Mishima and Grass

“Runaway Horses” by Mishima is so serious.

And dark. It’s about seppuku, the ritual suicide. There are a group of young men in the book in love with the notion of ritual death for a a cause. Mishima ties this notion to the beautiful ideas of a Noh play about the ephemeral nature of life. It mixes up things that I love (the transitory nature of worthwhile stuff) and things that disturb (suicide and military S & M overtones). So when I got to the fiction phase of my reading yesterday, I turned instead to “The Flounder” by Gunter Grass.

I started this novel on my trip to China. It was just right for that. It is a witty take on gender stuff and uses the folk tale of the fisherman, the fish and his wife. You remember this one.

In the “Fractured Fairy Tale” the fish was a mermaid. In both, the fish/mermaid is caught by the fisherman and grants wishes to him when released. The wife comes off pretty badly as a greedy woman who keeps wanting more.

Both novels use tranmigration as a theme. Mishima’s main character, Honda (who is not one of the young men transfixed by visions of seppuku) is disturbed by the idea that a young man he meets is the reincarnation of the friend of his youth (Kiyoaki from the first novel, Spring Snow).

Grass’s novel sprawls over the entire centures of humankind, but is told from the personal point of view of the narrator who remembers his various incarnations. He manages to keep shifting from historical scenes of gender strife. Awa, the protypical matriarch from prehistory whose name looks suspiciously like Eve and has three breasts, runs a tight ship with her near neanderthals. One of whom is the narrator in an incarnation. Grass also has the fish (the Flounder of the title) caught by three lesbians who turn him over to feminists in Germany who treat him to a Eichmanesque show trial. This book is definitely a good travel book as well as an temporary antidote for the seriousness of Mishima.

A while back, Grass became controversial when news media began talking about his experiences as a Nazi youth. Ironically, the narrator (who definitely has a Gunter Grass feel) mentions at one point being a member of the Nazi youth. Heh.

Of course I don’t approve of Nazis, but I guess I have no problem with the fact that many Germans had to have been more than complicit with their terrible government (sort of like Americans today in many ways). Plus Grass had to have been young and his writings are definitely coming at life from the left of celebratory humanism not the right of the Nazis.
Of course, it’s just my opinion.

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