Craving for the absolute: The sublime and the tragic in Mishima Yukio's theatrical works

Yoshie Endo, University of Pennsylvania


My aim in this thesis is to reevaluate the aesthetics of Mishima Yukio through his theatrical works. Mishima is famous for his skillfully-constructed prose narratives and plays, as well as infamous for his spectacular ritual suicide by seppuku. In contrast to the widely-held perception that Mishima committed an anachronism in pursuing the long-lost legacy of the samurai code, I argue that his works, as well as his performative activities based on his ideal of “ bun bu ryôdô” (a combination of literary and the martial arts), can be understood through his attempts to unite his aesthetics and his ethics. Mishima's dialectics of “bun bu ryôdô” correspond to the notion of “the sublime.” I align the sublime with masochism, naming the combination “the masochistic sublime,” in order to delve deeply into the complex, even ambivalent, nature of Mishima's aesthetics. I also propose the hypothesis that Mishima's notion of bun bu ryôdô has been produced under the influence of the Nietzschean notion of tragedy. Mishima's adaptations of the Nietzschean idea of tragedy to his theatrical works mark his bold attempt to highlight the tragic elements in a Nietzschean sense, or more specifically, the impossibility of understanding between poetry and politics. Chapter 1 is a close analysis of the essential aspects of Mishima's aesthetics—the notion of the masochistic sublime and the Nietzschean idea of the tragic—through the investigation of his prose works, Kamen no kokuhaku and Taiyô to tetsu. In Chapter 2, I explore Kindai nôgakushû focusing on the theme of Nietzschean tragedy, specifically, the contrast between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, and the function of music as the source of the Nietzschean “will to power.” In my discussion of Sado kôshaku fujin in Chapter 3, I apply the notion of the masochistic sublime in order to shed light on the problematic aesthetics that Mishima demonstrates through the protagonist, Renee, and other female characters. In Chapter 4, I examine Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki, not only its theme but also its structure, drawing on my previous analyses of Mishima's aesthetics in order to unmask Mishima's secret wish to unite his aesthetics and his ethics.

Subject Area

Asian literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Endo, Yoshie, "Craving for the absolute: The sublime and the tragic in Mishima Yukio's theatrical works" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3138005.