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TitleThe Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature: Polygraphic Desire
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Table of Contents
                            Half Title: The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature
Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I: Woman as second nature and other fascist proclivities in Kawabata Yasunari
1 Myth-making
2 Fascist aesthetics
3 Kawabata and fascistaesthetics
4 Virgins and other little objects
Part II: The politics of climateand community in Womanin the Dunes and “The idea of the desert”
5 A preface to Woman in the Dunes
6 Social networks and the subject
7 Technologies of gazing
Part III: Naming desire
8 Textualizing flesh, or, (in)articulate desire
9 Narcissism and sadism Mishima as homofascist
10 The homosocial fixing of desire
Epilogue
11 Scripting the scopic
Notes
Works cited
Index
                        
Document Text Contents
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The Ethics of Aesthetics
in Japanese Cinema and
Literature
Polygraphic desire

Nina Cornyetz

Routledge Contemporary Japan Series

873.qxd 11/3/2006 10:44 AM Page 1

Page 2

The Ethics of Aesthetics in
Japanese Cinema and Literature

The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature is a study of the
ethics of modern Japanese aesthetics from the 1930s, through the Second
World War and into the postwar period. What makes this book unique is
that Nina Cornyetz opens up the field in new and controversial ways by
exploring the tensions and harmonies between psychoanalytic ethics of the
drive and sociopolitical ethics of relation to the other. Rejecting the conven-
tion of viewing these as contradictory, Cornyetz insists that the exemplars
of psychoanalytic ethics are to the contrary, simultaneously politically ethical.

Cornyetz embarks on innovative and unprecedented readings of some of
the most significant literary and film texts of the Japanese canon, including
works by Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio, Abe K� b� , and Shinoda
Masahiro, all renowned for their texts’ aesthetic and philosophic brilliance.
The study looks at how relations between individuals and communities in
these texts either reiterate or transcend stereotypes, and how desire is or is
not limited by sociocultural norms. Cornyetz argues that these authors’ and
filmmakers’ concepts of beauty and relation to others were, in fact, deeply
impacted by political and social factors.

Ranging from a discussion of fascist aesthetics to heterosexism in modern
Japan, The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature shows
how certain changing political, intellectual, and artistic issues, as well as
sociocultural norms, variously nuanced these texts’ depictions of desire and
the “other.” Through her analysis of cultural texts such as the films Woman
in the Dunes and Double Suicide, Cornyetz challenges the convention that
praises the universality of their artistic, existential or intellectual achieve-
ments. Rather she seeks to reorient these within a specifically Japanese his-
torical context to give a new and insightful interpretation to the work. This
groundbreaking study is truly interdisciplinary and will appeal to students
and scholars of Japanese literature, film, gender, culture, history, and even
psychoanalytic theory.

Nina Cornyetz is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at New
York University, USA.

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Part III

Naming desire
Mishima Yukio and the
politics of “sexuation”1

If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how
small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society:
not that desire is asocial; on the contrary. But it is explosive; there is no
desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social
sectors.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

Modern Japanese aesthetics, homosociality, and fascism? You must do
Mishima.

Asada Akira2

Surely, as Asada’s comment obviates, there is no other Japanese personage
who more infamously stands at the nexus intertwining many of the themes
of this book than Mishima Yukio (1925–70). A precocious youth, published
in a literary journal at the age of 16, even his earliest works (romantically)
bound ultimate aestheticism to (beautiful) death.3 In 1946 Kawabata
became his mentor.4 Shortly thereafter his first major publication – Con-
fessions of a Mask (Kamen no kokuhaku, 1949; hereafter Confessions) – com-
plicated his previously “romantic” twist on death and aesthetics. Here, they
were intertwined with an apparently wrenching exposé of his “innermost,”
avowedly perverse soul, desires, and fantasies: desire takes the form of a
murderous, sadomasochistic (latent) homosexuality. Mishima’s lifelong erotic
fascination with a portrait of Saint Sebastian, bare-chested, bound, and
pierced by arrows, makes its first appearance, as do fantasies starring sexy
boys with masculine, muscular physiques. Overall, the economy of desire
inscribed in the text is indebted to (sadistic) torture, sometimes murder and
cannibalism, alternating with fantasies that trope the narrator-protagonist
as the (masochistic) recipient of torture.5

Subsequent Mishima “texts” (including performances and other venues
besides fiction) ranged widely. There were “shocking” portrayals of both

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110 Naming desire

homosexual and heterosexual erotics often bound to a glorification of blood,
brutality, murder and suicide. Psychological and philosophical explorations
of love and (various) sexualities alternated with “ordinary” heterosexual
romances. Commercially successful potboilers seemed to contradict deeply
intellectual, emotionally distanced or disinterested treatments on aesthetics
and historical myth. Mishima was also a prolific writer of social and literary
criticism. He wrote a total of 40 long fictions, some 20 volumes of short
fictions, 18 plays, and 20 more volumes of critical essays. Many of Mishima’s
major literary texts have appeared in English translation, making him
one of the most internationally well known of the modern Japanese writers.
On the covers of these translations appear excerpts from such venerable
publications as The New York Times and The New Yorker, proclaiming:
“One of the outstanding writers of the world,” “A writer of the first rank,”
“A modern masterpiece.”6 There is, of course, a huge body of critical work
on Mishima in Japanese and, relative to commentary on other Jap-
anese writers, quite a lot in English too, many studies being primarily
biographical-literary ones.7

Mishima also authored film scripts and acted in films. He posed for photo
shoots (some nude and decidedly erotic), including the series “Death of a
Man” shot shortly before his actual suicide, in which Mishima not only
posed as Saint Sebastian, but also with a sword in his abdomen, the photo-
grapher as Mishima’s second, sword raised.8 As a young man, Mishima
resolutely rejected most things indexical of “traditional Japan.”9 Paradoxic-
ally, in the 1960s as Japan put the period of self-reflection and criticism over
the Second World War behind and progressed toward a fully material, con-
sumerist and Americanized society divested of imperial divinity and militar-
ism, Mishima became affiliated with a neo-fascist, new right-wing movement
calling for the resurrection and re-deification of the (de-reified, de-deified,
humanized, war criminal) emperor. His “Theory on the defense of culture”
(“Bunka b�ei ron,” 1968), which proclaimed the emperor to be the source
of Japanese culture, was met with left-wing accusations pronouncing Mishima
a fascist.10 Mishima formed his own private “army” (The Shield Society or
Tate no kai) in 1968, ostensibly as a remedy for Japanese de-militarization
(symbolized by the effete self-defense corps).11 Subsequently, Mishima’s final
public performance consisted of a pathetic attempt at a coup d’état, which
he and his followers knew was doomed, but afforded him a platform for a
final speech and his suicide by ritual disembowelment (seppuku).

Mishima has deeply troubled critics, including me. How, they (I) have
pondered, should his (violent/perverse/homo) sexuality (as expressed in his
various texts) be dealt with? Is it intrinsically related to his aesthetics? His
politics? What does one make of his more “normal” romances? How can
one theorize relation to the other through such a diverse corpus? Was
Mishima “truly” a fascist? An enormous respect for his formidable intellect
is tempered by his problematic politics. Liberal tolerance for (or more
radical celebration of ) homosexuality must confront his eventual embrace

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