges, damp and reddish, in the infected skin, producing a constant itching, and refusing to yield to any outer force.
♥ "I just wanted to make you understand. What transforms this world is - knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world. Knowledge along is capable of transforming the world, while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is. When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same rime are constantly being transformed. You may ask what good it does us. Let's put it this way - human beings possess the weapon of knowledge in order to make life bearable. For animals such things aren't necessary. Animals don't need knowledge or anything o the sort to make life bearable. But human beings do need something, and with knowledge they can make the very intolerableness of life a weapon, though at the same time that intolerableness is not reduced in the slightest. That's all there is to it."
♥ "What Choshu wanted to say was this. He was fully aware that beauty is a thing which must sleep and which, in sleeping, must be protected by knowledge. But there is no such thing as individual knowledge, a particular knowledge belonging to one special person or group. Knowledge is the sea of humanity, the field of humanity, the general condition of human existence. I think that is what he wanted to say. Now you want to play the role of Choshu, don't you? Well, beauty - beauty that you love so much - is an illusion of the remaining part, the excessive part, which has been consigned to knowledge. It is an illusion of the "other way to bear life" which you mentioned. One could say that in fact there is no such thing as beauty. What makes the illusion so strong, what imparts it with such a power of reality, is precisely knowledge. From the point of view of knowledge, beauty is never a consolation. It may be a woman, it may be one's wife, but it's never a consolation. Yet from the marriage between this beautiful thing which is never a consolation, on the one hand, and knowledge, on the other, something is born. It is as evanescent as a bubble and utterly hopeless. Yet something is born. That something is what people call art."
♥ I wonder whether I shall be believed when I say that during these days the vision of the fire inspired me with nothing less than carnal lust. Yet was it not natural that, when my will to live depended entirely on fire, my lust, too, should have turned in that direction? My desire molded the supple figure of the fire; and the flames, conscious that they were being seen by me thorough the shining black pillar, adorned themselves gracefully for the occasion. They were fragile things - the hands, the limbs, the chest of that fire.
♥ When we got into bed and lay facing each other, she put her finger lightly on the tip of my nose and said: "Is this really your first time?" She laughed.
Even in the dim light of the bedside lamp I did not neglect to look. Because the act of looking was a proof that I existed. Besides, this was the first time that I had ever seen another person's eyes so close to me. The law of distance that regulated my world had been destroyed. A stranger had fearlessly impinged on my existence. The heat of a stranger's body and the cheap perfume on its skin combined to inundate me by slow degrees until I was completely immersed in it all. For the first time I saw that someone else's world could melt away like this.
I was being handled like a man who is part of a universal unit. I had never imagined that anyone would handle me like this. After I had taken off my clothes, many more layers were taken off me - my stuttering was taken off and also my ugliness and my poverty. That evening I certainly attained physical satisfaction, yet I could not believe it was I who was enjoying that satisfaction. In the distance a feeling that had so far shunned me gushed up and presently collapsed. I instantly separated my body from the girl's and put my chin on the pillow. One part of my head was numb with cold and I tapped it lightly with my fist. Then I was overcome by the feeling that everything had left me in the lurch. Yet it was not sufficient to make me weep.
♥ Even the moisture of the rain which shrouded the compound of the temple derived its quality entirely from the sky above. Everything was dripping wet, as if it had received some bounteous blessing from heaven, and it was exuding a smell in which putrefaction was blended with freshness. For the objects on this earth did not know the means of rejecting anything.
♥ "Is it all right, Father," I said, "to act according to the pattern that people expect of one?"
"It's not always so easy. But if you start acting in a different way, people soon come to accept that as being normal for you. They're very forgetful, you see."
"Which personality is really lasting?" I asked. "The one that I envisage myself or the one that other people believe I have?"
"Both will soon come to an end. However much you may convince yourself that your personality is lasting, it is bound to cease sooner or later. While the train is running, the passengers stay still. But when the train stops, the passengers have to start walking from that point. Running comes to an end and resting also come to an end. Death seems to be the ultimate rest, but there's no telling how long even that continues."
"Please see into me, Father," I said finally. "I am not the sort of person you imagine. Please see into my heart."
♥ Until now I had been speaking at great length about how impotent my memory had been since the time of my childhood, but I must point out that a memory which is suddenly revived carries a great power of resuscitation. The past does not only draw us back to the past. There are certain memories of the past that have strong steel springs and, when we who live in the present touch them, they are suddenly stretched taut and then they propel us into the future.